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My Troubles With Trade Paperback Prices

I’ve been reading comic books for a long while, and I have a lot of comic books in my collections, but I don’t buy anywhere near as many individual comic books as I did. This is for two main reasons:
1. The price of individual issues nowadays is prohibitively expensive (insert rant of a crotchety old man going on about how affordable comics used to be).
2. trade paperbacks are a more satisfying reading experience, as well as being a more affordable way of purchasing comic book series.

I’m lucky in that I get to read a lot of trade paperbacks via the London libraries of which I am a member (see my post in praise of libraries – since that post 4 years ago, the number of library trade paperbacks/OGNs I’ve read has increased to over 900), but I still buy trade paperbacks of comic books I’m not buying individually such as Descender and Astro City. However, I get frustrated by the way some trade paperbacks are priced, with regards to how much comic book you get for your buck. Let me explain.

I’ve been comparing the price and sizes of trade paperbacks of the three main publishers (DC, Marvel, Image) for three months of solicitations, specifically new collections of recent issues to make the comparison more equal. The books were compared based on the number of regular issues in the collection, so I excluded collections with anniversary issues that are different and unpredictable sizes. For the calculation, I decided that an annual was equivalent to 1.5 issues of a normal comic book. I didn’t factor in the number of pages in the collection because they can vary due to the inclusion of ‘extra’ material – alternative covers, sketches, pencilled pages, etc. – which are bonus material but not part of the reason for buying the trade paperback.

DC trade paperback pricing

I’m not frustrated with DC books because I don’t really buy them, which is a shame because DC trade paperbacks are pretty consistent: six issues for $16.99, which equates to a price per issue (PPI) of $2.83, across the board. Batman/The Shadow TP, Doom Patrol Vol. 2 TP, Mera, Queen of Atlantis TP, New Challengers TP, Nightwing Vol. 1: The Bleeding Edge TP, Wildstorm: Michael Cray Vol.2 TP, Batman: Sins of the Father TP, Eternity Girl TP, Justice League/Power Rangers TP, Motherlands TP, The Demon: Hell is Earth TP, Raven: Daughter of Darkness Vol. 1 TP, The Terrifics Vol. 1: Meet the Terrifics TP – all six issues, all $16.99.

The only exceptions are DC trade paperbacks that tend to be even better value because they have more issues for the same price or slightly more. Batman Vol. 8 and Harley Quinn Vol. 1: Harley Vs. Apokolips TP are seven issues each (PPI: $2.43); Wonder Woman Vol. 7: Amazons Attacked TP is eight issues (PPI: $2.5); Justice League Vol. 1: The Totality TP is seven issues but for $17.99 (PPI: $2.57). The notable difference is Scarlet by Bendis and Maleev – the two volumes are five issues for $14.99 each, so $3 per issue – perhaps due to being creator owned, although the collections are loaded with bonus material, the page count vastly exceeding even collections of six-issue titles.

Image trade paperback pricing

Image has an unusual strategy to pricing for their trade paperbacks, which is both good and bad. The good pricing strategy is that the first collections of ongoing series are priced at $9.99, which is a brilliant idea to persuade people to try out new books at a great price. This is despite the fact that there is no uniformity to these first volumes – they can be anywhere between four and six issues, which is related to the creator ownership not having to follow any dictates from any editorial board.

The bad pricing strategy, in my humble opinion, is that all subsequent volumes (and collections of mini-series) are $16.99 no matter what the comic book or how many issues they collect. Black Science Vol. 8, The Gravediggers Union Vol. 2, Port of Earth Vol. 2 are four issues each; Eternal Empire Vol. 2, The Realm Vol. 2, Death or Glory Vol. 1 are five issues each; Gasolina Vol. 2, Descender Vol. 6, Monstress Vol. 3, Crude Vol. 1 are six issues; Maestros Vol. 1 is seven issues. (The only exception is Saga, which consistently maintains six issues for $14.99.) For someone like me, this is frustrating because buying a series that is not economically consistent is not as good value for money – volumes 6, 7 and 8 of Black Science are all four issues each, equating to a PPI of $4.25. This is tempered by the fact that it’s a creator-owned series so the people who make the book get the money they deserve, but it still niggles that there is no logical basis for pricing collections that equates the value of what you get with how much you pay for the book.

Marvel trade paperback pricing

Then we come to Marvel.

There is a basic pricing strategy: five issues for $15.99 (PPI: $3.2) or six issues for £17.99 (PPI: $3). So Venom: First Host, Doctor Strange by Mark Waid Vol. 1, Wolverine: Old Man Logan Vol. 9, Quicksilver: No Surrender, Ant-Man and the Wasp TPB, Star Wars: Lando – Double or Nothing, Cable Vol. 3, Spider-Gwen Vol. 6 – all five issues, all $15.99. Similarly, Thor: God of Thunder Reborn, Star Wars: The Last Jedi Adaptation, Runaways By Rainbow Rowell & Kris Anka Vol. 2, New Mutants: Dead Souls TPB, Deadpool: Assassin TPB, Exiles Vol. 1 TPB, Old Man Hawkeye Vol. 1 – all six issues, all $17.99. It’s good to have a standard system, even if the prices are more expensive than DC – you think with Disney buying them up, Marvel could price their books to match DC prices for the same number of issues and keep things competitive. And this doesn’t take into account the number of pages in the collections – most have just enough pages to include the comics themselves and perhaps various covers, whereas some seem to have room for all covers on separate pages plus sketches and pencilled pages, for no discernible reasons.

However, there are strange outliers that confuse me. The five different Hunt For Wolverine trades all collect their respective four-issue mini-series plus Hunt For Wolverine #1 in each book, with a price of $14.99 for five issues. Are they cheaper because they all contain the same first comic? Why are Doctor Strange: Damnation TPB, Captain America By Mark Waid: Promised Land TPB and Champions Vol. 3 TPB priced at $15.99 when they contain only four issues (PPI: $4)? Couldn’t the price be reduced for those books as well?

Why does Venomized TPB cost $17.99 for five issues (PPI: $3.6) and Luke Cage: Everyman is priced at $19.99 for five issues (PPI: $4)? They both have the same number of pages as well, so why the difference? Then contrast these with X-Men Gold Vol. 7 (seven issues plus an annual) for $17.99, X-Men Blue Vol. 5 (eight issues for $19.99) and Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 4 (seven issues for $17.99) – are the prices better because X-Men and Spider-Man are the big star names at Marvel? It’s this sort of peculiar pricing that made me first want to examine the numbers in the first palce – if I were to go back further in the solicitations, I would have a longer list of more outlandish inconsistencies.

Totally illogical pricing

Then there is the mind-boggling pricing for collections of older materials – I know I said I was comparing collections of recent material, but I had to point these out because Marvel is good for reprinting old stuff (to happily coincide with major films being released in a lot of cases) but bizarre when it comes to pricing them.

Nova By Abnett & Lanning: The Complete Collection Vol. 2 is roughly 21 issues of material starting from 2007, giving a PPI of $1.9. Yet X-Men: Deadly Genesis collects six issues from 2005/2006 but costs $19.99 (PPI: $3.33). Thor By Walter Simonson Vol. 5 collects eight issues from 1987 but costs $24.99 (PPI: $3.12); Marvel Knights Black Widow By Grayson & Rucka: The Complete Collection collects nine issues from the turn of the millennium for $19.99 (PPI: $2.22). Marvel Knights Captain America, Captain America collects six issues from 2002 and costs $17.99, as if it were a collection of recent material. Avengers Forever is a new printing but of material from 1999, 12 issues for $29.99 (PPI: $2.5); this has the same PPI as Avengers Undercover: The Complete Collection, which collects 10 issues from 2014 for $24.99, but Avengers Arena: The Complete Collection collects 18 issues from the preceding series for $39.99, for a PPI of $2.21. Meanwhile, the same number of issues in Venom By Daniel Way: The Complete Collection sets you back $34.99 for a PPI of $1.94 for comics from 2003.

Do they just pick numbers out of a hat, or is there the most complex algorithm in the world that incorporates the popularity of the character(s), the popularity of the creators, the length of time since the comic was published, the impact it had on the Marvel universe and how annoying the number produced will be?

Quasar: Cosmos In Collision collects 16 comics from 1990/1991 for $34.99 (PPI of $2.19). Exiles: The Complete Collection Vol. 1 is 19 issues from 2001/2002 for the same price (PPI of $1.84). But Marvel Knights Black Panther By Priest & Texeira: The Client collects five issues from 1998 for $15.99, as if it were a recent collection (PPI: $3.2), while a different collection of comics from the same year, Marvel Knights Daredevil By Smith & Quesada: Guardian Devil, collects nine issues for $19.99 (PPI: $2.22). Twelve issues of a title from 1996, Heroes Reborn: Fantastic Four, will cost you $29.99 (PPI: $2.5), while 17 issues and two annuals in Superior Spider-Man: The Complete Collection Vol. 2 costs $39.99, for a PPI of $2 for comics from 2013/2014.

Are they doing it to confound comic book pricing nerds like me? I know I’m not taking everything into account (such as if the book has been recoloured or if it’s a new printing), but there appears to be no logic in this at all. I understand that I’m being reductive and trying to put a simplistic monetary value on a package of entertainment, but all I want is a bit of consistency or, at the very least, some kind of indication or logical reasoning for the cost of something I would be interested in purchasing if not for the perceived lack of value that comes with illogical and inconsistent pricing.

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