There’s providing a service, and then there is gouging. Cover price has long been a point of contention within the comics industry, never more so on the advent of the digital market. Comic stores felt threatened (rightly so) and after much discussion, a policy was hammered out that ensured that the local physical stores did not lose out. Too much.
But where does this leave the back issues? Not the back issues from a couple of years ago, but back issues from the early Nineties, the Eighties or even the Seventies. Such issues can be the bane of some comic stores, having too much money tied up in the stock, but also a blessing, bringing customers to their door from far and wide in search of that specific issue. Any store will tell you what a balancing act that can be.
So, I was looking at my Facebook feed the other night, and saw DC put up a post about one of my favourite teams of all time, the All-Star Squadron. So I followed the link to see the entire series up for download at $1.99 each.
This elicited two immediate and contradictory responses, as a reader and then as a former store manager myself.
The cover price on physical comics is easily justified. Paper costs (that are always rising) and haulage costs (same again) must be covered even before the creators get paid and the publisher gets their cut. Somewhere, you have to leave something for the actual storeowner to they can keep their business open.
Yet on digital downloads, there is no paper, no haulage and the store costs are simply a server. The price could be inflated a little to protect those comic store owners, but other than that, it’s nearly pure profit. The work is long done, the creators have all been paid and have gone home. (Now if they were to get a cut, my argument would be different.)
All-Star Squadron is a fantastic title, well worth the time spent reading it, but hardly a fan favourite for modern new readers. It is set (predominately) in pre-Crisis continuity. That’s pre-Crisis On Infinite Earths, not pre-Infinite Crisis or pre-Final Crisis. It is AT LEAST four reboots ago, and bears no relation to anything that appears on today’s shelves.
And you can get twenty-three issues for nine bucks on eBay.
If DC wants to stimulate in-store back issue sales, wouldn’t it make more sense to offer these at 50c or $1? Get the readers hooked on a world that they can no longer see, but give them the thrill of finding that one issue on the shelves to keep forever? After all, by their very nature, electronic goods are transitory.
Think of the properties that could be rejuvenated with no work at all except by an active online marketing department? When all is said and done, the stores continue to be the backbone of the industry. But by keeping the back issue download price as high as two bucks, is DC really doing the retailer any favours?