An Entertainment Bargain

On average, I have someone come into my store about once a week who feels the need to point out the cost of the comic books. Some say, “I remember when they used to cost…” Others say, “My gosh, how can kids buy these? They’re so expensive!” And a there are those who insist that, “They raised the prices AGAIN.” To those people, I politely comment on how gas used to cost less than $1 per gallon, and how, when I was in high school, a movie ticket was $4—and that wasn’t a matinee. If you ask me, comic books are still one of the lowest priced entertainment items out there. I even did some research just to prove my point.

When comics were around 10 cents, back in the 1930s and 40s a car cost around $800, gas was 18 cents, and the average annual salary was $2000. In 1966 comic books were hitting a stride. Some of the shows on TV back then included Batman, Star Trek and The Green Hornet. Comics then had more than doubled in price from the 1940s, to around 25 cents, cars were $2410, gas was 32 cents per gallon, and the average annual salary was $8395. Fast forward ten years to 1976. The US still loved sci-fi and super heroes, with shows like Bionic Woman and Mork and Mindy playing on TV, and Atari games being a hot item. Comics were just starting to head into the 35 cent range, cars had almost doubled in cost, with an average new one costing around $5418, gas practically doubled too, hitting 60 cents per gallon, and the average salary was up to around $16,870. (These averages were acquired from By the mid 1990s gas was over $1, and most comic books were around $1.50. It was the beginning of the era when a comic book cost more than a gallon of gas—but not much more. Today, as you know, comics average around $3, and a gallon of gas is around $2.35. (At least that is the price here in Wisconsin, today.)

Comic books are not a necessity, (Although to some people they might seem that way.) they are a luxury item in the entertainment category. As far as the cost of entertainment goes, comics are still a bargain, in my opinion. A pack of 9 Yu-Gi-Oh! cards is $4, a movie ticket is $9, and a video game is usually a $50 investment. Just looking around my store, comics are one of the least expensive items we carry. The only thing less are single cards and miniature pieces for collectable games—and those are only the common ones. A movie rental is about the only entertainment product that is about the same price as buying a comic book – and you get to keep the comic book. At home I spend more on cable TV and broadband internet in a month than the average comic book buyer spends in a month.

Over the years everything has gone up in price, so why should comics be any different? Why is it not appalling that an $8000 house now costs $180,000? The cost of making a comic book has gone up too. I asked a few publishers to give me a cost estimate on creating a 32-page comic book, but none of them were willing to divulge that information. However, I did find an article online from 1996 that said that a 32-page comic with covers, in full color, in a 50,000 print run, would cost about 39 cents each to make. That’s just the ink and paper, which is the least expensive part of comic book creation. Publishers have to pay artists including a penciler, inker and colorer, writers and editors, as well as market the comics, and pay a company (Diamond) to distribute those comics. Of course, they could sell ads in the book, which would help cover some of the costs. Large publishers like DC and Marvel probably get a much lower price on printing, but hire expensive talent and do more marketing. We comic book retailers need to make some money out of the deal too, so we can keep our stores open and supplied with new comics and related merchandise each week.

Now, I’m not saying publishers don’t make money – although many of the small ones don’t. They are a business, and they deserve to turn a profit. Don’t hold it against them if they make some money off of your comic book habit—we’re not communists, after all. But, you can get three comic books for the cost of one movie ticket. (And that’s before the popcorn and soda-pop.) That cup of Starbucks coffee you pick up is probably more than the cost of one comic book, and if you go for a Vente, it’s about the same as two comics. The price for 16 comics would buy you that new video game, and if you cut out cable TV and high-speed internet you could pick up 38 comic books for about the same monthly cost. Comic books have interesting stories and vibrant full-color art for much less than it would cost to buy a paperback novel and a color poster. Those are prices on new comics—if you are willing to dig you can probably find comics for $1 and under in just about any comic book shop in the U.S. So, while they might not cost 10 cents anymore, they still are a pretty good deal. Remember that the next time you go into your local comic book shop and comment on how expensive comic books are. (If you saw my weekly invoice, you’d understand why I’m not very sympathetic.)

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One year after our first wedding anniversary, to the day, my husband and I picked up the keys to a 1000 square foot store front in a strip mall in suburban Waukesha, WI. Two weeks later that spot would become Neptune Comics, our very own comic book store. I grew up in Slinger, WI, the child of entrepreneurial parents who owned their own dog breading and boarding kennel. The first in my family to graduate from college, I earned a BA from St. Norbert College. Prior to becoming a comic book retailer I was a stock broker, and then gave up that stress to own my own house cleaning business. Comic books were a small blip on my radar before I considered opening a store -- I did not have a collection stashed somewhere. But jumping into comic book retailing has been a great crash course in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Being a woman and a comic fan, rather than a collector, I have no doubt that my opinions won’t always be that of the majority.

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