This past weekend DC announced that come January (almost) all of their $3.99 books would drop back to $2.99. They cite concerns of fans and retailers as the driving force behind the decision. We’re all no doubt cheering for the lower prices and most of us are hoping other companies follow suit. Marvel had hinted at some kind of similar price drop, but it seems unclear exactly what that will entail. But they say that you can’t get something for nothing and this is a true case of that. There’s always a catch and this case is no different.
When I first heard the announcement, I assumed that it pertained to the $3.99 titles that were only 22 story pages such as Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors, Batman Inc., and Batman: Dark Knight. These were the books that were the biggest rip offs and certainly seemed in need of a price reduction. These books are included in the line wide price drop, but so are books like Detective Comics, Action Comics, and Teen Titans which had all included back up features increasing the story page count to 30.
I was actually okay with paying more money for more content. I thought the backups were a neat idea and gave exposure to some underused characters. They weren’t all brilliant, but it was an interesting idea and I enjoyed reading them. All of these stories will simply be gone in January. It ticks me off a little because it seems as though the writers were not consulted on this matter, or even warned that it was coming. A day before the announcement I read an interview about Detective Comics and the backup was included in the discussion as normal. I’d have been happier if the backup stories were given a chance to end and then, once the run was finished, the books dropped their page count and price. We’ve been assured that these stories will finish in one shots or miniseries, but since the stories were coming out 8 pages at a time it may take a while for fans to see the rest of it.
A close read of the press release about this matter shows that not only will the price on these books drop; the page count will too. We’re going from 22 pages of story to 20. Now this almost seems like a fair trade, 2 more pages of ads for a dollar less in price, until you realize that this change is LINE WIDE. Yes, that means that every book, including the majority of DC’s books that were $2.99 for 22 story pages, will drop to 20 pages. And further confounding news, books in the Vertigo line will be affected as well.
So while there are a number of books that we will now be getting a “better” deal on, chances are there are many books that you buy that will be losing content. So you’ll be paying the same price for less. And while the price drop on those few titles is great, this part of the announcement it not good news.
Some people have said that the loss of only 2 pages won’t really matter. If anything it will force writers to condense their storytelling and possibly eliminate 2 page spreads (which are already losing appeal due to the rise of digital readers). But we must also remember that the majority of these writers and artists are freelancers and are paid by the page. Now, company wide, everyone will be paid less per month. It may not seem like a huge loss, but 2 pages a month is 24 pages a year. That’s basically an entire month’s pay check that these creators and their families will no longer have. And an entire month’s worth of story that we will never see.
I was initially thrilled by this news and was happy to see DC taking the initiative and recognizing that in the current economy the dollar can only stretch so far. But the longer I look at the situation the more it seems like they wanted to cut content, so they needed something to distract us. If that was the intent it certainly seems to have worked. People aren’t talking about the whole picture as much as I feel they should be. And I’m worried that a lot of people might not even notice…
EDIT: Okay, I just heard a semi-convincing argument for the page cut and wanted to give it some face time here. In a video interview with Dan Didio and Jim Lee they point out that with 2 less pages a month books that are plagued by delays may be able to come out on time and they may be able to fix some of their scheduling problems (see October Batman books). Creative teams who are faster could still be getting that month's worth of pay by producing 13 books in the span of a year (if they produce at the same rate they end up with 2 extra pages a month). I hadn't considered that there is no rule saying you can't be ahead of schedule and that being ahead of schedule is good news for everyone. So that is one point in their favor I suppose, though I still think it warrants more discussion.
I'm also wondering what they will do with things that were already in development like the new Batwoman ongoing slated for February. JH Williams knows he has to get his art done ahead of time to stay on schedule, so how far ahead was he when they made this decision? Will he have to go back and eliminate some pages now? And there have to be at least a few other creative teams who have been working ahead. I wonder how all of this will affect them.