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|5||07/17/10||Why Comics Need to Change, Part 2: Trade Paperbacks||(Blog) (Forum)||Trade Paperback||(Back) (Next)|
The trade paperback (or graphic novel) has changed everything for comics. It has made old stories accessible, both to fans and the new reader. It's legitimized comics to the reading public, and given comics a greater presence in the retail bookstore. It's changed how companies can keep the copyrights on characters and titles current (as discussed in Part 1) and has even changed how the monthly comics are written. Many times, the monthly comic is now written with an eye towards how the story will flow in the collected edition. I personally believe that the trade paperback is the future of the comics industry, and will eventually have to replace the monthly comic, if it's going to survive. I don't necessarily say this out of any preference for how I read comics, but more out of an idea of how it would save the industry money.
For ten years or better, comic companies have gradually inflated the prices of their comics and graphic novels, citing the cost of paper as why they needed to increase prices for fans. My first thought is, "Use a cheaper paper," but let's be honest: nobody wants to go back to newsprint, when the current paper makes the pictures so much better. However, that doesn't leave them without options. I think a very viable option is to eliminate the monthly comic, in favor of publishing the graphic novel. If a company has a four issue mini-series that afterwards gets collected into a trade paperback, the costs are: five times at press, five solicitations in Previews (plus whatever other advertising they do), five different shipping times, five different times of paying all the people involved in those processes, and five different times of paying for all of those materials, including paper. If you know you're going to publish the trade paperback after the four issue mini-series or story arc is finished, why not just put it out as a graphic novel, and cut out four-fifths of the costs? That's an eighty percent cut in costs (granted, the trade is going to cost more than the monthly issues, but let's deal in round numbers). Eighty percent.
From there, there's no reason why the trades couldn't come down in price. That which is $24.95 could easily come down to $19.95, or even $17.95. The $19.95 could come down to $14.95 or $15.95, the $14.95-$15.95 trade could come back down to $9.95, and yes, that $9.95 trade that only collects three issues could come back down to $5.95. I know that part of the price increase in recent years has had to do with the economy, and the price of everything going up, but comics are still bought with disposable income. It's in the companies' interests to help the fan stretch their disposable income a little further, when the economy is dwindling the amount of disposable income they actually have. Especially when most $24.95 trades are reprints, collecting stories twenty years old or older. Part of the high price there is the cost of recoloring the story for the trade - the coloring process for newsprint (the paper used when the story was new) is different from the process for today's paper types, and has to be redone, when collected in a modern edition. Still, recoloring was being done when those editions were priced at $17.95-$19.95, so if they cut out that eighty percent, there's no reason the trade couldn't come back down to that. Most times, I look at that $24.95 softcover price, and don't buy it, no matter how much I liked the story. It's a little steep for something I've already read.
Overall though, I'm talking about the new story. The graphic novel as the original medium would save the comic industry so much money. Why not make that switch? Maybe part of the hesitancy is what it might do to the local comic shop.