Friday, September 30, 2005

Why 32 pages?

Steve Bennett, in his column Confessions of a Comic Book Guy, argues that, counter to the whining fans, comic books should be more expensive. And, more to the point, that the traditional format, the 32 page pamphlet, should die.

I agree. In fact, I don't think it should ever have shrunk down to 32 pages, although it didn't seem so bad back when comics had only eight pages of ads. Action #1 was ten cents for 64 pages, and the only ad was on the back cover.

Over the next twenty years, comics shrank in fits and starts, desperate to keep the magic ten-cent price point. By the time of the Justice League and the Fantastic Four (comics' Silver Age), they were at their present 32 pages, and about a third of that were ads. Costs continues to rise, as costs have a way of doing.

I've always suspected that the 80-page giants of the period were a test to see if the market would support a thicker, more expensive comic. Being reprints, the contents cost the publisher nothing (pay royalties? to a cartoonist? why?), and on that basis they must have been viable, but the continuing 32-page titles took a circulation hit when they went from ten to twelve cents.

And they still take a hit every time the price rises.

We're up to a minimum of $2.50-$3.00 for that same 32-page pamphlet. A comic that sold in the hundreds of thousands--or, occasionally, millions--thirty years ago sells in the tens of thousands now. Hard to believe that Batman, a comic featuring a character that almost everyone who speaks English knows, only sells 60,000 copies an issue.

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