When I was a kid, and really started collecting comics, the average cost of a comic book was twenty-five cents. Now at the time my mother would give me two dollars per day for lunch money— of which I'd spend at the most a dollar-fifty and pocket the rest. In addition I got an additional five dollars a week for doing chores like mowing the lawn. This left me with enough money to not only buy all the titles I liked, but also some black and white magazines for around two dollars and some Slim Jims and a Grape Nehi. So even if you just had a dollar in your pocket in those days, you could pick up 4 comics.
To put this in perspective, when Fantastic Four #1 came out in 1961, the cover price was ten cents. Minimum wage was $1.15 per hour. That meant that if you worked a 36 hr work week, you earned $41.50 per week. So FF #1 would cost you 0.24% of your earnings. Adjusted for today's average comic book price (around$2.99) and minimum wage (about $7.50 on average, depending on the state) that's an increase of over 350 percent.
Today the average comic book sells for around $3.00 and the prices are going up. DC plans to sell the upcoming Detective Comics #19— which would actually have been Detective Comics #900 had DC not relaunched their comic titles—for a whopping $7.99. Let's call it eight bucks! True the issue is a double issue, but eight bucks?
There's no doubt that younger readers are being weeded out of the whole comic book experience. Now I hear the arguments about comics being replaced by video games and iPads and there's some substance behind that argument. However I know from experience that when I'm in the book store or the super market or the stationary store, my 3 yr old always wants a book— sometimes it's children's book and sometimes it's a coloring book or activity book and sometimes it's a sticker book, but she always wants some kind of book. She wants them because they're usually near the register or in a stand in a prominent place.
Comic Books are no where to be found near the register (or in prominent displays), as they were in the past. They are also not for general audiences as they were in the silver and Bronze age (late '60's through the 1970's). So even if she wanted a comic book, and it was readily visible near the register, I wouldn't buy it for her because it is too violent and usually contains adult themes and some raunchy art. And even if they were written and drawn for younger readers, why would I spend $3.00 for a comic book when I can buy a golden reader or coloring book for the same price or less and not worry about the content.
Thus the paradox of the comic book industry. Younger readers are being squeezed out, so a new and ever replenishable demographic market has been, for all intents and purposes, eliminated. Not a very smart strategy for a printed medium, that's already competing with second screen devices (tablets, video games, computers, etc). The new breed of comic book creator has forgone the younger readers in order to create comic books that appeal to themselves (20-30 yr olds) rather than to attract a younger audience.
So what does this mean for the comic book industry? Well certainly there has been a sharp decline in comic book sales since the industry reached it's peak in the early to mid 1990's— which many experts believe correlates with the hefty increases in the prices. As prices increased, the market share shrank. In fact it happened throughout the history of comics— when a publisher charged more than other publishers their market share would shrink. However now that comics have surpassed the rate of inflation compared with the minimum wage, you'd have to work nearly a half hour just to afford one comic book. That's not a very attractive price point for a consumer, especially when millions are out of work (about 11% if you look at the true numbers), and the average worker has lost nearly $3,000 of their total annual earnings.
Of course comic books are trying to keep in step with the 21st century. They're now available in electronic form and easily downloadable to your tablet or computer, but for old time comic collectors like me, it's just not the same. Part of the fun in collecting comics was holding it in your hand. You got to feel them and they had that certain smell of ink and candy. It was fun to go around looking for back issues and getting boxes to hold your collection in, and seeing it grow— and for some, overtake your room. All that's slowly going away. How can we expect our kids to get as excited about comics as we did, when they have nothing tangible to hold in their hands— something that with the push of a button can be deleted and erased from existence. To them and to me, e-comics are not real and therefore they are nothing to be treasured or cherished.
For those who want to save the comic book industry, the answer is simple— make comics for kids again and make them fun, accessible and affordable and they will come and they will be as hooked as we were.