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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

 
Me and Tom and Kramers Ergot #7 -- Is $125.00 too much for a hardcover artcomix hardcover? I've asked myself that question a lot since the price point of KE #7 was announced. Even with a huge lineup of great talent, more than $1.25 a page seems like a lot to pay, especially in the current economy.

In a brief back and forth on the subject with Tom Spurgeon, Tom seems to feel that the awesomeness of the book will overcome any reluctance readers will have to spend a week's grocery money on a big, if likely extremely well-done, funnybook. I have no axe to grind in this question, and I'm still weighing whether to order it, even with a 20 percent discount from my retailer. What do you think?

Update: Christopher Allen has added some thoughtful points in the comments section of this post, as has cartoonist and sometimes-self-publisher Jason Marcy. Have a look, and weigh in if you have an opinion. I'm anxious to see what everyone's opinion on this is. And please note that I really am not trying to rile anyone up or poke anyone in the eye, I really am personally conflicted about buying KE7, which shocks me since I've always accepted Tom Spurgeon's truism that "the only comics that cost too much are shitty comics." I don't think KE7 will be shitty comics, but I do think it may actually cost too much and as Chris notes in the comments, may have priced many interested readers right out of the market.

Update 2: I had forgotten about this May discussion on the price of Kramers Ergot #7 at The Beat. Tom Spurgeon, Heidi McDonald, Paul O'Brien and others weigh in.

One interesting (to me) note is the assumption at some points that Sammy Harkham and Alvin Buenaventura are being accused of greed. I hope no one thinks I am coming at it from that direction. I think they have every right to make it 96 pages for $125.00, or 12 pages for $1,000.00 if they want. I am just struggling, at the moment, with my own commitment to artcomix versus the extraordinary price point of this book. If, as Spurgeon says, it will be a "monster hit" at $125.00, would it still at $500.00? Where do the diminishing returns set in? If KE7 were priced at 50 or 60 bucks, I probably would have ordered it already and would have shut up by now, making everyone happy. I'm just interested in exploring my own reluctance to spend $125.00 on a comic book I am sure I would enjoy, perhaps because $125.00 is more than a week's groceries for my family, and I am not making the phat public radio money I was making circa 2001-2004, when I would have not even blinked at the price of KE7.

Maybe there are more highly monetized artcomix readers than I think, but after thinking about this for a couple of days and talking to some retailers and friends about it, I have come to the conclusion that most comics shops, even the most chi-chi of the chi-chi artcomix-enabling Beguiling-type shops, will order one copy of this for their shelves at best, and otherwise only order them for regular customers who commit to buying it and perhaps even lay down a substantial deposit. I can't for a moment imagine any one of the 90-percent or so of superhero convenience stores within the direct market looking at this volume with anything other than beady-eyed contempt, if indeed they think about it at all, or are even ever aware that it exists, somewhere in a world they have never visited and never will.

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29 Comments:

Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

As someone who's definitely feeling the strain of the economy, and frankly poor impulse control. the price tag of this beauty is a punch in the gut, and this is a guy with the Little Nemo book. Actually, that brings up a point--I have the first Nemo book, haven't been able to justify the second yet. Now, we all know paying retail is for suckers, but even at the $75-$80 this will really go for via Amazon or other sources, that's a lot of dough even for this group of talent. It's fascinating in a way. I wonder what the draw is for the creators aside from being in a great book. But while I don't think these creators, or publisher, are under any obligation to offer their work up cheap, I wonder how they feel knowing they're producing work that even fewer readers will ever see, including existing fans of Ware, Clowes, Hernandez, etc. Isn't some of Carol Tyler's work about how it's hard getting by, supporting a daughter and so on? Does this help? Not if she's expecting royalties, I suspect. I think we've reached the limit of the ADDage that good comics never cost too much. I mean, ultimately it's not that big a deal, I guess. I like most of these creators a lot, but if I die without seeing three pages of each of their oeuvres, it's not going to affect me much. It's just kind of unfortunate that in choosing the most lavish presentation, sometimes vital art is withheld from the masses. They should make a little of it available online, to at least give people an inkling of whether it might be worth it.

05 August, 2008 16:46  
Blogger Jason Marcy said...

No way I'd drop that much money on a book. Maybe waaay back in the day when every dime I made was my own, but being in a financial stranglehold as it is, $125 bucks is way too steep even though I'm a huge fan of many of the artists within.
The biggest problem I have though is that likely most of the book would leave me cold, like much of Kramer's Ergot before. It's simply not worth the money to get a book I may only enjoy a quarter of.
What exactly is the whole point behind the price point anyway (please note I've not actually seen the solicitation so I don't know page count, etc...)? Is it to prove the value of "quality" alternative comics?
It's bad enough my beloved pasttime has become more and more expensive as the years have gone on and my tastes have changed, but this is a nail in my comics coffin.

05 August, 2008 20:05  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Some details here, Jay, such as this from Alvin Buenaventura:

"Kramers Ergot 7 will be 16 x 21 inches, much bigger than any comic book I've ever seen aside from Maresca's Nemo book, which did inspire this project.

The size is by no means a gimmick. It's based on the size of those old newspaper sheets. We wanted artists to be inspired, offered, pushed with a format that they had never worked with before. This is not just a blown up size of Kramers--the strips for this new volume are made for this unique oversized format, so 1 page in this book does not equate to any 1 page we're accustomed to. Also, because to this new format, KE7 has allowed for us to ask many cartoonists that would not have fit into previous volumes. So in Kramers 7 we'll see lots of new artists to the series like Mr. Clowes--and by the way most of that article that caused this thread is total bullshit that was taken out of context. I talked with Sammy and he had spoken with that reporter about this new issue only in passing and did not think he would write 75% of the shit he did. Not only did that journalist single out Clowes and Moriarty when Sammy mentioned dozens of different artists, he failed to talk about the work in the show and was more focused on Sammy's eyes and the barely half-true details of Moriarty's personal life. Jerry does not wear zebra striped pants (but who gives a shit if he did), Sammy does not have hazel eyes, and neither he or I has any idea what this book will cost to produce or what the retail price will be at this point.

Back to Kramers 7, it's planned to include about 50 artists where past issues only had about 20-25... but that's enough, as I've already said way too much. This book is constantly changing and it's still a long way off. We're making it a point to not talk about KE7 for at least another 6 months at which time the book should be finally coming together. We're still not sure what exactly to expect of the project as a whole, so I don't see how anyone else can make any worthwhile assumptions at this point."

05 August, 2008 20:15  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Note that that was from February of '07, before much of the details were set in stone.

05 August, 2008 20:17  
Blogger Andrew Goletz said...

I'm not familiar with the book or many of the talents involved. That's my problem, though. I need to get a bit more aware of what's out there. Now while I wouldn't spend 125 on a book like this site unseen (since I'm not too familiar with any of the talent involved) I don't think it's that steep of a price to pay if you're a fan of a) the talent involved b) the format of the book (which I think is a good selling point.

If you want to compare this purchase to some mainstream ones, it's still less money than it would cost to buy all of Secret Invasion (including tie-ins) and I believe Final Crisis (also incl tie-ins).

I'm working on a project now where the price point is actually also 125. Some people weren't sure whether that price would scare people away (even with the obligatory discounts that bookstores and sites like Amazon give their customers). In the end, what mattered was whether people felt there was 125 dollars worth of material in there and everyone involved actually thinks that price is a bargin considering the final product the reader will have.

I know I'm a little all over the place here, but it's just that I don't think price should be the be all and end all of whether you decide to purchase something. It is a rough time for most people economically, but we make choices on a daily basis on what we'll spend our money on. As a comic fan do we bite the bullet and keep getting 60 titles a week and stop going to the movies or do we cut back to essential titles. At the grocery store do you put back the Coke for RC Cola or do you get the cheap bag of chips instead?

If the work is strong enough and if you as a reader believe that it's worth your money and the creative shuffling you may have to do to purchase the book (hold back on a couple other trades, eat less or cut your own hair) then you should get it.

05 August, 2008 23:31  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

I concede Alvin's point that the format means that what we normally think of as "a page" actually is much bigger, so I guess a three page story might equate to around five or so regular comics pages, and that's cool. Still, that's not something most consumers will ever consider. Getting back to Tom's comment, and this may be unfair since it's not over on his site, but I'm still curious what he considers a "monster hit." No offense to the talent, but even Ware and Clowes have never had monster hits on their own, by comics standards. Will 1,000 copies sold be a monster hit? I guess I just have to look at this as something marketed to a very exclusive group of people who will buy anything one or more of these creators do rather than any kind of piece of art meant to create new fans. I mean, nobody gets into collecting mini-busts because they noticed a beautiful sculpt of The Jackal and they just had to have it. No, they liked The Jackal enough to buy this thing. It's the same thing with the Little Nemo book that inspired KE7's format change. People who bought that had to have seen at least a strip or two and knew they liked it. KE7 has a bigger challenge, in that this is all new stuff, and there aren't many people who like all the creators in here.

06 August, 2008 04:12  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Andrew, good points about weighing the decision, and ones that do apply to how, personally, i will make the choice.

The bigger question, to me, is that if someone as absolutely devoted not only to artcomix like this but specifically to many of these very creators is unsure about the purchase, how will a more casual reader approach it? If at all?

I just can't see it being a monster hit, except critically. I'd be surprised if the initial orders through Diamond top 350 copies, and I imagine most people that REALLY want it will go to Amazon and take advantage of the steep discount and possibly free shipping, or maybe even go the DCBS route.

I wonder if it does tank, sales-wise, will they issue it in a more affordable softcover? And if it really is a monster hit, will other publishers follow the lead and upscale future projects to this degree?

I guess it's like the joke about the little girl selling lemonade for a thousand dollars a cup. "Yeah, but I only have to sell one."

06 August, 2008 07:58  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

One interesting (to me) note is the assumption at some points that Sammy Harkham and Alvin Buenaventura are being accused of greed. I hope no one thinks I am coming at it from that direction. I think they have every right to make it 96 pages for $125.00, or 12 pages for $1,000.00 if they want. I am just struggling, at the moment, with my own commitment to artcomix versus the extraordinary price point of this book. If, as Spurgeon says, it will be a "monster hit" at $125.00, would it still at $500.00? Where do the diminishing returns set in? If KE7 were priced at 50 or 60 bucks, I probably would have ordered it already and would have shut up by now, making everyone happy. I'm just interested in exploring my own reluctance to spend $125.00 on a comic book I am sure I would enjoy, perhaps because $125.00 is more than a week's groceries for my family, and I am not making the phat public radio money I was making circa 2001-2004, when I would have not even blinked at the price of KE7.

Maybe there are more highly monetized artcomix readers than I think, but after thinking about this for a couple of days and talking to some retailers and friends about it, I have come to the conclusion that most comics shops, even the most chi-chi of the chi-chi artcomix-enabling Beguiling-type shops, will order one copy of this for their shelves at best, and otherwise only order them for regular customers who commit to buying it and perhaps even lay down a substantial deposit. I can't for a moment imagine any one of the 90-percent or so of superhero convenience stores within the direct market looking at this volume with anything other than beady-eyed contempt, if indeed they think about it at all, or are even ever aware that it exists, somewhere in a world they have never visited and never will.

06 August, 2008 11:07  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Andrew, good to hear from you again, if indirectly. I don't know the project you're talking about, but if your informal market research has told you $125 is a fair price, then by all means go for it. That's kind of where I'm coming from. I mean, I should be the demo for this book, liking most or all the creators involved and already having bought prior KE volumes, and I'm hesitant about getting it, so I hope it's not too arrogant to think others like me are probably also hesitant.

Alan, good points. I also don't see this as greed at all. Maybe hubris, but maybe it will turn out so great that all our grousing will seem silly in retrospect. I do wonder what, besides size, is going into this book to make it need to cost that much. I mean that big red Acme hardcover of a couple years ago is about 3/4ths the height and 2/3rds the width, for $27.50, and it's lavishly done with complicated printing techniques. I'm just curious what other goodies are going into KE7 aside from presumably very good comics.

06 August, 2008 11:08  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

I'm a little disappointed in Tom's characterizing this discussing as getting "worked up," on his blog today, and also the dismissive, "if you don't want it, don't buy it." If we didn't want it, we wouldn't be talking about it.

06 August, 2008 11:13  
Blogger Dustin Harbin said...

It's so strange that there is so much discussion about this. I cannot WAIT to buy this book, at whatever price. I'm also a retailer, and will likely order around 5 for my store. That's one for me, 2 for pre-orders, and 2 for the rack.

Although you can't argue with someone not wanting to spend money--that's whomever's prerogative. However, terms like "hubris" and "greed" are so silly in this context. I'd be shocked--SHOCKED--if Alvin and Sammy make a dime on this book, once you figure in man-hours, shipping, marketing, and all the ancillary costs involved in publishing, distributing, and retailing.

If there's any hubris involved, it's the laudable hubris of a bunch of guys in their artistic prime trying to push things in new directions. Best kind of hubris.

--Dustin Harbin
Heroes Aren't Hard To Find

06 August, 2008 11:21  
Blogger Frank Santoro said...

Dustin Harbin. The only sensible person in the room as usual.

06 August, 2008 12:59  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Well, if every comics shop orders five copies, then it actually will be a monster hit. Fingers crossed.

06 August, 2008 13:02  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

By the way, Dustin, who here accused anyone of greed? The only instances I see are both Chris Allen and I saying we don't think greed has anything to do with it.

06 August, 2008 13:04  
Blogger Dustin Harbin said...

I don't know where I said anyone accused anyone of anything.

06 August, 2008 14:07  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Dustin, you said "terms like 'hubris' and 'greed' are so silly in this context." So are you saying it was silly of me to say I don't believe greed is involved in KE7 costing $125.00?

I do think a bit of hubris is probably a valid observation, but then, any public undertaking of this kind involves a degree of hubris.

06 August, 2008 14:13  
Blogger Andrew Goletz said...

Alan,
By the looks of things with today's economic situation and comic market the book will probably only appeal to die hard fans of the art comix. I get mainstream titles still (too many by most people's take, I'm sure) but I don't consider myself ignorant about indie/alternative works and I have confessed that your blog was my first exposure to it.

But as an idealist, I think that's where blogs like yours and Tom's come into play. Just as I check out a wide source of reviews before buying a mainstream book I'm on the fence about, I check out other sources of information about projects I'd probably never hear about otherwise.

Before yesterday, the likelihood of me picking up this book was ZERO. Now I'm intrigued enough by the discussion to do my own internal checks and balances to see whether I could afford something like this.

To that end, you and Tom have done a service by at least making some people aware of this and some of them may have the income available where they don't have to shuffle.

06 August, 2008 14:17  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Glad to hear it, Andrew. Maybe it will be a monster hit after all.

06 August, 2008 14:22  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Hi Dustin,

On the one hand, I'm happy to get a retailer perspective here, and to learn that you're so enthusiastic about the book. I may think you're in the minority here as far as retailers, because clearly this isn't the easiest sell, but I would never criticize someone for enthusiasm.

I am curious about your shock if Alvin and Sammy make money on this venture...why? Do you think they're in this purely for art? Surely you don't think $125 is the break even mark? I want to make it clear that I hope they succeed, but let's not try to make this book or its reason for being into some sort of holy mission. These guys want to make something great, and make a few bucks at the same time, right? I would hope so. To intend otherwise is foolish, and to believe otherwise is foolish. I'm sure Messrs. Clowes and Ware and the rest hope to realize some profits here, too. If these guys don't make money from the thing, obviously that will be because you and other retailers weren't able to sell enough copies. Why are you applauding this? As far as hubris goes, I'm not sure why it's so strange to you that artcomix fans might question the pricing of one of the most expensive artcomix ever published. You're a salesman--do you honestly think a $125 book sells itself with a nice cover and a bunch of good guys in it? Let's see some selling here, and maybe some of that marketing budget you claim is eating into Alvin's profits. So far I'm seeing outdated info about 50 artists that doesn't work anymore if the book is 96 pages and each artist gets 3 pages. I just want to make an informed decision rather than be told $125 is a no-brainer and that a big format equates to pushing the medium in new directions.

07 August, 2008 00:40  
Blogger Dustin Harbin said...

What are you guys, a bunch of haters? I'm out of here.

07 August, 2008 08:37  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Yes, Dustin, we're a bunch of haters.

Is that the paradigm here? To have the unmitigated gall to discuss whether a particular comic book might be priced out of the range of even the most ardent fans of its type and creative line-up is equal to being a "hater?"

I'm afraid you've cast serious doubt on Mister Santoro's assertion.

07 August, 2008 08:43  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Dustin,

If you're still around, I have to admit lots of snappy comments come to mind, but I think I'll leave it at just being surprised and disappointed that all you got out of what ADD or I wrote is that we're "haters." Haters of what? I don't get why it's some kind of artcomix sacrilege to discuss this very expensive book that has so far been described with only its dimensions and some of the names involved. I would love to know more about what's in it and what justifies its price, and the motivations of the various talent involved in doing it. I'm not condemning or hating on the book at all. With more info, I may order it. But at that price, I need more. And as a guy who spent just as much on the Little Nemo book, which frankly I hadn't seen more than a few strips in my lifetime but picked up on the recommendations of others who had it and the strip's longstanding reputation, it might be just a little disconcerting to you as a retailer. I'm not a hater, I'm just someone who thinks and questions before he acts, at least most of the time. I'd really be interested to hear how a retailer like yourself sells this book, or what kinds of concerns retailers may have about ordering it. Like, is it shrinkwrapped? If so, does that make it more difficult for you to sell it? Do you even put a book like that on the floor or is it behind the counter? Just looking for some info, Dustin.

07 August, 2008 10:58  
Blogger Andrew Goletz said...

Hi Chris. It's like a mini CBG reunion here!
I don't want to get in the middle of the greed vs necessity aspect of the price point of the book but I do know that it is quite possible for the creators to take a loss on the book, willingly. Whether that's the case here remains to be seen but I've been a part of a few different situations where a publisher decided it was in their best interest to take a loss on a book in order to show readers, retailers and critics just what they could do.
For example, if Company A wants to do a really great collection of material featuring a certain character or artist they might do so at a cost where it isn't profitable for them. But in doing so they bring attention to the product in a 'look at us, look what we can do' sort of thing and they make themselves more attractive to other potential buyers/projects. Again, I don't know what the case is here, but it is a possibility and I've seen it happen before.

07 August, 2008 15:52  
Blogger Joe Willy said...

Well, I know I'd love to get the book but just can't afford it- but then I can barely afford many $20 comics I want to buy. I don't begrudge anyone making money and I completely understand the unique nature of the book requiring the price point it has.

I think what has some people feeling bummed is that for the last few years Kramer's was THE comics anthology and it broke a lot of "new" talent. It was also always very affordable. It has the feeling of that band you loved that you used to be able to see in small clubs for $20 now selling out rock stadiums at $125.

NO ONE I've heard is mad at anyone involved or charging them with greed- which is weird how some keep wanting to make it sound like that's what is being said, but maybe that's because I've never really seen people point out one book at being prohibitively expense and publicly reveal their angst about not being able to afford it- that should be taken as a compliment but seems to be taken as an insult.

I'm not even exactly sure how this "argument" began other than seeing some idiots who'd never buy ANY issue of Kramer's on Heidi Mac's blog complain about the price point. But since then this has evolved into something else where many people like ADD are just pointing out that they've been priced out of the fanbase of this project which they've long supported- I guess the word that's missing from these posts is "betrayal" because I can only guess that's what is at the heart of this- not that it's justified or the best word but that seems to be the undercurrent. Maybe gentrification is a better word?

I'm only adding my two cents because there seems to be an effort to make it seem like the people raising the issue are "haters" or are not "sensible people." Otherwise, my broke ass would have just added to the list of things I'll miss out on due to suffering from the effects of the Bush economy.

07 August, 2008 18:21  
Blogger Joe Willy said...

Alan, where you may be off base a bit is that I doubt hardly any superhero convenience stores took a chance on any of the previous volumes- if anything this might actually attract their attention.

I have no doubt this project is hugely risky for the people putting their money up and I can see how it annoys them to see people "second guessing" their decision (especially in an industry where people routinely buy crappy statues at a similar price- though I doubt anyone writing about how sad they are they can't afford KE7).

I think it's an interesting experiment and I'm glad someone is doing it. I always felt like there was a larger market for limited run, high end books from comics people

07 August, 2008 18:27  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

Well said, Joe, thanks for taking the time to comment. You really put into words a lot of the feelings I've had about this but couldn't put my finger on.

07 August, 2008 18:29  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Hey Joe,

Really well said. I liked the band and gentrification analogies, but I'm not sure that's what I feel. I'm as happy as anyone that Ware and Clowes have found success outside the artcomix world with The New Yorker, New York Times, screenwriting, etc. I like Kyle Baker doing all-ages comics, Peter Kuper in Mad Magazine...whatever. I don't see this book as a move into a new audience. Quite the opposite. It's for the same people as those who already buy work from these same cartoonists or who have supported KE in the past...just a lot more expensive. Thanks for writing, though. Very sensible.

07 August, 2008 22:45  
Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

Joe,

One other thing (sorry), I think "betrayal" is too strong, but maybe "alienated"? I'm not even committed to that, really, because it's not just the price that gets me, it's the way the book has been presented thus far. Once I know more about it, I may go ahead and order it. Right now I'm passionately ambivalent ;-)

07 August, 2008 22:49  
Blogger Joe Willy said...

Christopher,
Actually I DO think this has a chance to attract a new audience, of a sort. This will be like a high-end, oversize art book with the best that comics has to offer of work that gears itself toward the fine art crowd (including many name people outside comics but who follow design or fine art may recognize such as Chris Ware). I once bought an Actus Tragicus book in an art gallery gift shop so I can see this doing well in that environment. It is also likely to get a lot of play in the fine art magazines due to the talent, size and price.

And I almost hate to throw this out there but if we're trying to find the word for what people are trying to express then perhaps it's that dreaded presidential perjorative- "elitist."

08 August, 2008 07:26  

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