Reprint of the Year? Unclear. Jeff Tries to Puzzle Out DC’s Batmanga Reprints….

December 11, 2014
Mind control

Quality…but at what cost?

This should be a review but it’s not.  It’s really more of a rant.

I’m not cheap.  I’m not.  I’m quick to pick up the check, I like buying presents for people.  I like spending money—probably too much so—and I’m still down with the idea of using my money as a form of activism, whether that means buying books I believe in and giving them as gifts, or donating small amounts of money, or microloans through Kiva.  All that.

But I also appreciate a good deal and like saving money.  So allow me to give you an opportunity on a tremendous comics deal trembling quietly under your very nose…and while doing so, also grouse about my complete confusion about what the fuck DC Digital is doing.

When DC started digitally publishing Batman: The Jiro Kuwata Batmanga, I was in from the first issue.  In fact, I was so delighted paying ninety-nine cents for the first 34 page installment of Batman’s fight with Lord Death Man  (Lord Death Man!) that I signed up for a digital subscription via Comixology.

Of course, the next week wasn’t 34 pages for ninety-nine cents.  It was fifteen pages for a dollar ninety-nine.  As was the next.  And the next.  In my brain, I changed gears a little bit and part of me decided there was more than a little bit of consumerist activism in keeping my subscription.  Well, getting this stuff restored isn’t cheap, I figured, and there probably aren’t that many people buying the digital copies so the price I’m paying is help underwriting the project.

If you listen to the podcast, you know I’ve gibbered happily about the stuff Kuwata is doing here:  it’s great goofy Batman comics, stuff that looks like the “New Look” Batman from the ’60s but reads more like the wacky sci-fi Batman stories from the ’50s.  I mean, my favorite story here has a supervillain named Professor Gorilla who is indeed a gorilla with the intelligence of a professor.  He uses his new found genius to punish humanity for its cruel treatment of animals.  He’s kind of R’as Al Ghul crossed with Gorilla Grodd, except he also wears a cape and mask like a wrestler in a lucha libre.  I love Professor Gorilla with a passion that borders on the terrifying.

Marry me, Professor Gorilla!

Marry me, Professor Gorilla!

So about twenty minutes ago, when I started this post, I was going to tell you, “hey, good news, the first collection of Batmanga is in print and you should get it because it’s a fantastic deal.”

Best escape from a death trap EVER.

Best escape from a death trap EVER.

And, don’t get me wrong, it is a really good deal.  It has the first six stories (or nineteen issues) for $14.99 in a well-designed trade paperback.  Seriously, 357 pages for a hair under fifteen bucks!

And then I thought about it and broke out the calculator and did the math.

I paid $36.81 for that same amount of material.

Let’s take the glass half-full approach:  I got to read all this material on a weekly basis starting five months ago.  I didn’t have to go to a comic store for it; in fact I usually downloaded it on Friday night so I could read on my lunch break on Saturday, and all nineteen issues take up the same slot of space on a device about as thick as a slice of bread.

But you know what? If DC Digital had charged me ninety-nine cents an issue, I would’ve paid $18.81.  And while that would’ve saved me a lot of money, it would’ve still been more than the $14.99 they’re charging for the trade paperback.  As you know, the trade has a lot more hidden costs behind it: there’s printing costs, distribution costs, the costs of returns for the book in the bookstore market.  Somebody got paid to design the dress.  And if you buy this book on Amazon, you don’t even pay $14.99, you pay 12.99 for the paperback because Amazon is willing to work on a lower profit margin than your local comic book store.

And here’s where it gets weird, stupid, and kind of offensive: you can also buy this volume as a Kindle edition for $9.99.

Yep.  you can buy the Kindle edition of the trade, collecting all nineteen issues for $9.99.  In fact, you can buy the Comixology collection for $11.99, as opposed to buying all nineteen digital issues for $36.81.

So let’s look at that glass half-full approach again.  The only advantage I now have for my extra twenty-five dollars is that I got to read the material on a weekly basis starting five months ago.  I suppose if I divide twenty-five by five, that’s five dollars a month extra or a little over $1.25 an installment?  That’s really not so bad, is it?

I don’t know.  I feel like it kind of is bad?

I know I’ve bitched about this before but I feel the topic merits revisiting:  is DC’s Digital program an attempt to develop and test a new marketplace, or is it a big ol’ cash grab?

Seriously, DC:  now that you have a digital collection where every installment is basically sixty-three cents, why don’t you adjust the prices of the individual issues to ninety-nine cents to encourage more new readers to experiment, or for people who enjoyed the trade to gift issues?  Assuming you’ve made your nut enough to offer a print edition, with all the additional cost that entails, for something like seventy-eight cents an installment, what exactly are you accomplishing by continuing to offer eighteen of the first nineteen installments for $1.99? There’s not even the advantage now of being the first on the block to read it so what exactly is the reason for the price, apart from the idea you can fleece a mark who doesn’t know about the trade?  And even if that’s not the reason, you can see how it looks like that, right?  And what kind of consumer relationship do you think you build looking like that?

Anyway, that was to DC.  This is to you:  look, do you like Batman?  Goofy, pre-grim Batman with weird and occasionally really lame villians?  Then do yourself a favor: if you have a tablet, pick up the digital collection for super-cheap.  If you don’t, pick up the trade paperback for almost as cheap.  They’re Batman-shaped funhouse mirrors, reflecting a different time and a different country back at you. And if you do, let me know, so I can feel more like a successful proselytizer than just another rube, gulled again at the boardwalk.

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8 comments on “Reprint of the Year? Unclear. Jeff Tries to Puzzle Out DC’s Batmanga Reprints….

  1. Eric R Dec 11, 2014

    I’m willing to pay more to support things I think are worth supporting. I mean, I can’t do that for everything I buy but I try to when I can because I feel that it is important, especially nowadays since doing so seems like something that is actively discouraged by nearly everybody it feels like.

    Also, whenever Marvel and DC do something weird or whatever “rube fleecing” is my default answer as to why unless there is another plausible explanation.

    • Jeff Lester Dec 12, 2014

      It is indeed the perfect term.

      • Eric R Dec 13, 2014

        The only other industry that I can think of that shows such blatant contempt for it’s own audience is the video game industry but at least they have the “excuse” of making enough money to drown Scrooge McDuck. Marvel and DC, no so much.

  2. Bill Reed Dec 12, 2014

    You’ll really hate that DCBS had the paperback on sale for pre-order at 7.49. It’s a handsome volume. It has cover flaps!

    My main concern with the book is the fuzziness of most of the pages, as evidenced in some of your examples, but I don’t know what they had.to work with.

    • Jeff Lester Dec 12, 2014

      It is indeed a beautiful volume–seriously, I really do think it’s a must-buy for Batman fans.

      As for the fuzziness, that’s a bit frustrating but it’s the same resolution in both print and the digital as far as I can tell. Arguably, the whiteness of a backlit tablet makes it look a little cleaner? It’s a shame because the pages where the reproduction is clean and you can see the smoothness of Juwata’s line? Hoo boy, does that look nice.

  3. I bought the first three issues digitally week of release for the Lord Death Man stuff, but stopped after because $1.99 does seem like too much to ask for a fifteen page digital file. I also stopped picking up Batman ’66 regularly when the price jumped up a buck – and found out recently that the printed singles for that one DROPPED in price to 2.99. Honestly, at this point I don’t think DC HAS any clear plan or direction for their digital line beyond “make money with it somehow (shrug shoulders)”. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of potential to cultivate new, less niche audiences there.

  4. Miguel Corti Dec 16, 2014

    Jeff, I feel your pain. If it makes you feel any better, I paid around $80 for the entire Japanese run in paperback. It’s three volumes, like I assume DC’s will be once they’re all in print, and it came with a not-so-nifty slipcase. (It’s made of flimsy cardboard, and it’s so compact and tight that it takes a crowbar to remove a single volume.) I guess I paid for the convenience of having it a year before you did.

    But you raised some good points. And, if I may be so bold, I’d like to add one of my own. Based on the article, I’m betting you didn’t know about the Japanese release. (I don’t know if there’s a digital version here as well.) (By the way, Bill Reed, the Japanese version also suffers from the same fuzziness issue despite the paper being crisp and white and the printing on the whole being very well done.) So, who paid to restore the Japanese version, from which, I assume, the English versions were adapted? Was it the publisher, Shogakukan? Was it DC? The indicia says Shokagukukan published under license from DC but that doesn’t indicate who paid for it. Since it came out here a year earlier, are Japanese readers subsidising the restoration costs? If so, why then were you expected to pay so much digitally? Was it to cover translation costs? I know translation costs can run pretty high if you’re not careful. A page I chose at random had 109 characters on it, including punctuation. That would cost around $10 to have translated. That’s a particularly wordy page, but if we accept that as the average for the sake of argument, than the whole series running around 1,000 pages brings the translation costs alone to $10,000, minus typesetting, editing, and contract negotiations.

    Still, with the Japanese version being so expensive and the restoration work already done, I don’t know why you were gouged as a digital reader. In Japan consumers get gouged all the time. (E.g., video games don’t cost the $60 like in the States; they can run from $70 to $100 easily. No wonder the market is shrinking.) Living here, I know it’s my lot to be gouged. Thing is, the English paperbacks would cost me almost half of what the Japanese version did, and if I had known it was going to come out in English and in print (I’m not so big on digital), I think I would have waited and saved, reading it in the vernacular be damned. After all, it is Batman, not Tezuka.

    Anyway, if anything, I just hope Jiro Kuwata sees a few yen from all these jacked up prices.

    • Jeff Lester Dec 20, 2014

      Miguel: sorry for the delay in replying to this super-insightful post. Your comment about being gouged as a Japanese consumer made me laugh (but in a sympathetic way). It makes me wonder, what with Marvel’s rush to higher price singles over the last few years if this is just becoming a standard for media that is seen as “niche” (as I believe a lot of video games are in Japan, right?).

      I think this is why I find the digital pricing so confusing and troubling. It seems more and more like DC isn’t seeing digital as a way of widening the niche, as a new newstand, but only as a niche of a niche: direct market purchasers with a fetish for owning content in all formats and/or first. (Or maybe I’m just worried because that actually is a disappointingly accurate description of me.)

      Thanks for the comment, and hope all’s well!

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