Comic Books – A good entertainment value?

By Hal Hickey

Scanning through the latest comic catalog, produced by Diamond Comic Distributors, the average cover price is a penny under $4.00 for 32 pages of artwork and story. If you are in Canada, that cover price balloons to $5.40…ouch!

The modern comic book takes about 20-30 minutes to read, if you include the letters page, closer to the 30 minute mark. That works out to the equivalent of $8.00 per hour of entertainment. For collectors, one can’t place a dollar value you place on the enjoyment of adding it to your collection and checking off another chapter in the quest to collect every issue of a comic title! As some might say…priceless!

Collecting value aside, let’s compare comic books with other forms of entertainment. I am purposely leaving out newspapers (depressing and full of misinformation), magazines (sometimes better quality information, but mostly informative in nature), and video games (which require active participation by the user).

Movies and pocketbook novels can easily fit in the same entertainment category as comic books. All three have a goal to passively entertain. In other words, no active participation other than mental focus required.

The average cinematic movie ticket price at the end of 2015 was $8.34, let’s round it down to $8.00 for ease of comparison. An average movie is 90 minutes long so your cost is $5.50 per hour of entertainment. I won’t comment on the annoyance factor of the copious quantities of commercial advertisements, one must now endure in all cinemas. But I digress…

Paperback novel average price is $7.68, lets round this up to $8.00 as well. An average reader requires about 1-2 hours to read 100 pages and, with a typical book being 250 pages long, that provides an average reader 3-5 hours of entertainment. Let’s call it 4 hours for simplicity. The paperback provides the best entertainment value at $2.00 per hour.

2015 cost of entertainment per hour

Comic book cost per hour

Movie cost per hour

Paperback novel cost per hour

$8.00

$5.50

$2.00

Ok, time for some historical context: How about comparisons to 1950 prices? A couple of clarifications. In 1950:

  • comic books contained 50-60 pages with a cover price of 10 cents each
  • movie run times were 60 minutes, ticket price 40 cents each
  • paperback novels were 200 pages, cover price 25 cents

1950 cost of entertainment per hour

Comic book cost per hour

Movie cost per hour

Paperback novel cost per hour

$0.10

$0.40

$0.08

Some interesting comparisons to make for sure. In 1950, the entertainment value of paperback novels and comic books were similar, while the entertainment cost of going to a movie was 4-5 times higher.

Jump to today and the paperback novel remains the best entertainment value, an even better value with e-readers, but that is another topic. While movie as entertainment was 5 times more expensive per hour than a paperback in 1950, today it is better at 2.75 times higher, what looks like an improving value for movie entertainment (until your read further). The big loser is the comic book, which now cost more per hour in entertainment than movies, not quite but close to 2 times the cost of a movie and now 4 times the cost of a paperback novel. Is it any wonder why comic book collectors are the only niche, and a diminishing one at that, left to preserve comic books as an entertainment medium!

Let’s look at how much the cost of hourly entertainment has increased in the past 65 years:

How much has the entertainment cost per hour increased since 1950?

Comic book increase in %

Movie increase in %

Paperback novel increase in %

7900%

1275%

2400%

For a final comparison, let’s now apply a “real world formula”, to reflect on a true cost of hourly entertainment.

First: Comic books can be shared with another family member, but it is rare that a family has more than one comic collector. Plus the need for that same collector to preserve that fairly fragile comic book for an imagined potential future value, means that it is unlikely that any other person, known or otherwise, will ever get their grubby hands on that precious piece of entertainment. Verdict: No change to the cost of entertainment for comic books.

Second: Movies. It is rare that someone goes alone to a movie theatre. Therefore cost to the family can double or quadruple if kids come along. While each family member enjoys 90 minutes of entertainment, our finances are finite and this takes a bigger bite out of our pocketbook. Plus, the addition of popcorn, a drink and a chocolate bar for each can add another $20-$50 to the experience (often more expensive than the movie ticket price!). To simplify, let’s say only two of us go to the movie and we resist the urge to purchase popcorn at 10 cents a kernel… Verdict: The cost, out of our finite entertainment budget, of going to a movie has now doubled to $11.00 per hour.

Third: Paperback novels. Paperback novels can be shared with another family member and the odds of someone in the family with similar tastes for a style of novel are 100,000% greater than a collector sharing a comic book. Since there is no collectible value in the surprisingly indestructible paperback novel, chances are this will be read several times before it  gets used to start a campfire, and has an added bonus of trade bait for friends for other novels. Verdict: The cost of entertainment per hour drops by a factor of 2-4 (50 cents to $1 per hour). Shhh, let’s not even mention 25-50 cent used paperback novels at second hand stores or garage sales.

I’ve written this article as a long time reader and an even longer time collector of comic books. I also enjoy a good novel and will go to a movie cinema for any movie I consider to be “epic viewing” on the big screen. I am saddened to see the incredible rise of entertainment cost for comic books over the years. Without the movie industry’s recent support for preserving comic book characters as movie properties, comic books would already be an extinct medium of entertainment. But, nothing can replace that feeling when that comic book you bought 5 years ago has suddenly increased in collectible value by multiples over cover price.

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