Canadian Comic Book Pricing Woes
By Hervé St-Louis
October 31, 2008 - 20:38
Last year, comic book publishers were slow to adapt their prices to Canadian direct retailers and customers. In an article dated May 28, 2007, The Comic Book Bin advocated the abolition of Canadian pricing on comic books offered by large publishers such as DC Comics and Marvel Comics. Apparently, the current exchange rate merry go round has convinced one publisher, Marvel Comics to sell its books at the going currency exchange and to forgo Canadian rates on the cover of its books.
Marvel Comics was slow to adjust the price of its comic books for Canadians, and never offered parity. Currently a $2.99 American book is sold $3.05 Canadian. The Canadian pricing on comic books coming from Marvel and DC Comics was done essentially to facilitate purchasing management and inventory control for Canadian direct market retailers that are close to 10% of the North American market.
It is a pity to see that the exchange rate woes will probably affect the sale of comic books in Canada, which will not improve the results of the entire North American comic book industry. Canada, at 33 million people, is about one 10th of the United States’ 300 million population. While the market woes, caused by the September and October correction of the American economy, following the sub-prime lending crisis have hurt American banks and mortgage owners, Canada, with a much better balance sheet is affected by nonetheless.
Canadian banks are currently the best capitalized in the world and according to many experts, the safest and most shielded from the economic problems that have spread from the United States to the rest of the world. The Canadian dollar was trading at about the same rate as the American dollar for almost a year and even surpassed the greenback on several occasions. The Canadian dollar’s strength however was not based on strong industrial output. Resources, such oil, gas, metals and agricultural goods, drove the Canadian dollar up, hurting the industrial heartland of Canada based in Quebec and Ontario.
This in turn hurt Canadian manufacturers that were, for the first time in a generation, forced to compete with American manufacturers without the benefit of a competitive lower currency. This further hurt the manufacturing heartland of Canada and caused a massive series of layoffs in Southern Ontario, similar to what was occurring in neighbouring Great Lakes American states, based on the automotive industry.
It is safe to argue that central Canada’s comic book sales must have already suffered a lot thanks to the recession-like outlooks in Ontario and Quebec. Meanwhile resources-rich Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia, with much smaller populations are just about to face the cost of an economic slowdown, through the lowered value of the resources these provinces extract from their territories.
Canadians are used to paying more for products that Americans obtain for cheap. The reprieve that Canadians enjoyed in the last year, should not, however have been heralded as a new status quo. Hence, it’s probable that consumption of comic books, action figures and video games will slow in Canada, as it does in the United States.
Many Canadians, like me, almost stopped buying comic books when a single issue of say, The Flash cost almost $5 around 2002. While prices have not been adjusted yet, publishers should be careful before imposing steep increases on Canadian consumers, if they wish to continue suggesting Canadian prices for their products. In times of economic slowdown, the most common reaction is to increase the price of goods. This has the perverse effect of diminishing sales instead of stimulating them. Given the constant fragility of the comic book industry, and the time it takes to recruit potential customers, publishers should favour streamlining their operations, focus on cheaper printing and distribution solutions, before asking their customers to shoulder the cost of a global economic slowdown. If they don’t, when the economy resumes its stellar growth, potential comic book readers, whether Canadian or American, may have moved on to something more favourable.
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