Something historic happened Thursday, something the world hasn’t seen in more than 30 years. During trading Thursday, the Canadian dollar actually achieved parity with its U.S counterpart. For a brief time, $1 Cdn was equal to $1 US. It’s bad news for Canadian exporters and businesses that count on U.S. tourist revenue, but it’s a boon for businesses that import U.S. goods and other aspects of the Canadian economy.
But there’s a specific impact on those in the publishing business and those who sell books and periodicals. Unlike most goods, books, magazines and, yes, comics have retail prices printed right on the product, often with separate prices for U.S. sellers and Canadian ones, to account for the difference in the currencies. But that difference has faded as of late.
Cover prices on many Marvel comics released this week were $2.99 US/$3.75; DC, $2.99 US/$3.65. Marvel’s Canadian price is a little more than 25 per higher than the American one. DC’s is about 22 per cent higher. As I type this, one U.S. greenback is worth $1.01 Cdn.
Canadian comics retailer Calum Johnston, owner of Strange Adventures in Halifax, N.S., said the currency difference doesn’t impact his price that much since he and his staff always take it into account.
“So long as the retailer is buying the comics or books based upon the U.S. price, the pre-printed Canadian price is no worry. We just charge the going rate. Currently most Marvel and DC stuff is $3.25,” he said. “Most of the TPBs have to be stickered with the correct exchange; it’s just too time consuming to sticker every comic.”
“Before anyone starts dropping Canadian prices, let me just say this: periodicals and magazines should have Canadian cover prices and they should be reasonably accurate,” he said. “Comic issues have a brief shelf life of a couple months.”
Graphic novels and collected editions are a different matter.
Johnston said books should have one price, one that reflects where it was published.
“Books should only have the cover price upon which that the manufacturer is basing its price to wholesalers,” Johnston said. “So if a book is published in Canada, it should say $12.95 CANADA; in the U.S., it should read $12.95 USA.”
Trade paperbacks and graphic novels have a much longer shelf life than floppy comics, perhaps even moreso than prose books, he said.
Ultimately, U.S. comics publishers need to review their Canadian pricing (and other foreign pricing) every month or two, he said.
Some publishers recognize the need more than others. One recent Image Comics release boasted a cover price of $2.99 US/$3.35 Cdn, which represents only a 12 per cent different between the Canadian and American prices. It’s still not that close to par, but it’s closer than DC and Marvel prices. Image revises its Canadian pricing on a frequent basis. Dark Horse doesn’t print a Canadian price on its direct-market releases. Johnston said that means he has to sticker those comics with a Canadian price. Oddly enough, Dark Horse’s newsstand comics in Canada do carry a U.S. price and a Canadian one.
DC’s and Marvel’s reviews of their Canadian pricing are far more sporadic than Image’s. I can’t recall them revising their prices more frequently than once a year, and I suspect it’s actually less frequent than that. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that when it comes to DC and Marvel, when one alters its Canadian price, the other follows suit rather than following the currency market.
We’re at a point today when both prices should reflect the same number. It remains to be seen if that will come to pass.
Another manner in which the strong Canadian dollar impacts the comics industry could prove to be a major issue. Most of the comics one finds in direct-market comics shops are printed in Quebec. I don’t know what payment structure or arrangement U.S. publishers have made with Quebecor (the company that prints most mainstream U.S. comics), but it’s certain possible — and even probable — that a weakening U.S. buck and a strengthening loonie (the nickname for the Canadian dollar coin, by the way) could make for a financial divide that might have to be addressed in overall pricing of comics.
Click here to read a followup article, featuring publishers’ comments on the issue and an examination of the impact on Canadian freelancers.