Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Dollars and Sense

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 21st, 2007

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.”

Still, publishers should be more vigilant when it comes to Canadian price adjustments, said Johnston, a one-time winner of the Eisner Spirit of Retailing award.

“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.

36 Responses to “Dollars and Sense”

  1. Brad Dade Says:

    Agree with having one price on the cover. A few months back I remember Joe Quesada being asked about the strong Canadian dollar. He said for trades and don’t change for every little change in exchange rates. Please keep in mind 2 things. 1) These “little” changes have been continually getting stronger for the last 2 years. And 2) During the same period of time while Marvel said they couldn’t drop the price, DC had on their trades and graphic novels. Dc books with a $29.99 US cover price often went for $36.99 Canadian. Still high but much better than the $40-48 Marvel was charging for the same US cover price.

    If left unchanged this could impact Comic shops in Canadian Border towns. Maybe not the monthies. But if someone wanted to splurge on a new Marvel hardcover, why not go across the border and same some $. JMHO.

  2. Don MacPherson Says:

    Brad wrote:
    If left unchanged this could impact Comic shops in Canadian Border towns. Maybe not the monthies. But if someone wanted to splurge on a new Marvel hardcover, why not go across the border and same some $. JMHO.

    I don’t think that argument has to be limited to shops in border towns. Online retailing is big these days, and one might find a sufficient price break online that offsets cross-border shipping charges.

  3. Omar Jemaal Says:

    I haven’t bought a Marvel trade in years specifically because of Quesada’s refusal to address the strength of the CDN dollar.

  4. Don MacPherson Says:

    Omar wrote:
    I haven’t bought a Marvel trade in years specifically because of Quesada’s refusal to address the strength of the CDN dollar.

    To be fair, we don’t know that Quesada has input on Canadian pricing of Marvel’s products. That could be determined in another area of the company.

  5. Conor E Says:

    It may not be Quesada, but whoever IS in charge of pricing has dropped the ball. It’s been about four years since I last purchased a TPB in a comic store.

  6. Jacob T. Levy Says:

    Librarie Millennium in Montreal charges its subscribers $C 2.99 for a book listed at $US 2.99 / $C 3.99 (for example, before subscriber discount). This means a big discount when the loonie is weak, and right now at least a discount compared with the listed Canadian price.

  7. THE CATATONIC EXPRESSIONIST Says:

    Don mentions that the strong value of the Canadian dollar is impacting the industry. However, from what I heard it would be more accurate to blame the weak U.S. dollar, which in turn makes the loonie stronger. I don’t know though…I haven’t done any reading to back that up. I just always hear how weak the dollar is getting.

    Plus, I have always enjoyed the fact that beady-eyed Canadians have to pay more.
    Whenever I see the higher Canadian price on the cover I always think about how great it is to live in America. RUMSFELD!!!!!!!!!!!!!YEAH!!!!

  8. Don MacPherson Says:

    The Expressionist wrote:
    Whenever I see the higher Canadian price on the cover I always think about how great it is to live in America. RUMSFELD!!!!!!!!!!!!!YEAH!!!!

    Three words: universal health care.

    Checkmate. :)

  9. Glen Newman Says:

    You guys in Canada don’t have it as bad as you think. Here in Ireland due to factors such as shipping costs, V.A.T. at 21% & inflation we’re paying about $5.50 for a regular $2.99 book despite the fact that $2.99 is about €2.22 at the moment :(

  10. BENN Says:

    Thank you for addressing something that’s been annoying me for years! I’ll never forget that period (late 2004 and/or early 2005?) when some DC comics, such as Superman/Batman, were $4.50 CDN each! Of course, Top Cow held the standard price $4.60 CDN for years, encouraging us to wait for the TPB. Someone is bilking the Canadian consumer, damn it! Kudos to Silver Snail Comics (in Ottawa and Toronto) for taking action; first they reduced graphic novel prices by a percentage, then this year they started selling books at the American price! (they also have a good indie selection, for that matter)

  11. Don MacPherson Says:

    Glen wrote:
    Here in Ireland due to factors such as shipping costs, V.A.T. at 21% & inflation we’re paying about $5.50 for a regular $2.99 book despite the fact that $2.99 is about €2.22 at the moment.

    Glen, as a result of those factors, do you find you’re more inclined to wait for collected editions, or is the financial pinch just as significant for TPBs?

  12. Don MacPherson Says:

    Benn wrote:
    Kudos to Silver Snail Comics (in Ottawa and Toronto) for taking action; first they reduced graphic novel prices by a percentage, then this year they started selling books at the American price!

    The loonie’s been gaining strength steadily for a couple of years now, and many have forecasted that it could achieve par with the U.S. buck. Those forecasts have come to pass, and even if it’s temporary, I imagine the difference between the two currencies will be negligible for several more months, if not more.

  13. Glen Newman Says:

    Don wrote:
    Glen, as a result of those factors, do you find you’re more inclined to wait for collected editions, or is the financial pinch just as significant for TPBs?

    It’s relatively the same for trades unfortunately. V.A.T. for books, which trades would fall under here, is lower at 15% but the increased weight of trades mean higher shipping costs so the difference is negated. For example, a $14.99 six issue trade costs about the equivalent of $24 in Ireland so I’d only be saving about $9, which is less than the cost of 2 monthlies here. For someone like myself, who loves the monthly format, it’s not really that significant of a difference.

  14. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Sept. 24, 2007: Parents these days can’t take chances Says:

    [...] [Publishing] Don MacPherson explains what the relative parity in value of the United States and Canadian dollars means for comics. [...]

  15. Craig Welsh Says:

    The exchange rate is also one reason why I tend to deal more with Chapters and Amazon, which not only adjust for the exchange rate, but offers discounts as well.

    I live in the Canadian arctic, so there are no comic stores around here. The last time I was down south I went into a store in Ottawa, picked up about $100 worth of graphic novels and asked if they were charging US or Canadian prices (the Can. dollar was around 95 cents). They said they charged the price on the book. I went to Silver Snail and picked up most of the same books and asked the same question – I received the US price and bought them.

    If you refuse to pay the Canadian price listed, retailers will get the hint sooner or later, even if the publisher doesn’t.

  16. Blog@Newsarama » Dollar versus dollar, played out on comic covers Says:

    [...] As the American dollar and Canadian dollar reach parity for the first time in three decades, many Canadian readers are wondering why they’re still paying more for their comic books. Don MacPherson delves into it: Canadian dollarOne 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. [...]

  17. Eric Arsenault Says:

    Marvel has really dropped the ball for sure on the Canadian pricing, just look at a Punisher Max HC, 29$ US 48$ Can. Just crazy !

    And because of that and lateness in comic books, I have only bought TPB/HC in the last few years, and none from comic shops; Why would I do that when Amazon will sell me the HC above for around 22$?

    Great subject and discussion everyone.

  18. Don MacPherson Says:

    Eric wrote:
    And because of that and lateness in comic books, I have only bought TPB/HC in the last few years, and none from comic shops; Why would I do that when Amazon will sell me the HC above for around 22$?

    It seems the issue of non-American pricing of U.S.-published comics goes hand in hand with the issue of online retailing. Are there any retailers out there reading this article/thread who want to chime in? Would parity pricing for comics in Canada help brick-and-mortar stores?

  19. Doctor Says:

    Here’s an extreme example of the problem: The Fantastic Four Omnibus #2 is priced at $99.99 US, $160 CAN. Over at Amazon.ca, it’s selling at $75.59 CAN, less than half the marked price. Less savvy customers may end up paying way too much for books like this.

  20. Don MacPherson Says:

    Doctor wrote:
    Less savvy customers may end up paying way too much for books like this.

    Your comment implies that it all comes down to price, and that’s not the case. Paying more at a local comic shop or bookstore can bring (a) better customer service and (b) support for local small businesses, among other potential, non-tangible benefits.

  21. Tony Says:

    Glen wrote:
    “You guys in Canada don’t have it as bad as you think. Here in Ireland due to factors such as shipping costs, V.A.T. at 21% & inflation we’re paying about $5.50 for a regular $2.99 book despite the fact that $2.99 is about €2.22 at the moment”

    I’m astonished to hear this. I live in Spain, where we have the same currency than in Ireland, the mighty €uro, and in my LCS I pay 0,90 €uros for dollar, not quite favorable as the official exchange rate, but the result is: 2.69 €uros for the typical $2.99 pamphlet.

  22. Craig Welsh Says:

    Don, I try to support comic book stories as much as I can. But there’s no way I’m buying the Omnibus volumes at the stories when they’re charging that amount. And some are, because I’ve asked when visiting them. I don’t care what “intangible” benefits it might bring, that’s gouging, by either the retailer or the publisher.

    With the discount card, that Omnibus volume can be bought at Chapters for $73.32 (I know, because it’s on my wish list), nearly $90 cheaper. You have to be insane to buy that at a regular comic book store, no matter how much you want to support them.

    Some stores really don’t make it easy for you to support them.

  23. Jim Cowling Says:

    But paying less online provides actual (not potential) and tangible benefits to me. These tangible benefits trump any intangible benefits provides to others. Perhaps it is a cold, hard world, but an altruistic desire to see FLGSs survive is not a compelling reason to throw money at them unnecessarily. The FLGS must compete for for my dollars.

    Seriously, Don. In the example you’re replying to, we’re talking about $85 for one book. No brick-and-mortar comic shop is ever going to provide anyone with $85 worth of intangible added value if the book is purchased there.

    The FLGS is not going to be able to compete for sales of that book. They may be able to compete for sales of other books. But the value provided to me must be *tangible*. What is in it for me or for my family or community? Is the benefit that I see from the survival of Pow Comics greater than the benefit that I see from saving 30% of my monthly comics bill and putting it into my retirement plan?

    Virtually all comics sold in North America are printed in Quebec. Virtually all of those comics that are sold in Canada are drop-shipped to Canadian distribution centres; they never once end up in the US. Virtually all of those comics sold in the direct market in Canada are distributed by one company.

    That one company has the power, if not the will, to normalize prices, and to do so immediately — if necessary, by putting pressure on the publishers. That we have not seen normalization of prices is indicative of greed somewhere in the distribution chain. And, yes, some of that greed is on the part of retailers, who will not be happy to see their gross sales decrease once prices are normalized. Retailers who have normalized their prices are a rare breed in Canada. And even they provide little tangible benefit over buying from US mail order firms at 30% off.

  24. Don MacPherson Says:

    Craig & Jim, I don’t disagree with you guys at all. A savings that significant in the example Craig provided is certainly one I wouldn’t ignore.

    The mistake was mine. I wasn’t clear that I was talking in general terms about intangible benefits of the LCS. In Craig’s example, the savings is an overwhelming incentive to buy online.

    My comment about buying from a traditional shop is meant in a different spirit. For example, for the weekly comics buyer for those seeking lesser known fare, a LCS can offer better service than Chapters or Barnes & Noble. There’s a greater knowledge base about the material at a LCS and better customer service (ideally, but not always, as I’ve heard). The big-box booksellers and online sellers are undoubtedly in a better position with graphic novels.

  25. Brad Dade Says:

    This has been a great discussion. But I would really like to hear what Marvel and DC have to say about the pricing issue. Like I said earlier. DC has made some adjustments. But more need to be made. And Marvel? Especially when it comes to trades/hardcovers/ etc. I would think a case of price gouging could be argued. I stopped reading WIZARD(BTW, when are they going to adjust their prices?) months ago so I don’t know if they have or are going to address it. Maybe an interview with the powers that be? Judging by their usual content, Somehow I doubt it.

    A simple suggestion would be to drop the Canadian price. Even if the US dollar over time becomes stronger(or the Canadian $ gets weaker), the stores can deal with the adjustment. It’s not like they haven’t had to already. Dark Horse and Image, along with many independants, only have the US price on their trades.

    But the only way any change will happen is if readers demand change. Unfortunatly there are many customers that need their “fix” and will pay any amount.

  26. Glen Newman Says:

    Tony wrote:
    I’m astonished to hear this. I live in Spain, where we have the same currency than in Ireland, the mighty €uro, and in my LCS I pay 0,90 €uros for dollar, not quite favorable as the official exchange rate, but the result is: 2.69 €uros for the typical $2.99 pamphlet.

    Are those books that are translated into Spanish? There are UK publishing houses that reprint certain Marvel & DC books in a format that has 3 US issues per UK issue, working out at about $2 per issue but they are 6 to 12 months behind and I’d only have access to the Avengers, Batman & the X-Men books.

    I think I’ll have to move to Spain. What’s the weather like there? ;)

  27. alan brown Says:

    This issue has been bothering me for a long, long time.
    A couple of points.
    Marvel, and especially Marvel collected editions, is the worst offender by far when it comes to ripping off Canadian customers. Recent marvel trades still have Canadian sticker prices 60% above the US list, as has already been mentioned in above. My LCS re-stickers, otherwise I would get everything through the US, despite high shipping costs.

    Second, I wonder if there is any justification for higher canadian prices, even with dollar parity? Are shipping costs to canada higher (I know they shouldn’t be, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t)? Do canadian retailers have to pay taxes/duties to import the books (a week or two after they’ve been printed at Quebecor)? I assume that canadian retailers pay the same US rates as diamond customers in the US, but maybe not? I guess I need a retailer to answer these questions.

    Lastly, I think parity is going to bring a bit more consumer activism. Previously, the dollar has always been weaker, so consumers were accepting of a dual price system for books and comics, seldom questioning whether the price disparity reflected gougeing or reasonable exchange rates. Now, everyone knows that the dollar is on par (and likely to go higher in the short term), no one is going to enjoy paying more in CAD for books and comics.
    It wouldn’t surprise me if the big box bookstores announce in the near future that they will start charging the US cover price on ALL the books they sell. I actually saw a listing on amazon.ca or chapters.ca the other day (I don’t remember which) where the pricing was listed like this:
    US list price = x
    CAD equivalent = y (about 1.03x)
    discounted price = y – 34%

    It is high time to do away with dual pricing and move everyone towards something like the above.
    I’d rather see a price that floated from month to month than live with the current system of being continuously gouged.

  28. Jim Cowling Says:

    Are shipping costs to canada higher (I know they shouldn’t be, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t)? Do canadian retailers have to pay taxes/duties to import the books (a week or two after they’ve been printed at Quebecor)?

    As I mentioned earlier, they’re drop-shipped. Books sold through Canadian distribution centres never enter the US. So, no, there’s no shipping surcharge, either.

    Canadian shops get the same percentage discount as US shops, as well.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if the big box bookstores announce in the near future that they will start charging the US cover price on ALL the books they sell.

    It would surprise me. As with the direct market comic industry, there is no will for Chapters/Indigo to drop prices in any kind of hurry.

  29. Don MacPherson Says:

    Jim wrote:
    As I mentioned earlier, they’re drop-shipped. Books sold through Canadian distribution centres never enter the US. So, no, there’s no shipping surcharge, either.

    When I worked for a local retailer, it was my impression the comics, though printed in Canada, were still shipped to Canada by Diamond from U.S. shipping warehouses. I believe the East Coast (Canada) is serviced by Diamond’s Plattsburgh facility. It seems ridiculous that Diamond wouldn’t establish a Canadian shipping facility since the comics are printed here, but I don’t know the distributor has one.

  30. Tony Says:

    Glen wrote:
    “Are those books that are translated into Spanish?”

    No. I mean original American comics, from Marvel, DC and all the rest, ordered through the Previews catalog in comics specialty shops. The Previews system works not only in English-speaking countries, but in many others of Europe and Latin America.

    “I think I’ll have to move to Spain. What’s the weather like there?”

    In my neck of the woods (Northwest), very similar to yours (rainy, cold), I’m afraid, but further southwards it’s a desert.

  31. Brian G Says:

    When I worked for a local retailer, it was my impression the comics, though printed in Canada, were still shipped to Canada by Diamond from U.S. shipping warehouses. I believe the East Coast (Canada) is serviced by Diamond’s Plattsburgh facility. It seems ridiculous that Diamond wouldn’t establish a Canadian shipping facility since the comics are printed here, but I don’t know the distributor has one.

    I’m a Canadian retailer, and I can confirm for you that Diamond used to have a Canadian facility, but they closed it down about 7 or 8 years ago. Our books are shipped from Plattsburgh, with some back issue stuff coming from the Memphis warehouse, so all of it is re-imported into Canada.

    We used to order a set of CD’s every month from Diamond with all of the Previews stuff on it and all of the images. It was $100.00 a month. Every month UPS charged us a $65.00 brokerage fee for the CD’s. Being a Canadian retailer is fun.

    We do get charged in US funds against the US cover price of comics (less our discount), so why Marvel et al don’t want to change the price is beyond me since it doesn’t affect them in the least.

    Personally we’ve always given 20% off the Canadian Cover Price, which works out to US cover or better (a $3.75CDN book less 20% is $3.00), since the parity we’re now offering 30% off the Canadian cover price to our regular customers.

  32. Aussiesmurf Says:

    Here in the land down under, the exchange rate is normally around 0.80$Australian = $1.00 US.

    My LCS makes changes from time to time that take into account the exchange rate fluctuations, but the real killer is shipping costs from overseas.

    Including my 10% discount, I pay $5.15 Australian for each $2.99 monthly. With the number of monthlies on my pull-list, i often spend about $50.00 per week.

    The average trade goes for around $30.00 Australian.

  33. Jim Cowling Says:

    I’m a Canadian retailer, and I can confirm for you that Diamond used to have a Canadian facility, but they closed it down about 7 or 8 years ago.

    Mea culpa. Back when I was a retailer — mind you, this was 12 years ago — they had a distribution node in Vancouver which received dropships from Quebecor. We and our competitors often used to drive out there and pick up the books (from Victoria) to speed things along. I wasn’t aware that it had closed.

  34. Sven Says:

    Interesting observation: the Coles I walk past on the way to the office (BCE Place in downtown TO) has a 20% off sale on all DC & Marvel merchandise.

    To me, that implies one of two things:

    (1) There’s going to be a wide-spread re-pricing of comic material and they’re trying to use the sale to get items out at a better margin than they’ll be sitting at after the sale (worked on me, as I picked up an Essentials volume I was lacking).

    (2) People are getting sticker shock with the difference in pricing and this is a bit of an incentive (remember, a store like Coles will only be selling TPBs / GNs), but prices aren’t going to be changing.

  35. Jim Cowling Says:

    Or (3) Chapters/Indigo has decided to reduce or eliminate stocks of non-manga GNs in their mall stores (Coles, World’s Biggest Bookstore, SmithBooks, Classic Bookshops), due to space considerations and the comparably higher sales of manga.

  36. Comics Should Be Good! » The Problem with Canadian Comic Prices Says:

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