Conflicting reports indicate two major American comics publishers are moving to eliminate Canadian pricing on its products or are planning to maintain it despite requests from many comics retailers north of the 49th parallel.
One prominent retailer — Calum Johnston, owner of two Strange Adventures comic shops in Atlantic Canada and one-time winner of the Eisner Spirit of Retailing award — said he’s been told Canadian pricing on “Big Two” comics may be a thing of the past.
“Both Marvel and DC are thinking of removing the Canadian cover price to comic-book periodicals,” he said this week.
Marvel Comics spokesman Arune Singh confirmed the report, telling Eye on Comics this week that Canadian pricing will be dropped from Marvel periodical publications (namely, floppy comics). A DC spokesman declined to comment.
Johnston welcomes the news, as it eliminates the usual disconnect between the U.S./Canadian cover prices and ever-fluctuating currency exchange rates. A year ago, the Canadian dollar achieved parity with the U.S. greenback. Now, the loonie’s value has plummeted, valued at 81.63 US as of the end of business Wednesday.
However, Jay Bardyla, owner of the Shuster Award-winning Happy Harbor Comics in Edmonton, Alberta, told Eye on Comics that Marvel told a retailers’ group as recently as last week that Canadian pricing is here to stay.
He said during a conference call with Marvel and Comics Pro members Oct. 24, the publisher’s representatives said that some retailers have requested that Canadian pricing remain on its products. Bardyla said he believes the minority of retailers making that request are big ones, such as big-box bookstores and Amazon.com. Canadian pricing works for them, he said, but not for small retailers.
He and Johnston have been ignoring Canadian prices for years, calculating prices based on real exchange rates rather than what Marvel and DC suggest on its covers.
“Many Canadian comic retailers have been going by the U.S. cover price plus applicable exchange rate. The rate is determined by what Diamond Comics Distributors charges the retailer on their invoice,” Johnston said. “While the rate hovered between one and five per cent, we just went by the U.S. price as being the same as Canadian. A few weeks ago, the rate climbed to eight per cent, and we had to go back to adding the exchange. Two weeks ago, it was 12 per cent, last week 18 per cent and this week 26!”
“Honestly, we’d rather not have it (the Canadian price) there,” Bardyla said. “We tag everything that comes through the door (with our own sticker).”
While Johnston was told Canadian pricing would be eliminated from Marvel and DC periodical comics, he said, he’s also been informed the publishers won’t extend their new policies to their beefier publications, such as trade paperbacks, hardcover reprints and graphic novels.
“Pre-printing a foreign price on an item that has a months-long, sometimes years-long shelf life is ridiculous and counter-productive,” he said. “All publications should have one price, what I call a ‘home’ price since it is what the publisher or manufacturer would price the item at home. Lousy foreigners, like myself, who import books and other items use labels, stickers or notices to let consumers know what the price on any given item will be in their storefront.”
Contrary to Johnston’s information, Singh said this week Marvel’s new policy will apply to the publisher’s collected editions as well. DC’s silence on the issue leaves the fate of its book pricing up in the air, along with a timeline for the elimination of Canadian pricing on the traditional comic-book format.
“The change (for comics) takes effect in three weeks and shortly thereafter on collections,” Singh said Tuesday. (Update: Singh later corrected that statement, noting the Canadian price would remain on collections. Click here to read the Eye on Comics followup feature on the issue.)
Other American comics publishers generally don’t list Canadian prices on their products.
Meanwhile, the drop in the Canuck buck’s value will have an impact on business, said Johnston, as product will cost him and his customers more.
“This definitely takes a bite out of what consumers can spend. They have to curtail their book buying, which results in lower sales and lower income for me,” he said. “I have to cut costs wherever possible, and this unfortunately looks like it will result in a few part-time employees losing some hours, cutting back on advertising and fewer risks taken by me on unproven products.”
Johnston said Strange Adventures isn’t at risk as a result in the currency shift, but it serves as a warning sign that Canadian retailers ought to watch and manage their expenses more closely.
“Obviously, it’s a bad thing (for Canadian retailers),” Bardyla said of the weakened loonie. His customers are likely to buy fewer comics as a result, he said, whereas when the dollar was at par with the U.S. buck, many were trying out new titles because their budgets allowed it.
Paul Ens, co-founder and co-owner of Calgary-based Red 5 Comics, said he doesn’t know what effect, if any, the recent drop in the value of the Canadian dollar will have on the relatively new comics publishing company.
“Does it help or hurt Red 5 Comics? That’s too early to tell. The vast majority of our monetary transactions in and out are in U.S. dollars, so that’s all a wash,” he said. “The one possible benefit will be in printing costs, since we print a lot of our comics in Quebec. Then again, so do many U.S.-based comic publishers. If the dollar stays low for a long time, it’s likely the printing prices will rise to reflect the disparity.”
Click here to read the followup feature on the issue of the fate of Canadian pricing of U.S.-created comics.