Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inflation Since the Silver Age

Longtime reader Mike F sent this analysis along and I thought it was interesting enough to post.  I will append my own thoughts at the end.

At the start of the Silver Age, DC comic books were 10 cents and had 24-25 pages of story, plus filler (gag strips, letter pages, etc.). Then in 1962 the price went up to 12 cents.

Today, a typical DC comic is 2.99 with only 20 pages of story (and maybe 1-2 pages of filler).

The analysis at the end of this e-mail is an attempt to do an apples-to-apples cost comparison (using a CPI calculator.) The CPI calculator is probably not 100% accurate but it is probably in the ballpark enough for this purpose.

What it shows is that we are paying more than 4-5 times as much for comics as we were in the Silver Age.

I believe there are several factors that may explain this.

1)      Writers and artists are paid more, including residuals
2)      Paper used is slick, not pulp.
3)      Printing quality is higher
4)      Sales figures are 1/5 to 1/10 the size meaning production costs are spread across fewer sales
5)      Most comics are sold through comics shops which need a higher sales price to stay in business (see lower sales figures)

Now to make things worse, most comics in the Silver Age had 1-3 stories per issue with considerably more text (dialogue and captions).

All in all, todays comics are vastly more expensive than they were in the Silver Age.

And of course, there is no comparison with the Golden Age when comics were ten cents and had around 60 pages of story and art.

$ Value
1956    2010
$0.10   $0.80

1962    2010
$0.12   $0.87

We will  multiply each number by 20/25 (80%) to account for the drop in story pages.

$ Value
1956    2010
$0.08    $0.64

1962    2010
$0.096  $0.69

DC Price Today Vs. CPI

Un-Normalized Percentage Difference
1956  ($2.99/.80) x 100 = 373.75%
1962 ($2.99/.87) x 100 =  343.68%

Normalized for page count difference
1956 ($2.99/.64) x 100 = 467.19%
1962 ($2.99/.69) x 100 = 433.33%

What do you think?

Thoughts by Pat:  Not sure I get all the math here, but this analysis does comport with an observation I came up with independently.  Back in 1968, when I first started collecting comics, I earned money for at least part of the year by mowing lawns.  I could make about $2.00 per hour whacking the grass, and with comics running 12 cents apiece, that means that I could translate my efforts into about 16.5 comics per hour.  I'm not sure what the going rate is for yard work these days, but in order to afford 16.5 comics kids today would have to be earning around $50.00 per hour, and I suspect strongly that they'd be more likely to get $10-$12, which would mean an effective price increase of 300-400% or more.

Another thought: Do you remember how DC used to fiddle with the comic sizes every time they pushed through a price increase after 1969's jump to 15 cents?  For example, look at Batman #214, the first issue with the new pricetag.  Batman #234 saw a jump to a quarter, but DC confused the issue by increasing the total page count to 52.  You can slice and dice that a lot of ways, but at least the price increase was accompanied by a value increase.  The new size and price lasted until #243 (1972), when the comics returned to the old size and the price "dropped" by a nickel.  Of course, the net effect was actually a nickel increase, hidden by the brief 52-page period.  The price jumped all the way to 50 cents with Batman #253 (1974), but they also bumped the page count to 100 (with most of the new pages coming from reprints).  Then the old size returned in Batman #263 (1975), but not the old price, which was now a full quarter.  Along the way, real page counts dropped as well; Batman #214 had a 23-page story, while Batman #263 only featured 18 pages of story and art.  So from 1969-1975, the cover price increased by 67%, but the price per page more than doubled.  And this was fairly well-concealed by the brief period of bigger issues.


Mike F said...

Ok. Let me see if I can make this a little easier to understand.

We are going to pretend what the price of a comic book would have been in 1962 if it had only 20 pages of story, instead of 25.

1962 (20 pages of story)
$0.096 per comic book
[Read as 9.6 cents]

Adjusted for Inflation since 1962
2010 (20 pages of story)
$0.69 per comic book
[Read as 69 cents]

But we are not paying 69 cents for a comic book with 20 pages of story, we are paying $2.99.

That is we are paying more than 4 1/3 times as much for 20 pages of story as we should. This is, if comic book price increases had only kept up with inflation we should be only paying 69 cents per comic, a fairly cheap price. A price that most kids could still afford.

I submit for your appoval, that if comics were still that cheap they would be selling in the hundreds of thousands per issue, just as they did back in 1962.

Ed said...

Being math-deficient, I have long used the same example as Pat. The 1.65 an hour I earned at the gas station in 1971 bought me 6 52-pagers at 25 cents a pop.

Today, forget the 52 pages, you'd have to make 18 bucks an hour just to buy 6 $2.99 books.

I bought 312 pages of story for a buck-fifty; a kid today, even at the cheapest comic price (Aren't some costing 3 and 4 bucks?) would pay 45 bucks for that!

Boosterrific said...

For several years, major publishers have mandated that stories be expanded (decompressed) for inclusion in trades, which reportedly sell well. How do these numbers change if instead of figuring by individual comics at $2.99, we look at collections?

For example, 52 collects into 4 volumes of 13 issues each for $20.00 per collection, or $1.54 per issue. Even 12 issues of All-Star Superman collect for $30.00. That's better than individual issues, right?

Mike F said...

OK. Let's look at a couple of collections.

Brightest Day Vol. 1 is a hardback, so is the worst case scenario. List price is $29.99 and it has 256 pages in it. Dividing it up into 20 page chunks we get $2.34/comic.

Blackest Night is a paperback. List price is $19.99 and it has 304 pages in it. Doing the same calculation we find that 20 page chunks results in only $1.32/comic. Now subtract Amazon's 32% discount and it works out to 89 cents per 20 page chunk/comic.

Obviously those of us who still buy monthly comic books are chumps.


I have now tried several different inflation calculators. They each give slightly different results, but the difference is only a penny or two.

Darius Smith said...

No one knows inflation like seventies comic book readers.

Mike F said...


I am insulted.

I have been buying comics since May, 1964.

In fact the first comic I ever bought with my own money was Detective 327, the first "New Look" Batman.

So there!

Seventies, indeed!!!!

Pat said...

Darius makes a good point; the biggest price inflation in comics (as in other things) came in the 1970s. Comics effectively went from 15 cents to 50 cents in that decade. If the price had continued to inflate at that rate, we'd be paying about $15.00 today.

Anonymous said...

Yep--as a child, I measured all the talk about runaway inflation by how frequent the price changes were happening. (I also remember a caricature of Gerry Ford with a "win" button in an issue of Guardians of the galaxy).

Daemodand said...

Another factor is that though comics of the silver age were marketed to children, today's comics are aimed at adults.

Anonymous said...

This is part of the reason my comics buying has gone down. A Showcase or Essential collection of Silver or Bronze age stuff is a lot more story for a lot less money per page. When my former employer began trimming away my paycheck, getting maximum mileage from my entertainment dollars became paramount.

TampaMark said...

CPI and Inflation numbers by our Government have been changed several times since 1980 (1980, 1985, 1987, 1992, etc).

My yardstick is not my price for labor but the price of silver. A pre-1965 silver dime has the silver value of $2.18 right now. And I believe silver is cheap now and can only go up.

But it is still apples and oranges as my hourly wage as gone down since 1999, not up. This is why I gave up on keeping up with my comic collection long ago. Now I just read friend's or go to the library for graphic novels.