Everything has a price, especially retail products. Most of the time it’s a fixed price. But when it’s monthly comic books sold at Barnes & Noble, it’s just plain old fixed.
Back in 2011, DC Comics relaunched their entire series of comics with “#1” issues. I took this opportunity to start reading the Batman comics again. Which I’m still doing four years later.
A few months ago I noticed a dramatic increase in the price for single monthly issues at Barnes & Noble. For the longest time, an issue of Batman went for $3.99. It suddenly rose to $4.99. I thought this a little obscene, but I forked out the cash.
About a year or so ago, I found a comic book store in Murrysville, PA. For me, this was like finding a bar of gold in outer space. Barnes & Noble only sold the main Batman comics. Any special Batman series required me to venture into Pittsburgh if I wanted them.
So I went to this closer comic shop for the Batman Eternal weekly series and any others that Barnes & Noble didn’t sell. Why not just buy them all at the comic shop? Because Barnes has a discount card. It may only be 10%, but it’s something, which is always better than nothing.
Around the time I noticed an increase in price of comics at Barnes & Noble, I noticed something more disturbing… the prices were LOWER at the comic book store.
By one dollar. Batman #46 cost $4.99 at Barnes and $3.99 at the comic book store. How is this possible?
Maybe I was hallucinating. So the next time I went to the comic book store, I checked. And the comics there WERE cheaper. I asked the store’s proprietor about it. This guy’s been in business for years, certainly he’d know how Barnes & Noble could do this.
He didn’t. In fact, he had never heard of such a thing ever happening before.
I could’ve let this go, but I shell out an exorbitant amount of money at Barnes, especially on comics and graphic novels. So, if I’m getting bilked, I wanna know why.
My first step was to contact Barnes & Noble’s customer service via my iPad. I spoke live with somebody.
Who had no idea what I was talking about. They referred me to the company’s “1-800” number for further assistance. If talking to bank officials about my student loans over the phone has taught me anything, it’s that no answers can be collected from disembodied voices.
I emailed them instead. A few days later I got reply. It read like a thesaurus entry of synonyms for “sympathy”, stuffed full of placations that didn’t work. The conclusion of three paragraphs advised me to call the same “1-800” number.
Corporate stonewalling! Consumer runaround! The most reliable indicators that you’ve landed upon the scent of an unsavory business practice; one that its creators would prefer remain hidden in shadow.
Now I really wanted an answer. So I emailed Midtown Comics in New York City. They were flabbergasted, replying that they had no idea how Barnes & Noble can do that.
Next up, Twitter. Tweets were sent to DC Comics and the various people in charge such as Geoff Johns, Dan Didio, and Jim Lee. None received replies.
So I took it to the creators. Batgirl co-writer Brenden Fletcher responded. He had no idea, either, but labeled what Barnes & Noble is doing as “ridiculous”. Steve Orlando, writer of the Midnighter series, was surprised by the price difference but couldn’t tell me how it was possible.
I sought outsider help. Enter Dan Schoening, the gluttonously talented artist on IDW’s Ghostbusters series. But his answer was the same – he had no clue.
The only thing to do now was confront a Barnes & Noble store employee and sweat an answer out of them. I couldn’t find the long-time employee I wanted to ask whom I’ve known for a while, so I settled on a capable lass who has been there for almost a year now.
Her response: maybe comic book stores have a deal with the comic companies to get their product cheaper. What?! This isn’t a bazaar in Agrabah! There’s no bartering going on here! The retailer doesn’t slap their own price on the comic book, it’s already PRINTED ON THE COVER!
Someone has to have an answer. This can’t be oversight.
So, turn on the Bat-signal. Hire Mystery Inc. and pop open a box of Scooby Snacks. This is a deep, vexing, swirling mystery pungent with the stink of corporate greed, meant to fleece unknowing comic book purveyors.
And a mystery that I shall solve.
Fred and Daphne are going that way. Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, and I will go the other.