Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Do Comics Need More Price Gouging?

Neil Gaiman:
 The secondary market for comics has extremely flexible spot prices, but first-run sales typically don't. I don't know for sure why DC, Marvel et al don't put more effort into predicting demand (it's possible that the reasons are similar to why Ticketmaster doesn't charge more for popular concerts), but it's curious to me why we wouldn't see a lot more arbitrage.

Think about the scene: shady characters outside the local comic shop hawking copies of the Sandman prequel (which looks mesmerizing from the few pages that got put up on the Web as a teaser) that they picked up inside at a steal. It sounds silly, but it should be a real arbitrage opportunity.

Of course, I suspect that this would violate the informal institutions that govern the comics market (just a suspicion, of course. I haven't bought comics in a dog's age) and if so, shop owners would probably impose a strict quantity limit on issue copies, the way game shops limit new release sales-per-customer for popular titles.

Why? Trust, I think. Despite stereotypes to the contrary, comics shops are remarkably convivial. If customers thought owners (or the publishing houses) were taking them for a ride, they might think twice about frequenting the product. It's in sellers best interest to cater to the wants of their customers, and that includes stubborn resistances to using price as a market-clearing mechanism. A new title from a beloved franchise feels more like a Christmas present from a favorite uncle (could you even imagine having Neil Gaiman as an uncle?) than as an exchange-traded commodity.

And all else equal, that strikes me as more or less euvoluntary. So there you have it.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?