The Canadian dollar crept steadily upwards with news stories coming out every day this week saying it hit a new 30 year high. One bank is expecting it to reach 96 cents to the U.S. dollar by the end of the year. Another is expecting parity with the U.S. dollar by the end of the year, something that hasn’t happened since 1975.
I like the Canadian and U.S. dollar roughly equal. I know that many manufacturers and businesses might not, but I do. It just makes things easier.
However, what I’m not liking is the gouging that’s going on in some areas over the surging Canadian dollar. I’ve lamented this before, but I’m going to do it again. Because the discrepancy in U.S. price and Canadian price in publishing is a touch ridiculous.
But instead of books, this time I’m going to focus on graphic novels. The example I’m going to cite is the one I got this week from Chapters. It’s the Frank Miller Daredevil Omnibus. Obviously, this is a book with a limited appeal to most of the people who read this blog. However, it’s a classic run done by a writer and artist I normally like. Plus, the original 30 or so issues are expensive and a nuisance to track down. The book came out a couple of months ago.
I thought about buying it when I was in Ottawa in mid-April, however I balked at the price. It retails for $99 U.S., but that isn’t what freaked me out. The Canadian price tag was $160.
It was enough that I took a look at some other recent purchases. Two other Marvel hardcovers I bought had the same exchange rate. Runaways Vol. 3 and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane Vol. 1 retail for $24.99 US, $40 Can. Soft covers are just as bad. Daredevil: The Devil, Inside and Out Vol. 2 retails $14.99 US, $24 Can.
And it appears to be just Marvel. A recent DC purchase, DMZ: Body of a Journalist, goes for $12.99 US, $15.99 Can. Other recent DC trade paperbacks have a similar difference in exchange rate.
So let’s hit on a few points here. First, the dollar has surged a bit in the past six weeks, so it wasn’t at 94 cents back in mid-April. But it was around 90 cents and has been hovering, give or take a few cents, in that area for about a year. That means an accurate exchange rate would have been around $110-115. And yet Marvel Comics stuck a $160 price tag on the book. In fact, all of the Omnibus line has this ridiculous pricing. The Canadian dollar would need to be trading at around 65 cents to the U.S. dollar for this pricing to be even close to reasonable. It hasn’t been at that level since 2002. So the change isn’t exactly a shocking turn of events that Marvel was unprepared for.
Secondly, I visited three comic book stores in Ottawa that were all selling this book. None of them were adjusting the price of currency exchange. They wanted $160 for the book. I probably would have bought it in Ottawa if the exchange rate was more reasonable. But even with the extra money I have in my pocket these days, I really can’t justify spending $160 on a book, no matter how pretty, big or cool.
And yet, you may say, you still bought the book. Yes I did. That also speaks to the problems of some comic book dealers. You see, I got the book through Chapters. Their online service works for me very well up north because they continue to offer free shipping and have a delightfully devil-may-care attitude towards shipping. I recently placed an order for six graphic novels. They arrived in three boxes in less than a week. That’s good service, if perhaps poor business sense.
But when I cracked open the box and began to unwrap my Omnibus, something finally made sense to me. You see, I paid about $73 for the book. Still very expensive, but that works out to about a 55 per cent discount of the regular cover. Chapters gives deep discounts off their books, to be sure, but that’s still pretty steep. But on the back of the book there was a sticker for $110.
So Chapters did the sensible thing and adjusted the price of the book to what the exchange rate should be. The evil, big box, independent bookstore killing behemoth was the only one that gave me a break on this book. By the way, they did the same thing on the other Marvel books I bought. Both hard covers were bought for around $19. The soft cover was a little more than $13.
So to recap:
Marvel Comics – grotesquely gouged the price of the book by easily adding another $40 to $50 for Canadian buyers by ignoring years old currency changes.
Comic book stories – followed Marvel’s lead by not adjusting the price of the book when I’m sure many of them had to have spotted the difference. (Note, this was just the handful I saw in Ottawa. Perhaps others adjust for currency fluctuations, but I haven’t heard of any, indicating to me that they are a rare beast.)
Chapters – properly adjusted the price of the book to account for currency exchange, gave 35 per cent discount on top of that and free shipping to a remote area. The free shipping is also as good as giving me another $25 off, as I’ve seen Omnibus volumes on eBay that have $25 or more shipping on top of the final price to get it here.
I’ve always known that owning a comic book store is a rough business, which explains why so many owners eventually become either evil or insane. You’re operating at thin margins, at the whims of distributors, market fluctuations and now, big box stores like Chapters and Amazon, which are increasingly moving into the comic book business.
Oh, and the customers are demanding pains in the ass who want discounts and other kinds of preferential treatment. I know how hard it is to offer breaks. I know how thin the margins are and how cut throat the business can be. I’ve spent enough time in stores and read enough comic book blogs and sites to understand all of this. And I really do try to support local comic book stores when I can. I still like them. It’s one thing to spend an hour browsing Chapters website. There is a real joy for me in spending an hour in a good comic book store, looking at the books, checking out the art, reading some of the story and chatting with the staff about what’s good and what isn’t.
I’m in Nunavut. I rarely get to do that anymore and I miss it. The couple of hours I got to spend doing that in Ottawa were some of the best moments of the trip for me. But folks, I’m only got to spend so much extra on tactile pleasures. Not every book I order from Chapters is going to have this extreme a price difference. But Marvel needs to stop this horrific price gouging on Canadian consumers. Very, very soon there is going to be a legitimate argument that there should only be one price on North American comics (and all books and magazines, for that matter). And comic book stores are going to have to start stepping up on the discounts and perks.
Because when/if we move back down south, I’m trying to find a good reason to give up Chapters and switch back to comic book stores. I think tactile pleasures aren’t going to cut it.