Posted by: Jeff Lester on March 27, 2007
Hmmm. You’ll either get multiple reviews from me today (or tomorrow), or I’ll be reviewing books well into next week, or you’ll never find out what I think about any book beyond ‘E.’
Richard Starkings left some very interesting feedback to my review on Hip Flask: Concrete Jungle, and I’m still trying to figure out how to parse my reply. On the one hand, I appreciate that part of the reason why we still haven’t seen the conclusion of this story is that he is dutifully waiting on Ladronn. On the other, Starkings’ justification for why it’s okay for him to sell a thirty dollar book of all middle is that he’s paid much, much more than that (“NO ONE has paid more to read it than I have”) and it will be years and years before he sees any profit, while “any stores that sells a single copy (my local store sold out by the weekend) has made a profit already.”
To reply will take a certain amount of judicious disentanglement that I’m not sure I’m capable of at the moment. I suppose those stores that sell copies will turn a profit at that price range, although if the retailer isn’t prudent about mentioning to the buyer that it’s an incomplete story and there’s no guarantee that it’ll ever be finished and that they therefore shouldn’t be buying it for anything other than the beautiful art, they run the risk of having the buyer feel ripped off and losing future business. So, yes, a store can turn a short-term profit with Hip Flask: Concrete Jungle and hopefully not cut itself off from long-term profits. But it’s also a much tougher sell to make responsibly than, I dunno, a complete product.
Also hard for me to disentangle is Starkings’ perspective as a publisher/fan, which is that $30 is relatively very little to pay for an incomplete story compared to the tremendous amounts of money he’s paid for the incomplete story. And while I believe this to be true, and do appreciate he’s waiting for Ladronn to finish the story, there’s a bit of misdirection going on. As Starkings says, it will be YEARS and YEARS before he sees a profit on the book. To apply the same logic he used earlier, that is relatively little compared to the amount of time it’ll take for a reader to see a profit on the book, which is usually NEVER. Unless (successfully) engaging in speculation, the reader NEVER turns a profit on a book although they can defray their losses somewhat by reselling it.
This point is particularly difficult to untangle since Starkings is writing from the perspective of a publisher/fan as if I were a retailer/fan, instead of just a fan. But it seems to me that publishers, like all businessmen, are gamblers and gambling on turning a profit is part of the game. A reader who pays money for an entertainment is also a gambler, and gambling on getting your money’s worth is part of that game. But they are two different, albeit interrelated, games, and when the publisher tries to help his odds by worsening the reader’s, it’s probably worth pointing out, if you’re on the reader’s side of the game.
Part of the problem with the direct market, it seems to me, is that retailers are treated as part of the publisher’s game only when it suits the publisher, and the rest of the time they’re treated as readers (which is why, for example, Marvel and DC feel no compunction about shafting the retailers about solicit information). Certainly, with that being the case, I can’t see why all retailers don’t act like their interests are first and foremost with the reader’s side of the game. But even if it weren’t the case and publishers always treated retailers like partners in the gamble of publication, I’d think that retailers are still better suited helping the readers win (by picking up books worth their money and time) than by helping the publishers win (by turning a profit). This makes it a much harder game for publishers, but there are correspondingly greater payoffs that make the difficulty worth it. And, of course, if a publisher turns out a product that’s worth a reader’s time and money, and the retailer can help the reader get it, everyone wins.
All of that is why even if I were a retailer/fan, instead of just a fan, I’d still think it’s wrong for him to suggest that the reader help underwrite his investment; because the reader never shares in the final dividends if that investment pays off, apart from what he holds in his hands at the moment he pays his money. If that book is worth $30 to the reader, fine. If not, it’s really not in the best interests of the retailer to try to convince the reader, otherwise.
Finally, Starkings is such a fan of Ladronn that he sees Hip Flask as “90 pages of Ladronn” and therefore well worth ten grande lattes from Starbucks. What’s difficult is he never explains how many grande lattes an incomplete story is worth–in the wacky world of comic book currency, I would say it’s worth one grande latte (and in the wacky world of real world currency, it’s worth the electricity for your TV and having to watch an advertisement or two for a grande latte). If you’re a similarly huge fan of Ladronn, you may feel that you would gladly pay ten grande lattes for Hip Flask: Concrete Jungle but for most of us, seeing that the book is neither solicited nor sold as a Ladronn art book, might feel that we are not getting our grande lattes worth of story.
My humble Solomon-like solution is to average out the number of grande lattes the Ladronn fan and the incomplete story purchaser are willing to pay–5.5–and make that the new SRP of Hip Flask: Concrete Jungle. Whether Starkings is paid in actual grande lattes or the equivalent amount of cash (approximately $16.50), I’ll leave up to him.
So, yeah. Still trying to parse my reply. What do you think? As I said, I’m trying for “judicious disentanglement,” and I keep ending up with “scrappy exhaustiveness.”
Oh, and since I’m here:
BIRDS OF PREY #104: The BoP meets Secret Six was one of the more satisfying team crossovers I’ve seen in a while, especially because Simone’s fondness for the characters seeps through the text–it reminded me of those very early Marvel team-ups where, say, the Fantastic Four would pop up in the Avengers for four pages and everyone would compliment each other on their hair. As for the big last page resurrection of Ice, I didn’t know that she had died until someone in the cast mentioned it six pages earlier. So I guess you could say the impact was lost on me. A Good issue, anyway.
BRAVE AND THE BOLD #2: Really gorgeous to look at and fun to read, so much so that one can overlook the issue’s strengths (without making a big deal out of it, Waid is clearly writing Supergirl differently than the Supergirl over in LSH because this is obviously a different Supergirl) as well as the weaknesses (I can say with absolute confidence that Mark Waid has never had a seventeen year old girl flirt with him). Very Good material if you like superhero stuff, and worth picking up.
CABLE DEADPOOL #38: A very Cable-free issue of Cable & Deadpool but still enjoyable. I snickered at a couple of pages, particularly six-inch-tall Deadpool’s propositioning of Agent X’s two girlfriends (“C’mon, girls! I may be small, but I know how to navigate!”) and any time the hapless Bob, Agent of Hydra showed up. It’s all pretty fannish stuff, I admit it, but enjoyable and Good.
DETECTIVE COMICS #830: It’s the second part of the story about the guy who squirts liquid plastic explosive on stuff! Again, the art was nice, but once it became apparent that Robin wasn’t going to have to chop his own arm off with an axe to get away from the plastic explosive, I kind of lost interest. (Not only does Robin not have to chop off his own arm, all he has to do is find the miniature detonator–which he does but can’t reach. Stuart Moore has constructed the deathtrap equivalent of someone telling you there’s a big hairy spider right between your shoulderblades. Actually, I lie; even that is more exciting and tense than the deathtrap we see here.) Pretty art again bumps it up to Eh, but considering how lovey-dovey I’m being with the week’s books, that’s probably a sign the book is barely that.