Sunday, March 15, 2009

Trades 101 - An Introduction To Trade Buying

Over the past couple of years, the comic industry has evolved a lot. While the 22-page comic hasn't gone the way of the dodo yet, comic publishing companies are more and more often offering a nice alternative to it: trades. Plenty of people rely solely on trades now for their comic book fixes and there are entire websites dedicated to strictly to waiting for the trade. Even our very own, Eric Rupe, could be called a trade waiter.

In today's entry, I wanted to take a closer look at the types of trades that populate the market, what they have to offer, their pros and cons, and how they will affect your budget.

The Premiere Hardcovers vs. Paperbacks

While the majority of my collection is in the form of trade paperbacks, I have, in the past, also bought the occasional hardcovers (Marvel's Premiere hardcovers, to be precise) only to be almost always disappointed. Premiere Hardcover collections are usually released first and I have bought them for series that I felt bad about not buying the first time around.

For example, I own the two Nextwave Premiere hardcovers. Nextwave was a series I did not buy when it was originally released in a monthly format. Perhaps it was part guilt (the series got canceled due to low sales) or maybe a subconscious desire to give Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen a little bit of extra money, but I did not mind paying the extra five dollars compared with the paperback version of the same collection. Both volumes came with only one page of extra content (the theme song and the final letters page, respectively) and I was a little disappointed. I remember thinking, "Maybe other hardcover collections will give me more bang for buck?"

I also own other hardcover collections, such as the first volumes of Avengers - The Initiative, Green Lantern and Thor and none of them happen to have any extra content to justify the additional money they cost (at this point, you are probably wondering why I keep buying them, more on that later).

On the other hand, I also own many a trade paperback and the extra content found in these varies greatly. Certain trades, like Immortal Iron Fist, have a lot of extra content, while others, like Watchmen, have none. However, since I am buying the more affordable version of the products, extra content can be seen as just that: extra.

From a marketing point of view, you would think companies would aim to include extra content, such as interviews, sketches, unpublished content, and scripts, in the hardcover collections and release the paperback versions as bare-bones as possible, like The Walking Dead and other books do (although not putting the covers in the collection as TWD did seems kind of harsh). The paperback version of Watchmen is also very basic, but there two other versions of the book for consumers to choose from.

What comic book companies need to do is offer a sweeter deal to consumers to tempt them and get them to spend the extra money on hardcovers. At the very least, give them something in return for the extra money spent. Overall, it seems like this is a bigger problem on Marvel's side of the aisle, who more often than not just put a hard cover on the same version of the book they offer as paperback with little to no difference in content. There is no extra content or even increased paper size to be found in these Premiere hardcovers unless you want to buy...

Oversized Hardcovers

Comic book companies are offering mammoth-sized versions of certain collections. Whether it is DC's Absolute collections, Marvel's Omnibus books or the standard oversized hardcovers from the Big Two, Image and Dark Horse, they all have something in common: they are big and they will cost you. These hardcovers collect anywhere from 12 to 40-some odd issues and they vary in price accordingly, starting at around $25 and scaling up fast for Absolutes and Omnibus editions, which can retail for about $99 US (I haven't seen any over a hundred dollars yet). These collections, aside from the increased page size and sometimes refurbished art (in reprints of older material), tend to have a myriad of extra content.

For example, I own the Captain America Omnibus, by Ed Brubaker and company, and I am extremely happy with it. Of course, I had read all of the content inside of it before through libraries, so I bought it with complete confidence in what I was getting. If I had not read the content beforehand, I would have been very reluctant to drop all that money on a single book. Another down side on hardcovers is that you must read them in your home, unless you plan to carry a couple of extra kilograms with you to read at work or school.

Essentials and Showcase

The flip side of the glossy and expensive hardcovers are the Essentials and Showcase collections that Marvel and DC are putting out. Image Comics also released a couple of Savage Dragon archives, much in the same vein.

The point of these books is to collect the early and hard to find (and therefore expensive) early stories of comic book characters in a cheap and accessible way. These collections are printed on newspaper-like paper in black and white with a softcover. These are great for catching up on old stories as they pack a lot of old issues (around 20-25 in a single book), but otherwise look pretty awful compared to the digital colouring and glossy pages of today's comics.

I do not own any of these collections myself, but I have read some of them on occasion, thanks again to the public libraries where I live. However, I do not see myself buying them in the future either, even at the cheap prices. The paper is extremely thin and very prone to ripping and tearing. Additionally, I do not enjoy reading the stories in black white when they were originally presented in color as the art looks off because of it. In case you want to buy these old stories as they were originally meant to be read, you could always buy a Marvel Masterworks or DC Archive hardcover, but the price on these collections are almost obscenely high compared to other collections.


Another little used option are digests. Digests are basically small paperbacks, much in the same vein as most manga collections you find at the local bookstore. The only difference is that these tiny collections, of which I've only seen from Marvel, are in colour, as opposed to the black and white manga versions.

The main appeal of digests is how cheap they are and how easy it is to get them picked up by major book store chains, such as Barnes and Nobles and the positioning of them in these stores compared to standard bookshelf trades. Titles that were never commercial successes in the monthly market, such as Irredeemable Ant-Man, Amazing Spider-Girl
and the Marvel Adventures line, all got the digest treatment from Marvel. Of course, offering such a cheap trade has it's benefits: the Runaways digests were so popular among readers that it led to the revival of the series with a second volume. Additionally, Marvel released a hardcover series of collections for Runaways because of the popularity of it's earlier digests.

I personally do not own any digests, as the art tends to end up looking too cramped and the speech balloons look tiny and hard to read compared to the standard comic book size. This is just a problem that stems from the original material being designed for bigger pages. Art or text that looks fine on a regular size comic will look half the size on a collection of this dimension.

By The Numbers

Up until now, I have talked about the price of different collections, and while it varies by company and by specific collection, I also wanted to talk about the average costs of these collections. Paperbacks range from $9.99 to $19.99 and collect, usually, from 4 to 12 issues. If we consider the average Marvel collection to have 6 issues and cost about $14.99 (DC's are usually a bit more expensive, while Vertigo and Image are usually a bit cheaper), it means that you are paying around $2.50 per issue. A six-issue Premiere hardcover, on the other hand, costs about $19.99, which means that each collected issue costs you about $3.33.

On the other hand, the Essentials and Showcase trades cost around $16.99 a piece and publishes around 25 issues per volume, so it would about 80 cents per issue. Digests tend to collect about 6 issue as well and cost $9.99, an average of $1.66 per issue.The standard 12 issue oversized hardcover costs, on average, about $34.99, which is a generous average price, and it means that the price is $2.92 per issue.

If you compare these numbers against the average price of single issue comics of $2.99 (although who knows for how long), you will notice that the Premiere hardcovers are the only instance in which you are paying more than if you had bought the actual issue.

Smart Shopping

It's safe to say that I have pretty much stopped buying Marvel's Premiere hardcovers, as I do not feel that they are giving my money's worth. However, I still buy them on the odd occasion, but only because the other version is not available and I get discounts where I shop.

I do not know how many people know it, but both Borders and Barnes and Noble will email you weekly discounts if you sign up to their Rewards program,which is free. The discounts range from 15% off your whole purchase up to about 30% off a single item, which can really make a difference (the Cap Omnibus I mentioned above only cost me around $55, as opposed to the $75 it is marked). Amazon and other websites also offer a lot of discounts and, depending on where you live, you may get free shipping. I know some people are extremely loyal to their Local Comic Shops (and you may get discounts), but there are always alternatives to save money.


As you can see, there are plenty of options in the market and it can probably be a little overwhelming to someone new to comic book reading or just people that have never bought trades before. Some are aimed at collectors, like the Omnibus and Absolute editions that feature unpublished content, while others are aimed at the general reading public, with just the story inside of them. In the end it all comes down to what you, the customer, prefer and can afford. In today's tough economic times, are companies giving you enough content for what you are paying? I would love to hear some of the trade buying habits of our readers or your experience and insights into the "trade industry".

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Bill said...

Are the Image hardcovers oversized? I know the Invincible ones I've got seems normal sized, and each was a tiny bit cheaper than the two trades. Same with some of the marvel stuff I have (Ultimates 1&2, a bunch of Ultimate X-men)

Klep said...

I only buy trades; paperbacks, if I can help it. I started reading comics by buying the DVD collections GitCorp was making. Then Marvel pulled the plug on those around when they started Digital Comics (events I assume are directly related), and I signed up for that. So I've never bought single issues, and I just don't see it being cost-effective or storage-effective to do so. Buying single issues is more expensive in trades, and they are also more cumbersome to store and more fragile. To me, the only downside is that I don't get to read new stories myself until significantly later, but I'm ok with that, because I can use blogs like this to at least keep up with the broad strokes of what's happening.

Matt Ampersand said...

Bill, the trades that you are talking about do have a bigger size than the Premiere Hardcovers and regular paperbacks. A good resource to check the size is Amazon, that has the sizes of all the books they sell.

Klep, those DVD did look good and I considered buying them, but I heard that they were in PDF files which I find incredibly annoying to scroll through.

Klep said...

@Matt: They're actually pretty easy to deal with. There are menus that sort them by decade, then by year, and then you select one to read by clicking on an image of the issue cover. You don't have to scroll through the issue, you can just use page up/page down. I highly recommend them for someone who wants to just read the stories more than collect the books. I just wish they'd gotten Daredevil out the door before Marvel pulled the plug.

Frank said...

In-Stock Trades has the best prices I've found on trades and manga. I place an order from them about once a month, I've almost finished my Fables collection at really good prices.

Kirk Warren said...

@Frank - after being spoiled by the Fables: 1001 Nights of Winter hardcover, I refuse to buy any more of the Fables trades until they announce oversized hardcover versions.

Bill said...

Hmm ok I held them up side by side, and the hardcovers are a little bigger. Barely, though. Nothing like those giant Absolute hardcovers that actually seem oversized.

Anonymous said...

(Air here)

Most of my collection is in trades, and there are those that I need to get as soon as they're released (e.g. walking dead), but for the 'back catalogue' I'm not shy of a fair internet search.

I don't know what the exchange rate is like for US/UK, but for us Australians is pretty competitive on price, especially given free postage.

And again, for any Australians reading, something that works for books as a whole is - basically an aggregator that searches various online stores, calculates delivery to Oz, and shows you the cheapest one. Quite handy!

Matt Ampersand said...

@Anonymous, wow! That bookdepository website is awesome! Free shipping! I will definitely be using it in the future.

Zenithgeeksville said...

I am a “Trade Waiter” but depending on the series I will get the trade rather than the hardcover. I will buy the Premiere Edition of a title if I really love the book (Avengers: The Initiative), why? The reason is because I don’t want to wait another 4 months for the trade version to come out. Or, if I find it really cheap online (I have a £8 limit including mailing for Premiere Editions).
As much as I love hardcovers, the trades are cheaper. I love searching the internet, comparing prices on titles which I want to try. I must admit it is rare that I use my local comic book shop to buy trades, unless there is a sale (£10 for Hercules: Secret Invasion)
So are trades to expensive? Well some are, and some aren’t. There a UK based publishing company called Panini, who publish UK editions of Marvel collections with extra materials than the Marvel US produced collections, at a cheaper price.
Case in point, Secret Invasion TPB
Marvel £23.99 collects issues 1-8
Panini £14.99 collects issues 1-8 and two SI one-shots
I also try to get the Panini edition, because of the extra material and cheaper price, also they do have a lovely smell to them. Ok, im a trade sniffer!

Nick H. said...

The idea that hardcovers should have extra content in them over softcovers is a bit of a false dichotomy to me. No one complains that hardcover fiction doesn't have extra chapters over the cheaper softcovers, say.

The target market for hardcovers is those who can't wait for softcovers, or who prefer hardcovers. You don't need different content for that. If publishers are putting hardcovers out at the same time as the softcovers, or even *after* the softcovers, then that is a bit daft of them.

Regarding digests, I feel compelled to note that Runaways (along with the rest of the Tsunami line, Inhumans and Sentinel) was originally designed to be read at digest size, hence the kinda simple art, etc. I can't speak for any of the other examples you give, though.

Airdave said...

I'm leaning more toward the Showcase collections. I won't pick up anything but a softcover trade paperback or a digest. The Runaways have been pretty good, along with Marvel Adventures Avengers for laughs. I can't wait for the Showcase: Super Friends. Awww, yeah!

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