Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Great Debate - Singles VS Trades


Singles vs Trades.  It's been talked about since the first trade paperback made its way onto the shelves and it is a constant question comic readers ask themselves these days, especially with the expanded trade programs from the major publishers and with the increasing cost of this hobby.

For this post, I'm going to take a look at the two biggest factors that come up in most singles vs trade debates - money and reading experience.  Which format comes out on top for each category?  My conclusions may surprise you.  Hit the jump for more.


Brandon Borzelli writes comic book reviews for Comiclist.com. In 1979, he subscribed to a Marvel series called Star Wars and has been fighting for space in any number of closets and book shelves ever since. He's begun infecting his offspring with this "hobby" in hopes of keeping the fire burning.

A Trade By Any Other Name

Over the past two decades or so, comic publishers have taken great strides in their trade programs.  They've turned the general impression of comics as a twenty-two page floppy on its head. you can now find trades in many varieties, including original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, hardcovers, omnibuses, oversized, Absolutes - the list goes on and on - all ready and waiting for your bookshelf.  You can find anything from a miniseries to an entire comic book run in some form of a collection these days.

Some of the reasons for the rise of the trade paperback can probably be traced to how they store nice and easy on your shelf, generally cost less than their floppy breathren and offer the notion of a “complete” story in one, easy volume. You don’t need long boxes, bags, boards, and there are typically no advertisements found within the trade and, in most cases, the paper quality is better. What’s not to love?


Let's Talk Money

The biggest factor with regard to buying singles versus trades is most undoubtedly the price. We all know you can buy many trades at Amazon or any number of other sites for huge discounts, often times upwards of 30-40% off the regular price.

However, in the siingle issue's favour is the fact that many comic shops and online stores offer a pull list or subscription service with deep discounts for regular customers, typically with discounts in the 10-20% range. Also, on the secondary market, either through sites like eBay or through a comic book show or convention, you can purchase recent comics for a buck or less in most cases.

So, while the cover price for singles or trades is rarely the final sale cost, the comparisons are simply not as easy as saying: four issues at $3 equals $12 while the collected edition is $10. The discount avenue works both sides of the aisle very easily and the suggested retail price is closing the gap of the cover price discounts.


The Reader Experience

If cost were the only factor, you'd probably find yourself in a library reading this stuff at no cost. But is cost really the main factor when it comes to deciding on whether to trade wait or buy singles? If you had endless financial resources and time was not a major detriment to you, would you still “wait for trade”? If it’s not cost related, then what is the main factor in this dilemma? I’d argue that at the heart of the issue lies the notion of the reader experience.

Reader experience is basically how well the story comes across as a collection versus in monthly (or longer with delays) installments. I’ve taken a closer look at a number of titles, such as The Walking Dead, Criminal and more mainstream super-hero events like Secret Invasion and the Sinestro Corps for some careful dissection.

The Walking Dead
Singles, Softcovers, Hardcovers &  Compendiums


The Walking Dead might be the easiest to look at because there are singles, softcovers (six issues per volume), hardcovers (twelve issues per volume) and even a compendium (forty-eight issues per volume). With this array of options, I would say the reader experience can vary quite a bit, especially in addition to the standard monthly grind with the floppies.

Starting with the softcovers, you have an organization of short, six issue arcs. Of the first eight volumes of The Walking Dead, only the first, second and the eighth volumes seem to have natural breaking points that read like a self-contained story. You could even make the case that volumes three through eight is really just one big, complete story arc making reading them one at a time less than ideal whereas, if you were reading them in singles, you would have natural cliffhangers spattered throughout those issues adding even more drama when you have to wait four weeks for the next issue.  However, looking at it from purely a reading experience, The Walking Dead actually falls short in the six issue, softcover version.

The hardcovers for The Walking Dead, however, follow the same pattern as the softcovers.  They have a nice break at the end of the first volume and again at the end of the fourth volume, but if you only read volume two, you simply get left hanging for the third and fourth volumes. The hardcovers offer some extra material to keep you happy, but, as a complete story, you really don’t see one outside of the first volume.

Finally, the compendium offers forty eight issues and it offers the greatest reading experience of the bunch, spanning an entire arc of The Walking Dead, from their initial trials and tribulations to the exploration of their world and eventual settling down and the chilling conclusion. If there was never another issue to the series this would have been a terrific ending.

Walking Dead, for a reader, probably has the highest enjoyment if you read the whole run in the compendium and the second best enjoyment by reading it in singles simply due to the immediacy of it, the use of cliffhangers to keep the reader engaged and the lack of sudden stops that many of the trade versions have. Of course, buying those early singles is a task unto itself, but I digress.

Criminal 
Singles, Softcovers & Hardcovers


Criminal comes in several varieties, including singles, softcovers and a recently released hardcover. This series is easy to assess because Brubaker writes his story with the plan to make the reader pay attention or get left behind. In this regard, you would be much better served waiting for the collection.

However, Ed Brubaker knows this, so he includes essays about movies and writings that have influenced him and his work. This information enhances the reading experience and teaches the reader how to scrutinize what Brubaker is trying to do. It is worth noting that these essays are not collected in the trades.

This leads to a much different reading experience for Criminal depending on how you read it.  As the trades are pretty much the same in terms of content, it comes down to a matter of preference on whether you want the softcover or hardcover.  The real test is whether the additional content in the singles outweighs reading the story in a single sitting with a trade.  As so few other titles have this option, it's difficult to really judge one way or the other and you may end up buying this series in both singles and trades to experience both unique experiences.


Event Books
Singles, Softcovers & Hardcovers


Mainstream super hero event titles offer the most difficult decision when it comes to trade waiting or buying in singles. Secret Invasion had a core miniseries of eight issues, but the meat of the story was contained in the various Avenger titles (Mighty, New, Initiative, solo titles, etc).

If you purchase the collections for Secret Invasion, can you even get the full story from that single trade or do you have to flip back and forth between tie-in trades to get the full understanding of the event? Or do you read one full trade and then pick up the next to fill in the gaps knowing full well how the story ends? If you read it in singles you get the story as it happens, assuming you buy the correct titles for the story and all the tie-ins.

Switching gears now to the Sinestro Corps War, which only has a few volumes and the two core titles, Green Lantern Corps and Green Lantern, to contend with for the most part. These two titles are mixed together so that the story lines up properly in a Volume 1 and a Volume 2.

However, the first two collections don’t include some of the one-shots that did have relevance to the story. They are collected in a one-off volume, which doesn’t help anyone coming in cold thinking they have the full story in the two core volumes.

Most would assume these event titles would make the best choices for the 'buy one trade and get the full story' line of thought, but the above examples aren't the only instances of this bit of 'missing details' problem that the current crop of event titles employ.  Without some tie-ins, major parts of the story are missing in some cases.  In others, attempting to read those tie-ins becomes a chore since they are out of order or in seperate volumes from the main story, essentially forcing you to jump around or read to the end and then go back to the start for the tie-ins. Do all events fail in this regard?  No, but more often then not, the whole story is rarely in the single volume.


Singles or Trades?

Buying single issues definitely has its advantages, as does buying the trades, but as to which offers the best reading experience, it seems like buying the singles have a slight edge simply because you catch the cliffhangers, get to keep up with and engaged in the “now” of the story with the online communities (such as this blog or internet forums) or simply with your buddies, making it easier to recover if you miss an issue in a large crossover. It also avoids the whole spoilers problem, essentially keeping you in the know by always buying the most current issues.

However, there are definitely stories out there that if you don’t keep your past issues handy, you may find yourself forgetting key items to the story whereas those that are waiting for the trade simply turn a few pages back to get their answer or the story remains fresh in their minds as they read from start to finish in one go. Final Crisis is an obvious example of this.  Many claim it gets better with each subsequent read and even Kirk claimed it was a Must Re-Read title. 


Conclusion

Regardless of which you personally prefer, you will probably find things to like or dislike about whichever path you’ve decided on. Personally speaking, I’ve always found it easier to take a twenty-two page comic to the bathroom as opposed to a three hundred page, oversized volume of Hellboy. Don’t think I haven’t tried.  It's just too difficult.  But what do you think?  Are you a singles reader or trade waiter?  Which do you think has the best mix of pros and cons?  Do you trade wait certain titles? 


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19 comments:

Ryan K Lindsay said...

My main concern is, can you have a title in both trades and floppies and be completely happy with their separate storage places.

I got in late to Scalped and so have in trade, and it's great.
I got in late with Walking Dead and so have in trade and wouldn't look back, it's nice to get a good hit every six months.
The same with Ex Machina, Proof, and Y: The Last Man.
I got the first two trades of Criminal and had to be in, so started get the monthlies.the same with Casanova. I knew that the monthly experience was greater than that collected, what with extra material.
I believe that some titles are better for monthly so that I can get the story as quickly as possible, but many are fine to trade wait, usually the mini-series', or a title that doesn't need that monthly hit and will read better in arcs. I'd say that a main event would be better in monthly format so you can stay current, if that's your thing, but others you might defer to trade for.
Overall, it's always a tricky issue, and made more so because a standard comic in Australia is roughly $6, I get mine for $4.50 with LCS discounts.

Anonymous said...

I prefer trades personally, I love the shelf porn aspect of it.

But having an issue of Chew or Amazing Spiderman laying on your coffee table can be a good way to expose new readers to comics.

Also, trade paperback are perfect for reading on the john

Klep said...

I'm very much a trade waiter. I find that trades are much easier to store (and look better on shelves), and are also much more durable than single issues. I also like the way trades typically allow you to read an entire storyline at once, rather than having to wait between issues (since I don't buy singles at all, the up-front wait for the trade in the first place is a negligable concern).

Trades can also allow for splitting issues up to create a better presentation. An example of what I mean by this can be seen in the Iron Fist trades. Issue #7 of Immortal Iron Fist was about the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay, and not a part of the main Iron Fist story (it was a filler story between two arcs). In the trades, they didn't throw it in with either of the arcs it came between. Instead, they shuffled it off to the third volume, The Book of The Iron Fist. That volume was a much better fit for it thematically, as it contained a number of issues telling similar tales of past Iron Fists.

Lastly I just get a better reading experience from the length of trades. I can read a single issue in 5 to 10 minutes, which feels a bit like an appetizer, or a snack. Reading a trade is a much more engaging experience that typically takes at least an hour, and sometimes more if it contains a particularly large number of issues (it took me an afternoon to get through Watchmen, for example). Trades are just of a size where I get much more enjoyment out of the experience of reading, something I can't get out of shorter single issues.

Dan said...

I have become a huge fan of trades, esp from Amazon. They are cheaper than individual books, and are much better when you are looking for an old story line, and don't have to fish for back issues.

I have been following the Green Lantern storylines since the Sinestro Corp War. It's a lot easier to just get the trade and put it on my bookshelf (divided by arc) vs collecting the individual books and sorting by title.

If you can be patient, then trades are the way to go. if you can't, and want each issues as they come out, then individual issues are the way to go. personally, I think the wait is worth it to get the trade

Qwant said...

Trades. Shipping is the main reason. It's much cheaper to buy trades from Amazon than buy singles issues every month from other places(Russia is still not-very-comic-book-country). And second reason is the beauty of shelf porn.
However I do buy some singles like Power Girl, Blackest Night or Adventure Comics. I just can't wait for trade. Although I will buy them in trades anyway.

PMMJ said...

Trades all the way. There's so many things I want to read these days, that I have neither the time every week or the money to buy everything as it comes out. And, since I can wait until collections, I can also skip trades where things turn out... not so good. Storage is also an easy win. I want to loan it to a friend, I go pull the book off the shelf, instead of digging through boxes in the basement, and hoping I find all the issues.

Anonymous said...

Trades. As someone that lives in Macedonia, where the only comic books that actualy arrive are Zagor and Dylan Dog, it's much easier. When I go to Greece or Serbia I can buy the trades and read the whole story because I can't by the single isues (and frankly they don't even arrive regulary). The only problem is that trades usually come late by months and only a small variety can actualy be found. I wish Macedonia would have a bigger market but I don't think that will be possible in the near future

Matt Ampersand said...

I read a lot of series in singles, even though I know they would read better in trade, because I don't want those series to be cancelled.

Oddly enough, I follow most Vertigo series in trade, even though those do really crappily in single sales, yet they still manage to stay alive. I guess creator owned titles have a lower "cancelation level" than something like say Exiles which got canned six issues after it started.

altonralston said...

things that i have read for a long time (uncanny, daredevil, detective, etc.) i continue to pick up in singles. new series that i want to check out but have not invested years of love into can wait. so i usually pick up the first and maybe second trade of a new series and give it a run. if i like it then i'll catch up in trade if it's gotten that far ahead and then buy singles once caught up. fables, scalped, air, locke & key, 100 bullets, and phonogram were perfect examples of waiting for them to publish a story arc, read some reviews, and then check them out.

brandon said...

Wow - everyone seems to like trades over singles for a variety of reasons.

Another aspect of the singles versus trades in terms of reading experience that I could have also mentioned was when the series is generally one shots. Something like Jonah Hex (or at least the majority of the run).

Does the reader experience change at all when you read one single one shot at a time versus a collection of five or six?

With regards to Scalped I've switched over to singles after the fourth trade so it will be a good test to see if I like the series as much after some months of singles as I did when I read the first trades.

mrpeepants said...

I like and do both. Funny thing though is that I don't go to my comic shop every Wednesday or when something is on my pull that Wednesday. So I'm kinda defeating the point of me getting singles. I find that my trade reading queue is often bigger than my singles which I usually read right away. Its also hard to argue the ease of amazon and trades. Would be awesome if they sold singles.

Eric Rupe said...

Matt - Yeah, I kind of felt bad about that when I switched from singles to trades only but, in the end, I don't think my purchasing of a low selling, cult title in singles instead of would have saved any series.

Now, you could say that if everyone who trade waited something like Agents of Atlas or Exiles or whatever bought them in singles instead could possibly save the series from cancellation but I've never really bought into that idea. Some titles just don't sell in the direct market and are doomed to cancellation, sad as that may be.

Anonymous said...

Basically anything I read that tends towards "arcs" (i.e. Walking Dead, Scalped, DMZ, Secret Six, etc.) I always buy in trades just because I find reading the entire story at once; digesting it all together without those month-long gaps in between to be a much more fulfilling experience.

But I also follow a lot of "one-and-done" type books (i.e. the aforementioned "Jonah Hex" as well as "The Brave and the Bold" since JMS got on board and "Deadpool Team-Up" etc.) and I buy those in singles because they really give me the same sense of satisfaction.

When a mini-series or something comes out I tend to take a gander at how many issues it's going to be, and if it's long enough to make for a solid trade I'll just wait for that, otherwise (i.e. with a 3 issue mini like the current Arkham one) I pick the issues up as they're released, bag them up, and then read them all at once when the last part comes out.

But I really do feel, as a rule, that you get much more out of being able to read an entire "story" in one or two sittings.

jeff w said...

The one and only thing for me that is negative about single issues is the adds that run through the single issues. Fortunately most of what I read is from Image and Dark Horse who put their ads, if any, in the back not distracting to the story. So from these companies I stick to the single issues without hesitation. Other comics with ads dispersed into the story I find annoying. Although Im still buying single issues of Vertigo titles that I read or other titles with too many ads Im thinking about switching over to trades just because of the ads. Alas...I find it hard to commit to this decision because I love the experience of reading single issues month to month. Anyone else care to comment on the ads dilemma?

Anonymous said...

Trades all the way. I can read a single issue in like...5 to 10 minutes. Then what? Wait another whole month for another 5 to 10 minutes? Get out of here. And if you're a Mark Millar fan like I am it's more like waiting another three to four months for another 5 to 10 minutes.

A trade is like a book...you get a nice hefty read and a whole story arc to boot.

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