The Star Wars Dissection: Being Smart with your Comic Money

Hello everyone, it's Andrew here again with The Star Wars Dissection. This week, I've gone back to a topic I previously covered in a letter to the podcast The EU Review. In one instance, I calculated whether it was more economic to buy comics as individual issues, or as Trade Paperbacks (TPB). This discussion was prompted by a number of threads on the forums and the TheForce.Net forums, and was recently renewed on the forums. As a result, I've decided to look back at my research, and republish it here. First, an important caveat: I am using the retail prices, per Dark Horse Comics, to do my analysis. It does not take into account the possibility to get comics cheaper than the retail price at sources like Amazon, or discounts that many local comic book shops offer.  Conversely, it is fair to assume that any such discount can be applied in an all-encompassing way. If Amazon sold issues (which I'm told they sometimes do), they would be discounted at a percentage similar to the TPBs, and so the ratios would be maintained. Also, I'd like to point out that I looked at all TPBs EXCEPT two collections of "A Long Time Ago...." and the Omnibuses (omnibuses are addressed separately later). I'd like to explain briefly how I used my data. Using the Dark Horse Comics website, as well as Wookieepedia for some basic referencing, I determined three important points: the price of a TPB, the number of issues it contains, and the price of those issues (where necessary, I've used averages. For example, Clone Wars Vol. 1: The Defense of Kamino contained three issues, one cost $2.99, one cost $5.99, and one cost $4.99; these were averaged to 3 issues at $4.66). I could then use this data to determine what the TPB costs in terms of dollars per issue.

Figure 1: TPB prices, in terms of dollars per issue. (Click for larger image)

As you can see, the cost of a TPB when expressed in dollars per issue collected can vary tremendously. The lowest point is The Clone Wars Volume 1: Slaves of the Republic (a digest; it collected six issues, but cost only $9.95). The issues contained therein cost $2.99 each, and so that it is more economical. But then we have the high points. The highest point was the aforementioned Clone Wars Volume 1: The Defense of Kamino (which collected Republic 49-50 and Jedi: Mace Windu). It cost $5.66 per issue, but the issues themselves cost on average $4.66 each, so while higher, it isn't too bad. But then we look at other high points. The Old Republic Volume 1: Blood of the Empire and The Old Republic Volume 2: Threat of Peace each cost $5.33 per issue, but each individual issue cost $2.99. That difference is significant. Because of all this variation, I felt it important not only to express the cost of TPBs in terms of dollars per issue, but also somehow compare it to the actual price per issue (if purchased separately). I tried integrating it as a separate data series in Figure 1, but it looked too cluttered. As a result, I decided to get creative. I multiplied the number of issues in each TPB by the actual price of those issues to get a "theoretical TPB price", as it were (assumes a TPB costs precisely the cost of its issues). I then subtracted the theoretical price from the actual price.

Figure 2: Difference between Actual and Theoretical prices. (Click for larger image)

In this figure, it is clear that the price difference between a TPB and its collected issues can vary to a large degree. To be clear, these numbers come from taking the actual price of the TPB, and then subtracting the total price of each issue therein. For example, the first data point is Dark Empire. I took the TPB price ($17.95) and subtracted the cost of the issues ($2.50 x 6 issues = $15.00). The result is the extra money paid if you chose to buy the TPB instead of the issues ($17.95 - $15.00 = $2.95). Negative numbers on the graph indicate instances where you saved money because you waited for the TPB, because the collected issues cost more than the TPB. The highest points on this graph once again come from The Old Republic Volumes 1 and 2. If you bought the TPB for Blood of the Empire, and you plan to buy the TPB for Threat of Peace when it comes out, then you spent an extra $7.02 per book then I did (I bought the issues). Other high points include Droids: Rebellion (paid $4.95 too much), Knights of the Old Republic Volume 9: Demon (paid $5.03 too much), and X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Blood and Honor (paid $4.10 too much). Conversely, the lowest point on the graph is once again The Clone Wars Volume 1. If you bought Slaves of the Republic in digest form, then you saved $7.95. Other low points included Tales Volumes 2 through 6 (where you saved roughly $4.00 each) and Clone Wars Volume 6: On the Fields of Battle (saved $2.98). I'd like to look at these figures in an overall sense, both in terms of averages and totals. If you took the average price of every single TPB (assumes you never ever buy issues), then you spent on average $15.42 per book. Those TPBs contain an average of 4.79 issues per book, meaning the books cost an average of $3.35 per issue. That being said, the actual average cost of these issues was $3.11, which gives a theoretical TPB price of $14.58. As a result, if you bought every TPB and no issues, you spent on average 84 cents too much per book.  That is not a terribly large number, but it adds up. Fun if unrelated fact: if you bought every TPB since Dark Empire, you spent a total of $1,989.55 since 1992. These books collected 618 issues.

Figure 3: Omnibus prices, displayed as both calculated price per issue (blue), and actual cost of each issue (red). (Click for larger image)

Omnibuses have been a fairly recent addition to the Star Wars publishing world. First begun in 2006, Dark Horse Comics initiated the project to begin collecting the back issues of all of its older series (including Buffy, Indiana Jones, Terminator, Aliens, Predator, etc.)  For Star Wars, Dark Horse released 18 omnibuses and two hardcover collections similar to omnibuses (The Thrawn Trilogy and the Dark Empire Trilogy). In this figure, I show clearly that omnibuses are considerably more economical than any other comic medium (issues or TPBs). The red curve in the graph (Figure 3) shows the actual (average) price of the comics in the omnibus (note: for the four volumes of A Long Time Ago...., I assumed a price of $2.99, accounting for the changing prices of comics over the years, and counted the three annuals and Issue 50 as two issues). The blue curve represents the calculated price per issue, as was done with TPBs. The blue curve was always below the red one. Meaning it is always cheaper to buy omnibuses than to hunt down issues. Fun facts: the most economical omnibuses were the A Long Time Ago.... series, at $0.93, $1.04, $1.19, and $1.04 per issue, respectively. The next best was Emissaries and Assassins, at $1.19 per issue. The worst was the first one, X-Wing Rogue Squadron Volume 1, at $2.08 per issue (still considerably better than the price of TPBs or issues). If you bought every single omnibus and the two hardcovers, you spent $514.48. That being said, if you decided to buy the same stories that are in the omnibuses, but opted for TPB instead, you would have spent $673.60, and that doesn't include the costs associated with hunting down issues uncollected in TPBs, or those that were collected in other TPBs (for example, I didn't include The Bounty Hunters TPB in that number, even though Aurra Sing and Twin Engines of Destruction were both collected). In conclusion, if you are a die-hard collector of Star Wars, I would advise you to stick with buying issues. You'll save a bit of money overall, possibly a lot of money over the short term. Also, I recommend omnibuses, as they are the most economical means of collecting. If you're new to Star Wars, I would eschew TPBs for the time being and stick with collecting omnibuses. There may be significant delays between a comic's release as an issue and its collection in an omnibus, but that should not impact casual readers. Thank you for reading The Star Wars Dissection. Next post: Are Weapons of Mass Destruction accurately portrayed in Star Wars?  We'll see!


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About the Author

Andrew Halliday contributes to EUCantina as a writer. He writes our column "The Star Wars Dissection," published every second Monday, and also reviews episodes of The Clone Wars television show. He began writing in 2010, sending letters to the podcast The EU Review, using mathematics to look at certain trends in Star Wars content. These monthly analyses were expanded into his column in 2011. He has a degree in biology and a love for all things science and math.