The deluxe edition of this post will cost you a little more.

§ December 13th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 10 Comments

Nicholas inquired

“…Can you shed any light on the mid-90’s Marvel newsstand issues? I’m doing a deep dive on the JRJR run of Spider-Man (which had been renamed to “Peter Parker Spider-Man” at that point) and have come across two versions of many of them (they seem to be during the Clone Saga and the run of issues immediately following the end of that storyline). From what I can see, the newsstand versions were printed on newsprint, and cost $1.50, and the direct market versions were on glossy paper, but priced at $1.95? The weird thing is that at a certain point, it looks like the direct market versions stay at $1.95, and the newsstand versions jump to $1.99 BUT were still printed on newsprint? Then eventually, they all go to $1.99 and are printed on newsprint. I’m very confused, and can kind of remember this happening with some other series (specifically Generation X). It seems ridiculous, and I can’t find anything on the internet about it.”

So here’s what I recall about this particular publishing plan of Marvel’s, mostly in relation to their X-Men line at the time:

In the mid-’90s (in the example, I’m using here, cover date November 1994, so actually probably sometime in September), the adjeectiveless X-Men split into two (well, three) distinct versions. For comic shops, you had your choice of the “Deluxe Edition” on nicer paper, with a convenient “DELUXE” tag on the cover, for $1.95:

For readers who didn’t want to dish out an extra 45 cents, a $1.50 version printed on not-glossy paper was also offered to the direct market (note: no “DELUXE” tag on the cover):

And then for newsstands, the Deluxe Edition was offered, but with a standard UPC code (not sure about the paper stock):

Now here’s where we’re going to depend on my memories of these events, because I’m going to point out something and I don’t have a way of backing it up just yet. However, I recall having written about this in a comic forum I ran on a local BBS at the time, which is why it sticks with me.

My recollection is that Marvel sold this new Deluxe format to fans as a more upscale edition of the comic, for folks who wanted a, I don’t know, classier reading experience or something. If, like I said above, they didn’t want to dole out the extra dosh for smooth silky paper they could rub gently on their skin, fans could buy that $1.50 version, and Marvel would look at sales and see which the fans preferred.

ENTER: MY MEMORY I’M WONDERING ABOUT — the catch was, the $1.50 version would be released a couple of weeks later. I distinctly remember writing at the time on a local BBS “of course the $1.95 version is going to sell better, fans don’t want to wait an extra two weeks when they can get the story now.”

Again, I have no way to back that up. I have no solicitation material from the time (at least, that’s easily accessible), no access to any of my long-ago posts on that BBS…the web archive I once pulled from for this site is gone, and while I backed up a lot of material from the site, I inexplicably didn’t save my own section. Didn’t I know I’d need that for a blog post someday? I’m trying to track it down (I have friends who may still have an archive of all that stuff), and I have a bunch of invoices from the previous place of employment that may shed some light, so if any new information magically appears, I’ll add an update.

EDIT: Folks in the comments section are also recalling this shipping schedule for the Deluxe/Not Deluxe editions.

Anyway,whatever time frame in which those were released, the differently-priced editions seemed to go away after the Age of Apocalypse event (in which all the regular X-books were put on hiatus for a few months and replaced with mini-series all priced at $1.95). Issue #42 of X-Men, just prior to the event, was the last of that series to carry those specific $1.95/$1.50 price points.

Now, Nicholas, you mentioned the weird thing where the direct market edition of some of these titles retained a $1.95 price point, whilst the newsstand editions went up to $1.99. I honestly didn’t remember that, but checking on this X-Men run…yep, sure enough. Starting with issue #57 and running through issue #65 (even including the “-1” special), direct issues were $1.95:

And newsstands were $1.99:

After that everything went up to $1.99 and comic prices never rose ever again.

As to the “why” of all this…well, like I said, initially it was offered as an “option” to fans as to whether or not they wanted to pay more for a fancier product or pay less for something a little more “no frills.” Regardless of the timing of releases of these competing editions, it seemed clearly designed to ease readers into a higher price point, possibly framing it as “it was the readers what wanted the higher cost version!”

Once everything moved to the $1.95/$1.99 price point, I think a possible explanation is this. Comics were at too low a price point for newsstands and bookstores and such to really want to bother with. Raising the price on the newsstand edition (even if only by a few cents) may have been just enough to keep newsstand sellers and distributors from cutting the product line entirely. Perhaps more a psychological move than anything else.

As for being printed on cheaper paper: that’s just Marvel keeping the expenses down. Newsstand distribution numbers weren’t nearly as high as they were in the direct market, and newsstands could return unsold product, so the lower the initial production cost, the more money could potentially be made, or at least the lower the losses would be.

It also could just be the competition versus other comic companies were stronger in the direct market, necessitating a higher quality product, believed unnecessary for the newsstands.

And when it comes to both direct and newsstand editions going to the cheaper paper: just line-wide cost cutting is all. Fancy paper costs too much, so it was either that or raise the price, which, as I said, they would never do ever again.

I don’t know the whole financial end of publisher vis-à-vis distributors, or any of the actual reasons behind some of these decisions, so if anyone wants to clear up the above assumptions, be my guest. But I honestly do believe the initial price differences was sold as a “let the reader decide” thing when, in fact, the decision was already made.

A personal memory from the old shop was when it came to restocking the issues of the various series that had the deluxe/regular price split. I honestly could never remember which comics marked “DELUXE” had an accompanying non-deluxe edition. I’d have to make intricate notes as to which versions I had to go looking for in the back room. Yes, I had to do all this restocking manually, this was before robots took over everything.

Nicholas, I hope this answers your questions, or at least gives you some options to consider in regards to these quarter-century old publishing puzzles. If I get new information, I’ll let you know right here on this very site!

10 Responses to “The deluxe edition of this post will cost you a little more.”

  • philfromgermany says:

    Mike, image #2 does have the DELUXE moniker in the upper left corner and is 1.95$.
    That being said, great post and doesn’t Gambit have the daintiest feet on that cover?

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    “But I honestly do believe the initial price differences was sold as a “let the reader decide” thing when, in fact, the decision was already made.”

    I think you’re likely right. Contrast this sort of trickery to Jim Shooter’s straightforward, honest explanations and apologies for having to raise prices in the Bullpen Bulletins in the 80s Marvels. Obviously not the only reason, but it is an indicator of the different approaches to the customer that resulted in such deep loyalty in 80s Marvel readers, as opposed to the shallow-loyalty, speculator-type of readers who became prevalent in the 90s.

  • Rod Carpenter says:

    You’re definitely right about the non-deluxe versions of some books shipping a couple of weeks after the deluxe editions.

    Back in the Usenet days, when I was a retailer, I publicly criticised Marvel for some of their loaded “experiments” that were foregone conclusions, giving them an excuse to raise prices.

    Kurt Busiek actually responded and challenged me on some of my assertions. For example, he said the amateurish contents of most of the then-recent 99-cent line (his own Untold Tales of Spider-Man being the huge exception) were all commissioned specifically for those titles, not a dumping ground for inventory stories as I’d suspected. But even he had to admit that the deluxe / non-deluxe versions with the delay between releases was a sham. It was only ever a way for Marvel to effectively raise the price while claiming it was what the fans wanted.

    That exchange with Mr. Busiek makes me wish DejaNews was still around, or Google Groups still worked. It would be kind of fun to re-read some of those old interactions I had with pros back in the day…

  • Aaron says:

    At the time, I never noticed the Deluxe in the corner unless it was pointed out to me, but I always saw in the UPC block whether it said the Direct Edition. (I was weird, I guess.)

  • I believe the Bullpen page from the first month of deluxe explained the lag between the deluxe & regular editions. My reaction at the time was the same as everyone else’s – “so, obviously, the deluxe version is going to replace the other one.” I mean, it worked, I bought the glossy Uncanny X-Men rather than wait and save money.

  • Mikester says:

    philfromgermany – Whoops, mixed up the pics. Thanks for letting me know.

  • John says:

    IIRC, the 1.95 -> 1.99 change (summer ’97) was Bill Jemas’ idea. The issue being that they were leaving money on the table at 1.95, and in the consumer’s eye, the change wouldn’t have any effect on their buying habits.

  • Andrew Davison says:

    Smooth silky paper that you could rub gently on your skin… Those were the days!

  • Bryan says:

    Anyone know what the rationale was for the newsstand edition actually being 5-cents cheaper in Canada than the direct edition of the X-Men 65 covers shown?

  • Matthew Murray says:

    Bryan: I’d say a combination of constantly changing exchange rates and nobody really caring. (e.g. Canadian prices printed on comics were often very inaccurate)