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An Exclusive History of Frew Pricing

There was a bit of a rude shock for Frew readers this week, with publisher Dudley Hogarth using the Message from the Publisher in issue #1827 to announce that prices will be rising in 2019:

I feel I should let you know that due to rising print production and postal costs it will be necessary in increase our cover price next year. The cost will go up by 25 cents per regular issue and yearly subs will now be $190.

To emphasise the change in price, this means that:

  • A regular 36-page comic will go from $3.50 to $3.75

  • The annual subscription increases from $175 to $190

It's early days yet, and perhaps there will be more awareness of the price change after it actually takes effect in the new year, but at this stage there seems to be very few qualms from readers - and perhaps that's because they know how good they've had it!

In fact, this price rise is the first in six and a half years. A look at the trend of Frew cover prices over the years shows that the era of $3.50 comics has been the third longest period of unchanged prices in their proud 70 year history.

As you can see, the price was held at 1 shilling for almost 10 years from 1956-1966, and at $1.50 for an incredible eleven and a half years while Jim Shepherd was at the helm in the 1990s. Perhaps that's why so many Australian phans have $1.50 in their head as the standard cost of the book.

Those periods of stability are more the exception than the rule, however, as can be seen more plainly on the following:

* Note the last rise in the graph is the move to $3.75 scheduled for January 2019.

The big question of course is - why do the costs need to go up? Most people obviously understand printing and postage costs, but inflation has had a very strong impact as well. When we look at the indexed cost of a Frew Phantom, we see that the iconic Australian publishing company has actually done a very good job at keeping the comics at about the same relative price over the decades.

This table shows the change in cost of purchasing a regular issue Frew over their history. For example, the 6 pennies you would have had to fork out for issue #1 in 1948 are worth $1.50 in today's money.

As you can see, each time a new price is set, the relative value of that almost immediately begins a downward trend - thanks very much inflation! It's then a matter of seeing how long the company can afford to hold that price before it needs to move up again. At the end of the day, we all need the comic to remain profitable; the demise of Norway's Fantomet is stark reminder of what would happen if the publisher could no longer afford to produce the book.

Interestingly we've found that readers started paying the equivalent of around $3.50 back in 1987, and haven't really had to pay a great deal more than that in the three decades since. Even this newest price rise is relatively lower than what we were paying in 2011!

One of the reasons often given for the popularity of The Phantom comics in Australia is affordability and despite this latest small rise, that remains true. Indeed, next time you pop out to pick up a Phantom comic and a coffee to read it with, the coffee will still cost more. And there's not many comic books you can say that about!


Inflation data and 2018 equivalency information sourced through the Reserve Bank of Australia's pre-decimal and decimal inflation calculators.

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