(TL:DR section at bottom)
I started collecting comic books in the early 90's. Before that I had bought / my parents bought for me sporadic books including a beat up copy of The Ren & Stimpy Show #6 that I still have and an even more beat up Web of Spider-Man #29 that I wish I had known about bags and boards when I bought it. But collecting comics came a bit after I started to read them.
Let me explain. Reading comics and collecting comics are different sides of the same coin. I'll shift the focus to books to better illustrate the difference. Back when I used to read physical books I would keep the books I read when I was done. They were organized by genre then author in order to make them easier to find for a re-read or to let a friend borrow a book. Now that might seem like collecting, but I was never all that concerned with the condition of a book, as long as it was still readable, nor did I give my friends "instructions" on how to handle a book they borrowed from me. If the book was damaged, I trusted their judgment as to if they should buy me a new copy (only happened once when a dude's little brother tossed the book into a swimming pool.)
My comics, on the other hand, are a completely different animal. Not only are they organized, they are organized in a way that decreases any chance of damage. There are set rules as to how to put a book / book(s) into a bag and board. Unlike a novel, I care about the condition of a comic not just at the moment of purchase but throughout the lifecycle of the comic. If I bought it in mint, it must stay in mint forever because...reasons. You want to borrow some comics? I know the condition of every issue, I know the order in which these comics are bagged and boarded, and I expect them back in the same (or better) condition than when I gave them to you.
At least, I used to act like this.
As I said, I started collecting comics in the early 90's with Web of Spider-Man, X-Force, Spider-Man 2099, and Doom 2099. Why? Because they were sold in the same store as baseball cards, which I was quickly becoming bored with. At least comics were something someone could "do" something with." Beyond putting cards in sleeves, there's really nothing one can do with baseball cards. But comics, there's a different beast. For anywhere between 75 cents and $1.25, I could get 32 pages of story that not only referenced the past and set up for the future, but also talked about other comics that are all intertwined! Damn, for the price, there was no question what would entertain me more: a comic or cardboard pictures that came with stale gum.
Fast forward two decades and comics are (on average-ish) $3.99 for 32 pages. Twenty years took Batman (1940) #484 (September 1992) from $1.25 / 32 pages (4 cents a page) to Batman (2011) $3.99 / 32 pages (12 cents a page). According to three separate calculators I used, something that cost $1.25 in 1992 should cost $2.12 in 2015. That's a 47% difference between what the cost is and what (according to inflation) it should cost. Back in 2009, DailyFinance.com compared 50 different products and their price changes between 1999 and 2009. The final comparison showed that comic books had the 5th highest rate of change at over 100%, meaning comics doubled in price in ten years instead of the 58% increase they should have.
What does this have to do with collecting vs reading comics? Look back up to why I switched from baseball cards to comic books: price vs reward, and I cannot think of any form of entertainment other than movie ticket prices that have increased past the point of economic value more than comic books have in 20 years. Think about it; four dollars to read 32 pages. How long would it take you to read 32 pages of a comic book for it to be worth $4? Ten minutes? Twenty? Compare that to the money vs value of modern video games: $60 for dozens, hundreds, sometimes a thousand hours of entertainment.
"But, RU, c'mon, entertainment value can't be the only reason you've read comics for twenty years. What about the story? The Universe? The Characters?"
That's fair. I do have emotional attachments to these characters that have been in my life longer than anyone who did not help to sire me. But part of that love, like any other love, is built on the idea of shared history, shared experiences, and a host of other variables that are no longer present in modern comic books. In other words, what is missing from comic books right now is a sense of permanence. Unlike the comics I grew up with, change no longer needs to be justified in story, all that is needed is an interview with CBR explaining how the writer just "didn't like" the status quo / did no research to see if this had an impact on established facts (Brubaker and the third Summers brother for an example.) All the more, publishers just lazily ignore what they don't like rather than going through the work of writing themselves away from bad stories.
Constant re-launches, re-boots, retcons, and price gouges finally got through my collector's mindset and screamed at me "They don't care!" to which I finally screamed back "Neither do I!"
My pull list for September only has two DC (Flash and Batman) and three Marvel comics (Mrs. Deadpool And The Howling Commandos and Deadpool Vs. Thanos #1 & 2), roughly a 60% decrease in DC books and 87% in Marvel comics from last year. Of those four, two are limited series and one is being dropped at the end of this creative team's run (Batman). Only the Flash has a chance of surviving the culling, and even that is no longer safe.
Oh, I'll still read comics. I can get them from the library, shared comiXology accounts, or even Marvel Unlimited. But I no longer need, or even really want, to read them when they come out. It used to be when my box of comics came from DCBS, my wife wouldn't see me for the rest of the day. Now, I'm lucky if I finish one month's box before the other arrives.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Comic books are not a unique product, stop pretending otherwise. Comic book companies have spent 75+ years peddling their product as a drug, doing everything they could to get us hooked, and for two decades I was a wiling addict blind to the price gouging my dealer kept justifying. However, when they broke the $5 barrier on non-event books, something in my head snapped. Maybe it's the social construct of 5s and 10s being numbers that we pay attention to, but $5 was too much. It also broke the seal surrounding the mental maneuvering I had done over the years to convince myself that comics were even worth $3 let alone $4 and $5.
Conclusion / TLDR:
Comics cost now too much for me to be able to justify continuing my collection. Combined with the purposeful destruction of any kind of permanence and disrespect for fans and continuity, I also no longer have an emotional need to follow characters I loved. I'll read comics, I still love Deadpool, The Flash, Lil' Depressed Boy, G.I. Joe Real American Hero, and a few others, but it seems that I am no longer the audience comic book companies, at least DC and Marvel, market to. That's ok; I am not saying that they have to go back to what comics was even a decade ago to "get me back." I'm sure there was a generation of comic book readers who left in the early 1990s due to content and pricing, it's the nature of the market, and I get that. I'm also not sure that there is anything they could do to get me back.
This is a hard thing for me to come to terms with. I still have tens of thousands of single issues I need to figure out what to do with now since it is no longer a "live" collection. My dream was to pass it down to my children, to instill in them a love of comics, and to have a collection that spanned generations. Complete runs of Deadpool and X-Men (not Uncanny) being given to my grand-daughter were thoughts that actually warmed my heart. Now, I'm encouraging my four year old to not get into comics, I can't afford my own collection, let alone a theoretical collection for him.
What's I find ironic is that I got into comics because I could afford them but more importantly because I could do something with them. Now, due to marketing, pricing, and inconsistent continuities, I am back to collecting stagnant objects, namely Funko Pop! Vinyls (I'm up to 180) for the same reason: entertainment value vs price.
In short: I'm out.