The return and impending stay of $3.99

“We’re doing everything we can to insure that the largest number of customers and retailers can continue to get a large majority of Marvel Comics at the standard $2.99 price.”

— Joe Quesada to Newsarama

I’ve written before about the wave of $3.99 comics, acknowledging the good and cursing the bad. But since that first critical post more than a year ago, it has become clear that the shift to $3.99 comics is inevitable.

In last week’s Lying in the Gutters, Rich Johnston addressed the surging comic prices by comparing a starting point of $.30 in 1977 to three decades of the US inflation rate. At $2.99, comics are already almost 300% what they would be when adjusted for inflation alone; at $3.99, comics will have doubled in price in less than a decade.

That 100%-per-decade increase seems to be the standard rate for comics cover prices; 1977 was $.30, 1987 was $.75, 1997 was $1.50 and 2007 was $2.99. Will readers be expected to shell out $6 per issue in 2017, or will this ridiculous rate of increase just speed up the extinction of monthly paper comics?

In the Newsarama interview, Quesada says “…the ultimate driving force [of a comic’s price] is cost. This can come from many places, from the physical material of the comic, to the shipping and distribution, to the price of talent on a book.” Flipping through the latest issue of Previews, I was pretty surprised to see how many new titles Marvel is launching. It would seem that expanding the number of titles is only going to shrink that gap between cost and profit; each new title requires an entirely new creative team. A publisher’s most direct path to profitability would seem to be maximizing the number of readers of existing books.

Frankly, I’m not sure I’m buying Marvel’s excuses. Doom DeLuise pointed out that the new Hellboy one-shot was $2.99 — with no ads. Presumably a company like Marvel, which is subsidized by a film division of rapidly increasing profitability and which can spread overhead costs over many more books, would be able to make a $2.99 comic book profitable more easily than a smaller company like Dark Horse, particularly when considering that Marvel sells more copies and sells advertising space.

With comics readers presumably operating on some kind of budgetary window, are all these new titles (the Noir books, Spider-Man Extra, Spider-Man: Fear Itself, Captain America: Theater of War, Civil War: House of M, Dr. Doom and the Masters of Evil, Ghost Rider: Danny Ketch, X-Men vs Hulk, Age of the Sentry, Skaar: Son of Hulk, Sub-Mariner: The Depths, Secret Invasion: War of Kings, X-Men: Kingbreaker, X-Infernus, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men: Worlds Apart, X-Men / Spider-Man, Wolverine: Switchback, X-Men: Magneto Testament, Wolverine: First Class, Weapon X: First Class, Wolverine and Power Pack, X-Men: Manifest Destiny, Wolverine: Manifest Destiny and a new Punisher series) just taking away readers from existing Spider-Man books, X-Men books and other books, spreading the profit thinner and thinner across more books, each with their own creative team to pay?

In other words, are these dozens of new series going to force everything else up to $3.99?