Marvel has been playing a very strange game with the pricing of their comics. They want to push the $3.99 price tag as much as they can to milk what they can out of the direct market. The strange thing is some of the books like the recent Captain America books have been priced right at $3.99 because they each have 30 pages of new material. Most of the $3.99 books, like the books in the Ultimate line, have only 22 pages of material which is over priced. It seems somewhat fitting as Marvel creatively has been a mixed bag of late. Some of the books are really great and some are just horrendously stupid. So it’s probably no real surprise their pricing is just as haphazard.
DC on the other hand has their pricing set. A DC book that is $3.99 will have 30 pages either as a full story or a co feature to make up the extra pages, while the 22 page books are set at $2.99. It’s simple, it’s smart, and it doesn’t cheat the fans. Marvel needs to fall in line with this because it is not just something that is good for the fans but it is something they will benefit more from as well. The main reason Marvel would benefit from this also ties into one of the reasons why Disney purchased them, that being character development. Disney wants properties they can develop in other media such as movies, TV, etc. The better Marvel’s comics are the more Disney will have to work with.
The extra pages in the $3.99 books should be used for back up features. It would not only help develop characters but it would also help save titles from the cancelation problem. Most recently SWORD and Doctor Voodoo were canceled after their first couple issues did poorly and showed no signs of growth. Both are good books but they are also perfect examples of something that should be used a backup features. SWORD spun out of Astonishing X-men and would be best used as a back up feature in that title, which incidentally is a $2.99 title so they could raise the price, save the SWORD title, and instantly have the book in the hands of the people that would be interested in SWORD. Doctor Voodoo spun out of New Avengers, which happens to be a $3.99 book with only 22 pages. A Doctor Voodoo backup feature would save New Avengers, or whatever the title becomes after the reboot, from being a over priced book as well as giving Doctor Voodoo a home to continue to develop. So not only would the fans not be getting ripped off in those cases, Marvel would be continuing to develop characters that Disney could potentially profit from in other media.
Quality backup features could also be collected for trades, which of course sells at a higher price point and reaches the broader market outside of the comic shop. They can also if popular enough be launched into their own ongoing series as well. Conversely if a backup feature does not do well it can be easily replaced without hurting the book as the primary feature is still the selling point, like my example of New Avengers with Doctor Voodoo. At the very least it would be nice to see Marvel fix the pricing on the Ultimate line. That is just about the biggest offender right now as almost all the books in the line are $3.99 with 22 pages of material. It feels like a rip off when reading them and there are plenty of characters in that line that would suite the back up feature model. Either that or just drop the damn prices to where it should be at $2.99.
I do believe print will still be the most important thing to Marvel for the time being even with the digital age on the horizon. Marvel will benefit more in the long run if they do right by the fans and set the prices accordingly. Sadly I honestly don’t know if they will or not. We are basically left wondering which half of Marvel will come through. Will it be the good half that prices the books like DC or the bad half where they try to wring out every last dollar from their dedicated fanbase?