Marvel’s Pricing and Backup Stories
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?
You raise very good points about the logic behind what to pair up.
In theory, I like the backup features. You’re right in that they do add value, so they make it easier to stomach the $3.99 price tag. I also like the different storytelling style required to pack enough story into 8 pages to make it worth doing.
That said, simply throwing an extra 8 page story isn’t enough to make it a good idea. The most recent issue of Captain America was absurd. Up front, you had this mature, serious story that was almost a 22-page editorial cartoon about the Teabagger movement. But then that 8 page Bucky backup felt like it was targeted at 6 year olds. I couldn’t believe how tonedeaf that combination was.
At least DC is smart enough to bundle thematically similar content, like you see in Adventure Comics. As you pointed out, they seem to “get it.” Finding a dopey kids story at the end of Captain America doesn’t make me feel any better about the $4 pricetag.
That is a good point about the Nomad backup. I completely forgot to mention it seeing how I posted the cover of it. On the positive side they at least had the page count right but they certainly missed the ball on putting the new Nomad with Cap. It would have fit better as a backup to Ms Marvel (that’s ignoring the fact that raising the price on Ms Marvel would probably kill that book) or one of the more light hearted books. Now if they did something like a Red Falcon backup in Cap, I think that would be perfect. I’d like to see more done with him but a full series or mini series seems like too much.
They did get it right in the Incredible Hulk with the new She Hulk Lyra as the back up. She is part of all the Hulk War fluff. Of course that didn’t make up for the fact that most of the Hulk books have been lousy, but they got the pricing, page count, and logical connections of the characters right at least.
Mostly at this point I think they just need to get their page counts right since that is the most offensive thing at the moment, then ideally they could get their backups to sync up better.
Another example would be to put Black Window in as a backup in Iron Man. They are pushing her hard right now because of the upcoming Iron Man movie. She is even getting her own monthly series, which sadly will more then likely be doomed like Doctor Voodoo and other books, unless they try every desperate trick to string it out like they have done with Moon Knight.
Also I forgot to mention that is looks like 20,000 is Marvel’s threshold sales number for their books. If they dip below that and show no signs of recovery they get axed.