Sunday, April 26, 2009

Marvel's $3.99 Books

The issue of cover prices has been making lots of headlines lately with many people dropping books that see increases from $2.99 to $3.99 and others dropping titles to make room for old favourites that were increased and so on.

While DC was content to reserve their $3.99 price tag for miniseries and events, they recently announced co-features (aka 8 page backups) to select comics to justify a price increase. Marvel, on the other hand, led the charge to $3.99 ongoings with Dark Avengers, New Avengers, Thor, and Hulk, which they've gone out of their way to state on numerous occasions are their only titles that will be $3.99 outside of the odd event or miniseries.

Yet the recent solicits seem to suggest otherwise. Hit the jump for general thoughts on $3.99 books and to find out what Marvel titles are making the jump to $3.99.

$3.99 Or Bust

First off, I just wanted to point out that Marvel is pushing out about 104 titles (I tried to leave out poster books or what have you, but it's roughly 104) for the month of July. Of those 104 titles, would you believe roughly 37 of them are not $3.99 or above? Here's a breakdown of Marvel's output for the past few months in a convenient table (Note: numbers are manually counted based on solicits found at Comic Book Resources. While I tried my best to be as accurate as possible, there may be errors and solicits can change or contain mistakes as well):


As the above table shows, the number of $3.99 books per month has drastically increased and, more alarmingly, so have the number of $4.99 and $5.99 titles (although, they are relatively few to begin with and are mostly 70+ page count reprints of past storylines). Of note, about half of the $3.99 books are the standard 32 page comic with ads format while the remainder are mostly 40 pages with ads.

Also of note, the number of $3.99 titles back in January totaled about 39, making for roughly a 20% increase in $3.99 priced comics over the course of seven months since they originally made the switch to $3.99 ongoings back with the launch of Dark Avengers. In fact, it's almost been a complete reversal in the numbers between $2.99 and $3.99 titles.

For comparison's sake, DC Comics has roughly 80 titles a month and was averaging about 60 comics at the $2.99 price point. This has dropped slightly with the addition of about six co-features to select books, which are now priced at $3.99, but with 40 pages with ads.

Meet the New $3.99's, Same as the Old $2.99's

Up until now, Marvel has been fairly true to the 'only four ongoings are $3.99' spiel. Key words being 'up until now'.
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Terry Dodson

WHO ARE THE DARK X-MEN? He has his own Avengers team and now Norman Osborn has his own X-Men team. The other shoe has finally dropped and Emma Frost has betrayed Cyclops and the rest of the X-Men. And that’s just one of the huge surprises in “UTOPIA”. Is that Namor? Cloak and Dagger? Professor X?! The thing that you aren’t ready for is that Osborn is right.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …
Uncanny X-Men seems to be joining the $3.99 titles for a standard 32 page comic. I assume the logic behind it is that they can't justify selling us the other half of the story, which takes place in Dark Avengers, at the $3.99 price point, so, instead of dropping DA's price to $2.99 for a couple of months, they are upping the price on Uncanny. I would imagine they are also testing the waters for Uncanny's readers and I would be shocked to see the book revert to $2.99 come the September or October solicits when the crossover with Dark Avengers ends.

Written by Ed Brubaker
Pencils and Cover by Gene Colan

A special double-sized issue featuring art by the legendary Gene Colan! Bucky and Nick Fury uncover a lost tale from Cap and Bucky's days in WW2 - a tale of horror and war and brothers-in-arms.
48 PGS./Rated A …$3.99

Yes, Captain America is technically 48 pages and an anniversary issue, but this marks the third month in a row, with the previous 50th and 600th issue anniversary issues also seeing price jumps, that it will be at that price point or higher. While it's not officially a $3.99 book yet, don't be shocked to see Captain America as a $3.99 monthly when next month's solicits roll around. Other option is Marvel keeps making up anniversaries and changing numbers on the book ad nauseum, which I'm not going to put past them at this point.

Written by Chris Claremont
Art by Tom Grummett

The mansion is still reeling from the events of the previous issue; having just scraped through the Fabian Cortez mission by the skin of their teeth, they were completely unprepared for a psychic blast from Jean, which rendered them all unconscious, and even less prepared for the subsequent surprise visit from one of their greatest nemeses, SABRETOOTH! But as the dust from the battle between the X-Men and this invader—culminating in a brutal battle between Sabes and a particularly vicious Storm—all may not be as it appears… Plus, what secret is Kitty hiding up her sleeve? Don’t miss comics legend and New York Times Bestselling Author CHRIS CLAREMONT’s thrilling return to the X-MEN!
32 PGS.(each)/Rated A …$3.99 (each)
I'm not sure if Claremont just knows where the bodies are buried or what, but he has some way of getting these types of projects approved that simply boggles the mind. Case in point, this is a bi-weekly ongoing at the $3.99 price point. I was hoping the opening issues were the only ones that would be higher priced, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Written by Victor Gischler
Penciled by Goran Parlov

Frank thought he was only passing through the Louisiana Bayou…until he crossed paths with a suspicious family of rednecks and decided to make their business his business. The Geautreauxs are throwing themselves a barbeque with all the fixings – and Frank Castle is the main course.
32 PGS./Explicit Content …

Of course, there's also the Punisher MAX title, which is, for some reason, excluded from any mention of an ongoing that has a $3.99 price tag, despite having been so for a while now. Marvel's first rule of $3.99 books is obviously that we don't talk about $3.99 books.

Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Ron Garney

In the third issue of this all-new ongoing series from the same creative team as last year's sold-out "Get Mystique" storyline, the super soldiers of Strikeforce X have Wolverine trapped in the jungles of Colombia. They are heavily armed, ruthlessly brutal and outnumber him 12 to 1. But when one of their ranks disappears and screams begin to ring out through the darkness each night, the soldiers ask themselves...who's really the hunted?
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...
While there is no solicit for Weapon X for July, it's also a $3.99 ongoing that has gone unnoticed by most, particularly in Marvel's steadfast "only 4 ongoing $3.99 titles" company line.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few of the titles that will be $3.99 in the coming months and, based on the accelerated rate of books making the jump to $3.99, expect Marvel's entire line to be pushed to the $3.99 price tag come early 2010. The question then becomes, will events and miniseries make the jump to $4.99 once everything else is set at $3.99?

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Mike I said...

Depending on the elasticity of the demand for certain comics this could be a brilliant or terrible move. My guess is the latter because entertainment is generally inelastic due to the many substitutes.

loran16 said...

Minor nitpick of Mike's comments, you mean "elastic" not "inelastic". Inelastic are things like oil that are not easy to substitute.

But yes i agree with you.

ComicsAllTooReal's Chris said...

Definitely not good news. A 4 dollar tag per book is ridiculous. Even worse considering the current economy.

duckface said...

It's like they keep getting more expensive every year! I didn't really mind at first but when the cashier at a Borders I was at said "Woah, 3 dollars? These used to be 50 cents when I was a kid" it really hit me.
Thank God DC is adding back-ups, otherwise I don't think I'd keep reading as many books as I do now.
What's insane is that not only are books getting more expensive, but there's less and less content! I was reading through an issue of New Teen Titans from I think 1981, and it took me ages to get through all the dialogue. There used to be a lot more dialogue boxes and panels on a page. Now, there are hundreds of splash pages and 5 dialogue boxes a page. Ridiculous.

Andrenn said...

I for one am bugged by the price jump to 3.99 but I try not to stress over it.

Klep said...

I don't buy individual issues, so I don't feel I can talk about the actual prices on them, but I do find it disturbing that Marvel seems to be so disingenuous about what they're charging $3.99 for. I am curious though, how has the price of a comic kept up with inflation?

The Dangster said...

as a DC fan, i find this delightful.... bwa ha ha!!!

ShadowWing Tronix said...

"What's insane is that not only are books getting more expensive, but there's less and less content! I was reading through an issue of New Teen Titans from I think 1981, and it took me ages to get through all the dialogue. There used to be a lot more dialogue boxes and panels on a page. Now, there are hundreds of splash pages and 5 dialogue boxes a page."

Agreed. When I read through my old comics at breakfast, I'll be through my second bowl of cereal and only half way through the comic. With newer comics, I'll still have cereal in the bowl, but I'll be out of comic. There's such a thing as packing too much into one page (the last issue of Billy Batson, for example), but often there seems to be too little.

Anonymous said...

Just ten years ago it took me 20-30 minutes to read a comic from beginning to end, with all the thought balloons and references to prior event. Now it takes 10-15 minutes. Have printing costs and writers/artists salaries gone up double since then (and with less content)?

Klep said...

I would have to do a thorough examination to confirm this (which I won't), but I definitely have the impression that there's a lot less unnecessary exposition these days than there used to be. It's possible that it's gotten faster to read a comic because writers have just gotten better at telling their stories.

Daryl Tay said...

Yeah the jump and the fact that Marvel is doing is sneakily sucks. I mean $4 is really ridiculous and I'm sure there are other ways to fight costs!

Eric Rupe said...

Klep is right. The reason why comics take less time to read is because there is less narration and exposition to explain every single thing in the page. Writers trust artists to actually tell the story now.

There are also less and less one and done stories so there is less need to fill each so a lot of it spread out over the course of the arc.

Of course, some books are just vehicles for the artist or big screen action books and have more splash pages and what not.

Matt Ampersand said...

Another great article. I really have to wonder how well that Claremont comic is going to sell.

muppet1962 said...

The presentation of your analysis is a bit disingenuous. Only ONE of your examples can be used to support your implicit argument that Marvel is sneakily raising prices and breaking their word.

Marvel's statement, if I understand it correctly, is that only four of it's regular, ongoing series, will be moved to the $3.99 price point; and as you say, these will be "their only titles that will be $3.99 outside of the odd event or miniseries."

Uncanny X-Men at $3.99 is the most striking example of a sneaky price increase--and it's a complete shiv. But, as you point out, it can be justified using Marvel's original statement, as that it is one of the "odd events".

Captain America #601 is a double-sized special; thus, 3.99. All the rest do not fall under the original $2.99 threshold because they are minis or part of an imprint.

I'm not buying any of the $3.99 books myself. Marvel has successfully pushed the vast majority of my pulls into the "trade-waiting" category. But, it should be said that Marvel is not doing anything that haven't already publicly stated, nor are they breaking any of the public statements with their current actions. Are there a lot of $3.99 books out there? Yes. But they are not Marvel's regular ongoing series.

Kirk Warren said...

@muppet1962 - Their entire line has reversed the numbers between $2.99 and $3.99 books since January. I've also got Wolverine: Weapon X, a new ongoing, and Punisher MAX has other $3.99 ongoings that are not $2.99. X-Men: Forever is another new ongoing at the $3.99 pricepoint. That's 3 concrete examples there. The Uncanny and Cap examples are there to show that while they are not technically $3.99 books, it's definitely showing the appearance of a book that is moving towards prepping its audiance for the eventual move to a fulltime $3.99 (Cap in particular has had 3 straight months of non-2.99 pricing, despite providing additional content). I don't think there's anything disingenious about what I've written since it's backed up with concrete numbers for the past several months worth of solicits, comparisons examples of DC's practice and examples of books that are $3.99 beyond the 'original 4' $3.99 books. I havent even said they are sneakily raising prices. I'm outright saying they are. There's nothing sneaky about it. Just some false PR speak on their part and downplaying of their line's drastically increasing average price.

Byron said...

And here I am giving my comic books away ( sheesh

Kirk Warren said...

@Byron - I don't mind links back to people's blogs when relevant, but how about a little more input next time other than a one line nonsequitor and link?

muppet1962 said...

Kirk, that's my bad then. I misunderstood the nature of X-Men Forever and Wolverine: Weapon X; I thought these were minis, not on-goings. If these are indeed on-going series, then I retract my initial critique of your analysis, as that it is invalid. Still, I bet that Marvel will probably argue that the MAX titles don't count because they are an imprint and not an on-going from Marvel proper.

Your numbers do help illustrate the price creep as it spreads across the titles. I think the slow creep is a good business move (and I do in fact think it's "sneaky" ;-) though not good for us, the consumers. It prevents the shock of a sudden increase--which might lead to boycotts (far-fetched as that might sound)--and in the meantime divides fandom into "The Complainers", "The 'Stop Whining About it' Brigade", and "The Silent Sufferers".

Kirk Warren said...

Ahah, I like the three groups you've made up. Another one you can add is the Canadians. Sadly, these prices are actually cheaper for us,e ven with the move to $3.99. I was rereading some comics from about 5 years ago and the price tag is $2.99 US / $4.75 CAD. We were getting scammed for years on ~50% price jacks, even though 75% or so of the comics are printed in Canada and the dollar was usually in the 70-80 cents US range at that time.

So, seeing $3.99 comics for me and everyone else here in Canada is still cheaper than the old pricing.

Artiepants said...

i said it for years on the Newsarama boards, and i'm sticking to it. I'm out with the price hike ~ $3.99 is TOO MUCH for a standard sized comic. I don't mind if there is extra content (i'd be curious to see how Bi-monthley double-sized content $4.99 titles sold, my understanding is from a printing standpoint it costs less to add pages) but for 21 pages of story (since the recap page ~ which i like ~ takes away a page)

my pull is quickly whittling down from 30+ last year to looking like it's going to be about 10 books come late summer. I suspect i'll be completely out aside from following a few favorites in trade by summer 2010.

I just can't believe we've gone from $2.25 when i got back into comics in summer 2001 to $4.00 in 8 years.

TonyJazz said...

Nice column, Kirk....

Count me as another long-time comic fan who will not be buying 3.99 comics.... I like the savings, but miss some of the books.

Unfortunately, I now have an excuse to spend more time doing other things (but my local comics shop is also losing out).

And it is very true that most comics today offer less reading content than just a few years ago. One panel pages are more common, and I find I complete most books in half the time (of just a few years ago).

Comics should be going down in price, not up... No wonder the next generation has been lost....

Anonymous said...

This wouldn't bother me as much if the Canadian dollar was stronger. While it sits at around 1.25, I have to pay 5.00CAD for New Avengers and any 3.99 book. I was paying 3.00 for them just a year ago.

Can we just go the Manga route already?

Corvus said...


While I agree whole heartedly with your points on Marvel's under handed pricing policy I have to chip in with what (I think) is a major flaw in your premise. From what I remember (in a Cup of Joe article I believe) a statement was made that only 3 titles would be RAISED to $3.99 from $2.99. However any new ongoing books would be $3.99. As such Dark Avengers, Weapon X, X-Men Forever are not "technically" sneaky. I'm sorry that I don't have an exact link.

I am dismayed, however, by Marvel's attempts to glut the market with One-shots, mini-series, poster books, and canceling of titles so that they can be re-released at a higher price point. I find myself for the first time in 30 years seriously considering if I can afford this hobby that I love.

Anonymous said...

While I'm certain that my stopping reading these 3.99 books isn't going to mean much in the greater scheme of things I have to stand by what I believe it is worth and stop buying. I've been a huge Thor fan for a long time, but I dropped it after 600. For how quickly you can read a modern comic compared to one from the 80s or earlier it just isn't worth $4. I'm cutting DC some slack and I'll continue with some of their $4 titles as I'm getting extra content, but I won't be surprised when co-features are said to not have worked and they continue prices at $4.

This wouldn't mean I'd stop reading comics, but it would cause me to trade-wait on everything and to spend other monies on older comics and trades.

Tony Rakittke said...

Brian Michael Bendis = Avengers
JMS = Thor
Matt Fraction = X-Men
Ed Brubaker = Captain America
Wolverine = Jason Aaron

It seems to me like Marvel's price hike has less to do with rising production costs and more to do with keeping their all-star talent happy and flush with fat royalty checks.

If this is the course Marvel's going to take, they're just making it that much easier for me to wait for the graphic novels and stop picking up monthly issues.

Matt Ampersand said...

Tony, I am part of Jason Aaron's forums, and he didn't know it was a $3.99 series until the solicits came in.

I'm not saying that Marvel maybe is raising the prices to keep stars happy, but I do not think the writers are demanding for their series to be raised.

Tony said...

Good to know, Matt...thanks for the update!

Yeah, obviously nobody knows for certain why Marvel selected *these* titles to receive price hikes, just as we have no way of knowing what hand, if any, the writers had in the raises.

I think it's a curious thing though that the titles being helmed by "star" writers such as these are all now $3.99 comics. I suspect this is how Marvel's paying for all of their exclusivity contracts with the writers.

Eric Rupe said...

I forget where I heard this but Marvel a ton more writers under exclusive contracts, which means they have to pay them more which is probably one of the reasons why they are pricing so many more books at $4 than DC is since the only two DC exclusive I can think of are Morrison and Johns. I'm sure they have more but it can't be that many more.

Dennis said...

I have been a long time comic fan and have tended to buy a majority of what Marvel and DC puts out. The increasing amount of bad titles, meaningless one shot's and tie in's put out (especially by Marvel) and now this crazy price increase especially when the economy is reeling to me is wrong and the tipping point. It's like $4 a gallon gas, it changes the way you think. Right now I'm boycotting the 3.99 books. I’ll try and find them in the bargain bin later because hopefully a lot of other people won't by them either as they won't by SUV's at $4 a gallon gas.

I see some good comments from people who feel the same way and you can only hope Marvel gets it but probably won’t. I also feel bad for my local comic shops but have been communicating my feelings to them so they can cut back on their ordering.

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