It seems like more than half their solicitations are for $4 comics, when every mini-series and special is priced that way, with a highly inconsistent policy about page numbers. This is one thing that I think DC is doing right - adding extra value for that extra dollar.- Anonymous
DC recently made the announcement that some of their titles will also get a price increase, but will feature an additional 8 page co-feature back-up story to justify their price increase.
Marvel's policy on their pricing policies is spotty at best, with some titles featuring the same page count as a regular title while others feature additional "Director's Cut" content, such as sketches, interviews or scripts, and others still featuring reprints of older issues.
Counterpoint - Popular series and events still sell
Yeah, the prices really suck, but, sadly, I'm still buying the same books as before, if not more. I'm hooked.- Sebastian
Events that are priced higher usually tend to have a higher page count and their nature makes it feel as if it's a more "essential" story to understanding the Marvel (or DC, for that matter) universe than the lower priced monthly title and more fans seem to be willing to purchase it regardless of the price.
In addition, these higher profiles projects (whether they are events, ongoings, or minis) tend to have all-star creators, which may "justify" the higher price of the titles in some people's eyes.
Solution - Compromise?
This new approach is causing me to not even glance at a lot of mini-series I would probably be buying if they were priced lower. I'm still buying War of Kings, but if both it and WoK: Ascension were priced at $3, I'd be buying them both.- Anonymous
Indubitably, at some point all comics will increase their prices, but, for the time being, Marvel should stick with it's policy of high-pricing the popular titles to subsidize lower selling ones. These high selling titles are perennial best-sellers and create a larger revenue than raising the prices of mini series and one-shots ever will, most of which never sell a high number of units or anything close to a Dark Avengers, Hulk or Thor comic.
For the time being, Marvel should avoid putting the higher price on its niche or lower selling titles because most readers will just end up avoiding them compared to the "essential" or "high profile creator" driven books and simply spend their money on other titles.
Oneshots, annuals, and miniseries are usually used to test the popularity and draw of a certain character, concept or creative team, but, if it sports an increased price, it may not prove to be a good measure of how much reader interest there is in these economic times.
Imagine if Marvel had decided to publish Jason Aaron and Ron Garney's four issue run on Wolverine as a $3.99 mini-series instead. I do not think it would have proven to be the success that it was, even with Wolverine on the title, and the team would probably not be headlining the new Wolverine: Weapon X series.
Additionally, Marvel should most definitely not price #1 issues of not-so-popular series, like the recent Exiles series, at $3.99. Number one issues are great ways to get people to read titles that they might not typically consider, usually heralding a fresh start or a new creative team, but a higher price will end up scaring readers away from these series, which do not boast the draw of a A-list character or creative team.
Point - Marvel's recent overuse of variant covers harkens back to the 90's cover gimmicks
They need to do something about Wolverine. First he's on 3 teams, and now he's on every Variant Cover. It makes me sick.- Zdenko
This practice of variant covers was very popular during the early 90's and was used to inflate the speculation bubble by increasing the short term rarity and price of certain comics through the limited numbers of variant copies. However, as we all probably know by now, comics are hardly collectibles and investing in them by buying the variant covers will not yield any profit for about 50 years or so and very few modern era comics will see returns comparable to the early waves of comics.
A particular interesting side effect of the heavy use of variant covers is that there are less "iconic" cover images due to the dilusion of the appeal of that cover and lack of people seeing it due to having multiple covers of the same issue. Think of any important single issue in the past ten years and you will probably find that it had one or more variant covers or simply featured an homage to the past.
Counterpoint - Collector mentality
There is still a big enough collector mentality for Marvel (and other companies) to warrant publishing variant covers. The best proof of this was the recent Amazing Spider-Man issue with the Barack Obama variant covers, one for the original print and one for each subsequent reprint.
This Amazing Spider-Man issue was the biggest draw of "collectors" into comic book shops since the much-publicized "Death of Superman" in Superman #75 or the million plus seller, X-Men #1, and its barrage of variant covers, and quickly became one of the highest selling titles of this decade, going so far as to be the top selling comic two months in a row.
It is hard to measure just how much of an impact variant covers have on less publicized issues, as the sales charts do not give us an insight into how big of a fraction any give issue's sales belonged to variant covers. From personal experience, however, I know that some people still buy and even pay more for variant covers on the same week they are released.
Solution - Less Coverage
Mass amounts of variants are also a disturbing trend from the 90's and it's only a matter of time before we see ridiculous chromium or other gimmicks return at the rate they are going with some of these things.- Kirk Warren
However, the problem arises from the fact that, if left unchecked, it could create a speculator bubble that, once burst, could cripple the industry, similar to what it happened in the 90's.
If Marvel must continue to keep using variant covers, keep the practice to a minimum and make sure that the variant cover does, in fact, relate to the content inside the comic. There is very little anyone can do to change the perception of the non-comic-reading public to stop them from purchasing "important" issues, such as the afforementioned Amazing Obama issue, or to stop comic book shop owners that charge exorbitant amounts of money for variant covers on the day they are released.
Point - Marvel renumbers series very casually
This is actually not something particularly new, where series are renumbered to go back to their "original" numbering after they were relaunched as a new volume. It was actually done a couple of years ago for Avengers, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four after reboots for each post-Heroes Reborn, but Marvel has, again, started doing it again in full force for anniversary issues.
Thor was recently renumbered to #600 while Captain America is set to receive the same treatment this summer along with Daredevil, Hulk and Amazing Spider-Man. It is particularly upsetting in these first two cases because they are pretty much self-contained stories featuring the same creative team over the span of the most recent run and, to top things off, have consistently sold well enough that they do not need the gimmick induced sales bump.
On top of this, the renumbering feels unnecessary and gimmicky and, in Thor's case, it counted issues of Journey Into Mystery that he was not even featured in while ignoring issues of the same title when it took over for Thor after its first cancellation.
More importantly, the renumbering is confusing to long time readers as well as new prospective readers. For long time fans, it creates the confusion as to where they should store the issues in their longboxes: Is this Thor Vol. 1 #600 or is it a completely new volume? For new readers, the big issue number is particularly intimidating, as it creates the illusion that there's a whole lot more to catch up on and read about than there actually is, and looks confusing on collections when you see a book that features "Issue 7-12 and 600" (or whatever issues the collection will have). Even casual fans can be boggled by the fact a comic has mysteriously jumped up in numbers, leaving them wondering why an otherwise high quality comic, like Brubaker's Captain America, required a gimmick anniversary renumbering in the first place and actually creating negative connotations with the book they are trying to entice people to pick up.
Counterpoint - Anniversary issues sell well
This is part of the collector mentality, as it tends to drive people out to buy these anniversary issues in hopes that one day they will be worth something on top of the ingrained "anniversary issue = important story" mentality. The good side of this is that it may introduce new people to the current run or direction of a title and, thus, increase the readership of that particular title in the long run.
However, there is no recent data to support this theory. Once the sales numbers for Thor #601 and Captain America #601 come in, we will be better able to gauge the impact of this current round of renumberings. Marvel's anniversary issues tend to have a larger page count and content and, therefore, increase the price and overall profit on sales, too.
Solution - Dual numbering for anniversary issues
All the benefits of the anniversary sales with none of the fan confusion or outrage! For such issues, Marvel should still use the big anniversary number that will drive more people to buy the issue en masse, but also keep the current numbering.
Dan Slott did this for an issue of She-Hulk, which was numbered both issue #100 of all solo She-Hulk appearances and issue #3 of that particular run of She-Hulk. Once the anniversary passed, the series continued with #4 and so on. I checked the sales number and there was only a very small increase of units sold, but She-Hulk has never been a high-selling or popular character, so it is unclear if this would work or not on a larger scale. The real benefit of this system would be to avoid confusion and stop intimidating new readers from checking out new series.
Point/Counterpoint - Marvel's scheduling of their comics
I am a bit hesitant as to whether or not to mention this at all, as I have a feeling it is done so purposely, but it still merits a mention. When you look at Marvel's scheduling for certain weeks, it is not very strange to find several related titles coming out on the same week.
For example, last week featured the release of Mighty Avengers, New Avengers, and Avengers: The Initiative, which constitutes three out of the four Avengers-centric titles (only Dark Avengers was missing). The week before that featured Uncanny X-Men, X-Men Legacy and X-Factor, which made up three out of the four core X-titles (with the exception of X-Force).
It seems to me that, ideally, Marvel would want their big core titles to come out on separate weeks and draw people to the comic book shops every week instead of competing with each other, but, like I said, for all I know this is completely intentional and leads to bigger sale numbers on the ancillary titles (in this case, X-Factor and A:TI) by symbiosis.
Solution - None. Need to investigate further.
Until I see some kind of research to prove whether this is a good or bad business move, I will refrain from offering a solution to what might not actually be problem. One thing that Marvel should keep in mind, though, is the wallet of the readers. If a certain week is flooded with a reader's particular branch of choosing (Avengers, X-Men, whatever), that reader's weekly allowance/budget may go overbudget easily and they will not pick up any other title that they were on the fence about.
For reference, I've seen some weeks with a diluge of titles compared to others with a mere handful of titles. I find that if I leave a title on the shelf one week, I rarely go back for it the following week and will opt for a new title that shipped that week, money permitting, which is why I questioned the use of this tactic. As I said, though, it's hard to tell if this is intentional or even if it makes a difference with how different each title is in regards to quality, creators and marketing behind them each and every week.
Those are some of my criticisms about Marvel's business practices of late, which I am sure resonate with a lot of readers in these hard financial times. Be sure to check back on Friday for the final entry on this series where I will be discussing the hot topic that every fan loves to talk about - the events. Until then, I would love to hear your thoughts and criticism on the topic of Marvel's business practices.