After thinking about it a bit more, I actually think that Marvel MAY actually be handling this situation as well as they can handle it.
Note the stress of the word “may.”
Brian Hibbs recently wrote a great column about possible price increases and the possible market reaction, and I found myself absolutely agreeing with him.
There are a few points at play here:
1. Marvel and DC feel as though they NEED $4 comic books right now. Last month, issue sales were down from a year ago, but the actual dollar intake by the companies was UP, so they were actually making more money now than they were a year ago. Why? Because their highest selling titles were $4 (Secret Invasion and Final Crisis, plus others).
2. Standard economic theory is that you charge more for the lower selling products, because the higher selling products sell enough to pay for the lower price point. Meanwhile, the lower selling products usually have a cult following who will support the niche product at a higher price point (for a time, at least). To wit, Marvel Illustrated comics. Shanower and Young’s Wizard of Oz looks AMAZING, but come on, it’s a niche product, so Marvel is charging more money for it.
3. However, an across-the-board $4 price point would likely not work right now. Hibbs notes the same thing I’ve noticed – fans will not pay $4 for, say, a third X-Men comic book. Or a third Batman comic book, etc. Perhaps $3.50, but not $4 (by the by, I disagree about $3.10 or $3.25 being a viable price point – fans are irked by price increases PERIOD, so there’s no point in doing it if it is not going to significantly affect your return – I think $3.50 achieves that, though).
4. That said, what fans WILL pay $4 for is the “important” comic books. You see this right now with Secret Invasion. If the content is “key” to the shared universe, then readers do not seem to mind the extra buck. Hibbs notes this with his costumers, and I concur from what I’ve seen.
5. So therefore, Marvel APPEARS to be handling this the way Hibbs thinks works – they’re charging a dollar more for the books that they know the fans will buy anyways because of the content. A new Avengers book by Brian Michael Bendis and Mike Deodato? That’s going to sell. Jeph Loeb’s Hulk? It’s going to sell. $3 or $4 is likely not going to make a marked difference. $4 for, say, Green Lantern Corps or Young X-Men IS.
So while this definitely sucks, I think Marvel is probably handling it as well as they can right now with the current market.