Did March officially usher in the Four-Dollar Era?

The direct market reached a milestone in March, one that will make a lot of comics readers very unhappy. For the first time, more comics in Diamond's Top 300 were priced at $3.99 than at $2.99.

That's according to chart-watcher John Jackson Miller, who provides the breakdown: 130 titles priced at $3.99, 124 at $2.99, and only 16 at "the intermediary step" of $3.50, which seems destined to disappear altogether.

It's a slim margin, to be certain and, in Miller's words, "mainly a psychological barrier," as the average price still comes out to $3.55. But it's a sure sign that the $4 comic soon will be the norm, with or without additional content or "co-features."

Every month around this time, the retail news and analysis site ICv2.com posts its sales estimates for comics sold to the direct market, and virtually every month there's a new round of complaints from readers about the increasing number of $3.99 titles. Yet, despite all the (virtual) gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes, the $3.99 books keep on selling. Of the Top 25 comics in March, 14 were priced at $3.99; of the Top 50, 27 were at the higher price.

Now, a lot of those titles were event comics, or tie-ins to event comics, or special one-shots, or miniseries, or -- well, you get the picture. So I'll agree with Miller that it's possible the "common price" of comics could slide back to $2.99 once some of these crossovers and miniseries and so on wrap up. After all, DC's next "events," Brightest Day and War of the Supermen are priced at $2.99. However, most of Marvel's "Heroic Age" launches and relaunches appear to be $3.99 books.

So, what does it all mean? Most likely, it's a hearty welcome to the Four-Dollar Era. But don't get too comfortable: The Five-Dollar Era will be along before you know it.

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