Kudos to our eagle-eyed Robot 6 and Spinoff compadre Graeme McMillan for spotting something interesting, and perhaps a bit frustrating, in Marvel's January solicitations. On his Twitter, Graeme noted (edited slightly for clarity): "Number of new 32-page Marvel books @ $2.99 in new solicits: three. Number of new 32-page Marvel books @ $3.99 in new solicits: seven. What happened to price cuts?"
You no doubt recall that less than an hour after DC announced price cuts for its ongoing series during New York Comic Con -- with a detailed list of the titles involved, along with page-count decreases and the cessation of back-up features -- Marvel Senior Vice President-Sales & Circulation David Gabriel announced price cuts for Marvel, too, stating that new books launching in January 2011 will not debut at $3.99. Though details about the plan were scarce, here at Robot 6 we rounded up Marvel's reaction to the price cuts at both publishers, from Senior Vice President C.B. Cebulski's mild busting of DC's chops for dropping page counts along with prices and, thus, reducing creator income, to sales communications manager Arune Singh's statement that many titles debuting from Marvel in 2011 will ship at $2.99.
But a look at Marvel's January solicitations tells a different story: Of the House of Ideas' 32-page debuts, seven are listed at $3.99: Age of X: Alpha #1, Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead #1 (of 5) Anita Blake: Circus of the Damned -- The Ingenue #1 (of 5), The Stand: No Man's Land #1 (of 5), Ultimate Comics Captain America #1 (of 4), Daredevil: Reborn #1 (of 4), and The Thanos Imperative: Devastation #1; only three are priced at $2.99: Captain America: Hail Hydra #1 (of 5), Wolverine and Jubilee #1 (of 4), and Magneto #1. The reasoning for the different price points isn't instantly clear upon seeing which titles get which price -- as best I can tell, maybe $3.99 is still being used for event-related titles, licensed books and Ultimate Comics series? But if there are more of those than of "regular" launches, it appears to run counter to Marvel's expressed intention, at least for this early month of the year.
Though Marvel had no official comment on the matter, a very quick bit of number-crunching reveals that while prices weren't slashed wholesale, moves are being made in that direction, and in the direction of reducing the overall number of titles being published -- something Tom Brevoort mentioned would happen at the New York Comic Con. In January, there are 54 items listed at $3.99 and 28 at $2.99, for 82 items total split between those price points (not including the Icon titles and, obviously, $4.99 items like the Iron Man anniversary issue). In Marvel's December solicitations, there were 69 at $3.99 and 26 at $2.99, for 95 items total (again, not including Icon, etc.). So yes, overall, the number of $3.99 books is shrinking, the number of $2.99 books is increasing, and the total number of releases is declining, albeit not necessarily dramatically, and without the price cuts being noticeably tied to what's new and what's not.
To be clear, it might not be a terrible idea to roll prices and production back gradually. Certainly many retailers, while pleased with the publishers' decision to eliminate what they see as a "jumping-off" factor in the form of that four-buck price point, have expressed concern that the decision to do so during the weakest months of the year for comics retail would represent an instantaneous hit to their bottom line, while any increase in sales or readership originating from the price cuts would likely be gradual. But regardless, as far as the actual price cuts themselves go, DC has the edge.