Jeff - a friend and frequent commentator on this blog ask that question to me and I think it is a good question.
Comics are essentially $3 for the majors and $4 for the independents. Due to my financial circumstances, a discount from my store and my deep and abiding love for this medium I buy a lot of comics. My price point is probably $100 for an Absolute or oversized hardcover, $25-35 for a trade, $8 for a deluxe format (48 pages or more) and $4 for a regular comic. Having said that I think we are at the price point of no return for comics soon (or already there).
The average price of a comic has risen dramatically versus the overall inflation rate. The justifications are many, but the true bottom line is that with sales decreasing (in a long sense) that you need to generate more money on a single issue. Also the pay scale has risen dramatically I'm sure to attract certain talent to the industry. Still almost everyone does comic for the love of the art form over "this is the way to unlimited riches".
Still at a $3 price point picking up 10 comics a week becomes a $1,560 a year habit or about $2,300 on a gross pay basis. At a pay rate of $60,000 a year that would be only one bi-weekly gross pay and depending on everything else, maybe that is doable.
At $4 a book that gross price tag goes to about $3,000 a year. Also I believe that the financial pressures of many issues are going to take our economy into a recession soon (I hope it is just a recession) and with many books hovering at the 25,000 copies a month level, a drop off in customers buying could kill a lot of books.
I'm not trying to doom and gloom it, I just wondering out loud can comics survive all they have to face in the next five years.
Some of the problems:
1) An older (20 something) fan base that will have other priorities in tight times (family being the number one thing I can think of). An aside if comics are marketed for 20 somethings, why all the "got milk" ads?
2) A direct market formula that allows books to be ordered so tightly that casual customers may never see anything but the "big" event on the shelves.
3) A stagnation in creativity and willingness to change. The unwillingness to change for fear of losing some of their fanbase or stagnant thought that only Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker can be the hero. Creativity has been stilted as creators hold onto their best ideas to try and cash them in on their own.
4) Fewer retail outlets.
5) Digital comics.
6) Trades versus monthlies.
7) Magna replacing comics.
8) Economic slowdown
Sales are going down in the long view and we are becoming too inbred at times. Daredevil is a great book if you know all the history, but I challenge anyone to tell me of a "new" reader who has gotten into Daredevil.
Personally I hope that sales do go down a little more to force the publishers to take real chances with these characters. I still point to the "Death of Superman" as an event that brought more people into a comic book store then anything else. If these type of radical and exciting changes started to occur in most titles I believe the regular public would start to come back to comics.
Look at the death of creative entertainment in TV, movies and other mediums. Successes are cloned so fast that by the time you finish enjoying a reality show 14 more are in production. Liked "Lost" well great because we now have 15 "mystery" continuing story series on the air. Like Pirates of the Caribbean, well don't worry they will make enough sequels until you are sick of it.
Comics can be that place of real entertainment value. You have an unlimited budget with drawing and a more singular vision in comics then in almost any other medium.