One of the running complaints that have been heard among comic fans for the past two or three decades has been the spiraling price increases of comic books. "I remember when comics used to only cost a quarter!" So, using the Fantastic Four comic as a baseline, I've tracked the actual price increases since 1961, compared that against the inflation rate and come up with a "real price" index of comics over the past four and half decades.
As one might expect, all the lines trend upwards over time. The pink line represents the actual price listed on the cover and obviously has several periods of constancy with somewhat abrupt and noticable increases. The blue line represents inflation, as tracked against the value of one dollar in 2004. The yellow line represents the "real price" of a comic. In 1961, you could buy Fantastic Four #1 for ten cents. But that ten cents was worth more then than it is now, and what amount of value that ten cents could buy for you is what it's "real price" is. So, if you had ten cents in 1961, you would be able to purchase something which we would consider today worth about 65¢. By the time the actual cover price reaches 65¢ in 1985, though, that's what we would consider today worth about $1.15.
Now, looking at the chart, you can see that the cover prices rose pretty close to the inflation rate up until the early 1980s. That tracks well with my memory, as I recall the price increases not really an issue to me personally until I saw them start to jump from 60¢ to 65¢ to 75¢ to $1.00. It's not surprising that corresponds with when complaints began to be actively voiced.
But let's take a moment to look at this... It took from 1961 until about 1980 for the "real price" of comics to go from 50¢ to $1.00, and then from 1980 until 1997 to rise to $2.00. So, from the middle of the 20th century, it's taken about 20 years for the "real price" of comics to double. And from 1997 until 2006, we've seen the "real price" rise about $1.00, about half of the $2.00 "real price." Which means that we're on track for a comics' "real price" to be around $4.00 by 2015. Of course, that's $4.00 in 2004 terms. Assuming an average annual inflation rate of 3%, that would mean that the cover price can actually remain at it's current $2.99 and still achieve its historical doubling on schedule!
I'm doing some "back of the envelope math" here, and there's certainly quite a number of variables that I'm glossing over. But I think it's interesting to look at how things have worked historically and try to predict or model future changes based on those old trends. I recently had proven my theory from a year ago that, despite perpetually falling sales numbers, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Marvel Knights 4 title was safe until early summer 2006 -- and that was based on "back of the envelope math" with the book's historical sales figures.
So, if you're one of the ones who's complained about ever-increasing comic prices, I think you can breath easy for at least a few years. I think that, barring any major changes that might affect the industry, most comics will remain under $3.00 at least through 2010, and probably a few years beyond.