AND THIS is what drives me crazy... THE DIRECT MARKET CAN NEVER BE A LOSS LEADER. It's impossible. The publisher knows exactly how many books are going to sell the day they set the press run, then, they decide to overprint or not. If they can't make money, they can cancel the book or resolicit at a higher price point. This is the fundamental misunderstanding of the civilian population, DC and Marvel physically cannot lose money on DM books unless they choose to overprint dramatically. Those book are sold to retailers and that's all that really matters bottom line. That's why they are so hesitant to get too crazy with downloads. There is no guarantee of sales.
No it is you who totally misunderstands how business works. You seem to think the only costs involved are the price to print books.
Marvel still have to pay writers, artists, rent, back office staff, taxes etc. If book sell so low they don't cover those costs they will lose money even if they sell every copy.
In the firm I work(not comics) we make nothing and I mean nothing without selling it first yet we still lose millions on these projects.