Yes, I put the extra “h” there just to be a jerk.

§ March 10th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 9 Comments

Thom ahsks

“Question: Do you ever revisit your back issue prices in a large-scale way? I assume most prices probably stay relatively stable over time, but there are some that must be dramatically different after a few years.

“I’ve been to a couple of shops that must not ever review their bins because back issues remain at their highest-ever value. Example: A couple of years ago, I thought I’d fill some gaps in my Baxter Legion collection. When I got to the ‘Death of Superboy’ issues (#37-38), I saw prices ranging from reasonable to quite pricy. I assume the higher prices were left over from when those issues were actually relevant. Not so much anymore.”

Former boss Ralph used to talk about how at the shop he had previously co-owned up north before opening his own location in Ventura in 1980, his partner would, whenever the new yearly edition of Overstreet arrived, shut down the back issue section of the store and reprice everything. Which would aggravate Ralph, as it naturally should because that’s completely bonkers.

Realistically, prices don’t change that much on most things from year to year. And the things that do change drastically are likely things you’re selling and (hopefully) restocking and repricing on a regular basis anyway. Like, I’m not going to go through and redo the pricing on Justice League Europe every summer. As Ralph would say, if it didn’t sell for $2 before, it ain’t gonna sell for $2.50 now.

Now, repricing things in the other direction, like with the “Death of Superboy” story you mentioned (which actually still guides for a bit more than your normal Legion of Super-Heroes issues), does perhaps take a little more diligence, though perhaps even that may not be quite the problem it may have been. For shops coming out of the ’90s boom and passing through the doldrums of later that decade and into the 2000s, the occasional “peak priced” item would sometimes rear its ugly head and require some returning for regrooving. For example, this copy of X-Files I featured, hoo boy, seven years ago, clearly would have needed some price guide reconsideration in later years by its retailer if, you know, said retailer had survived long enough to do such a thing. (Or maybe they refused to, which is why they achieved that “former” status.) Despite X-Files having (at least at my shop) a minor funnybook resurgence within the last couple of years, I assure you those Topps #1s didn’t bounce back to those sky-high prices. (Unless it’s a slabbed/graded copy, to which there is very little rhyme and even less reason to where values settle.)

Anyway, point is, as the ’90s recede farther away, chances increase that any pricing anomalies like, oh, say, a $55 X-Files #1 will be caught and corrected, barring its being squirrelled away inside the dustiest comic box oubliette in the darkest corner of the shop. But not always, and it’s not necessarily due to neglect or ignorance. Sometimes it’s just inertia. A while back on the Twitters I noted that the “Death of Colossus” issue of Uncanny X-Men is still inexplicably priced higher than surrounding issues in the guide, despite events of the book having been undone, leaving no impact on the series or character, and I’m betting had been forgotten by at least some of you reading this. It ain’t no “Death of Phoenix,” which is also completely undone at this point but remains a major touchstone in the series in genuine high demand. Ain’t nobody asking after “Death of Colossus.”

Complicating matters is, well, what I’ve been talking about on the site for the last several posts. A significant percentage of the collecting public is trying very, very hard to make things “hot.” Every first appearance, any minor deviation from the norm in any title, is immediately horded in quantity from the shelves on day of release and shoved onto eBay at inflated prices (after the expedited grading/slabbing service, natch). Or grabbed from the back issue bins, as miscellaneous issues get noted as “significant” somewhere online and hunted down in stores who may not have heard yet.

It’s with those that attention must be paid, and repricing the back issues may be required. Tried to find any Byrne-era Avengers West Coast lately? Used to be consigned to the dollar bins, but now cast your eyes to the glass cases, or to the “wall books” now for those double-digitally priced delights. Granted, I let one go for pre-Wandavision value the other day, knowing full well I could get more, but eh, three bucks is fine, not like I was going to change its cost right in front of the customer’s face, and I’m making money on whatever I paid for it, I’ll reprice the next one. If there are any.

Staying ahead of this new collectors’ market is tricky, as I keep saying…plus, trying to balance the fact that 1) you want to realize what money you can on your back issues, and 2) the people interested in buying said “hot” issue usually want them at your pre-“hot” pricing and may pass if you’ve got ’em marked up already. Again on the Twitters, I was reminded of a couple who came into the previous place of employment looking for those issues of Alpha Flight that tied into the then-popular Big Hero 6. Having already been clued into interest on these (think you’re the first person asking about the new hot thing? You’re probably the 14th) we had marked them up a bit. The couple declined, saying “we wanted to buy them for $3.00!” “So we can make money and not you!” was the implied but unspoken follow-up.

However, that’s not always the case. Ralph’s adage of “if they didn’t buy it at $2, they won’t at $2.50” should add “but they will if it’s $20.” A hot book gains hot sales because it’s hot, a cycle that feeds itself. (Look, I know Ralph knows that, he wasn’t talking about “hot” books, I’m just trying to piggyback what he said.) When certain folks see a book that suddenly shoots up in price, that can attract attention and open up wallets.

And so, Thom, looking back at your actual question, no I don’t do large scale repricing. I do on a case by case basis, either if something suddenly popped upward in value, or if I notice something that needed regrading and some reconsideration. By and large I leave the prices alone, if only because I’m still pulling multiple boxes out of the back room to price the first time, much less worry about redoing comics I’ve already priced. Which isn’t to say it may not be necessary someday, but if I do I won’t be shutting down my back issue department to do so. I’ve at least learned lesson from having it told to me. Sheesh.

9 Responses to “Yes, I put the extra “h” there just to be a jerk.”

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    It may also be that shops that don’t try to wring every last dime out of the purchaser for every back issue will see more repeat business.

    I definitely try to visit shops again if I remember I got a nice deal on something on another occasion.

  • Thom H. says:

    At the comic shop where I worked many moons ago, we undertook a wholesale clean-up of the back issue bins. We replaced torn long boxes and yellowed bags, refaced the boxes with updated signs, redistributed the whole collection so boxes were easier to flip through, etc. The manager also took the opportunity to reprice anything that seemed egregiously over-priced since the goal, of course, was to move stock — even if the profit was a little less.

    That was a once-in-a-decade undertaking, though. I was just curious how often something like that happened in other shops. I’ve been to some where it seems like they haven’t paid attention to their back issues in years in terms of pricing, order, or cleanliness. Other places seem up-to-the-minute. Most are probably somewhere in the middle like you describe.

    Anyway, super interesting as usual. Thanks for the detailed answer!

  • RDaggle says:

    “not like I was going to change its cost right in front of the customer’s face”

    Of course you’re supposed to do that, while somebody is filming it on their phone. Then you post the video on TikTok with the title: “Watch Somebody Die Inside”

    It’s 2021! Pay attention!!

  • Brian says:

    And then charge more for the “Death of That Customer” TikTok! Particularly if it’s your shop’s TikTok #1!

  • Chris V says:

    Yes, I’ve had this happen at local stores.
    I remember coming across quite a few books which seemed like they would be a few bucks, only to see double-digit prices on the sticker.
    I took the comic to the owner and asked him why this particular comic was selling for $20.
    He would get out the price guide and discover that the book was now selling for $4.
    I remember one of the comics had something related to Batman-adjacent Azrael from the early-1990s.
    Once a hot item, but now something no one remembered or cared.

    On the other hand, I haven’t felt averse to taking advantage of other stores’ disarray.
    There used to be a comic shop near my home which was completely unorganized. One of those ones where you have to spend hours digging through randomly sorted comics in myriad long boxes in order to find any hidden gems.
    I came across a copy of (Uncanny) X-Men #108. The price tag said “$5.00”. I wasn’t about to correct this error.
    This would have been in the early-1990s. I have no idea how much the first Byrne on X-Men issue was going for at the time, but I know it was more than I had in my wallet.
    I felt I had earned this steep discount after digging through countless boxes that day. Otherwise, the issue probably would have remained buried.
    I calmly walked to the counter, hoping my luck would hold.
    The guy said, “This looks older. Sometimes other people working here switch bags from different comics. This might not be the correct price.”
    Oh no, my luck had run out.
    He got out the price guide and after a minute told me, “I don’t know how to grade these things. If you want it for $5, you can have it”.
    Oh frabjous day!
    I’m not an expert on grade either, but it was a nice enough copy. Definitely not a book that would have been priced at $5 in the guide.

  • Mikester says:

    Thelonious_Nick: by and large, I do try to keep my prices competitively low…I’m not trying to gouge anyone if I can help it! And if the occasional item slips by at an old price, eh, whatchagonnado?

    Sometimes when someone found a book at a cheap price that was now going for a lot more, we’d sometimes refer to them at the old shop as “senility deals,” which may not be the best way to refer to something in retrospect, but we were definitely aware when people were getting bargains and we were fine with letting ’em go!

  • Daniel T says:

    Can I assume if someone found X-Files #1 in your boxes for $55 and did OR did not say “Is this really supposed to be this much?” you’d look up the correct price and charge appropriately?

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    A few years ago I saw some late ‘90s D-Men comics going for $15, $20. I was shocked; much as I love the work of Alan Davis, his (editorially-compromised) run on the X- Books circa ‘99 is not exactly a favorite. Apparently, there was a spike in Wolverine-as-Death issues, maybe also tying into some Apocalypse or Archangel nonsense. I had dumped those comics several years prior, so I might have missed out on my chance to make a tiny profit. I’m curious if those overpriced books ever sold.

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    Er, that first line should say “X-Men comics” not “D-Men.” If Marvel does put out a comic about D-Man and his currently and criminally non-existent sidekicks, though, I’ll read every issue.