More pictures next time, I promise.

§ November 15th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 3 Comments

So this week’s installment of variant cover-age is going to be just a little different. I know I said I was going to take a look at the various New 52 variant covers DC started using to shore up sales once the initial excitement for the new publishing strategy ebbed away.

But more on that later. What I want to touch upon here is the recent report that direct market comic sales in the U.S. are on their way up. A friend (who now has a suspended account there due to stupid reasons involving Twitter’s algorithms) responded on the Twitter thread there asking about the impact of variant covers on that increase, and the response was that the inflated prices on variant covers were not considered, only cover prices on all releases.

Which is fine, of course, those shouldn’t be considered. But there is something to be said about variant covers boosting the amount of money retailers spend on new comic product. I tried to argue the point in that thread, but Twitter’s not a platform for nuance, and things kept getting off track, so let me try again here.

As I’ve mentioned many a time in this ongoing series of variant cover posts (running three-quarters of the year now!), variants exist to improve sales. On the retail end, they offer varying images to appeal to a wider range of customers…if they don’t like one cover, maybe they’ll find the other appealling. Or, more cynically, it’s a way to get a customer to double/triple/quattuorvigintuple-dip and buy more than one cover of the same comic. Or, of course, if it’s a “rare”-ish variant, you can charge a premium price.

What the main focus here, though, is what retailers are buying, and how variant covers can affect those purchasing decisions.

As you may have noticed, or at least noticed me taking about, the collector/speculator demand increasing over the last couple of years. I won’t try to go into the reasons why here (aside from noting that it’s seemingly connected to everyone being stuck at home during peak pandemic times). Demand for anything that even smells of eBay flipability just shot through the roof (which I don’t need as frankly my shop’s had enough roof problems lately). Mostly it’s focused on ’60s Marvel, which is red hot, and the mercurial demand for comics that have even the slightest, and occasionally even spurious, tie-ins to events in the many Marvel TV shows and movies. And don’t even get me started about everyone looking for this comic featuring a character named “Corona.”

Anyway, increased demand from consumers will trigger increased ordering from retailers…and when a portion of that demand is coming from speculators, the temptation is there to go after the manufactured rarity of the ratio variants. You know, where for every 25, or 50, or 200 of something you order, you can order one copy of a special cover.

The argument I was making in the Twitter thread was solely this: an increased incidence of retailers bumping up orders to get ratio variants is a contributor to the overall increase in the direct market. How many times have I been near one of the ratio plateaus when ordering a book, and decided “ah, I’ll get the [x] number of extra copies to get that variant.” And I’m sure I’m not the only one. And with the increase in speculation, the temptation to bump those orders up only increases. Instead of only bumping up, say, three or four copies to get that variant, maybe you’re getting an extra ten since you’re sure whatever you charge on it and sell it for will more than make up for the additional copies.

The specific example I used in that thread was King Spawn #1. Now, I’m just a little ol’ rinky-dink shop. I don’t sell a lot of Spawn normally. I did order a larger-than-normal amount of King Spawn #1 (and the other new Spawn books) because interest seemed to be high in them. But there’s no way, under normal circumstances, I would sell anywhere close to 250 copies, which is what you had to order to get the 1/250 variant cover signed by Todd McFarlane his own self.

As it turned out, I had a customer who really wanted that signed King Spawn, so the amount he prepaid for it essentially covered the the extra expenditure I had to make ordering additional copies of that #1 to get that comic for him. The end result is that I have a boatload of regular King Spawn #1s that I can afford to sell at a special discounted price of a whole 99 cents, to the delight and occasional alarm of my customers.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I ordered waaaay above and beyond what I normally would have ordered of King Spawn #1, for the sake of a variant. That is absolutely, 100% a case of a variant impacting the direct market’s increase in money spent on product. And certainly more retailers ordered 250, or multiples of 250, of that comic in order to get the autograph, even if expected rack sales where nowhere close to what they received.

And yes, that King Spawn stuff all happened this year, and thus not part of the market report, but it simply writ large the sort of impact variants can have on overall sales. It’s easier to see the effect with King Spawn, versus trying to determine how many retailers added a couple of copies here and there to reach much lower ratio variant order plateaus.

On top of that, there are of course the “free-to-order” variants, where you’re second guessing demand on specific covers. Which is hard to do, as Artist [A]’s variant may have been the Hot One on a book last month, but may no longer be the in thing when Artist [A]’s cover for the next book shows up. Plus when there are a lot of variants, you don’t want to miss out on the one people are looking for, so sometimes you perhaps order more than you would have if there was just the one cover. There were cases in the last year or two where Marvel put out comics with literally more variant covers than copies I expected to sell at the shop (cough Eternals #1 cough). For titles like that I certainly didn’t order every cover…but I probably ordered more than I ordinarily would have anyway.

Also there’s ordering extra copies of each variant to accommodate the customers who want more than one cover for the same comic. Another case of the variant boosting sales…especially in the current marketplace, where some customers want every version of each new hot book that comes along.

And really, that’s the only point I was trying to make. The increase in the comics market was contributed to by the presence of variant covers. As I admit in that Twitter thread, I don’t know how much of an impact variants had, but it definitely wasn’t “none.” Again, not talking premium pricing or what have you, just literally sheer numbers of units shipped from distributors to retailers. Seems self evident, but didn’t stop me from going on about it for over 1100 words, did it?

Okay, next time, back to just plain ol’ “lookit dese variant covers.” Thanks for reading, pals.

3 Responses to “More pictures next time, I promise.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    “Mostly it’s focused on ’60s Marvel, which is red hot, and the mercurial demand for comics that have even the slightest, and occasionally even spurious, tie-ins to events in the many Marvel TV shows and movies.”

    This got me thinking that, if you happen to have a copy of RED RAVEN COMICS #1 in your shop, you could label it with “1st appearance of Makkari from ETERNALS!” That would make it really collectible.

    Now, I wonder how many people will get that joke without turning to comics.org.

  • Snark Shark says:

    “eBay flipability just shot through the roof (which I don’t need as frankly my shop’s had enough roof problems lately”

    “HEY-OOOOOOOOOOOOOH!”

    “King Spawn”

    I think I’ve seen THAT phrase enough for the rest of my life!

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    It seems a shame that Bongo Comics is not publishing “Radioactive Man” any longer. Because, you know, it parodied “Spawn” as “Prawn,” and “King Spawn” is a title that just leaves itself wide open for that…

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