Do they even still buy physical textbooks in college, or is it all digital?

§ January 3rd, 2022 § Filed under collecting, death of superman, retailing, variant covers § 4 Comments

So I recently found out that the Roku Channel, which is a free streaming service available on, of all things, the Roku streaming device, features a series called Slugfest. It’s a number of short episodes devoted to the back-and-forth between DC and Marvel Comics over the last eight decades or so. (Yes, I know it wasn’t technically “Marvel Comics” early on, nor was DC technically “DC,” but you know what I mean.) Each episode is only a few minutes long, with a mix of vintage video/images and actor reenactments. (Most interesting is Brandon Routh playing a young Jack Kirby…I mean, he’s got the eyebrows, but he’s gotta be at least a foot taller than Kirby ever was; and Ray Wise as older Jack Kirby is about as perfect a casting as you can imagine.)

I bring it up because Episode 8 of the series, “World Without a Superman,” brings us back to our old friend, Superman #75:

Yes, longtime readers of this site have heard me go on and on about this particular event, from my experiencing the madness from behind the counter at the comic shop I worked at back then, to the aftermarket life the book enjoyed (for varying values of “enjoyed”) in the decades since. Well, if you’re new around here, this here link will catch you up on all those ramblings.

And of course I have touched upon the Death of Superman madness in this very series of Variant Cover-age posts, mostly just talking about the “platinum editions.” But it occurs to me, I haven’t really talked much about the more common black-bagged version in this context. Not that I haven’t spoken about it at length in the past, but I feel like it should at least be brought up, especially in reference to that Slugfest episode.

To give you a little context, the Superman family of books (Action, Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Superman: The Man of Steel) were selling relatively well, at least for us, at the time. They effectively functioned as a weekly Superman comic, with each issue of each series coming out on separate weeks, storylines and subplots flowing from one to the other. It was very effective serialized storytelling. Also, keep in mind we were still riding the wave of the comics book of the late 1980s/early 1990s, so lots of comics were selling very well.

When it came time to order Superman #75, the actual Death of Superman issue, we ordered high. We’d already bumped up numbers on the preceding issues featuring the story leading up to the Big One, but on #75 itself, we ordered something like ten times what we’d normally order on the Superman comic. We were, we thought, taking something of a chance on this event book. It would do well, surely, but well enough to sell us out of 10x normal Superman orders? We’ll see.

Oh, and by the way, when I’m saying “we ordered” and “we thought,” I mean “Ralph ordered,” as my former boss was placing all the numbers, and I was but a lowly employee.

Anyway, as you all know, it came out, lines around the block, stores could’ve sold lots more than they ordered, et cetera et cetera so on and so forth. And the variant sealed in the black bag with all the goodies, the one we ordered the heaviest numbers, was the one in primary demand. Not to say the “standard” edition:

…didn’t also sell, because it sure did. And when the reprints hit, we sold lots of those, too. Needless to say, there were tons of copies of this sold. About 3 million copies altogether, according to the Slugfest episode.

And yes, here we come to the reason for this post. There’s a scene, a reenactment with actors portraying Superman writer Louise Simonson and a friend of hers, just hanging out at home. It had been noted that the Superman creative team were under a Non-Disclosure Agreement regarding the eventual resolution of the Death of Superman storyline (spoiler: he comes back). The scene, going entirely from my memory, was something like this:

FRIEND: “My son is buying lots of copies of this comic. When he gets more money, he’s going to buy more. These are going to put him through college someday.”

LOUISE SIMONSON: [coughs]

And the narrator (Kevin Smith, naturally) makes sure to tell us “the comic only goes for about five bucks now.”

Mmmmm…I beg to differ.

A while back I wrote about the fact that most people who bought the Death of Superman books were not comic collectors, were mostly folks from outside the hobby who picked up an issue out of curiosity or “investment,” who had literally no idea how to properly store or care for a comic book. The vast majority of comic collections I see from around this period, even from folks who bought the bags and boards and Mylar™ and such, are not in Near Mint, or even Fine or better, condition.

In the nearly 30 years since Superman #75 came out, I’d imagine most copies held by non-collectors were not stored well, or even just straight-up discarded once their passing interest in the comic faded. Plus, I suspect attempts to sell the book later to recoup on their investment resulted in some disappointing offers. “Wait, it’s not worth thousands?” It’s probably even worse for the folks who bought copies from opportunistic scalpers, selling them for a hundred dollars a pop the weekend after release (as I heard about locally, and probably wasn’t uncommon elsewhere).

End result: probably not as many minty-mint copies of any version of Superman #75 out there as you may think. It’s not uncommon, but it’s less likely now that you’ll walk into a store with a ready stack of them for sale.

I only ever see one or two at a time of the black-bagged version, and almost never see copies of the standard #75, or even its many reprints. And while I’ll buy the mint copies (or at least cleanly-opened copies with the extras perserved) from collections, I have seen plenty of copies that are just trashed and that I’ve passed on purchasing. As such, it is my belief that a nice copy can still fetch a premium price…and actually does, as I’ve sold more than a few in my shop. And by “premium” I definitely mean more than five bucks.

A quick look at the eBays shows copies of the black-bagged edition selling for, on average, between $10 and $30. Yes, to be fair, I did see a sealed copy sell for $5, but that seemed like an outlier. A couple of the standard editions did sell for about $6 to $8, so that’s a little closer to the show’s assertion. A check of currently-offered copies at Hipcomic don’t show much variation, though they do seem to have a lot more of the reprints than eBay did. (I’m not bringing up “professionally graded” sales, as that’s its own super-distorted marketplace.)

I also did a quick search of a couple of the larger online stores and didn’t even spot any (except for one store that had it for over $150, which is probably why they still have it). Hardly a scientifically thorough search, and for all I know they just had it and sold it before I looked.

The end result is…no, Superman #75, in either its black-bagged or standard edition, isn’t going to pay for anyone’s college. Even the platinum edition might only net you enough to pay for a couple of textbooks. But, I think the “five bucks” descriptor was bit of an underestimation. There’s still a market for these, just that the market value has normalized to meet actual demand, long after that initial rush and immediate scarcity drove some panic buying.

Now that white covered Adventures of Superman #500…if I got five bucks a pop on those, I’d be ecstatic.

Let me know if you’d seen any of those Superman #75s out for sale in your area. Are they going for premium pricing? Are stores stuck with a bunch and trying to unload them? (I’d rather you didn’t mention store names, in case they take offense to being held up as an example of “charging too much” or something.) I’d be interested to hear what’s going on with these across the marketplace now.

4 Responses to “Do they even still buy physical textbooks in college, or is it all digital?”

  • Daniel says:

    I only watched the first episode of Slugfest and was only paying half attention, but I thought that Brandon Routh was playing Joe Simon, not Jack Kirby. I could be wrong.

  • Thom H. says:

    Pretty sure my LCS usually has a Superman #75 on their wall of big ticket items. They don’t tend to go overboard on their pricing, so I’m sure they’re asking something reasonable. I’ll check the next time I go and report back.

    I’m curious — do you ever get someone in the shop who’s excited to sell you Superman #1 for big bucks, but it’s the Byrne reboot from the ’80s? Just wondering how much confusion there is in the general population about all the (relatively) recent #1s out there.

  • Chris V says:

    My grandfather bought a copy of Superman #75 when it was released due to the hype.
    He was excited about how much it was going to be worth in ten years.
    He wasn’t a fan of comic books, himself.
    I told him that Superman would be back within the year and the book would quickly drop to around cover price.
    I might have been slightly off, but not by that much.
    I wasn’t a regular reader of the Superman comics at that time.
    He preserved the comic very well and it ended up in my collection eventually. I still own it, as most comic shops would probably offer me about $3 if I wanted to sell it.
    It seems to regularly be available at the comic shop I frequent, and I think it’s usually priced around $12.

    Thom-Speaking of my grandfather, he used to look at garage sales for copies of X-Men #1 (1963). He said he thought he could find me a copy for pennies at some garage sale.
    Since this was the 1990s, I told him that everyone knew that comics were valuable now, and no one was going to sell a highly-valued comic for nothing anymore.
    A few times, he thought he found a copy for $5, but it was always the Claremont/Lee version.
    I always had to let him in on the bad news.

  • Joe Gualtieri says:

    Can’t remember the last time I saw a copy at a shop, but at cons pre-pandemic, copies usually seemed to go for $20-25 for the bagged edition. 8-10x cover price isn’t too bad.

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