More variant talk? But it’s not even Monday!

§ March 18th, 2022 § Filed under variant covers § 8 Comments

I sorta skipped over the comments to my Amazing Spider-Man #194 variant post, but there’s a lot there and I’m not sure where to start addressing what you folks said. So let me start with Chris V talking about this:

“I guess the biggest question is if it’s worth it to the comic store to order X amount of a certain comic book just so they can get the rare variant edition. I think the value of the rare variant is enough to cover the cost to the retailer.

“There is some trepidation that stores over-ordering in order to get a copy of the rare variant edition could be creating a bubble, but I think a majority of the comic stores that remain are run by people who understand the business.”

It really does depend on the variant in question. And if, of course, said variant is going to see in demand. You never know if the fickle tastes of the speculator market will deem it “worthy,” or even if someone will come along who just likes the cover for what it is to buy it. Seems like it was easier in The Old Days (i.e. the ’90s) to move all variants all the time, what with the higher traffic more stores saw, and more people being willing to pay a premium to take home a variant.

Today, with higher prices on your regular comics, and just great reticence against spending more money on your weekly funnybooks than deemed necessary, it feels like variants are in general a harder sell. Not if, like I said, the speculators and the YouTube channels and the apps and whatnot decide a certain variant Is It, in which case you’ll never have ordered enough. But aside from those unpredictable cases, a variant is just as likely to sit there as not.

The theory is that you’d price up a variant cover to make up for the cost of the extra issues you’d have to order in order to get that variant. Well, more or less like that, there’s no exact formula. But a lot of times nowadays, if I get a 1 in 10 variant, I may just put it out there at cover price. Ratios higher than that do get the higher price tags, but not as high as I would have thrown on them, say, 10 years ago.

Back when Superman Unchained #1 was released, it came with a boatload of variants, and we did have a large number of customers interested in those. As I recall, there were ratio variants going up to 1 in 100 and 1 in 300. Well, I did the math, decided what I’d make on the variants, especially the 1/100 and 1/300 variants, I’d make money if I went in on 300 copies. Given the number of Superman readers we had at the shop, even for a book drawn by Jim Lee, that was a lot for us. Maybe not a drop in the bucket for some of your larger stores in big cities, but for a shop in Ventura, CA, that was more than plenty.

So I ordered those numbers, and once the books we sold those Big Variants right away, then sold nearly all the rest of the more attainable variants, and plenty of the standard comics as well, so we definitely pulled a profit out of this. Definitely more money that we would have made had we just ordered a lower number of the regular issue and eschewed those higher-ratio covers. The only real downside is being stuck with a bunch of extra Superman Unchained #1s in stock. They were all basically paid for, and while I had some long-term plans for them (such as using them as Free Comic Book Day giveaways) I did leave that shop to open my own store the next year, so I never was able to enact any cunning strategies.

Years later, I did a thing with King Spawn #1 at my own shop that, in retrospect, I should have done with that Superman Unchained. I had to order a large number of that King Spawn #1 in order to get the limited variant signed by Todd McFarlane. In this case, I had a customer prepay for the signed comic, and he paid enough to where when the comics arrived, I was able to put out all the regular not-ratio #1s for ninety-nine cents.

Had I kept them at cover price, I might have made more money per piece, but I wouldn’t have moved as many pieces. But the comics had all basically been paid for, so anything I made on them would have been gravy. And by charging under a buck apiece, they’ll eventually all go away and I won’t be stuck with unsold stock. (In fact, I’m on the very last few copies of those #1s right now.)

Another case where I order more copies than I can actually use is BRZRKR, but that’s only because I have a customer who wants all variants to the title. I charge enough for those variants to make up for the extra copies I don’t sell (though not enough to also sell the BRZRKRs for a buck each…there can be an upper limit to what folks are willing to pay) so I’m not losing money. Now I could possibly have a higher margin of profit if I didn’t order all those extra copies, but I’m still making money and I’m making a good customer happy, so that works for me.

But beyond those exceptions…I take it easy on the variants. I don’t buy extra copies of the regular covers to get more the rarities, because if nobody cares, then you’re stuck. It’s easy enough to get stuck with stock even without adding fuel to the fire like this.

I keep thinking about doing one of those “custom retailer covers” for some book or ‘nother, but the buy-in (and number of copies involved) is so high that I haven’t convinced myself to bite the bullet. Again, there’s always the issue of “what if nobody wants that particular variant,” leaving you with unsold stock, though I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who buy things because they’re scarce. But you never know, and it can be a big chance to take, especially for a little ol’ comical book store like me.

I have more to say on comments to that post, but that’ll have to wait for another day. And as a reminder, I may be in low content mode for at least part of next week as I attend more early morning doctor visits. I’m fine, I’m pretty sure, just the appointments all bunched up at around the same time. Thanks for reading, and we’ll talk again soon.

8 Responses to “More variant talk? But it’s not even Monday!”

  • That’s quite a brilliant strategy on the king spawns! i mean, it helps that the customer was willing to pay that much, but it’s smart as hell to the take advantage of the situation to not only offer a “significant” #1 at such a low price, but a low price that will keep it from cluttering your back issue bins! brilliant!

  • Mike Loughlin says:

    Hey Mike, I’m curious:

    Is there any demand for older, limited variants? For example, do people come in looking for the 1:100 Superman Unchained cover anymore, or does the interest dry up once the book has been released? What about for less popular books (say, a 1:100 variant for an Outsiders series from about 5 years ago)? Do you sell those variants at a discount if they don’t move after a few weeks?

    Thanks!

  • Snark Shark says:

    “BRZRKR”

    this title should use THEIR variant cover profits to buy some “E”s!

  • Joe Gualtieri says:

    Wouldn’t some artists with established fanbases like Hughes or Campbell be worth it to get the variant every time out, or close to it?

  • Eric says:

    The Internet really killed my interest in buying variant covers, especially the pricey one. When a given cover is just a google away, I just can’t see the point.

  • Matthew Murray says:

    Did you notice any increase in interest among your customers for the King Spawn series after selling those #1s for 99 cents each? Did m/any customers add the title to their pull lists? Did you order more of #2 than you would have otherwise?

  • […] Mike Loughlin wants me to cover […]

  • To tell the truth, it was so interesting to read about your experience and analyze it because all aforementioned suggests important thoughts. I think that a lot of people can gain many significant things from your story and it can be an example of how it is important to make rational decisions. Of course, it is difficult to run a business and always be guided by the right steps, but it is really important to come to such smart strategies which you demonstrated in order to reach the top. I can say that your approach to sales blows my mind because it combines flexibility of mind, foresight and high client orientation which is so important. From my point of view, not any person will be able to act so reasonable with King Spawn #1 because it is important to have a special streak and entrepreneurial spirit in order to come up with this idea, but you inspired me.

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