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The House of Lollipops.

§ June 23rd, 2021 § Filed under publishing, retailing, this week's comics § 6 Comments

Thanks to reader/mad genius Paul for sending this mock-up of what could’ve been for a Sterling Silver Comics retailer exclusive variant!

Following up on my discussion about that very topic from Monday, I’d actually pulled up an email I received from A Comics Publisher in response to an inquiry I’d made along these lines. Without going into a whole lot of specific detail, let’s just say my buy-in, just for the minimum copy purchase of the exclusive variant, would have been in excess of $10,000. That doesn’t count other minimum orders for the regular cover or other variants of your retailer variant, or for paying for the actual artwork by the artist.

Basically, it’s a lotta scratch…not undoable, entirely, but certainly an investment that would require some first class hustling to make that cash back. Which could be a problem in case you got a cover that didn’t grab the attention of the sort of folks who look for exclusive variants like this. But, to be honest, the way the marketplace is right now, seems like anything that has any form of scarcity is automatically in demand.

Anyhoo, something to think about the next time the opportunity arises.

But speaking of “scarcity,” apparently the latest issue of Usagi Yojimbo, #20, is “in demand” due to it being a first appearance of a character whose name I bet most of the people looking for it couldn’t even tell you. My distributor decided, alas, that this would be one of the comics they’d be shorting from my order last week (there’s usually a few every shipment). I figured that would be that, given it’s temporary hotness and all spare copies eaten up by reorders, I’d have to wait for the second printings to come along so I can get copies for customers who actually want to read it. Somehow, though, miracle of miracles, my replacements showed up! I mean, sure, half my Fireflys are missing and several of my Marvel Voices: Pride shorted or damaged, so it’s always something.

As to the Marvel Voices: Pride comic, it surprised me a bit by including select pages from Alpha Flight #106 (1992). In case you forgot, that’s the comic where Northstar finally just straight up said, after years of subtle-ish hints, “yeah, I’m gay.” Which was, granted, a pretty big deal, and demand for the issue warranted a second printing. But this was also at the height of the whole “gotta be EXTREEEME” art thing, and…yeah, it certainly looks a bit jarring side-by-side with more current art styles. Hey, gotta start somewhere! (Also, did they ever bring back Major Mapleleaf from that story?) (Yes, I know that was a nickname of Alpha Flight’s Guardian at one point.)

I should also note that my comments sections here on Rogressive Pruin occasionally take on a life of their own. So, if you ever wanted to delve deep into the origin of the word/sound/expression “vootie,” well, your day has come.

“…With a kung-fu grip that don’t even work.”

§ May 12th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 6 Comments

Monday I started getting emails and Facebook messages and stuff from folks asking for G.I. Joe #281, releasing this Wednesday from IDW. I sighed just a little, because by now I know what this means…some member of the elite comics-noscenti somewhere on an app or on the YouTubes has singled out this issue as “a hot collectible” and here we go again.

And sure enough…checking eBay right now, Tuesday evening as I type this, the “regular” covers (the freely-orderable A & B variants) are selling for between $10 and $20 or $30 or so, and someone has the 1-in-10 variant up for a C-note. When I checked on eBay Monday, when I first started receiving the requests, the regular covers were still at cover price, so things changed fast. (The 1/10 variant was listed for high prices then, too, to be fair.)

Why is it in demand? Well, it’s the typical trigger for speculation of late: the “first appearance,” this time of a new Joe named Sherlock. Haven’t seen a picture of him yet, and flipping quickly through the book didn’t reveal anything obvious. He might even be on one of these covers, I have no idea. I’m just hoping it’s a guy in your standard military fatigues but wearing a camouflage deerstalker cap.

So here’s the thing. This is issue 281 of a regular monthly series. It’s been going on for, like, a decade, picking up from the original numbering (and continuity) of Marvel’s G.I. Joe run. Most retailers have plenty of sales history on this book.

Meaning…I suspect most retailers didn’t order too far above what they actually sell. I know that, for years, I have sold essentially the same numbers on this title month-in, month-out, with maybe a one issue variance. After pulls, I’ll have one copy left on the rack. Most of the time it goes unsold and into the back issue bins. Once in a blue moon someone will buy it. Thus, at best, I’ll have one extra copy not spoken for.

Therefore, the second trigger for speculation is in place: scarcity. Probably the big mail order houses stored up some extra stock, but plain ol’ shops like me weren’t about to load up on it. Even if you told me months ahead of time “they’re gonna introduce a new Joe!” who would have thought “oh, yeah, issue #281 of this series, that’s the one that’s gonna attract all the attention!”

Sometimes you take chances on orders, but they have to be reasoned, educated guesses, based on what you know, not based on whether or not some random issue is going to attract the attention of investors. I actually ordered a bit higher on Batman/Fortnite than I would have of a Batman mini-series, or of a video game tie-in book. I’ve had customers over the years ask for Fortnite comics, and I knew that game was popular, so I gave it a shot. Turned out, this time, I was thinking in the right direction but not nearly enough…could’ve used a lot more copies. Apparently I was better off than a lot of stores, though.

At the previous place of employment I did the same with My Little Pony #1. I figured “this is a hot property, we have lots of kid customers…I’M GOING FOR IT.” I ordered a ton, and they all sold. Then again, I thought Superman Unchained would do better than it did…lots of great variants, Jim Lee art, the whole shebang. Now, as it turned out, we didn’t lose money on the comic, but we had plenty left over.

Those were decisions based on what I thought I could realistically sell, given the nature of the comics themselves, and what I thought would be our customer base’s response to them. It’s nearly impossible to anticipate fluke demand, that suddenly everyone’s going to decide they want the same single issue of a comic they’d never wanted before.

Even if you decide “a-HAH, I’ll just order more of every first appearance!” or “I’ll just order more of what these YouTubers/apps suggest!” that’s no guarantee those sales will materialize. In fact, quite the opposite…as I said, one of the triggers is scarcity. This speculative demand isn’t going to show up for a title sitting thick on your shelves. It’s going to show up for your G.I. Joe #281s, that you barely ordered to fill your pull lists and had one left over for the shelf in the off-chance someone else wanted it.

ADDENDUM: a while back one of my regulars dropped G.I. Joe from his pull list, after having it on there for many years, even dating back to when he was my customer at the previous place of employment. Figured I’d finally have to adjust my G.I. Joe orders for the first time in forever…’til about a day later someone started a new pull with me primarily so he could start getting that G.I. Joe series.

I called this the “Law of Conservation of G.I. Joe.” Please keep an eye out for my TED talk.

[taps the “Doing this for 33 years” sign again]

§ May 7th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 5 Comments

Whenever I extol the virtues of Free Comic Book Day, I am frequently asked questions lke “what good does it do?” “Does it really help your business?” “Do you ever get regular customers out of it, or do the new faces just show up to load up on freebies?”

In the simpler, easier-to-quantify short-term benefit, a Free Comic Book Day event makes my store a great deal of money. While the “free” comics I give away cost very little per individual unit, en masse, particularly in the quantities I traditionally purpose…well, it ain’t cheap. However, it’s always a worthwhile investment in that it attracts a lot of people to my shop for that day, most of whom take advantage of the store-wide discounts on products I’m actually selling. Along with the handfuls of free comics, many also walk out with stacks of graphic novels or back issues that they’ve also purchased. As I often say, I have never lost money on a Free Comic Book Day.

Aside from the financial considerations, there are the emotional ones. Free Comic Book Day makes people happy. Yes, happy that they’re getting free stuff…but they’re happy to be getting comics, they’re happy to be at the shop, it’s a big event that’s very exciting and cheerful.

And now we get into the long-term benefits. People will remember that happiness. That there was this cool shop in town that gave away a bunch of free stuff. That the Free Comic Book Day promotion itself caused them to find out if there was a comic book store in their area, who then sought out and visited my store for the first time. And now, those first-timers now know where to go for comics should they ever need any again. Plus, they’ve got friends they can tell about their experience…a little good word-of-mouth advertising is always welcome.

I don’t think anybody expects Free Comic Book Day events to create new weekly New Comics Day regulars, snapping up a dozen or so books every Tuesday/Wednesday. That habit is…kind of a lifestyle choice more than anything. But it does generate returning customers. I have had people specifically cite Free Comic Book Day to me as their reason for returning to the store to pick up something or ‘nother. I’ve had them tell me “I was going to buy this on Amazon, but I remembered getting free comics from you, so I’d rather spend my money here.” Yes, really.

So no, Free Comic Book Day doesn’t immediately convert all new faces into weekly visitors. But it does positively promote the store, either informs or reminds people that a comic shop lurks waiting in their midst, and that my shop is a nice, clean, and friendly place to go if comics are needed. It is a long term gain.

And thus it is the same with Batman/Fortnite.

The big problem is supply. Even I, who ordered much higher numbers on this than I would have on a typical Batman mini-series, still sold out quickly. So, unlike Free Comic Book Day, where everyone who came to the store left with what they wanted — free comics and discounted goods — many B/F seekers left without the item for which they were hunting.

In that circumstance, it may seem like it’d be difficult to put a positive spin on the shop for the disappointed customer. However, friendly service, an offer to hold future issues, and just generally offering as good an experience as possible, all things considered. I can tell you I didn’t have one angry, or even all that disappointed, customer after learning I was out of B/F. Well, okay, I had a couple of folks grumble at me because I wouldn’t let them buy a half-dozen copies of it for flipping on eBay, but that’s not the sort of customer I’m worried about here. Even if I didn’t have the product, I want new customers to know that it’s a nice store with a fella behind the counter what’s trying to be as helpful as he can manage.

On the other hand, what of the people who were lucky enough to get a copy at my shop? They were certainly happy to get a copy, at cover price, and like the new faces at Free Comic Book Day, they’ve learned there’s an inviting comic book store in town.

Again, no, they’re not likely to suddenly become regular visitors to the shop outside the B/F context…but you treat them well anyway, and, whether they were able to immediately fill that B/F need or not, they are more likely to remember you when they need something comic book-y for whatever reason. Even if it just another Fortnite tie-in comic book.

And rest assured, Batman/Fortnite is essentially like printing money for DC. There will be more of this sort of thing. And when the time comes, and, I don’t know, that Superboy and the Ravers/Fortnite crossover comic is finally released, where will the customers for that be more inclined to go? The comic shop that screwed them over by jacking the price up to $30 or whatever the last time a Fortnite comic came out, taking advantage of an excited kid or a desperate parent? Or the shop that sold ’em for cover price when they had it, and offered to save future issues and reprints of issues they missed? The shop that made you feel bad about buying a comic, or the shop that made you feel good?

I don’t buy the excuse that the inflated prices on Batman/Fortnite are no big deal given the money gamers usually spend on their game-related products. So what? Just because you can get away with something doesn’t mean you should. There’s no legal reason to not charge whatever you want on a comic book…otherwise, the back issue market would be markedly different, wouldn’t it? But a brand new comic, literally the day of release…for me, that’s an ethical consideration. It’s…well, it’s scummy, is what it is.

Robin #1 and Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters are a couple of recent hot comics that got the speculators all hot and bothered lately. What if on the day of release I bagged ‘n’ tagged them with $25 price tags? You know what that would make me? An asshole with unsold copies of Robin #1 and Star Wars: War of the Bounty Hunters on my shelf, that’s what. Would some people still buy them? Probably…$25 is probably a small investment after getting their copies in those CGC coffins and up on eBay for $200 or what have you. But the folks who just wanted to read the comic, and maybe don’t have the budget for those obviously smartly market-valued collector’s items? Well, fuck ’em, right? Gotta grab that cash while the grabbing is good!

Sorry, I want to sleep peacefully at night. And I want people who come into my store to leave with happy thoughts about their experience, making them more inclined to return, or recommend me to others. That is the long-term gain from treating people well, and not taking advantage of them when their need is great and you hold all the cards. As reader John said, “Don’t Be A Dick,” because folks will remember if you are one.

I look forward to seeing at least some of these new customers back in my store in the future, after this Fortnite comic thing is done. Because experience tells me that I will.

Only been doing this for 33 years, what do I know.

§ May 5th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 13 Comments

Well, I was going to answer a question about variants someone left in the comments to Monday’s post that I thought would be simple, but it started turning into a book and I’m not even sure I was close to being done, so…let’s put that on hold ’til Friday, after I’ve thought about it for a bit.

As for your latest Batman/Fortnite comic book news: yes, #2 is out this week, Yes it’s still in demand. Yes, still don’t have enough to go around, though from the sounds of it I was one of the few stores around here to actually have any kind of significant quantity of them ordered. Not nearly as many as it turns out I could have used, but I guess I was better off than most. Adding more customers to preorder lists, and will need to start calling a few folks to remind them that, yes, I am holding copies of #2 for them and they should come pick them up.

What’s nice is that at least a few of the Fortnite customers are buying other comics, so it’s not just kids ripping open their copies to get the codes and then setting fire to what remains. I mean, sure, most of them are doing that, which, y’know, fine, but if even a couple of new readers result, I ain’t gonna say “no.”

I was recently turned off of a podcast from a noted professional sporadic comics generator, which I’d been enjoying despite (or maybe because of) the not-always-justified self-aggrandizement and some…glossing over of certain points of the ’90s comics industry. But his enthusiasm was entertaining, and hearing his side of what was happening was educational…and, y’know, fans have been shitting on the guy for decades, if he wants to put out a podcast talking about how great he is, hey, more power to him.

But a recent episode discussing the Batman/Fortnite phenomenon and how some of his retailer buddies were dealing with it really left an unpleasant taste. While talking about all the new customers coming in the doors, he’s also saying how these retailers are charging $20, $30 or whatever a pop and essentially giving his approval of this.

I get that everyone was caught short on this comic, and that sellers are making a killing on eBay with these, but…the one thing the industry has desperately wanted is kids putting down Those Darn Vidya Gabes and buying comics again, and when they do…we start gouging them for as much cash as we can grab? Or, rather, their parents? What’s that going to leave them thinking about comic stores? Or with the comics industry in general? It’s…well, it’s gross, is what it is. I know, “supply and demand” an’ all that, but maybe a little long term planning over short term profits would be the preferable strategy.

I limited copies to one per customer, and took down lots of names for future issues. Or for reprints of already released issues if the first prints weren’t available, because the best part about all the Fortnite kids is that they don’t care what printing they get. The codes are the same in all of them. And I will sell them all these issues at cover price. End result: happy customers who’ll come back. Haven’t had a single person mad at me about the whole Fortnite situation. Maybe I’m just in a laid-back part of the country, but talking to folks who come in looking for the comic, explaining the situation, and offering to save issues as they come in seems to have a mollifying effect.

Anyway, I know this has all turned into something of a mess, but starting within an issue or two, once we start getting in the installments we were able to order once we realized how much demand existed for the book, there should be plenty to go around. In fact, I’m expecting a glut, as retailers probably went to far in the other direction ordering more than they could possibly sell. In addition, the buyers who are picking copies up out of pure speculation right now will drop off then, as only the relative scarcity drove those purchases.

So I always hear about it when I criticize retailer behavior (remember “not buy?” Sheesh, that was stupid) but since nobody reads blogs anymore, I guess, maybe I can get away with it this time. But honestly, the next time we get a huge influx of new potential customers, hopefully we can all put our best foot forward, y’know?

To me, my variants!

§ May 3rd, 2021 § Filed under market crash, retailing, variant covers, x-men § 14 Comments

If you’re trying to decide “what’s the most famous example of variant comic covers of all time” — first, c’mon, what’re you doing with your life, and second, I think just through the sheer magnitude of copies that were unleashed upon an unsuspecting public, it’s gotta be 1991’s X-Men #1:

There were four different covers produced, the first three featuring a different mix of members of the team, with the final cover presenting their arch-nemesis Magneto. The four covers formed a single image when connected together, but if you didn’t trust your hand-eye coordination to assemble so complex a puzzle, Marvel had your back with the fifth variant: a gatefold cover that opened up to present the full image.

Unlike Spider-Man #1, the covers weren’t released all at once. Instead, Marvel decided to dominate comic sales for over a month by releasing each cover one per week, starting with the A, B, C and D covers (as they are usually referred to), culminating in the gatefold cover in the final week.

Orders were gargantuan. In total, over 8 million copies were produced, though as has been noted by multiple observers, and just through my own personal observation, a good chunk of those remained in retailers’ hands.

Speaking of personal observations, I’ve written in the past about how once impossibly-common comics from the ’90s marketplace are becoming slightly less easy to find in the wild, simply due to the attrition of stores that were active then having shut down in the intervening decades and taking their backstock with them. I’ve also written about how many of the people buying comics at the time either had no idea how to take care of their comics at the time (despite the wide variety of comic storage supplies being offered, and purchased, in sizeable amounts), or simply neglected their collections and let them fall to disuse and ruin over the years.

The point being…a comic that was once so commonplace and contemptuously familiar that copies were given away free with purchases is now, kinda sorta, becoming “collectible” again. Not to keep referring to things I’ve said in the past, but I’ve said in the past that even without actively buying copies of X-Men #1 in collections, I’m accumulating a backlog of it. And I’d say only abut a third of the copies I’ve seen have been in Near Mint or better, and when you actually have a copy in Near Mint (and not, say, VF- which you’re calling “Near Mint”) it can sell for a pretty good price nowadays.

Again, this all depends on local supply. There are probably still plenty of areas of High X-Men #1 Concentrations where they flow like water, and you merely need to dip your hand in a stream to retrieve a copy or three. And they’re all over eBay, natch. But, in areas populated primarily by newer stores, where even the bespectacled old men who have direct memories of those times and will gladly share them with you (ahem), they may not be as in deep a stock as they historically had been.

It was a large confluence of causes that resulting in this massive amount of orders:

  • The ’90s were a boom time for collectible comics, with a huge influx of new customers driven to comic shops primarily by the 1989 Batman movie, with earlier successes like Dark Knight, Watchmen and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles helping to push the expanding market as well.

  • It was the time of The Hot Artists, and Jim Lee may have been the hottest artist of the time. Launching an expansion of Marvel’s popular franchise with Lee on art chores couldn’t help but grab market attention.

  • The investors were out in force. The aforementioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arguably kicked off a new wave of folks looking to make their fortune trading in “rare” comic books, and what could be rarer than eight million copies of X-Men #1? Okay, nobody knew it was going to sell that many copies, but it was a pretty easy guess that it was going to move some large numbers. That didn’t stop people from buying boatloads of copies in the hopes that they’d be able to turn them into houses or kids’ college funds down the road.

  • This may be hard to imagine, but there was a time in comics publishing that when a new series was launched, the expectation was that the series would continue so long as sales held out, and maybe if sales dipped a little, the publisher would try things like “new directions” or “fresh creative teams” or more promotion to support the book. The idea that new #1s for titles would flash by like strobe lights was not one that was considered. As such, retailers would order plenty of first issues of titles, as that would likely be the most sought-after number in the back issue bins over the years, and hopefully decades, of the title’s life.

  • And yes, the multiple covers. Outside of investors, just plain ol’ folk who bought comics and weren’t necessarily looking to turn a buck. As I brought up early on this ongoing series of “variant covers” posts, having different cover images was a way to encourage the regular reader to pick up more than one copy of a particular item. Plus, having the additional twist of making all the covers connect into a larger picture…it’s a cunningly evil plan that, I can tell you at least from my memories of selling the things at the time, worked quite well indeed.

Some have pointed to this as being one of the causes of the ’90s market crash, and…I don’t know, I think there may be worse offenders (I won’t say any names, but the initials stand for Deathmate) since, all things considered, X-Men #1 actually sold (though again, not nearly as many as were ordered). There were bigger stinkers out there, at least to the point that X-Men wasn’t seen as a flop, whereas something like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was. That said, I’m sure enough people got burned on their investments on ’90s comics, including X-Men #1, that they, and their money, fled the marketplace, reducing cash flow and feeding the crash.

So wither X-Men #1? It remains a popular seller, as do assorted issues from the 1991 series as a whole. There’s a whole new audience of comic book buyers and X-Men fans who weren’t around thirty years ago when this series launched. And there are plenty of customers who were around but misplaced, sold, or damaged their copies in the meantime and want replacements. And, of course, there’s the current wave of speculation mania driving sales on any “key” and/or first issues.

I don’t always have every cover in stock, but I usually have at least two or three different ones on hand. The cover I see the least? The gatefold cover. The one I see the most? Surprisingly, the fourth cover with Magneto, given that, according to this article, it was the poorest selling of the first four. And that gatefold cover was the highest selling. Huh, go figure. (Again, it all depends on how many copies actually got into people’s hands, and didn’t disappear with the retailers who ordered them.) It’s my memory that, as each cover was released every week, sales dropped a little with each one, with a boost on that final fold-out issue. But I could be wrong…it’s been 30 years, after all.

And which cover did I buy, since as a 1990s comics buyer you were legally required to buy at least one copy of X-Men #1? Why, the gatefold edition, of course…I wasn’t going to miss out on any of that artwork!

Next time in my variant cover-age, even though John kinda beat me to the punch: Robin comics! A whole lot of ’em! Holy gimmick covers, Batman!

Does whatever a variant can.

§ April 26th, 2021 § Filed under marvel, retailing, variant covers § 10 Comments

So in the summer of 1990, these came along: the first issue of what we referred to as the “adjectiveless Spider-Man, a new ongoing series drawn and written by the immensely-popular superstar artist Todd McFarlane. If you were a fan of McFarlane’s art, it was absolutely a visual tour de force, giving you the most McFarlane-est of McFarlane Spider-Man art. The writing was…well, I think in retrospect ol’ Todd got grief way out of proportion to his actual scripting skills. Perhaps he wasn’t the most talented wordsmith in the world, but for a goofy ol’ Spider-Man comic, it was fine. I’ve read plenty worse, I assure you. And while the opening captions to issue #1 took the brunt of the derision, it was turned into a wonderful piece of audio by my old pal Andrew and thus, how can I ever feel anything but love for it?

But look, we’re not here to talk about the contents of these Spidery-Sam books, we’ve come to poke sticks at the variant covers! Of the 1990s Big Variant Cover Hoohas, Spider-Man #1 was the first, with two differently colored covers (one printed with in green and black, the other black with silver ink), and then two additional versions with each cover sealed inside a polybag with “COLLECTOR’S ITEM!” printed all over it. Note the “Legend of the Arachknight” blurb, clearly referencing DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and its multiple covers.

Of note is the fact that the black bagged variant had no price printed on its cover, but instead had a $2 price tag on the bag. Gettin’ ya for an extra quarter there. The green bagged edition still appears to be the regular $1.75 price, though I could have sworn both were $2 at the time. Hey, it’s been thirty years, I forget things. However, for that extra quarter, you were buying a comic that was genuinely a variant in that the actual cover had a printing variation. But if it were removed from the bag, technically the collectible would be “incomplete,” so just being a variant in and of itself wouldn’t be enough, I’d thought. But just checked the eBays and someone there is trying to sell one of unbagged, cover-priceless versions of that black ‘n’ silver variant for $70, but I don’t know if that’s within reason or simply “high hopes.”

And yes, there’s also the bagged newsstand edition, with a UPC code on the cover instead of the Spidey face in its place. Can’t forget that. Plus there was the gold-inked 2nd printing, and the platinum edition and newsstand gold edition that you can read about here.

At any rate, we definitely sold a boatload of things…just stacks and stacks, with plenty of folks grabbing multiple copies. This was, of course, back in the day when you ordered heavily on a first issue, as, if successful, the series would go on for a long time and there would always be customers looking for that first issue in the future, because surely no publisher would be dumb enough to relaunch a series with a new #1 every year or two. In these days of direct market frugality, where everyone’s ordering as close to the bone as possible, it’s hard to imagine actually having that much stock on anything new, much less having speculators look at said stacks and view them as investible material. Compare to today, where speculation depends on pouncing on titles ordered at low-ish but reasonable numbers, creating and taking advantage of that additional scarcity in an already thinly-spread marketplace.

At the time, my previous place of employment had plenty on hand. Of the two regular covers, at least…my boss thought the polybagged-editions were “stupid” and refused to have anything to do with them after the sold out. Just wouldn’t buy them from collections, that sort of thing. Eventually we did get two that showed up in a collection that we just sort of ended up with, so out into the back issue bins they went. I think that was the one exception.

My personal thought on those bags back then was that they would eventually do damage to the comics inside, as they aged and broke down and decayed on the comics themselves. In recent years I’ve had my hands on those polybagged Spideys in my own shop, as well as other prebagged comics of that decade, and it doesn’t appear as it this has been the case. Whether that’ll change in the decades to come…well, of course it will, it’s cheap plastic, it’s gonna break down eventually. Whether that’ll happen soon enough for any of use to care, I don’t know.

I’d said the McFarlane Spider-Man #1, and the rest for that matter, were plentiful at the time. Not to beat that poor old dead horse some more, but after thirty years and shops vanishing and new shops cropping up and old back issue stock going away and all those copies purchased but then those were either not well cared for or simply thrown out…it’s very possible the available stock left in the world is at least somewhat lessened. Add to that the younger customers who weren’t around or too wee to be buying these off the racks, and are discovering them now. Regardless of the reason, these Spider-Man comics are currently in high demand, at least for me. I just can’t keep the darn things in stock.

And do those variants make any difference to buyers now? Not that I can tell. I haven’t had the quantities on hand to make a clear judgement as to whether there’s a consumer preference for the green cover or the black cover, but both (and the gold reprint) sell nearly as soon as I price them. This is, I think, one of those cases where cover variation is playing no real part in sales. It’s all “early McFarlane art,” or “it’s a #1 for one of the main Spider-Man series,” or “it’s a major Marvel #1,” period, all of it pushed along by a not-insignificant number of current speculators.

Next time: weekly X-Men variant covers…advantageous!

Now if we could be issued Fortnite codes to insert into old copies of Deathmate, we’d have somethin’.

§ April 23rd, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 4 Comments

I have a new post on variant covers in progress, but it’s getting late, it’s not done, and I’d like to avoid making any grievous errors like last time. And so, I’ll let the pot simmer an extra day or two before serving anything up, he metaphored, and we’ll continue next week.

In the meantime, more Batman/Fortnite news: yup, I’ve sold out…ran out sometime on Wednesday, and the calls keep coming in. I’ve been taking phone numbers and making reserve lists for folks for future issues and coming reprints, so it’s not all lost sales, thankfully. But, like I said the other day, while I ordered a pretty good number and was able to make plenty of kids (and parents and grandparents!) happy, boy I sure could have used a lot more than what I got in.

I did notice at least one retailer online somewhere griping about the demand for this Batman/Fortnite comic and wanting it to be overwith, which…well, I can sympathize a bit, anyway, especially if you don’t have any to sell. Every request feels like a jab in your side, reminding you that you fell down on the job by not ordering enough to meet demand. One really shouldn’t feel like that, if you did your best, because you never know for sure how these things will work out…could very well have had the result of “eh, don’t really want to buy a comic book to get a code” and nothing would have come of any of this.

That’s not how it happened, however, and even if demand outstripped whatever supply I had on hand, hoping those requests simply go away is a mistake. I’m taking preorders (some even paid in advance), so I’m making do best I can. Yeah, I hate saying “no” to folks when they call and ask, but I try to let ’em know “…I’ll have more soon!” And since these aren’t comic collectors, they don’t care if it’s a second, third, or ninth printing. They just want the comic…and yes, mostly for the game codes inside, the primary impetus for the rush, but these are still lots of new customers desperately wanting to exchange money for product, a circumstance some comic shops may not see very often.

Some other thoughts occurred to me: I don’t know what kind of deals are involved here, and whether or not other comic publishers can horn in on this action and also get Fortnite codes into their own comics. But if they can…look out. Everyone’s gonna want to boost sales on their books by baggin’ em up with those precious codes inside. At the very least, I expect DC to follow up with another series almost as soon as this one is over. Like I said about some retailers, comic publishers don’t often see this much money being waved at them by a whole new audience.

Also…issue #4 of Batman/Fortnite was the first issue on which retailers could adjust their orders after seeing how the first one sold (or would have sold had they had any). I think there’s a good chance the supply on the comic may go from the “totally not enough” status of right now to the panic-ordering/nigh-Deathmate levels pretty quickly. Yes, there’s a lot of demand for this comic, but it’s not infinite demand, so we may be seeing a flooded market in a couple of months. I’m sure we’ll all find out at about the same time.

Imagine a comic company being worried that orders were too high today.*

§ April 21st, 2021 § Filed under blogging about blogging is a sin, retailing, variant covers § 1 Comment

So for you Progressive Ruin Early Morning Crew, who catch the latest entries as they’re posted, either before you go to bed or as you have your breakfast and cup of coffee, or I guess pretty much any time of day depending on what part of the world you live in, you may wish to revisit the previous post. Look for the “EDIT:” dropped in there and read the rest of the paragraph that follows, which will be New to You.

Basically what happened is, while I was present in comics retail at the time, I had clearly forgotten the details around the release of Legends of the Dark Knight #1 and its variety of cover colors. I made assumptions about DC trying to boost order numbers up with variants, which is almost exactly what they didn’t do. They were actually worried that too many copies of LODK1 were ordered, and added the covers after the fact to improve sales. Go back to that post and its comments and you’ll see links and the helpful folks who nudged Old Man Mike and said “uh, hey, you got your facts a little off.” To them, I am grateful.

Ultimately, the overall point still stands, I think, that publishers realize the power of variant covers to encourage multiple purchases of essentially the same product to individuals. Even if, in the case of LODK1, this wasn’t the plan from the get-go.

Anyway, instead of just tacking on an addendum to the post saying “duh, I was wrong, here’s what happened” as I was normally do, I tossed out the offending passage and replaced it with corrected info. I feel a little funny about that, like I’m cheating or hiding my shame or something, but I do plan on continuing my series on variant covers and I don’t want the first installment to have a big ol’ screw up in it. But again, thanks to everyone for jumping in and pulling my foot out of my mouth…everyone please go and check out the comments section for that post for the usual wonderful contributions from my readers.

In actual comic book news, there’s this thing:

…which, surprise, turned out to the big hit of the week so far, and it’s only Tuesday. And it sounds like a lot of stores out there were caught by surprise, given a story or two I’ve seen online about retailers being upset about not being told this might sell well. …To be fair, in this market, one should never take a publisher’s word that a comic is going to sell well. Order what you’re comfortable with, order more if you need more, and if you need to get second printings, get those. Frankly, if publishers want a retailer to order extra piles of their comics on their word, they can make them returnable.

There are plenty of times when I wished I ordered more copies of something, but just as many, if not more, times when I wished I’d ordered less. With Batman/Fortnite: Zero Point #1…well, as someone who still thinks the original Nintendo is one of those “newfangled gaming systems,” even I am aware that Fortnite is a Big Deal. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll translate to comic sales…there have been plenty of properties that were Big Deals in the real world, but didn’t exactly drag that audience into comic book stores once their tie-in funnybooks showed up. Sometimes they do, sure (Firefly is still doing okay, um, y’know, considering), but a lot of times these licensed books can sell worse that other comics on the shelves.

This time, though, I took a chance and ordered a…reasonable number of copies for my store, and it worked out pretty well so far! Getting lots of calls for the book, plenty of new faces walking in the door to get copies, and at least for Tuesday’s traffic, I had enough to go around! Now once I open Wednesday, my remaining copies will likely fly out the door right quick.

All things considered I wish I’d ordered double the number of copies, and maybe if you ask me by the weekend I might say I wish I ordered four times the number. What is nice about all this is the fact that the customers coming in for copies of the Fortnite comic all seem to be genuinely interested in the game, and not just dudes looking to flip the book on eBay. And boy, it seems to be selling for a pretty penny on said eBays. …Which is another clue that the comic was desperately underordered. Not being in initial solicitations and being offered just in the Final Order Cutoff listings may not have helped.

I’m going to enjoy this while I can, as it’s always good to have a comic that will get new faces in the shop. I know that perhaps a lot of them just want the digital codes for the game sealed inside that polybag, but look, comics retailers can’t be choosers.

* I mean, aside from that business with Eniac #1.

Variants on a theme.

§ April 19th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, retailing, variant covers § 23 Comments

Man of Steel #1 in 1986 is generally considered to be Patient Zero for the variant cover marketing strategy in the comics marketplace. You had the standard cover on the left, with a cover layout duplicated by the other five issues in the series. Then on the right you had the fancypants cover with the metallic ink an’ such. Both were available in comic shops, but only the standard cover could be found on newsstands.

I mean, sure, it’s understandable that DC would want to go through the extra effort of slapping a second cover on the first issue of this series. This was, after all, a complete revamping — a “reboot,” if you will, perhaps you’ve heard that term — of their flagship character by a superstar creator. This comic was indeed A Big Deal, and doing somethin’ a little special to make it stand out was certainly warranted.

Now, did fans end up buying both covers? Not all, I’m sure (I myself just got the comic shop-only cover…I liked the design of the standard covers, but I thought Clark’s pants looked weird), but certainly a non-zero percentage of consumers couldn’t decide between one or the other and solved the dilemma by taking one of each home.

This is of course not including the sales to speculators, a market segment that would absolutely explode in the 1990s but certainly existed prior to that. (See also Shazam! #1 and Howard the Duck #1 from the 1970s.) I’ve experienced more than one acquisition of books from investment collections containing stacks of Man of Steel issues. But if I could hazard a guess…I think comic companies began to learn that not just speculators but your regular readership could be convinced to pick up more than one copy of the same book.

Look, some fans were doing that anyway. The “buy one to save, one to read” thought process had been there for years. Whether the idea is “I’ll have a back-up if my reader copy falls apart,” or “I’ll have a mint copy for resale” borne of either a genuine belief in a return on investment, or some kind of self-justification for still buying these things, it doesn’t matter. But those were purchasing decisions, both small scale extra copies here and there and the bulk investment procurement, were made independently of the publisher’s efforts. Sure, DC and Marvel and whoever else can throw “COLLECTOR’S EDITION!” blurbs across the covers but c’mon, no one falls for that any more.

But two covers? With two different images? That’s something a publisher could do to encourage duplicate purchasing. Granted, likely not a lot, but not nuthin’, either. Naturally the burden is on the retailers, particularly in the direct market, to try to determine order numbers on a comic with two different covers. Not just the “how many customers will buy both” question, but the more basic issue of “which cover will generate more demand?” What if one cover is preferred over the other? What if one cover is a complete dud nobody wants, and you’re stuck with that cover while selling out quickly of the other? Surely most customers wouldn’t have that binary a preference…yeah they’d like that one cover, but oh you only have the other, sure that’s fine.

If the variant cover on Man of Steel #1 didn’t help sales a least a little upon release, we probably wouldn’t have seen more of them shortly thereafter. Of course, we did, such as these specific parodies of Man of Steel and its two covers by Boris the Bear and the one-off parody comic Man of Rust.

And DC itself had a big variant cover rollout again in 1989, when they published Legends of the Dark Knight #1, as part of the big movie-inspired Bat-push that year:

This time it appeared as if DC was testing the limit of what actually “counted” enough as a variant cover to generate multiple-copy purchases by consumers who wouldn’t ordinarily do so. These were just “extra” covers, attached over the comics regular cover, printed with four different colors. Now, I wasn’t involved in the retail end of the comic business when Man of Steel rolled out in ’86, but I was definitely behind the counter in ’89, and I do vaguely recall grumbling from both customers and retailers about this blatant marketing ploy.

Actually printed on the inside of these extra covers was a message from the editor, explaining why the extra covers:

“The four colors are just for fun,” it says, but they’re also for goosing the collectors out there into buy more copies. EDIT: Now as it turned out, and I had forgotten about (but reminded my readers James and BobH), the reasoning behind these covers was that preorders were so high, again this being the time of the Batman movie-inspired craze, that it was feared it would be too many for retailers to sell and the market would be flooded. As such, these multi-colored additional covers were printed and affixed over the regular covers. And the reasoning for this was, clearly, to encourage collectors to buy more than the one copy.

And I promise you, as a fella working the register at a comic book store in 1989, I sold plenty of sets of all four covers gathered off the shelf by members of our clientele. And there have been plenty of these sets spotted in boxes of books brought back to me to sell over the ensuing decades.

If all it takes is just different colors to boost orders and sales, what other minimal perceived value-adds can be given to books to get folks’ wallets out? Maybe just prepacking a comic in a sealed polybag right out of the gate? Or having to buy every version of one issue, each packed with a different trading card, to get a full set? There can’t be any way those ideas would work.

More on variant covers coming next time, informed in part by your great responses to this post from last week. Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll be back here in a couple of days.

We interrupt this program with an important bulletin.

§ March 26th, 2021 § Filed under publishing, retailing § 3 Comments

Well, hoo boy, more big news for the comics business as Marvel signs an exclusive deal with Penguin Random House to distribute their comics and books an’ stuff, beginning in October.

Diamond Comics, the distributor that’s had the exclusive distribution rights for nearly three decades, has announced that they’ll still be carrying Marvel product as before, if retailers prefer continuing to buy from them. However, Diamond would be essentially just be a large customer of Penguin Random House and reselling to stores, likely meaning an adjustment in discounts, and I’ve no idea what the timing will be like. Would Diamond get them early enough to redistribute the books to retailers in time for New Comics Day? Or will that point be moot if Marvel follows DC’s lead and picks another day of the week to be NCBD?

From what I’ve read, PRH, which I’m condensing it to because I’m already tired of typing it out, will offer a standard 50% discount to retailers on new product, which is less than what I’m getting from Diamond. However, PRH will also be offering free shipping, and no reorder fees, so that more or less balances out.

In addition, the ugly truth is that I expect shortages and damages to be reduced as well, which I’d gladly give up a percentage point or two in wholesale discount terms in exchange for product showing up on time and in sellable condition. My DC shipments from their new distributor, Lunar, have been virtually error-free…if I’ve reported more than a half-dozen problems total since receiving shipments from them last year, I’d be shocked. And it’s almost always “you sent me 49 instead of 50 copies,” that sort of thing. Only once did I have a significant issue (all my standard cover copies of Future State: Harley Quinn #1 got missed, but replaced right away).

By comparison, I’ve had problems with my Diamond shipments nearly every week. There are the minor mess-ups, like a book or two getting damaged in packing or in transit, which happens. But there are the times when books get missed entirely and I have to wait a week (usually) or two to three weeks (ugh, sometimes) for replacements. And more than once in the last few weeks, sometimes replacements can’t be found and I just get credit, meaning I’m off to eBay or other stores to beg for copies. Or buying directly from the publisher (like I had to with a recent issue of Taarna), which makes me wonder why I can do that and my distributor can’t. And God help you if that book you’re trying to replace on your own is The Random Hot Book of the Week As Decided by Speculators, like that Daredevil #26 I never got that was going for $20 a pop on eBay.

Now, I can only imagine the stress caused by the combination of massive amounts of product and whatever effects COVID has had on the processing/packing end of things. I need to be more understanding, but at the same time it’s a real pain to be invoiced for things you can’t sell. Maybe fewer Marvels passing through the system will ease the load and improve fulfillment? Or will the loss of that income keep us exactly where we’re at? I don’t know.

I know I can gripe about Diamond a bit, especially when something inexplicable (uh, just a single Comic Shop News instead of the full bundle?) or gross (is that a piece of chewed-up gum in this box?) happens. But honestly most of the time I’ve had a good relationship with them and they’ve treated me well, and on occasions when I’ve been especially screwed (like that time half my boxes disappeared in transit) they got replacements out to me within a couple of days.

Basically, I don’t want them to go away. But I am okay with having more competition in the distribution side of things, which, with any luck, will improve everyone’s service. Yes, that means more bills to keep track of, and more order forms to fill out, but it beats digging ditches (apologies to any ditch-diggers reading this who love their jobs). It also means learning a new online ordering portal, I’m sure (Lunar’s took a bit to get whipped into shape, and even still has a bit to go).

The competitive stakes are especially high on Diamond’s part, as some of their biggest remaining clients (like Dark Horse, IDW, and Archie) also have preexisting relationships with PRH. It probably wouldn’t take much for them to slide their product lines over from one company to another.

So we shall see what results from all this brouhaha. It’d be nice if PRH could somehow get Marvel to tamp down the #1 relaunches and variant covers. That’d get everyone celebrating.

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