This is the first of a few posts from the old site that I am transferring over:
In the last month or so I have gotten into some heated debates about books from the last 40 years or so on the forum at Comicspriceguide.com. Much of it is based around why the values go up so slowly.
First, let’s discuss print runs. It is well know that for some time now print runs have slowly declined save for a short period in the early 1990’s that saw a fairly dramatic increase in print runs for some titles. Many people will say that books were over-printed in this period especially. I have to say that this is a fiction. Publishers are generally printing to demand. Larger companies may print a certain amount over the ordered amount to try and cover for damages, advance re-orders, and reorders but these are never so much that the market, and they, cannot absorb them. Printing and distributing is a costly venture and one that is easily controlled by the publishers so printing an arbitrary number of books is just suicide.
Print runs no doubt can and do affect the future values of books but they are not directly responsible for future demand. Where the numbers come into play is consumer interest/demand down the road. Interest in a character or title will go up and down in it’s history. There isn’t a single title or character that I know of that has maintained strong interest, enough to continually have back issues rise by leaps and bounds each year, for it’s entire history. When interest flags sales slow and if there are lots of copies around the value increases slow or stop for a period.
Also coming into play is the fact that since the 70’s the number of copies surviving of each book printed has drastically increased. Prior to the seventies there was an good portion of each print run that would be destroyed in some way be it remainders, mishandling, or by being thrown out. For a number of decades comic were considered a disposable form of entertainment and that is exactly what happened. As more and more people began collecting them you find the number of surviving copies increasing. So even if the interest in these older titles wanes they generally hold their value because there is rarely enough to fill the demand. that being said even with much lower numbers most of these books do not see dramatic increases in value every year, but more on this later.
If you look at the most valuable books since 1980 almost all of them had pretty small print runs. This leads many to think that this is the key to seeing values go up much faster down the road. However, this is categorically false. There is a huge number of book that have been printed in the last 40 years that have had pretty small print runs that see just as slow value increases as their higher print run counterparts. At the same time there are books that had higher print runs that see steady increases over time. Maybe not as big as those smaller print run books but they do see increases. The key factor is always interest/demand. A book with a print run of 100K+ could just as easily see a value increase as a book with a print run well below 10K. All that matters is that demand outstrips supply.
The next bane of many collectors, apparently, are variants. I will start out by saying variants are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Why? Simply put they are big business. They do have a profound affect on the market and not in the way most people think.
Variants have been around for a while now but how they work is really quite ingenious compared to the 1990’s. Back then variants were mostly easy to come by for most collectors because they were either 50/50, very high ratio (1:4), directly ordered (such as with Adventures of Superman #500 where you could order the special cover or the regular), or publishers printed a specific number of variants which one could directly order. There were the odd low ratio or dealer incentive books but these were really few and far between. Now variants are almost exclusively rationed and the ratios are much lower (1:4/5, 1:10, 1:20/5, 1:50, 1:75, 1:100, and up. 1:4 or 5 being the least common now). Because these ratios are so low those dealers that order fairly tight and actually had to up their orders to get some of these variants would tag these books with a higher price ticket to compensate for taking on the extra copies of a book they might never be able to sell. Honestly this is a fair practice but, now this has become the accepted standard. Where this becomes a problem is that the majority of variants do not come from these dealers that order tight they come from the dealers that order enough to get all of the variants.
So lets say a dealer who typically orders 200 copies a month of a certain book puts his order in on a specific issue that has a range of variants with ratios from 1:10 up to 1:100. They have not ordered any more copies and they get 20 copies of the 1:10 variant, 8 copies of the 1:25, 4 copies of the 1:50, at least two copies of the 1:75, and 2 copies of the 1:100 variant. Prices for these variants will range from $7-$10 all the way up to maybe $100 or more for the lower ratio variants. Now let’s say they have a very conservative 25 customers that have the comic put aside that accounts for around $74 dollars of the roughly $299-ish they paid to bring in the 200 copies. Now let us say they sell at least another 25 copies to walk-ins. Now they have made $149 dollars back of the $299 they paid out. Not that great right? But wait we still have all those variants to deal with. If they sell half of the 1:10’s at $7 each that is another $70, half of the 1:25’s would net $60-$100, one of the 1:75 would probably bring $50 and a 1:100 would net at least $75. So only selling a quarter of the regular issues and half of the variants would put them in a profit margin.
This is all being pretty conservative though. In actuality they probably could sell the variants on a sliding scale based on demand. It would work in such a way that one person would come in looking for a set of the variants. The dealer give the the guy a value that he can’t decide whether or not he wants to take the plunge on. The next guy comes up looking for the set of the variants and balks because the price is too high. The next guy comes in and while the first one is humming and hawing he decides to buy the set. Now the dealer has one full set remaining and the first guy is getting antsy. another customer comes in looking for the set but the price for all is too rich for him but he buys a few of the lower ratio copies. Eventually what you will have is a dwindling stock of variants and the more that sell the more likely the price will start going up. The end result is the same though in that with almost no effort and with no regard to numbers the dealer has made his money back and he has a huge stack of books that he could sell for any amount and they are still making profit. Of course not all of them will sell through and eventually a decent portion will be crammed in overstock bins and put out for cheap. The publisher makes money, the dealer makes money, but there is a wealth of books just sitting around gathering dust.
Publishers are essentially reinforcing the decades old practice of ordering more than you need. There are very few stores out there that actually order very tightly basically ordering the just the amount they can sell right away or within the month if they put it to the stands. The bulk of stores still order far more than they need which may not hurt them so much on the front end of things but down the road they are stuck with finding space for all these extra copies that will take years to sell and which help to keep value increases depressed because there is more than the market can support.
You can get mad at the dealers and the publishers but the fact is that it is the collectors that keep these ancient practices behind. We don’t control our compulsions or question practices even if they actually frustrate us. There is no impetus to change because us consumers give them no reason to because we just begrudgingly accept what is handed to us instead of voting with our dollars. For twenty years now we have blamed the publishers or store owners for all the “problems” in the industry when, in fact, collectors and readers have only been more than willing to buy into everything handed to us. Instead of not buying the books we don’t like we just hang on in hopes that the book will improve if we complain enough. What a joke if the money is coming in that is the single biggest vote NOT to change anything. Just look when changes were done in the past. It most cases it had nothing to do with the content of the books and how good or bad it was, or a specific event, instead it had everything to do with the bottom line. No doubt the creators may indeed be motivated by feedback but again they will also look at the dollars coming over the complaints or praises. Money really does the majority of the talking. Even in the back issue world.
No matter what anyone says it is not all doom and gloom for books from the last 40 years. This age of abundance of issues has an odd way of actually assuring a slow climb in values simply by the nature of the cheap bins across the continent. Of course it doesn’t decrease the number of copies available but it slowly eliminates the number of high grade books available (in this case high grade meaning 9.0 and up). Books in these bins are offered minimal to no preservation options and are stuffed, thumbed through and manhandled over many years. This has actually led to prices going up when demand goes up and people realize that high grade copies are becoming a premium and not a standard. Even the lower print runs are working to the collector’s favour while only a few books will ever command quickly increasing value the lower print runs can actually create a demand of some measure down the road when collectors get interested and start seeking out these books and find that it is actually hard to find some books in any grade. For example try finding issues of Sabrina the Teenage Witch second or third series issues 38-57 or high grade copies of lesser titles like Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld. The former just never had very high print runs and probably a majority ended out either in collections or getting abused in young reader’s hands.
Of course most books printed in the last 40 years are only going to see a slow increase in value but this is not exceptional to this era. Just look at your price guides and you will see that most book through time have only realized slow increases in value. Indeed it is easy to forget this if you look at the values of books from the 30’s to the 70’s but most of these books took many years to get to the values they are now. There is a huge number of books from the 70’s and 80’s that didn’t even have listed values in lower grades until just the last ten years! Some books worth thousands now were only worth ten or hundreds of dollars prior to the mid 1990’s. Slow increases are the norm not the exception. Even those ‘key’ issues may not evolve into that status for years or decades and even then some of them may take even longer to get into the huge price increases.
Over the last few years my views and opinions have tempered or changed completely regarding the “modern” era of books. In the past I have “blamed” everyone but myself for the woes of the industry. Fact is that stores and publishers don’t do anything without our approval. Whether that approval is by action or apathy. Maybe the fact I don’t really care too much about what my collection is worth. I just don’t see the purpose in getting upset about how fast or slow my collection appreciates or not. There is really not much I can do about it and in the end I don’t really care. I have always considered any profit I can make as a benefit. I am in this for the books and if I like a book I will buy it if I don’t I won’t. Ultimately I am finding this one of the best times to be into comics as there is a wealth of just awesome material to read covering a huge range of interests/genres and covering a range of publishers from the very small to the very big. In the end the comics, their content not the value, should be what it is all about.
Thanks for taking the time to read and Happy Collecting!