PoP!ulation member Kelly Harrass recently joined our PoP! Sidekicks Initiative, and as an employee of comic retailer Lost World of Wonders in Milwaukee, WI, has a unique perspective from behind the counter.
Over the past year or so, the comic speculation market has ramped up. It’s always been there, but I feel like it has really come back in a strong way. The first time I really noticed the speculators coming back was with the first issue of Saga. A couple hours into the day it was released, we posted a sign in the shop letting customers know that we reserve the right to limit the amount of copies of a comic they can purchase. This was to stop people who were trying to buy five copies at a time.
All of the recent first issues for new Image series have been hot sellers, and in a way I’m kind of upset about it. I mean, it’s great that we’re selling copies of these books and it’s great for the creators, but at the end of the day, all of the speculation is hurting the market. Remember how great the 90’s were and how much better things were after the 90’s boom was over? Oh wait. No, things were terrible then. Shops were closing left and right and the people with long boxes full of Youngblood #1 in their basements were realizing that they had made a terrible mistake.
This round of speculation, as it is now, is dangerous for shops, creators, and fans. Let me break down the steps of how speculation can hurt all of these people. I’ll use an Image comic for this example.
- A new Image #1 is released and a speculator buys multiple copies of it.
- The comic shop sells out. They might order more copies depending on the shop.
- The comic goes to a second printing. The creators make less money off of second prints because they don’t print as many copies (bulk amounts = cheaper printing costs).
- Before the second prints come in (if they ever do) a reader goes to the shop looking for the comic, only to find that the shop is sold out. From here one of four things happens:
- The reader goes to another shop to search for the comic.
- The reader goes online to buy the book, potentially spending way more money than they would like for it.
- The reader doesn’t look for the book anymore. Hopefully they’ll remember to pick up the trade.
- They buy the comic digitally. This is good for the reader, but not great for the shop.
- Shops bump their orders for future issues.
- Sales for the next issues are still kind of high, but they start to really drop off, leaving a lot of copies on the shelves. The speculators only care about the first issue so they might not bother to grab the second, and people that actually wanted to read it won’t grab issue #2 if they haven’t read issue #1.
- Looking at the amount of the book sitting on the shelf, the shop owner slashes their orders. They take a bath on the earlier issues; hopefully they’ll move them as back issues someday.
- The creators on the book look like falling stars because of the sales drop-off. This can hurt their marketability in the future.
Keep in mind that this isn’t always the case, but it is something that can easily happen. The speculation bubble is bound to burst and there are plenty of people that will get hurt when that happens. Speculation is dangerous and it takes advantage of people who know nothing of the comic industry and think that every new comic will be the next The Walking Dead. The truth is that it won’t be. The Walking Dead is an unexplainable anomaly. It got lucky.
I’ve been talking a lot about comics published by Image and it isn’t just their comics that are the victims of speculation. Very soon shops are going have to deal with the speculators wanting DC comics because of DC’s spectacular mishandling of their Villain’s Month event. In case you haven’t been paying attention, here’s what happened: DC promised 3D covers for every comic they publish as a part of Villain’s Month. Retailers ordered large amounts of these books and DC is not able to meet the demand, so they allocated the amount of the orders that would get filled for each retailer. This was different for every shop. Some shops are getting most of what they ordered and some aren’t getting close to that. Thankfully DC is providing 2D covers to make up for the orders they couldn’t fill.
DC’s mishap turned the 3D covers into collector’s items. If you were to buy every 3D cover in a comic shop it would cost you $207.48 (not including tax). On eBay, people are offering pre-sales on complete sets of all fifty-two 3D covers for around $300 a set. One auction closed at $412.99. Shops are in a strange position now where they might have to order even bigger numbers on books that they already bumped their numbers on because of the sudden speculator interest. For every copy of the 3D cover that will now be snatched up by speculators, the retailer has to consider ordering a 2D cover for the customer that just wants to read the comic and doesn’t care about the 3D gimmick. (While I’m here, I might as well say; DEAR PUBLISHERS, STOP MAKING THE RETAILER’S JOB HARDER!) This is a dangerous situation for smaller shops that don’t have the cash to put up for all of these books that they have no idea if they’ll actually sell, but they don’t want to risk selling out of on day one.
Comics are a business. A rough, hard, confusing business. What can you do to help your local comic retailer? Pre-order your comics. Let them know what you want. If you want an indie comic, you should tell them. It’ll make sure you get your copy and it will help them figure out how many copies they should be ordering. All they want to do is sell you stuff, make their job just a bit easier and they’ll love you for it.
Just remember (and seriously, remember this) comics aren’t like stocks. Don’t invest in them.