On Business: Dollar Bin Retailing

By | Monday, August 31, 2015 3 comments
Fantastic Four #555
As I have mentioned here before, I am a long-time fan of the Fantastic Four. But shortly after the "Civil War" storyline, I found the title so far removed from what I liked about the team and the book that I stopped reading entirely. FF #555 was my last issue.

I did read a few stories after that. My brother got me a trade paperback of some of Jonathan Hickman's stories, and I picked up a few issues around Johnny Storm's death to write a piece for MTV. But, for the most part, I stayed away.

Now that the book's been cancelled, I thought, "You know, I could finish my collection. I mean, I've got every issue up through #555 already and I bet I could get the rest of them fairly cheaply." So I've spent a little time this year rooting through quarter and dollar bins, picking up stray issues. As of right now, I've gotten 36 of the 49 issues from the original title, every issue of the 2013 title, all but three of the issues from the 2014 title, 15 of the 23 issues from the 2011 FF, and 10 of the 16 issues from the 2013 FF. Plus an assortment of the one-offs and limited series like Dark Reign and Secret Invasion.

I haven't kept super-close track of how much each issue cost, but most of them came from dollar bins. A number of them from quarter bins. The most I've paid for any one of those issues is about $1.70 (12 issues from a $2 bin, and the guy threw a thirteenth issue in for free.) For the sake of arguement, let's say the average was a dollar a book for the lot of them. It's probably a little less than that, but the math is easier if we go with a dollar.

If I would have bought those issues off the stands new, I would've paid $2.99 for each issue the first year, and $3.99 for each issue after that. Not including tax, that comes to about $387. If I bought the trade paperbacks those all came in, I would have spent $390. Essentially the same cost either way. (Though the cost per story would be cheaper if I had bought the TPBs because there are some issues included there that I already had in my collection.)

But at a dollar a book, that's only $100 I've spent so far. And if I continue finding books at that cost, my grand total should be around $130. That's almost exactly one-third the price of buying them new or taking a "wait for the trade" approach.

So far it hasn't been at all difficult to find the issues I'd missed. I'm clearly in no hurry to keep current since I'm seven years out of date already, so I haven't been particularly aggressive in hunting down issues. In fact, everything I've purchased came from discount boxes that I happened across at a show/event this year that I was going to for other reasons anyway. I think it's been five cons/events? And I can guarantee you I've missed plenty of issues that were in boxes I didn't even check. (I'm not going to spend my entire time at a convention bent over long boxes!)

My point is that in a matter of a few months, I've picked up 75% of what I missed from the past seven years, for a third of the cost had I bought them new, with minimal effort. I actually tossed this idea out as a theoretical one several years back as a means to make your personal reading of comics a little more green and, now, putting it into practice seems to be working rather effectively.

But I'm left to wonder about the financial impact on the industry. The retailers I'm buying these issues from are largely just trying to recoup some costs from over-ordering the issues when they came out. In that sense, I suppose I'm helping to correct for some less-than-perfect earlier business decsisions. (Which, by the way, I don't mean as a way to denigrate retailers! The pre-order system in comics is wicked complicated, and even the best retailers struggle with it every month.)

But that seems to encourage a bottom-feeder mentality for retailers. The past couple of conventions I've been to, there were a lot of dealers doing nothing but discount bins. I don't know how many of them have "regular" shops that do much of their business on new issue Wednesdays, but they certainly weren't bringing recent releases to these shows. Will that lead to some kind of stratification of retailers? We already have something of a distinction between new issue retailers and those who deal in the expensive Golden Age stuff; will we be getting another layer of retailers who deal in nothing but cheap, discount bin material? Or is that already in place and I'm just now noticing?
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Matt K said...

Wow, how many times has Marvel renumbered the series in recent years?

From what I've been able to piece together, it goes something like this...

Fantastic Four (1961) #1 - 416
Fantastic Four (1996) #1 - 13
Fantastic Four (1998) #1 - 70
Fantastic Four (1961) #500 - 588
FF (2011) #1 - 11
Fantastic Four (1961) #600 - 611 / FF (2011) #12 - 23
Fantasic Four (2013) #1 - 16 / FF (2013) #1 - 16
Fantastic Four (2014) #1 - 14
Fantastic Four (1961) #642 - 645


Matt K said...

Ah yes, the years (which have apparently lasted longer than I thought) when Marvel wanted to have its cake and eat it, too. Thus, repeatedly vacillating between the excitement and accessibility of renumbering from 1, and the pride and pedigree of large, holistic numbers.

That's… awesome. :)