Cover Shenanigans

By | Friday, November 22, 2019 1 comment
Thor Variant Cover
Last night, Joe Field posted a thread about an upcoming variant edition Thor cover...
You can click through to read the whole thread, but I think the key piece of information is this...
In order for a retailer to make any money on this variant issue -- to sell that one special cover to a single person -- they would have to purchase $2200 worth of Thor issues. A title that, even at its highest sales point in the past decade, did not sell a third of that.

Now, to be fair, this is one retailer talking about his own shop's experience. But Joe's been in this business a while and his Flying Colors is one of the better shops around. I suspect there are very few retailers selling more copies of Thor than him. I can think of exactly two that might sell as many as 1000 copies of Thor every month, and both of those have strong online sales in addition to their brick and mortar presence. (I'm thinking of Mile High Comics and Lone Star Comics, in case you're wondering.)

So why would Marvel do this? Why would they even consider a variant version of a book that they probably don't need more than five or ten copies of?

Money, of course, but how does that math shake out?

Let's say Mile High orders 2,000 copies of Thor every month, just as their regular order. They then would get two copies of the variant cover for the same price as the regular cover, and could sell them to readers for several times the cover price. Whatever percent increase they sell the variant version for over and above the regular cover price is all profit for them. They're happy.

Now, let's say Lone Star orders 1,000 copies of Thor every month, just as their regular order. They get one copy of the variant cover and make a good chunk of change selling that over and above cover price. Not quite as much as Mile High, but it was still minimal additional work for them, so they're happy.

Now, we've got someplace like Android's Dungeon. They sell maybe 15 or 20 copies of Thor every month, just as their regular order. If I'm doing my math right, that's about $56 profit for the retailer. But if they want to get that variant, they need to order 980 copies more than they usually sell. So that's a $2200 order to make $56 profit off 20 books, leaving the retailer in the hole by about $2144. It clearly doesn't make financial sense for a retailer at this level.

Ah, but it only takes one idiot for this to make sense for Marvel.

See, if there's one idiot who orders $2200 worth of books instead of their usual $44 worth, then Marvel is ahead on orders by an additional $2156. That's not $2156 in profit, mind you -- I don't know what Marvel's profits are per book -- but even at a meager 5% profit margin (about 12¢ per individual issue) that means they've garnered an additional $108 to print that one extra variant book. Even the most expensive print-on-demand services don't charge that much, and the only custom printing that would need to be done is the cover -- all the setup work and printing of the interiors is already done for the regular issue.

So Marvel stands to make a 900% profit off that one single issue, for minimal additional work.

Of course, the down side to all this is that you wind up irritating nearly every retailer in the business who either can't afford 1000 issues or isn't thinking clearly enough to realize they can't afford 1000 issues.

Which, if I recall, was kind of what got the whole industry into trouble in the 1990s.

But what do I know?
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Matt K said...

This is not something I had missed about the 1990s.