Back Issue Sales Rising?

By | Wednesday, December 11, 2019 Leave a Comment
Over at ICv2, Jim McLauchlin has a new piece up looking at how the back issue market is seeing something of a resurgence. Albeit in a slightly different form. Most of the piece centers on modern speculators (yep, they still exist) and folks who just focus on key issues. He glosses over, though, what strikes me as the most interesting part: "... if someone spots a fun Superman book or a goofy Lois Lane comic, they might buy it, not because they were looking for that specific issue, but because they just like the idea of this cool comic."

People who are just rifling through a box of comics and pick up something that looks neat. Carr D’Angelo of the Earth-2 comic shops, is quoted as saying, "There's still that classic guy with his list out there, and he’s buying only the issues he needs to fill in his run, and I love that guy. But I think there are more people buying back issues just because it brings them joy."

That's really heartening to hear. People buying comics not out some sort of title or line-wide feeling of obligation or completedness, nor out of some financial motive, but just because they look fun.

Photo of comic book dollar bins
Here's the thing, though -- they're doing that because they can afford to! I don't mean that in the sense that they're old guys like me who've been working enough years that we have a little more spending money. I mean that the retailers have them priced cheaply enough that a reader feels they can take a chance on a random issue for a buck. These so-called "random buyers" only exist because retailers facilitated a means for them to exist! If every issue a retailer has is priced according to Overstreet Guide standards, virtually every back issue would cost more than a current comic. But if you toss that notion to the side and charge something cheaper than current comics (or maybe slightly more for REALLY old issues) they get picked up! These buyers only exist because they have plenty of dollar bins to search through!

I've noted this before in varying capacities. In 2015, I relayed how, in about half a year, I was able to catch up on seven years of Fantastic Four issues I had missed just by hit dollar bins, picking up back issues at about a third of what they would've cost new. I also noted that several retailers going to conventions were doing nothing but dollar bins, banking on selling enough volume to make up for lower prices. (Given that the practice still seems to be used pretty regularly four years later suggests those have been good bets on the part of those retailers.) A year later, I was musing on a couple dozen long boxes I came across that were slated for the trash and realized that, while a specific issue of a specific title might hold some value, a random box of comics is essentially worthless. These notions have evidently made it to enough retailers (and, by extension, their customers) that dollar bins are more a part of their business model now in a way that "traditional" back issues bins with individually priced issues used to be.

As long as we're in a capitalist society, there are always going to be some speculators, but that the industry seems to be turning away from an entire industry of speculation (via Overstreet and the like) strikes me as another positive move, on top of the diminishing significance of the direct market that I spoke about yesterday.
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