COMMENT: Speculation – Evolve or Die?

Paul O’Brien’s monthly analysis of Marvel’s sales for November 2005 has several interesting tidbits sprinkled througout that suggest speculation isn’t dead.

“…NEW AVENGERS, still Marvel’s top selling ongoing title. It’s actually now below the normal sales level of ASTONISHING X-MEN, mind you, so things might be different when that book resumes publishing. With the lengthy run of variant covers over, NEW AVENGERS has gone into a fairly normal decline.”

“‘Decimation’ has had strangely erratic effects across the X-books, as we’ll see. It’s entirely likely that Decimation, and the hype for the storyline, has played a big part in the sales jump. But on the other hand, this book has a variant cover, and WOLVERINE issues with variant covers often do better than this.”

“The first of this month’s Spider-Man stories, as ‘The Other’ enters its second month. It also means that the variant covers reach the stores, so last month’s issue #525 sells a further 9,977 copies. No doubt issue #526 will have re-orders on next month’s chart as well.”

“Back to ‘The Other’, and once again variant covers play a big part here. The variant edition of issue #1 charts at number 141 with a total of 14,669 extra copies. That’s enough to nudge the issue over the 100K mark.”

“The third ‘Other’ issue, and once again MARVEL KNIGHTS SPIDER-MAN lags noticeably behind the other parts of the crossover. The variant cover of issue #19 sells 9,321 to chart at number 177, giving that issue a decent-looking total.”

“A big jump for this month’s issue, giving NEW X-MEN its highest sales of the year. Once again, there are several factors behind this jump. It’s the first issue by the new creative team. There’s a variant cover. The popular X-23 joins the cast. And it’s a Decimation crossover.”

“Virtually no change from last month. When it isn’t being boosted by crossovers or variants, CAPTAIN AMERICA sells very solidly in the mid-40K range. The six-month comparison is a little misleading because May’s issue #5 had a variant cover – in reality, the trend is much more stable.”

Back in February of last year, I wrote a piece where, among other things, I estimated comics readership to be around 150,000, in response to Brian Michael Bendis’ guesstimate of 200,000 “loyal readers”. Among the data I looked at was the fact that only three titles broke the 100k barrier in January 2005, average sales figures for the Diamond Top 100 were only 40,592/title, and Wizard‘s declining circulation figures heading into 2000 which apparently led to their discontinuing their annual audit. (Does anyone have a copy of their November issue? It should contain their Statement of Ownership which, by law, discloses their actual circ numbers.)

One of the things I put forth was that many of the top sellers’ numbers were likely boosted by collectors buying duplicates, estimating 10-15% of total sales, plus the extra copies purchased by straight-to-CGC pushers like Wizard, et al, which I estimated at another 10%. Total shot-in-the-dark percentages there, but the basic point remains that speculation hasn’t gone away and many of the series that launched with over 100k in sales were likely boosted by it, especially as Marvel and DC have jumped back on variant cover bandwagon. Because, really, I’ve been reading Dan’s copies of “The Other,” and beyond speculation – and, of course, it’s evil twin, completism – there’s no good reason in the world to buy a second copy of any of those issues! :-O

Seriously, though, the question that comes to mind is: after the speculator-driven industry collapse of the 90s, who exactly is still dumb enough to be playing the speculation game?

(PS: Note to self, revisit that piece with updated data.)

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8 thoughts on “COMMENT: Speculation – Evolve or Die?

  1. I used to be into the variant cover thing when I was 12 (remember X-Men #1? Bought all 5 covers). Now when there is more than one variant I like I just copy the pic off the publisher’s website and use it as a wallpaper. Cheap and easy.

  2. Time to find a new market la, la, la, la, who’s listening…

    The Hive, baby. Next Thursday, right?

  3. Michael: Yeah, the only variant cover I’ve bought since I got back into comics was Black Panther #1, and that was a combination of completism or wanting to support the series.

    Jason: I have you down for 2nd and 4th Thursdays. I’d need each one in a couple of days prior, ideally by Monday, so shoot for the 9th for the first one. We’ll set the forum up at that point.

  4. I’ve never bought more than one of any comic on purpose. Some of Marvel’s covers a while back messed me up though. I used to buy whatever was handed to me from my pull and then go pick up some other comics off the wall that looked interesting. I’d mainly do that by the cover and ended up with quite a few duplicate stories do to the similarity of all Marvel’s “Pose” covers.

  5. I’m going to speculate (har, har) that some amount of speculation is out there and probably in enough numbers to be noticed but maybe not as big a percentage as you’ve compiled. Since we don’t know how many people actually purchase multiple copies of each comic it’s hard to estimate what impact the variants have. Are there actually guys buying all 17 RED SONJA variants each month? Probably, but some of the variant traffic is simply buyers choosing one cover over another.

    One way to distinguish this might be to figure out how many shops markup the variant covers – which seems to be a common practice, thankfully mine typically doesn’t – as a general buyer isn’t likely top pay a premium for a book he can get at the regular cover price. It might also be interesting to poll a cross-section of shops to see what their estimate is of the number/percentage of buyers who purchase every cover. But I suspect this would end up being a little too much on the anecdotal side as most don’t really keep those type of numbers.

    Another thing with variants is they typically are created in conjunction with big events/crossovers (which admittedly includes most of the top titles these days) lending a bit of an artificial gravity to the variant cover. It would be interesting to see what would happen to the numbers of an established book not tied to one of the big events, if a variant cover was released. Maybe there are already a few examples of this I’m not aware of. If there were a enough of a sampling of these we could get a better fix on what percentage of purchases are speculators/collectors. Which would be of interest to Guy, myself and maybe eight other people, but oh well.

    A certain amount of speculation takes place in nearly every market and I think it’s healthy sign, provided it doesn’t assume the predominant motivation for buying comic books. (Which I think was the case in the early ‘90’s.) One problem speculators have in this kind of market is that it’s virtually impossible to take (and thereby profit from) a negative position, so they’re always betting on the price to go up and we all know how that typically works with comics. That fact alone makes your final question a good one.

  6. You’re missing the same thing Bendis did, though. The numbers are automatically inflated probably 20% because this isn’t the number of copies ordered by readers. It’s the numbers ordered from retailers.

    Retailers order to keep their stores stocked, they ‘guesstimate’ how much they can sell, and then, they keep 5-10% of what they ordered in back stock. Companies like like Mile High and MyComicsShop order tons of extras. There’s actually a shop out here that doesn’t have a shop. The just order what they think will be hard to find comics and then sell them back to retailers.

    I’m convinced that part of the reason Diamond is set up how it is in terms of ordering windows and returnability. It’s a way to artificially force your retailers to inflate the industry’s numbers, and add value to Diamond as a corporate entity.

  7. Josh,

    I wouldn’t disagree with your comments about the bump in numbers built in by Diamond’s policies but it doesn’t answer the variant cover/speculator question.

    Variant covers are not being produced and sold to prop up Diamond’s numbers nor is the 15-20% (or so) Guy estimates may be going to collectors/speculators necessarily affected by the overage taken in by retailers.

    Essentially the numbers can be inflated by Diamond’s policies whatever percent you like and still accomodate what Guy’s talking about.

  8. If you ever do revisit your estimation of the size of the comic market, it seems you should examine the repercussions of market capacity. I’m not sure exactly what you were defining as 150,000 large, but were that the number of people who buy the top 300 (or 100 or even Marvel) books there’d be some lofty (in my mind) conclusions. Most amazingly, to me, it means that the average top 100 comic buyer purchases each month some 26 books worth approximately $80.

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