By Benjamin Nobel, April 23, 2017
Last year, I introduced you to $3.99 Newsstand Edition comics as a new “class” of CGC-recognized cover price variants, ones with extremely low distribution as late modern newsstand exclusives. This year, I’ve highlighted some individual example comics out of this “class” of cover price variants, such as Amazing Spider-Man #606 and Amazing Spider-Man #607. Today, I’m going to highlight Daredevil #21. A lot of the collectors who purchased this comic did so at the urging of Superior Spider-Man creator Dan Slott, who tweeted the following about it:
The appearance Slott is referencing is the below “cameo” where we see Superior Spider-Man in the shadows, and he says:
I WILL FIND DAREDEVIL…
But then, says:
…AND I WILL CRUSH HIM.
Prompting the surprised reply:
THANK– WAIT. WHAT?
This Superior Spider-Man cameo definitely makes Daredevil #21 an interesting comic to collect. And as it relates to Marvel’s $3.99 cover price variant window, it falls extremely late, with a publication date of February 2013. The year 2013 was actually Marvel’s final year of newsstand distribution, and Marvel’s David Gabriel has described how Marvel’s newsstand distribution had been in its final wind-down stages, where in the end only two bookstore partners carried their newsstand comics (and sales to other newsstand outlets had been wound down two years prior, which would have been circa 2010-2011).
When the $3.99 cover price variant window opened at Marvel, the normal cover price on their comics had been $2.99… and then Marvel raised prices by $1 on just their newsstand copies, which were raised to $3.99 (but meanwhile they kept the direct edition pricing at $2.99). Possibly they were testing market reaction to the higher price-point by measuring newsstand sales, because eventually the pricing on direct edition copies caught up, and became $3.99 as well. Typically. But not always. The direct edition copies of Daredevil #21 for example, even with their publication date out in 2013, were priced at $2.99. But of course over on the newsstands, the cover price was $3.99:
So here we get a cover price variant example that comes very late in Marvel’s newsstand distribution… the tail end, in fact. The time of Dan Slott’s tweet was December of 2012, and looking up the book on Comichron, we can see that the sales appear on their December 2012 page. Here are the estimated sales of direct edition copies to North American comic shops, published in that referenced Comichron page:
So this is very late on Marvel’s newsstand timeline indeed, with late 2012 ordering and a February 2013 publication date. For the year 2013, there are newsstand rarity estimates out there which we can look at, to next try and come up with some numbers for the likely range of rarity of the $3.99 copies, working off of the above sales estimate of direct edition copies.
One estimate for newsstand rarity in 2013 is from ICv2’s Milton Griepp and Comichron’s John Jackson Miller, estimating just 6.8% newsstand sales versus direct edition at 93.2%, across the industry, for the year 2013. But as we learned from Marvel’s David Gabriel earlier, their newsstand distribution had been in wind-down for years, with a stair-step lower back in the 2010-2011 timeframe.
So logically, Marvel’s newsstand sales in that final 2013 year would have been much lower than the industry-wide percentage. How much lower? One industry insider, Chuck Rozanski, has pegged Marvel’s 2013 newsstand percentage at just 1%. Rozanski has also published a 2005 estimate for Marvel at 2% newsstand. Meanwhile, in the book Economics of Digital Comics, by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, we saw a 2003 newsstand rarity estimate of 4.25% for Marvel, citing a BPA audit.
With this range of newsstand rarity estimates in hand, we can now extrapolate out some estimates for $3.99 copies of Daredevil #21, using the sales estimates we saw earlier of 35,848 direct edition copies sold to North American comic shops. That number from Comichron is an estimate, and only for distribution of direct edition copies to North American comics shops (Canada and the USA), which would mean the numbers exclude newsstand distribution (i.e. our $3.99 copies). The numbers Comichron gives us would also exclude subscriptions, complimentary copies, and distribution outside of North America such as Diamond UK (this would vary unpredictably depending on the issue but probably did not add more than 10% to Comichron’s number). So let’s first inflate Comichron’s number by 10% to account for some of these variables and make our estimates more conservative — that takes us to 39,433 copies. Let’s further round up to an even 40,000 since we’re pretty close to that nice round number — both for easier math and also to be even more conservative in our resulting newsstand estimates (i.e. let’s try and let our resulting newsstand estimates that we’ll derive from this direct edition count land on the side of too high, rather than too low).
If the all-in count of direct edition copies sold was an assumed 40,000 for the purposes of this exercise, then coming up with a range of newsstand copies sold just becomes a math exercise — using the rarity estimates mentioned before. For the high side of our newsstand percentage range, let’s be extra conservative and use Comichron’s full 6.8% industry-wide number. At 6.8% newsstand to 93.2% direct edition, and 40,000 as our direct edition count, the math would then bring us to an estimate of 2,918 newsstand copies with $3.99 cover price. Since Marvel’s experience would have logically been a newsstand sales percentage much lower than the rest of the industry due to their newsstand-wind-down, arguably we shouldn’t be any higher than this number… So already, the top of our range is an astonishingly-low figure. At 4.25% newsstand to 95.75% direct edition (the 2003 Marvel estimate from Allen), the math would bring us to an estimate of 1,775 newsstand copies with $3.99 cover price. So if we used the Marvel estimate from a decade earlier than Daredevil #21 was published, i.e. pretending newsstand rarity was still at 2003 levels and ignoring all the newsstand dwindling that took place after 2003 including that stair-step down around 2010-2011, we’d still be at under two thousand copies of our variant for Daredevil #21 which would already be so low as to absolutely stun us with its collectible rarity. And then at Rozanski’s 2005 estimate of 2% newsstand to 98% direct edition, the math would bring us to an estimate of 816 newsstand copies with $3.99 cover price. And then for the far other end of our range, if we were to use Rozanski’s 2013 estimate of 1% newsstand to 99% direct edition, the math would bring us to an estimate of 404 newsstand copies with $3.99 cover price (with ordering at the tail end of 2012, arguably we shouldn’t be any lower than this number). Take your pick: no matter how you slice it, the newsstand rarity mathematics gets to you numbers that are extremely minuscule for the $3.99 cover price variant copies of the issue… and with the notorious newsstand destruction rate layered on top of those low numbers, truly, the surviving count of these rare comics puts most retailer incentive variants to shame by contrast. Yet, unlike the well-known retailer incentive variants, the original buyers of newsstand rarities had no clue they were rare, and to this day it is still possible to find late-modern $3.99 newsstand edition comics out there in the marketplace where the seller does not know what they own and lists their rare variant as a “regular” copy. This situation spells relative-value collecting opportunity, not just for the particular issue I’ve highlighted here but for newsstand collecting broadly.
By the way, this same type of math exercise can be done with any newsstand comic; using Comichron’s numbers (Comichron is such an indispensable resource for this kind of research!) to arrive at an estimate for the number of direct edition copies sold in North America, and then choosing a reasonable newsstand:direct-edition ratio based on the publication year (here is a table of estimates I’ve seen out there year by year), it is then a simple math exercise to extrapolate a newsstand sales estimate (or a range), like I’ve done above. An exercise which, for Daredevil #21, argues for likely no more than a few thousand copies (the 6.8% industry-wide Comichron number), likely no fewer than ~400 copies (Rozanski’s 1%), and with the unknowable-exact-number likely falling somewhere in the range. And the notorious newsstand destruction rate would come into play from there.
But one of the great things about CGC’s decision to “break out” $3.99 newsstand copies separately on census from their prevalent direct edition counterparts, is that the count of surviving copies that have passed through CGC’s doors will increment separately by type — and therefore the newsstand rarity percentage of surviving copies can self-express in the census data over the course of time. This is absolutely fantastic news for collectors who study rarity data, because all that extrapolation and number-crunching we did before is estimation, whereas the actual count of census copies is a cold hard number of copies that actually survived and have been graded by CGC. Simply put: if you want to own a CGC-graded copy of the variant, you can see precisely how many CGC graded copies are floating around out there. As of today, those numbers for Daredevil #21 are as follows: 135 direct edition copies and 3 newsstand copies (3 out of the grand total 138 for the issue number = 2.17% newsstand):
At 138 total copies graded, we’ve got a low sample size here, but on the other hand, much like election polling and TV ratings look at just a small sample of total voters/viewers, the CGC data can still tell us a lot about the relative rarity by type. In other words, for the $3.99 newsstand copies, as a low percentage of total copies sold of the issue, we’d also expect to see a low percentage of total copies graded of this issue be our rare $3.99 variants… and indeed, that’s what we see today in the census data for the issue. So that on a relative basis, even with a low total census count on an absolute basis, the extreme relative newsstand rarity is still obvious to see.
And because of CGC’s great decision to “break out” this entire class of variants, we’ll be able to see the count of copies over time for not just this issue but others within the class as well, with all those numbers in full daylight for all the world to see — and that is something for newsstand-focused collectors to cheer!
Stay tuned for future posts covering more interesting example comics out of the $3.99 newsstand “class” of CGC-recognized variants!
Happy Collecting! 🙂