By Benjamin Nobel, May 7, 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, and the one I’m going to share with you today — Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 — is truly one of the exceptional stand-out comics within this “class” of variants, on account of the low numbers in play.
Long-time readers of this blog already understand the newsstand-focused mindset of collecting comics with a relative value approach; but for any first-time readers landing on this post, what you’re about to learn today is going to change the way you think about approaching modern comic books.
To set the stage, here’s what you’d see if you looked up this issue at ComicsPriceGuide.com — note how they include the word “Scarce” in the description, and how they guide to a 9.4 value of $160:
As it turns out, this issue which is in such super-high demand by collectors today, was actually not a great seller back in 2011 when it was published… By Comichron’s estimates, a mere 17,609 direct edition copies were sold to comic shops in North America. That’s a small number indeed, and when this small supply intersected with the later high demand, it produced a situation like this for market value:
As you can see from the above sampling of recent eBay sales, ComicsPriceGuide is not exaggerating about the market values out there… This book has indeed emerged as one of the must-own late modern keys to collect, especially among Deadpool fans. The cover price for all of the above-pictured eBay example copies is $2.99… and that $2.99 cover price is also listed at ComicsPriceGuide when you click through to the details page:
Anywhere else you might look out there online today for reference information about this issue, you’ll see the same $2.99 cover price referenced. For example here’s MyComicShop:
In Comichron’s sales estimates that I mentioned before, that $2.99 cover price is shown there as well:
But what I’m about to show you, is that not all copies of Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 carry the $2.99 cover price. Just because price guides and comic shops are not aware of something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist… lack of awareness can also arise when a comic book variant simply exists in such small numbers that it has gone unnoticed: the principle of “out of sight, out of mind.”
And indeed, it turns out that this key late modern issue is among the examples you’ll find out there where the rare newsstand copies are a $1 higher cover price variant of the issue! And these $1 higher cover price copies are recognized by CGC as distinct variants, “broken out” on their online census as “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” instead of lumped together with the prevalent direct edition copies. Take a look at the two examples below side-by-side, where the $1 higher cover price variant is at right, and see if you can spot all the differences…
As you can see, the copy at the left is the “typical” version you’ll find out there, the one everybody knows about, the one which carries a $2.99 cover price and has the words “Direct Edition” on it — that phrase means it was one of the ~17,609 copies (by Comichron’s estimate that we saw earlier) that was ordered directly by comic shops (ordered on a non-returnable basis: for the publisher, these direct edition copies were a guaranteed sale). [For more information about the difference between direct edition and newsstand comics, read Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference.]
But the copy pictured at right is different: it carries a completely different UPC code — the code for “Marvel Notables” — and the cover price is $1 higher… at $3.99. It also has the word “Newsstand” on it. That’s right: here we have a higher cover price variant for this issue and such copies were found exclusively on newsstands (where the distribution model called for unsold copies to be returned for a refund): offered for sale to the public at newsstands that had ordered Marvel Notables.
That last point regarding Marvel Notables is a non-trivial one: recall from my post from last year about these $3.99 newsstand comics how we saw that for newsstand sales of Amazing Spider-Man, at some point in time Marvel utilized different UPC codes, alternating Amazing Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and Sensational Spider-Man codes depending on the issue number… And we saw that the largest late modern newsstand collection ever offered for sale was actually missing every third ASM issue: they were missing the ones distributed under the Sensational Spider-Man code, simply because the newsstand (a drugstore) where that collector acquired their comics didn’t order that title… they ordered Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and they ordered Amazing Spider-Man, but did not order Sensational Spider-Man. And what that situation teaches us, is how what is on the UPC code for these newsstand comics was so important when it came to their distribution, because if you went to a given newsstand (such as that drugstore) looking for a given newsstand comic, it wasn’t enough that a given newsstand version of an issue actually existed… it also had to be within a title that was actually ordered for that newsstand.
So, in the case of Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, for a given newsstand to have actually gotten one of these, they would have had to order Marvel Notables. For the more “major” titles it is easy to picture the corresponding box getting checked when ordering: i.e. for Amazing Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men, Batman… those titles would naturally be the highest priority when ordering. But when it came to “lesser” titles — even ones with Spider-Man in the title like our example with Sensational Spider-Man — it would logically have become increasingly less likely that a newsstand would have bothered ordering it… So, an important question for this particular issue to consider is this: Where would “Marvel Notables” have likely ranked in priority when it came to the proprietor placing their orders, and what did that mean for this comic book’s newsstand distribution relative to the popular titles?
Meanwhile, another important consideration is how the publication year here for Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 is 2011. That’s right smack in the likely timeframe when Marvel was actually winding down newsstand sales to all but two last bookstore partners (Barnes & Noble and Books-a-million were cited as the last partners to carry Marvel newsstand comic books). A 2013 quote from Marvel’s David Gabriel indicates that Marvel had actually stopped selling newsstand comics outside of those two bookstore partners “about two years ago” (which working backward from the time of the quote puts us circa 2010-2011). Given where Venom/Deadpool’s publication date lands in relation to that timeframe, when perhaps it was only those last two partners that might have carried it at all, the newsstand sales for this particular issue could be very low indeed.
How low are we talking? Well, clearly around that 2010-2011 time-frame there would have been a “stair-step down” in newsstand sales at Marvel, at whatever point when they ended sales to all but those last bookstore partners. But newsstand sales had actually been on the decline since the mid-1980’s (direct edition sales are cited to have surpassed newsstand sales sometime around 1985/1986), and in 1999 a Marvel VP described a decision to “walk away” from the newsstand — this business decision may have exacerbated the relative decline in newsstand sales because they were cited to be 14% for Marvel in 1999, but we learn of a 2003 newsstand rarity estimate of 4.25% for Marvel, citing a BPA audit, in the book Economics of Digital Comics, by Todd Allen and Mark Waid. That’s quite a pronounced decline indeed… And then in 2013, industry insider Chuck Rozanski published a series of newsstand rarity estimates for Marvel at different years, including a 2005 estimate for Marvel newsstand rarity at a mere 2% (to put that in “modern variant terms” 2% is 1:50).
And remember, those above estimates I just cited are informing us about the newsstand rarity from several years before Venom/Deadpool was actually published, which was way out in 2011. But let’s pretend that newsstand sales of this 2011 issue actually followed those estimates from 2003, and from 2005, and see what the numbers would look like. In other words, let’s use these two estimates [also see: Newsstand Rarity Discussion & Estimates] to extrapolate out some numbers for $3.99 copies of Venom/Deadpool, working off of that Comichron estimate we saw earlier of 17,609 direct edition copies sold, and answering the question: if the sales of this particular issue followed those broad Marvel-wide newsstand rarity figures, what kind of numbers are we talking?
That 17,609 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. exclude 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 all 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 ~19,400 copies.
From there, using Rozanski’s 2% newsstand (vs. 98% direct edition) figure (this being his 2005 estimate) for one end of our range, and for the other end of our range we’ll go up to that 4.25% estimate from all the way back in 2003, we’d then break out our calculators and get to an extrapolated range of ~400-900 copies of Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 with a $3.99 cover price as our newsstand estimate. This result is absolutely mind-blowing… to have a rare cover price variant of this highly-sought key modern issue — a CGC-recognized variant with its own distinct census entry — and one that may have sold only in the hundreds of copies is an absolute stunner… But suppose because these estimates are so crazy-low, suppose we were to see what would happen if we pretend that we were way back at 1999 levels for newsstand sales, i.e. back before that decision to “walk away” from the newsstand and to effectively leave it for dead (albeit with newsstand sales allowed to continue), was made. That would be super-conservative to use that 14% figure from 1999, right? Even at that 14% newsstand level from 1999 as applied to Venom/Deadpool we would still have been at only ~3,150 copies with $3.99 cover price! Bottom line: this is a situation of “no matter how you slice it, the cover price variant is obviously absurdly rare.”
And we haven’t even talked about the notorious newsstand destruction rate yet in all of this… Remember, newsstand buyers tended to be readers and the extreme rarity was not known to them when these were originally on the stands, which spells survivorship numbers for $3.99 cover price copies that are likely far lower than what was originally sold on the newsstands!
It is pretty much impossible to know with any kind of certainty how many variants have survived, and it is also impossible to know what newsstand sales looked like issue by issue — extrapolating out any Marvel-wide estimate from a given year to a specific issue as I’ve done above is purely an exercise in estimation; I’m sure some observers would argue that the low end of the range we came up with above is actually too high (perhaps arguing that we should use closer to 1% instead of 2% due to the 2011 publication year, and perhaps arguing that we must further adjust the newsstand numbers downward because with the $3.99 price-point being more than 33% above the $2.99 price point, that should naturally have held back the number of copies sold, versus had the price been $2.99).
And that last point about the 33% cover price difference is an important one: Among Marvel’s 2011 newsstand comics, we only see these $1-higher newsstand copies case-by-case. For the rest of the issues, the newsstand and direct edition cover prices were the same. But for Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, we’re talking about one of the issues with a 33% difference in cover price between the newsstand and direct edition versions…
Surely the law of demand would come into play in a situation like this, and argue that fewer newsstand copies were likely sold versus had the price been $2.99. Which argues that the newsstand percentage would likely be lower for this particular issue, than whatever the broad 2011 Marvel-wide newsstand percentage was, all else equal.
So if you’re in the market for Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, it is pretty clear that if you’re the type of collector who prefers to own the more rare version of a comic, that you’ll want to seek out those $3.99 cover price copies as your preference. And who knows, maybe you’ll come across a seller who doesn’t actually realize they own a variant and prices it for sale at “regular” price (my own copy, a picture of which I’ll share at the end, was acquired this way… so I know it is possible with patience and hunting effort… you can find these newsstand bargains out there, I know you can, you just have to try — and “the hunt” can be a lot of fun and very rewarding… give it a try, and if your experience matches mine then hunting for cover price variant newsstand bargains will be the most fun you’ve had collecting comics in years!).
By the way, the type of newsstand rarity estimation exercise we went through above can be done for any modern comic you might already be looking to collect (assuming it wasn’t a direct edition exclusive): simply choose a newsstand rarity percentage based on the year of the comic you’re interested in, look up the direct edition sales numbers for the issue on Comichron, and you can follow the same steps I followed here for any newsstand comic you might want to examine. And if you’re new to newsstand comic collecting, you should know that there are lots of other highly interesting categories of cover price variant newsstand comics out there beyond the late-modern $3.99 newsstand editions to consider as well: for example the 75 cent variant for Amazing Spider-Man #252 has shown CGC census rarity of 1-2% for the past decade and a half worth of census data and is just one of many key comics within the broader “class” of newsstand-exclusive 75 cent variants from the 1980’s; there are also newsstand-exclusive 95 cent and $1.00 price variants from the 1980’s as well; in the 1990’s there is another fascinating “class” of newsstand-exclusive cover price variants whose window encompasses several keys including a $1.50 cover price variant of New Mutants #98. And there are other special situations as well where CGC will “break out” newsstand comics, such as manufacturing differences — one example there would be the Spawn #9 newsstand edition (1st appearance of Angela, now part of the Marvel universe as Thor’s sister).
Even when CGC does not “break out” a newsstand comic but rather lumps it together with its direct edition counter-parts, the newsstand version is still always distinguishable from its direct edition counter-parts. So really, the same collecting preference question you might consider for a CGC-recognized cover price variant actually extends to any newsstand comic in general, even when there isn’t a variant cover price in play, and even when CGC does not recognize the difference… because you can always use estimation and observation of market availability to inform your collecting conclusion about relative rarity/desirability (for example even as early as 1982, when newsstand editions should be more prevalent on paper from the initial distribution split, it appears that the newsstand survivorship difference overwhelms the initial distribution split, making highest grade newsstand copies of comics like Wolverine Limited Series #1 much harder to find than their direct edition counter-parts), and you can always tell the newsstand copies apart from direct edition copies if you know what to look for — it really is super-easy once you learn what to spot [start here if you need help understanding the difference].
But estimation is one thing — at every step there are assumptions. Another thing is to study actual CGC census data. It would have been fantastic if CGC had decided to recognize newsstand comics as distinct from direct edition comics more broadly so that the census data would be separate, rather than lumped together, for the vast majority of issues. Alas, for the vast majority of comic book issues, CGC simply lumps the two types together. But fortunately for collectors of Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, CGC’s great decision to “break out” $3.99 cover price copies as distinct variants with their own census entries means that for this comic and other “special situation” newsstand comics that get recognized by CGC, we can also examine the actual census data over the course of time: the newsstand rarity will be able to self-express in the census data over time (just like we saw for the Amazing Spider-Man #252 variant looking back over a full decade and a half of data — looking back from the future we’ll have similarly full data history for these $3.99 variants), due to CGC’s great decision!
And that is great news for collectors: the distinct census entry for $3.99 cover price copies of Venom/Deadpool: #1 will be fantastic for being able to study rarity data for the rare newsstand-exclusive cover price variants versus their direct edition counter-parts. All those variables we talked about… from the timing of that “stair-step down” in newsstand distribution, to the “Marvel Notables” ordering, to the impact of a 33% higher price-point, to the notorious newsstand destruction rate, and everything else in play… all those factors blend together and result in a cold hard number of surviving numbers of variants out there that have passed through CGC’s doors, versus a cold hard number of surviving “regular” copies out there that have passed through CGC’s doors. Getting these numbers out there in full daylight due to CGC’s great decision demands our applause. And we know that many copies of this key are bound to pass through CGC’s doors in the future years to come, as such an in-demand and highly valued comic. It is so great that we can follow these numbers online over the course of time, for $3.99 newsstand editions! Here’s a shortcut link to look up the current CGC census numbers for Venom/Deadpool: What If #1.
Here below is an example CGC graded variant copy (note the variant notation “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” on the label):
Happy Collecting! 🙂