By Benjamin Nobel, May 12, 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. At a certain point, Marvel had increased their standard newsstand cover prices from $2.99 up to $3.99… but left their direct edition pricing at $2.99 — a $1 cover price difference (or ~33% cover price difference on a percentage basis). Here’s an example from 2007, with New Avengers #35 (What if Venom had possessed Wolverine?).
Eventually most of their direct edition comics “caught up” to that $3.99 price within each title (for example, for Hulk (2008) they caught up direct edition copies to $3.99 by issue 10). But not always (one-shots, like What if Venom Possessed Deadpool, are an especially good place to look for cover price variants), leaving a pretty wide “cover price variant window” where the newsstand edition of a given late modern Marvel comic is sometimes a $1 higher cover price variant of the issue number, with the existence of price variant examples documented all the way out to 2013 (such as Daredevil #21). Marvel then abandoned the newsstand distribution channel entirely, making 2013 their final year selling newsstand comics.
There is a long history in the hobby when it comes to recognizing cover price variants — 30 and 35 cent variants from the 1970’s, 75 cent variants from the 1980’s, 95 cent and $1.00 variants… just to name a few “classes” of cover price variants I’ve written about on this blog. A different cover price is something all collectors can naturally (and quickly) comprehend and relate to: if the cover price on certain copies is different from the rest of the print run, that makes them different from the rest of the print run. It is the kind of difference between two comics that hits you right in the wallet, and one that is also easy for even a novice collector to spot with their eyes very clearly: everybody knows how to read a price tag and can tell if two cover prices differ.
And so CGC made the right decision, the great decision, to recognize $3.99 Newsstand Editions as distinct variants when they considered them for the first time in 2016 as a “class” of variants (because of Doc Collection submissions). One of the reasons this decision by CGC is so exciting for newsstand collectors is that the separately-incrementing copy count on census means the newsstand vs. direct edition rarity can self-express in the census data over the course of time. That’s a big deal, because for the vast majority of newsstand comics, CGC simply “lumps together” the newsstand edition and the direct edition versions by issue number, meaning for the vast majority of comics we unfortunately cannot see how many copies of each type has passed through CGC’s doors. So distinguishing the two types for these Marvel comics is a special situation (one of just a handful of special situations where CGC will distinguish newsstand comics).
What About DC?
In the world of comic books, history often repeats (or at least rhymes), and publishers take good ideas from one another all the time. And wouldn’t you know it, DC, who wasn’t as quick as Marvel to give up on newsstand sales (instead of abandoning the newsstand back in 2013 like Marvel did, DC kept going, and is still going today), would eventually also make the decision to publish newsstand comics with a $1 higher cover price than their direct edition counter-parts. Just like Marvel had done.
In fact, DC’s newsstand cover price variant window is fairly recent and would encompass their “Rebirth” phenomenon, as well as some other interesting recent comics. And when CGC decided how to treat these higher cover price copies published by DC, they followed exactly the same treatment they had established with Marvel $3.99 newsstand comics as precedent: CGC is also “breaking out” these DC $3.99 newsstand comics on census as distinct variants.
Here are just a few examples of recent-year DC comics where you’ll find a “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” entry on census today (or “$4.99 Newsstand Edition” when the regular copies were $3.99) at CGC:
Superman #10 (“Super Sons”; January 2017)
Justice League #40 (1st Grail; June 2015)
Batman #1 (“Rebirth”; August 2016)
What kind of rarity might we be looking at with these late-modern newsstand-exclusive DC cover price variants?
Answering this question without much CGC census data to look at today, but rather just from the basis of stepping back and working out some estimates, gets a little tricky… The only newsstand rarity estimates I’ve seen post-2013 are the studies published by Comichron’s John Jackson Miller and ICv2’s Milton Griepp. For 2013, back when Marvel was still selling newsstand comics, Miller and Griepp estimated comic store orders (direct edition copies) of $340 million for that year, versus newsstand comic sales of $25 million. As a percentage, that’s 6.8% newsstand sales, across the industry.
But Marvel would have been a smaller-than-historical contributor to 2013 industry-wide newsstand sales, on account of their 1999 decision to “walk away” from the newsstand and on account of their 2010-2011-era “stair-step down” in newsstand sales after ending newsstand sales to all but two last bookstore partners. And then after 2013, Marvel would have “dropped out” of that newsstand section having ended their newsstand sales entirely, so they wouldn’t contribute anymore to the newsstand sales estimates Comichron has published subsequently… So interpreting the 2014 numbers from Comichron is a little more difficult when it comes to a newsstand rarity estimate for DC. In their 2014 report, Comichron has comic store orders for the industry rising to $355 million, and newsstand sales for the industry falling to $20 million (that’s 5.3% newsstand, 94.7% direct edition).
Was that fall in the newsstand category from $25 to $20 million year-over-year from Marvel’s newsstand exit? And if so, did Marvel “make up” that $5 million difference by essentially “shifting” it from the newsstand channel to the direct edition channel? In other words, how do we “adjust” the 2014 numbers to then work out what DC’s newsstand rarity percentage might reasonably be for 2014? Now you can see why I used the word “tricky” before! And then moving to the following year and looking at Comichron’s 2015 report, their newsstand sales estimate holds steady at $20 million, while direct edition sales climb to $385 million. [At the time of this writing their report for 2016 was not out yet.]
Another factor making it “tricky” to extract a newsstand rarity estimate for D.C. out of these later-year industry-wide Comichron estimates is the cover price difference itself: $3.99 is a full 33% higher cover price than $2.99. And dollars of sales is not the same as number of copies sold. Every $1,000 worth of sales of a given product priced at $2.99 is ~334 units; every $1,000 worth of sales of a given product priced at $3.99 is ~250 units… And Comichron’s figures are for dollars of sales. Therefore, we’ve got some further adjusting to do, given the $1 newsstand cover price difference, to turn dollars of sales into number of copies sold, when it comes to DC.
So with these factors in mind, if we look at that 2015 report from Comichron, we’ve got industry-wide newsstand sales estimated at $20 million for the year, direct edition sales estimated at $385 million, for a grand total of $405 million — which is ~4.9% newsstand versus ~95.1% direct edition. But that’s industry-wide, not DC-specific — can we work out a decent newsstand rarity figure for DC from there? We know Marvel stopped selling newsstand comics after 2013 back when the industry-wide numbers worked out to ~6.8% newsstand… and we saw how Comichron’s newsstand sales figure dropped from $25 million in 2013 to $20 million in 2014 (and held there in 2015). If we presume that this $5 million drop in the newsstand category was Marvel’s exit, and make an adjustment on that basis, and if we then make an adjustment for the 33% cover price difference between DC’s newsstand comics and their direct edition comics, after penciling out some ranges under different assumptions, I’d argue that 5-6% newsstand rarity for DC is within the realm of reasonable for estimation purposes. (Note that Comichron’s 2016 estimates are not out yet; having that report would no doubt help inform the range we use next, but since estimation is inherently imperfect to begin with, let’s just proceed with what we’ve got).
Let’s proceed on that 5-6% newsstand rarity range basis, with the Batman #1 example cited before. According to Comichron’s sales estimates for June of 2016, Batman #1 was second only to Marvel’s Civil War II #1, selling an estimated 280,360 direct edition copies to comic shops across North America. Comichron’s estimates exclude newsstand distribution (i.e. exclude the $3.99 copies). Also excluded would be subscriptions, complimentary copies, and distribution outside of North America such as Diamond UK, which might vary unpredictably — to account for some of these variables let’s round up to 300,000 copies for Batman #1. That nice round number also makes for easier math.
If we use 300,000 copies as our direct edition count, and apply a newsstand percentage range of 5-6% (i.e. assume that 300,000 number is 94-95% of the total and the balance is newsstand), then we’d land in the ballpark of ~15,800-19,200 copies of Batman #1 with $3.99 cover price, i.e. our newsstand copies. A similar exercise could be done for any of the other Rebirth issues, or any other issue for that matter; for example, looking up the numbers for Justice League #40 (where we can see that Comichron estimates 78,388 direct edition copies sold within North America), and following that same estimation exercise, I get to a ballpark ~4,500-5,500 copies with $4.99 cover price for Justice League #40.
Beyond the question of likely number of newsstand copies sold, newsstand survivorship will be an interesting question for these later DC newsstand-exclusive cover price variants: historically, for a collector to buy comics off of newsstands was the exception, not the norm — and that surely holds true today as a generalization… but… how many informed newsstand collectors are now out there buying and preserving DC’s recent newsstand comics as their collecting preference, instead of buying direct editions? How many informed dealers are adding these to their back issues inventory? The newsstand vs. direct edition difference continues to gain more and more attention as the years tick by. Therefore, I am quite curious to see what kind of census numbers accumulate for DC newsstand comics during this cover price variant window, versus Marvel’s… And happily, CGC’s great decision to “break out” these comics as distinct variants on census means we’ll be able to study this data over the course of time as it accumulates on the online census!
As of today, just two $3.99 Newsstand Edition copies of Batman #1 appear on census, versus 505 “regular” copies (and then an amusingly long list of different cover artwork variants). Below is a census screenshot of today’s numbers of regular $2.99 direct editions, versus the $3.99 newsstand edition:
Looking back from the distant future, if the Rebirth phenomenon is viewed positively by collectors down the road and the collectible demand is there among collectors of tomorrow for these Rebirth issues, then, will the relatively small supply of $3.99 variants stand apart in terms of collectible value in the marketplace? If a future collector was going to want to own Batman #1 from the DC Rebirth, wouldn’t they prefer to own a more rare cover price variant of the issue number, all else equal?
In the world of comic books, history often repeats (or at least rhymes)… and these late-modern $3.99 cover price variants rhyme very strongly with 35 cent variants: in both cases a small subset of the total copies sold for a given issue carry a higher cover price. And we saw how history has treated the 35 cent variant keys as far as market value… Years ago before 35 cent variants “took off” in value, you would have been much better off collecting a key comic with that 35 cent cover price, versus the same key comic with a 30 cent cover price on it. By collecting the more-rare 35 cent version you gave yourself two ways to win instead of one: (1) you could win by being right about the “key” comic you chose to collect rising in value and (2) you could win by the comparative rarity of 35 cent copies eventually getting recognized with a market value premium.
With $3.99 variants, it seems to me that if you were already going to collect the underlying issue number anyway, then you might as well give yourself that second way to win too! Therefore, give me a $3.99 newsstand edition over its prevalent $2.99 direct edition counterpart any day of the week, hands down!
Happy Collecting! 🙂