$3.99 Newsstand Editions, 35 Cent Variants, Australian Newsstand Edition, Canadian Newsstand Edition

6 Epic CGC Labeling Blunders Of Price Variant Comics, And What We Can Learn From Them

By Benjamin Nobel, September 26, 2018

Off the bat, the very first thing I would like to state is that I am a fan of CGC, a customer of CGC, and I would not hesitate to recommend CGC to others. And, I believe that everybody makes mistakes — we are all only human, after all! Labeling mistakes are bound to happen. And mistakes will happen at any grading company. Even epic ones, like mis-labeling a Star Wars #1 reprint as the rare 35¢ cover price variant (yep, that will be one of the six examples; read on…).

Ever since CGC introduced the online form method of order entry by customers, it feels to me like I’ve been seeing more and more labeling blunders. Have you noticed this too? And to my way of thinking, an increase in labeling errors makes a whole lot of sense to me under this new system. Because with the old way, when submissions came in on paper, how did those books get entered into the computers at CGC? Well, while I have no first-hand knowledge of the detailed inner workings at CGC, I have to imagine that in those days of only paper submissions, a person at CGC needed to themselves enter each book into the computer, as the order was verified, book by book. How else would those books have gotten off the paper and into the computers?

Picture yourself doing the following task: you are going through a stack of raw books one at a time, with the information for each book listed out on a paper next to you, and you are typing each one of those books into a computer spreadsheet as you go through the stack — and one of the columns in the spreadsheet is the variant designation for the book. Because you are doing that data entry, you are probably more inclined to be checking for correctness as you type the books in, ensuring that if a variant is mentioned on the paper, that it matches up to the book before your fingers type it in…

But times have changed with the advent of the online submission system: now, the customer enters everything into the computer… So by the time the submission arrives at CGC, the computer already has all the information for each book as CGC’s staff is unpacking the order… that is, the computer has the information that the customer entered. And while I have no first-hand knowledge of the inner workings and steps of the internal process at CGC, I imagine that this new method is an absolutely huge time-saver, allowing for a much more efficient order acceptance process where instead of entering everything, they now only need to check everything that the customer already entered themselves.

Greater efficiency in the CGC submission process brings good for all of us — CGC presumably saves many man-hours and therefore costs, and in theory those incremental savings can be passed along to customers in the form of better rates, better speed, or both. But is some amount of accuracy lost in the trade-off?

In the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, the authors show just how powerful the concept of the “default option” really is — presented with a default, i.e. something that happens if we take no action, we humans are very likely to just go with that default. Thinking about this concept as applied to CGC’s new online entry system, what I believe we’re witnessing as collectors, is that when a customer enters their comic as a variant in error, it is now much more likely that it will remain in the computers there at CGC as that variant, in error, all the way through to arriving at your doorstep: because once the customer has entered the variant information, it appears that what the customer entered is now the default option — i.e. for an error to be corrected later, CGC staff would have to catch the mistake and fix it sometime during the rest of the process.

Suppose for sake of illustrative example, that someone owns one of these:
Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

As the customer, how would we enter that comic into the online form? First, we’d type in the Title: Star Wars. Next, we’d select the Publisher: Marvel Comics. For the Issue #, we’d type 1. Then the Issue Date: 7/77. Now comes the crux of what this post is about: the Variant field. A drop-down appears, and the customer may optionally select a choice from a drop-down list. As the mouse hovers up and down, the choice selected is highlighted in gray. Below is a screenshot of what this looks like:

cgc-comic-entry-form-online

It is extremely easy to select the wrong choice by mistake. Hover your mouse ever so slightly in the wrong direction, and you can select the wrong variant.

cgc-entry-form-star-wars-1

Erroneous selections by customers can in turn lead to labeling blunders where the book leaves CGC with the label erroneously identifying the comic as the wrong variant. In this post I will review six such observed mistakes as applied to various cover price variants, and I will discuss what we can all learn from these mistakes.

What Can We Learn From These Mistakes?

Before I present the six example CGC labeling blunders, I want to quickly address the “what can we learn from this” question — because observing the blunders is one thing, learning something from observing them is much better. First off, I want to share with you that in the process of researching this post, I learned something important when I contacted CGC: I learned about CGC’s policy regarding correcting labeling mistakes. I hadn’t really thought about their error correction “policy” very much before this. I sent them pictures and eBay links of some of the books you’ll see later, and what I learned in the process is that CGC will not correct this type of mistake if a third party (like you or me) sends them an eBay link.

Even if those eBay photos clearly show the certification numbers and clearly show the features of the comics that prove they are not in fact the variants listed on the labels, their current policy (as of this date) is to change the books only after being in contact with the rightful owners. At first, the CGC representative I corresponded with thought perhaps I was the owner of the initial book I had mentioned, and asked me for a photograph of the book along with something showing today’s date — like a newspaper — in the photograph. Clearly, their stance is that they need to be able to trust the photo before they take any action; and there are understandable reasons for this stance.

So one thing I learned, is that — as of today — CGC’s error correction policy makes it highly likely that erroneously labeled books will stay erroneously labeled. They will apparently only make a correction at the request of the owner of the book, whereas a third party like you or me pointing out an error does not seem to trigger any kind of “recall” process nor review of any internal photographs stored at the time of grading (which tells me that perhaps they do not currently take such photographs internally).

And so one thing CGC may want to learn from this, and may want to consider doing differently to “react” to error reports and be able to correct them, is to implement a process where they do snap a picture of each slab and store that picture internally for future reference. Then, if a third party like you or me points out a mistake on a given certification number seen on the marketplace, CGC would be able to reference their own internal photograph and examine that reference photo to verify the mistake. Adding such a reference-photo-step to their internal processes would mean they would not need to rely on the accuracy of third party photos uploaded to eBay by sellers; the “hurdle” to correcting an error would therefore be dramatically lowered, making it more likely that errors such as the ones you’ll see later actually get corrected. Leaving errors uncorrected can produce nasty marketplace results — just wait until you see what the mis-labeled Star Wars #1 sold for at auction… I’ll show you that in a moment.

Another thing CGC may want to consider doing differently, which could prevent this type of labeling error from occurring to begin with, is to change the internal process followed when the customer has entered a variant designation into the online form. For example, one possibility is to distrust the customer by default and literally prompt CGC grading staff to perform manual entry of the variant designation — I picture the computer system used internally by CGC staff refusing to “continue” until each book that was denoted by the customer as a variant is reviewed and manually categorized by CGC grading staff; and to ensure this review by the graders is not biased to any default, the staff member could be prompted to make their own choice without seeing what the customer entered in advance (knowing only that the customer denoted it as “a” variant but not knowing which variant — leaving it up to the CGC grading staff to review the book and choose the proper variant designation, and then once they have made their choice they could next be shown whether that choice matched what the customer entered).

What can we learn as collectors (and as participants in the online marketplaces)?

For one, if we spot a book we believe might be mis-labeled as a variant, and we enter that book’s certification number into CGC’s website, then unless the owner has contacted CGC to have it corrected, we can expect the bogus variant designation will show up online too — meaning CGC’s website will appear to “corroborate” the erroneous variant designation, to any market participant researching the book they are considering.

Let me pause on this point for a moment, because it is important. CGC is trusted as an “authority” and if the label says a comic is a variant — and the online lookup “corroborates” that it is a variant — but a collector’s own background knowledge tells them the book inside the slab is not that variant, then a collector who suspects a labeling error is going to be faced with an internal question: do I believe myself and my own background knowledge, or, does CGC know something I don’t?

“Might CGC know something I don’t?”

That’s a critical question… And our certainty of the answer depends on the situation. For example, let’s think through Type 1A Canadian Price Variants of the 1980’s and Type 1A Australian Price Variants of the 1990’s. Whether we are looking at a direct edition copy of a given issue, a regular newsstand copy of that same issue, or a Type 1A price variant newsstand copy of that same issue, we know in advance that by definition, all three of those types are identical on the inside. Said differently, the only information that tells the types apart is already on the outside. We need not crack a slab to know what we are looking at! We need only look at the outside of the comic!

With these thoughts in mind, let’s proceed to look at the “most epic” of the six blunders I will share with you…

Blunder #1: Star Wars #1 35¢ Variant

In the beginning of this post, we considered the hypothetical question of what we’d enter into CGC’s online submission form if we were submitting one of these:
Star Wars #1 Diamond Reprint

So first and foremost: What are these? One go-to resource we can reference is the Overstreet guide. Overstreet lists Star Wars #1 as follows:

star-wars-1-overstreet-info

As you can see above, there is the regular 30¢ cover price type (valued at $215 in 9.2), the 35¢ cover price type (the Type 1 price variant; valued at $11,000 in 9.2), and then the various reprint types each valued at just $70 in 9.2.

To help us identify the types, Overtreet notes that the 35¢ variant has “Price in square w/UPC code” and further goes on to say: “NOTE: the rare 35¢ edition has the cover price in a square box, and the UPC box in the lower left hand corner has the UPC code lines running through it.”

Why would Overstreet need to “spell out” that the UPC code has lines running through it? Shouldn’t that be obvious? Well, as it turns out, there also exists a 35¢ cover priced REPRINT where the UPC code box is “blank”/empty (just a white rectangle; no lines running through it). Overstreet is “spelling it out” to help collectors avoid a big blunder: buying a reprint by accident, thinking it is a first print copy.

And then for the Reprint entry, Overstreet says, “has “reprint” in upper lefthand corner of cover or on inside or price and number inside a diamond with no date or UPC on cover; 30¢ and 35¢ issues published.”

So by the above, a reprint copy can say REPRINT in the upper left-hand corner of the cover, or in the indicia inside. And clearly, from the above descriptions, Overstreet is teaching us that if there is a 35¢ price but that price is inside a diamond shape, the book we’re looking at is a reprint. Another resource, MyComicShop, catalogs/lists the various types out there for Star Wars #1 like so:

star-wars-1-mycomicshop-ver

So at MyComicShop, per the above, they have cataloged four different types: two first print types (30¢ and 35¢ cover prices) and two reprint types (“diamond” reprint with blank UPC and newsstand type with UPC). Note that the description on the diamond entry says “cover or indicia” indicating that the REPRINT designation is either shown on the cover itself for some copies, or, in the indicia for others.

In the marketplace, we sometimes see CGC-graded copies of the “diamond” reprints, where CGC denotes them as “REPRINT” on the label:

Note how the above example copy says Reprint at the upper left of the cover. And indeed, if we look inside other diamond copies for a Reprint indication in the indicia page, we’d see the indicia says this:

But once encapsulated, the example indicia page above would be out of view — one would have to crack the slab to see it. Suppose CGC were to encapsulate one of these reprints and label it — in error — as “35¢ Price Variant”? Would market participants “trust” their own background knowledge and conclude they are looking at a mis-labeled reprint copy? Or, would they place some odds — some non-zero chance — that CGC knows something we don’t, and the book inside is a actually special case first printing that nobody has yet discovered/documented?

We actually got to find out the answer to that “trust” question… because this (below) recently came onto the market (on eBay):

Image of CGC slab 1269363002

If you are reading this post around the time I wrote it (in September of 2018) then you can still access the eBay listing at the following hyperlink (note: you may see a message like the below — clicking the “View Original Listing” will take you to the original item): https://www.ebay.com/itm/283037236937

view-original-item

And this is the price it fetched at auction:
false-star-wars-variant-sal

Wow: as you can see, the book fetched multiples of what a CGC 9.6 first print 30¢ copy would normally go for — below are a couple of recent example sales of 30¢ copies:

star-wars-1-cgc-9.6-sales

Let’s examine the listing description of the “35¢ variant” copy that went for $1,075 at auction:

The description states: “Up for auction is a super rare 35 cent variant of the first Star Wars comic ever made!! As you can see, it has been graded by CGC at a 9.6!! HUGE VALUE!! I collect sports cards, and not comics, so I do not know much about these but I was told this particular version in this condition is worth anywhere from $6500 – $12000!! I am starting the auction at 99 cents and will let it ride. I was also told that this was an original as CGC always prints “REPRINT” on their grading page but I was also told to sell it as “I don’t know” to be safe. Again, I do not know much about these so am only going by what I was told. Serious bidders only please as I do not accept returns for graded items. They are the experts, not me, so I must go with what they say 🙂 Thank you for looking and good luck!! “

Notice how the seller points the finger of responsibility at CGC and basically says “they are the experts, not me.” Would they not have placed REPRINT on the label if it was a reprint, the seller asks? And by suggesting that, a small sliver if doubt is placed… because we don’t know what we can’t see and we can’t see the indicia page of a slabbed book… so is it possible this copy doesn’t say reprint inside? Is it possible CGC knows something we don’t? After all, their certification lookup tool “corroborates” the variant designation (shown below). [And that small doubt is likely what caused the copy to be bid to an insane price level.]

cgc-1269363002

It would obviously be better if CGC corrected the lookup above so that any future lookup did not falsely corroborate the book as being the 35¢ variant. I asked them to correct it, but alas, by CGC’s current policy, they will not correct the above unless the winner of the book contacts them. If the winner does contact them, they assured me they will be more than happy to make the correction. Hopefully any future bidder/buyer (should the book be listed for sale in the future) will google the certification number — #1269363002 — and find this post as a “cautionary tale.”

I dug deeper into eBay’s sold listings and discovered that this is not the first time this particular book has been sold! Does the below picture taken from an earlier listing look familiar? It is indeed the identical serial number atop the slab, previously listed by a different seller:
star-wars-1-blunder-cgc

And instead of pointing to CGC as the “authority” and suggesting the label must be accurate, this seller wrote as follows, in their listing description:

star-wars-1-false-35c-desc1

The description says: “We believe this copy is a reprint, thought it does not say REPRINT on the cover and it was graded and marked on the label by CGC as “35 Cent Price Variant” and not a “Reprint.””

So the prior seller of the book came right out and said “we believe this copy is a reprint…” And here’s how that prior seller had priced the book on a buy-it-now:

star-wars-1-false-35c-sale-

It is clear to me that what we have here is an epic CGC labeling blunder involving the #1 most highly valued bronze age comic book, inflating the census count of 35¢ variants on record in 9.6, and causing major market confusion as evidenced by the auction bidding taking the book to $1,075. Because the indicia page is buried inside the slab, it is likely that some market participants assigned non-zero odds to the notion that this particular copy was, in a ground-breaking discovery, not actually a reprint; but in reality this was a labeling mistake, pure and simple. A blunder… and quite possibly a blunder that originated with the submitter selecting the wrong variant from the drop-down list by accident.

The blunder draws attention to how the new online submission system may have made a major change to the “default” — i.e. the variant information associated with any books that are submitted through the online system now originates with the customer. The default action of “doing nothing” (leaving the designation alone) can now result in “false positives” where books are leaving CGC labeled erroneously as variants that they are not. The Star Wars blunder highlights how there is room for improvement in how the customer-entered online submission information is later error-checked at CGC before the book leaves the building. The blunder also highlights how the current policy of requiring the book owner be involved in the error correction makes any error correction “after the fact” extremely difficult; surely there is room for improvement in how CGC reacts to reports of such labeling errors in the future, perhaps by adding a step in the internal process to photo-document each slab before it leaves the building, thus allowing for later internal photo lookup by certification number and examination of that trusted internal photo to check for labeling errors at a later date.

Blunder #2: Amazing Spider-Man #654, “Sensational Spider-Man” Newsstand Edition

Newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #654 — a key issue where Flash Thompson becomes Venom — have a really cool “variant-worthy quirk” (i.e. a feature which is remarkable enough in CGC’s eyes that it causes CGC to “break out” the newsstand copies as their own census variant, something they do not normally do [normally direct edition and newsstand copies are “lumped together”]): They were distributed as “Sensational Spider-Man”:

Note in the picture above how the word “Newsstand” appears to the left of the UPC code, and the words “Sensational Spider-Man” appear to the right: this tells us we are looking at a newsstand copy of issue #654. If we were looking at one of the prevalent direct editions instead, then we’d see the words “Direct Edition” aside the UPC code instead, like this:
asm-654-direct-close-up

Anybody can tell a newsstand copy apart from a direct edition in this manner; no examination of the interior of issue #654 is necessary.

The Blunder:

While ASM #654 newsstand copies are “variant-worthy” due to the UPC codes that mis-identify the comic as a different title than it actually is, another “variant-worthy” attribute that we sometimes see with newsstand comics, one which also causes CGC to “break out” newsstand comics distinctly from their direct edition counter-parts, is when the newsstand edition is a cover price variant of the issue number — and many Amazing Spider-Man newsstand comics in the 500’s and 600’s carry a $1.00 higher cover cover price, such as $3.99 for the newsstand edition while their prevalent direct edition counter-parts carry a $2.99 cover price. [Read more about the dramatically-more-rare $3.99 cover price variants here; one example key $3.99 cover price variant is Amazing Spider-Man #607]

For issue #654, both the direct edition copies and the newsstand copies carry a $3.99 cover price. So issue #654 is not one of the newsstand comics that falls under that cover-price-variant category. But when CGC created the newsstand census entry for this issue they accidentally named it “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” instead of just “Newsstand Edition.” So by the census, a cover price variant record existed! This mistake may have led submitters of direct editions to first look at the price tag on their copy, see $3.99, and reach the false conclusion that their copy was a newsstand copy. Oops!

I’m happy to report that CGC has now corrected the census entry name itself for issue #654, even though they would not correct the individual examples I gave them (because by their current policy the owner of the books themselves would need to request the corrections).

Here are two mis-labeled examples I’ve come across to date; as you can see, the CGC slabs read “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” but inside the slab is just a plain old prevalent direct edition! And we do not need to see the interior of the comic to know for certain that we’re looking at a direct edition, because the interior of newsstand copies is 100% identical to the interior of direct edition copies; thus, from the outside of the slab we can see the defining feature, that UPC code box, which tells us when we’re looking at a real newsstand copy. In this way, we know for certain that the following copies of issue #654 have been mis-labeled:

Certification #0341630004 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/401558181947):

image-0341630004image2-0341630004

A certification look-up still erroneously lists the above copy as the variant, although as you can see, CGC has changed the variant name from “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” to “Newsstand Edition” (the “$3.99” part was removed) and the entry now includes a note about the Spectacular Spider-Man quirk in the Key Comments:

cgc-0341630004

Certification #1993043003 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/123381315710) is another example of a plain old direct edition labeled as “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” and still comes up in a certification lookup as a newsstand copy, in error:

image-1993043003image2-1993043003cgc-1993043003

Blunder #3: Transformers #1

Transformers #1 is one of the “mega-keys” that fell within Marvel’s 1980’s cover price variant window on the newsstand (ranking #6 in the 2018 guide) — during the window, instead of one batch of newsstand copies carrying both US and Canadian prices, Marvel printed two distinct newsstand batches each with their own cover price. All three types — the two newsstand types plus the prevalent direct edition type — were published in the USA on the same equipment and at the same time (so all are 1st print copies) and all types are fully 100% identical on the inside. The higher cover price batch is “broken out” by CGC as its own census variant.

Arguably, the name CGC chose when breaking out these Type 1A cover price variants is itself a blunder… There is no special name ascribed by the publisher, so CGC needed to come up with one; at their own choosing, CGC picked the name “Canadian Edition” which is arguably a blunder because it conflates these Type 1A price variants published in the USA, with the actual Canadian Editions of the 1940’s/1950’s. Read more on the topic of “what should we call these 1980’s newsstand-exclusive price variants” in this separate post.

But the census name itself is not the blunder in question with this example. The blunder in this example has to do with the cover price of the variant. Imagine if a 30¢ first print copy of Star Wars #1 was given a “35¢ price variant” label — that’s essentially what happened here, with this Transformers #1 example.

An easy mistake to make with these Canadian Price Variant comics, is to assume that newsstand comics with a 75¢ cover price are the variants… after all, “75¢ variant” is a highly common phrase you’ll hear with this class of variants. But the cover price actually varies from issue to issue and for Transformers #1, the 75¢ copies are actually the “regular” cover price copies, while the $1.00 copies are the variants. Here is an example variant below:

transformers-1-variant

Having seen the variant above, with its $1.00 cover price, you will recognize that the 75¢ cover price copy within the slab pictured below is not the variant… it is just a regular newsstand copy.

Certification #1276709017 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/352452127491):

image-1276709017

cgc-1276709017

Blunder #4: Amazing Spider-Man #276

You might notice that the Transformers #1 slab from the prior example has no indication anywhere on the CGC label of what the variant cover price is supposed to be… The slab says “Canadian Edition” but doesn’t give any inkling of a definition for what that means to a collector. But if you look at the very bottom of the certification lookup picture above, you’ll see that it says “$1.00 Cover Price.” This last line is now there because a good incremental improvement to CGC’s labeling was made recently, whereby CGC now places the variant cover price on the right-hand side of the label.

For comics where the variant cover price is not 75¢, this new labeling improvement should in theory help with identification (and error-catching) — because if a CGC staff member is looking at a slab and sees, say, 95¢ Cover Price on the label note, but the book inside the slab carries a 75¢ cover price, they will be more likely to realize that something is amiss. But unfortunately the below copy slipped through the cracks anyway!

Certification #1272465008 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/223135444963):

image-1272465008cgc-1272465008

Blunder #5: Secret Wars #8

A mistake in which newsstand type you are looking at is one thing; but for a direct edition to pass as the newsstand price variant is a tough error to understand any CGC grader making “on their own.” Anyone should be able to tell a 1980’s direct edition comic from its newsstand brethren at a glance, even from a great distance (just spot that Spidey-head logo in place of the bar code and you know you’re looking at a direct edition). Yet somehow the below direct edition Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars #8 was labeled “Canadian Edition” which I can only imagine originated with erroneous customer-entered information and then “slipped through” CGC without being noticed.

Certification #1245151020 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/192664685427):
image-1245151020

Fortunately, the owner of the above copy appears to have contacted CGC, because the certification lookup tool itself no longer denotes the book as the variant.

Blunder #6: Amazing Spider-Man #361

There are newsstand-exclusive Type 1A variants from the 1990’s too! Marvel experimented with Australian newsstand distribution for a window of time, and just like the 1980’s newsstand price variants these Australian price variant copies are 100% identical on the inside to the rest of the print run. For Amazing Spider-Man #361, the variant carries a cover price of $1.80 AUS (read more about these and see pictures here). The cover month differs as well, and CGC catalogs the variants by the cover month instead of the indicia month.

Similar to the Secret Wars #8 example, you will find that the below “Australian Edition” labeled slab contains a plain old direct edition inside instead of the newsstand cover price variant! Can you picture a CGC grader making this error if they were the one choosing the variant designation, with no default option selected? I can’t imagine that; no way. I can only imagine this kind of error occurring because the customer entered it as “Australian Edition” and then the error went unnoticed as the book proceeded through the grading process at CGC all the way through to leaving the building.

Certification #1266443016 (https://www.ebay.com/itm/173265969239):

This one too may have been corrected — a certification lookup now fails, and, the eBay link indicates the original seller ended the item due to an error in the listing.

Circling Back: What We Can Learn

What can we learn (and what can CGC learn) from these example labeling blunders? Earlier, I described two suggestions for things CGC can consider as improvements to their internal process — one being an idea to counteract how customer-entered variant information changes the default versus the old paper method by forcing the grader to make their own selection; another idea being a way CGC could improve its “after-the-fact” error correction capability by snapping in-house reference photos which could be referred to in the event of error reports by a third party.

As for us as collectors, I think we have learned:

  • We cannot go by the labels alone; if we are in the market for a variant, we must be able to see the book in a photograph and verify for ourselves that it is indeed the variant we seek.
  • We cannot expect that a mis-labeled book will see a correction later to the online certification lookup tool; CGC’s policy today demands involvement by the owner of the book before such a correction is made. This means mis-labeled books may stay mislabeled indefinitely.
  • Census data therefore isn’t always going to be 100% accurate; these uncorrected books will linger there on census until/unless a future owner puts in for a correction; e.g. there are not three Star Wars #1 35¢ variants on record in the top 9.6 grade today… because the “false variant” pictured earlier is still counted toward that total.
  • We can be 100% certain in spotting newsstand versus direct edition labeling errors, since the interiors of each of the books are already known to be identical. But when a labeling error raises the question of what might be inside the apparently-mislabeled slabbed copy (like in the Star Wars example), a small sliver of doubt — the thought of “what might CGC know that I don’t know” — can cause bidders to pay absurd prices, inflicting real monetary damage on the unlucky winners.
  • Realization of absurd market prices may create an incentive for bad behavior — a bad actor could purposefully make an “error” on the online submission form and hope it slips through.
  • Because the online submission form has “changed the default”, we collectors should not be surprised if we see a continuation of labeling errors or even an uptick in labeling blunders.
  • Based on this expectation for continued errors or even an uptick in errors, CGC may want to consider taking one or more steps to “adapt” their process to the reality of what the customer-entered “new default” means for the likelihood of continued errors; I gave two suggestions earlier which I believe would help.
  • We are all only human. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, so we should forgive CGC the occasional labeling blunder; but we should also expect their organization would strive to be the best it can be, which means reacting to the new online-submission-form-reality with improved processes for error checking and correction.
  • Advertisements
Standard
$3.99 Newsstand Editions, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books, Growing Newsstand Awareness

Applause To CPG Accepting $3.99 Cover Price Variants Into The Price Guide!

By Benjamin Nobel, August 15, 2017

I’ve long been among the collectors who count ourselves in the “newsstand preference camp” and on this blog I’ve often advocated the idea that collectors come to understand the difference between newsstand and direct edition comics and then target the more-rare newsstand version of modern comics they were already looking to collect — especially in the case of newsstand-exclusive cover price variants where CGC recognizes them as distinct variants on census — with the notion that the relative newsstand rarity gives you a second way to win.

The first way to win would be if you make a wise choice about which issue to collect… i.e. the key issue you had already targeted to collect then successfully rises in value generally by issue number (maybe, for example, you targeted a first character appearance, and that character gained prominence). And then the relative newsstand rarity would give you a second way to win, as collectors over time broadly come to increasingly appreciate and prize newsstand comics for their relative rarity compared to their prevalent direct edition counterparts.

The rolling snowball of growing newsstand awareness in the hobby has gained a lot of increased mass as of late, what with CGC recently deciding to “break out” large “classes” of newsstand-exclusive cover price variant comics as distinct census variants (including $2.99 Newsstand Editions and $3.99 Newsstand Editions, both “broken out” by CGC because for certain issues the newsstand edition is a cover price variant of the issue number), and, with competitor CBCS deciding to recognize newsstand comics in an even more broad fashion by publication range, with CBCS President Steve Borock stating the move was a way for CBCS, quote, “to help lead comic collectors into the future of this great hobby(and in doing so, CBCS has just provided an example path for how CGC might one day choose to follow suit and potentially re-organize their own census in similar fashion to what CBCS has done, should they ever choose to do so down the line…).

But as relates to $3.99 cover price variants as the specific highly-interesting “class” of late-modern CGC-recognized newsstand-exclusive variants that are the topic of this particular post (and by the way, here’s an introduction to that “class” of $3.99 variants for anyone who hasn’t encountered them yet), when looking at both online and offline price guides, neither Overstreet nor the largest online price guide, ComicsPriceGuide.com (“CPG” for short), had yet “weighed in” with their determination of separate value for these rare newsstand-exclusive comics that carry a $3.99 cover price versus their prevalent $2.99 cover priced direct edition counterparts… a $1 or ~33% original cover price difference.   CPG hadn’t weighed in yet… but that has just changed.

ComicsPriceGuide has a current count of 967,250 members

ComicsPriceGuide has a current count of 967,250 members

And this brings me to the news I’m pleased to share today:  ComicsPriceGuide.com (“CPG”) is a service I’ve used since “forever ago” — I made my very first CGC submission through their partner page back in the early days — and CPG proclaims to be the world’s largest and most accurate online community for obtaining comic book value information.  They show over nine hundred sixty thousand members as of today, so this is clearly a very heavily relied-upon resource for guide values online.  There is no charge for basic membership and I’d encourage readers to sign up if you’re not already a member there.  CPG describes their valuation methodology as follows: “Our values remain simple, but our technology is not. Using a proprietary value algorithm, paired with dedicated comic enthusiasts, we are able to observe real sales data to get up-to-the minute comic book value information.”

Earlier in the year, I reported to CPG the existence of the top three most-submitted-to-CGC $3.99 cover price variants — Amazing Spider-Man #569, #606, and #607 — and I was later contacted by an admin there asking for cover scans and more information about them.  We had an extensive email correspondence and I want to publicly state how impressed I was with the genuine interest in, and investigation of these variants by CPG ahead of accepting them into the guide. It could not have been easy for CPG to come to a determination of a guide value for each of these three, given the extreme rarity in high grade, with most of the variant sales not only few and far between but also raw/uncertified lower-than-near-mint-grade copies (on account of being newsstand exclusives; as we all know, newsstand comics are absolutely notorious for getting beaten up by staff and by readers and seeing a high destruction rate).  So formulating a near mint guide value must have been quite difficult a task indeed.

I was extremely curious to see what value CPG would ultimately ascribe to these variants when they eventually added them, and what kind of premium the separate guide value might represent, if any, over the “regular” prevalent direct editions…   And the answer is that all three variants were given a large premium.  I’ll encourage readers to look up the current guide values directly at CPG, and in the table below what I’ve done is ranked all of the $3.99 Newsstand Edition variants that I’m presently aware of as existing on the CGC census today, by the number of copies submitted to CGC of each variant, and included the top results below — I think that the most popular (as judged by submission volume) make sense as the first ones to have CPG’s focus in terms of creating separate guide entries — and then in the last column of the table, instead of presenting the absolute dollar value CPG has ascribed to the variant, I’ve instead presented the premium given by CPG over the direct edition (as a multiple):

Cover Price Variant Current Variant CGC Census Count Included in CPG yet? CPG Near Mint Guide Value Difference: Newsstand Premium vs. Direct Edition
Amazing Spider-Man #569 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 19 yes          4.2x
Amazing Spider-Man #606 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 11 yes          2.0x
Amazing Spider-Man #607 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 8 yes          3.3x
Amazing Spider-Man #601 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 7 not yet
Uncanny X-Men #511 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 7 not yet
Amazing Spider-Man #611 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 6 not yet
Uncanny X-Men #514 $4.99 Newsstand Edition 6 not yet
Amazing Spider-Man #570 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 5 not yet
Uncanny X-Men #513 $4.99 Newsstand Edition 5 not yet
X-Men Origins: Emma Frost #1 $4.99 Newsstand Editio 4 not yet
Venom/Deadpool: What If? #1 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 4 not yet
X-Men Origins: Deadpool #1 Newsstand Variant 4 not yet
Uncanny X-Men #509 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 4 not yet
Daredevil #21 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 4 not yet
Amazing Spider-Man #603 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 4 not yet
Amazing Spider-Man #602 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 4 not yet
Amazing Spider-Man #600 $6.99 Newsstand Edition 4 not yet
Amazing Spider-Man #599 $3.99 Newsstand Edition 4 not yet
[ There are others (browse this list), I’ve just presented the most popular/highly-submitted-to-date ones above. ] Average:          3.2x

As you can see, they’ve now got those top three most popular/most-submitted $3.99 cover price variants in the guide — which is an excellent start; and the premium they arrived at ranges from 2.0x to 4.2x the value of their “regular” direct edition guide value. That’s an average multiple of 3.2x against the direct edition guide value. Maybe as the $3.99 Newsstand Edition CGC census counts grow larger over time (and with that larger count, growth in observable market sales of CGC graded variant copies), they might add some more of these that are on the list too… Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 and Amazing Spider-Man #601 would certainly be good ones to add next, given the stand-out market values for regular copies of those issues…  For example for Venom/Deadpool, applying a 3.2x multiple against “regular” price would arrive at over $500 in NM for the $3.99 cover price variant which would rank it among the top most valuable late modern comics.

As a point of contrast, the multiple of the Star Wars #1 35 cent variant guide value over “regular copy” guide value for that issue in the current CPG guide page is… 11.3x.  The 35 cent variants are a very interesting “comp” in the history of cover price variants in the hobby.  A reader recently pointed out to me that a high grade Star Wars #1 35 cent variant just sold for twenty thousand dollars… you can buy a nicely-appointed automobile for that kind of money.  And all that’s “physically different” between that cover price variant example and its prevalent “regular” counter-parts is the cover price…  So, why are collectors of today willing to pay such a dramatic premium for certain copies carrying the very same artwork and very same interiors, copies that have nothing physically different to differentiate them from the rest except a higher cover price?  Because the higher cover price type are demonstrably more rare than the lower cover price type, and collectors have broadly grown fully aware of that fact.

But years back in time from today, even at the point of two decades after those 1977 cover price variants were published, the very idea of today’s super-premium market value for the variants might have seemed absolutely crazy — and it did seem crazy to many back then: Because indeed, the discoverer of that “class” of variants, Jon McClure himself, has described how in 1999 he was practically laughed out of the room when he suggested the incredible appeal of 35 cent variants as collectibles. To quote McClure: “When I presented my findings at the Overstreet Advisors meeting in Baltimore in 1999 and explained that the Marvel price variants were eventually going to be the most valuable books published after 1964, I was considered insane and treated with mockery and derision by the majority of attendees.”

Think about those early days of 35 cent variant awareness in the hobby: it would have been very similar to today’s early awareness of cover price variant late-modern newsstand comics… 35 cent variants had been broadly overlooked for decades as a “class” of variants, and someone who owned one back then in those “early days” might not have realized their copy was any different from the rest.  Back then, so many owners of those rare variants simply knew they owned a given issue number of a given title, but that was the extent of their knowledge about what they owned.  Imagine being one of those early collectors who were in the know amidst that early-awareness-environment in the hobby, being able to scour comic shops and garage sales and the like, and find those 35 cent variant bargains available at “regular” price in cases where the seller didn’t realize their copy was any different from the rest…  For near mint variant copies of Star Wars #1, little did such early cover price variant collectors know they basically had just bought themselves the equivalent of a future car in 2017 dollars!

Even as newsstand comics continue to get so much more recognition, a similar relative-value opportunity exists where to this day it is still possible to find newsstand comics, including cover price variant newsstand comics, listed for sale as regular copies, i.e. where the seller does not realize they own anything rare or special, does not realize there were two distribution channels with distinctly-printed versions, and so they fail to title their listing with the “newsstand” keyword, and then they price their rare comic at the going rate for regular copies of the issue… so that the only thing giving away that their copy is actually the variant is a zoom-in on the photo they provided (in other words nobody will ever find such mis-listed variant comics in a refined search with the newsstand keyword included, because the title of such a mis-listed comic listing lacks that keyword).

Readers have increasingly shared with me their own observations that such mis-listed relative value collecting opportunities are becoming harder and harder to find out there, with more and more sellers nowadays recognizing when their copy is a newsstand copy and/or cover price variant newsstand copy, including the “newsstand” keyword in their title, and pricing that copy accordingly when they list it for sale. [Side note: sometimes sellers will recognize their copy as a newsstand copy but place the word “newstand” in the title instead (misspelled with one ‘s’), and other times I’ve seen sellers instead use the word “UPC” in place of “newsstand” so it is worth performing searches of these different variations when hunting for newsstand comics, as doing so may turn up listings other newsstand-focused collectors have missed.]

Marvel Newsstand Rarity Percentages

This slide is part of my post entitled Newsstand Rarity Discussion & Estimates where I have collected quotes and graphics related to the discussion of relative newsstand rarity over the years, compared to direct edition copies.

As we see continued newsstand rarity discussions and estimates make the rounds among collectors, and price guides like CPG adding newsstand guide entries, awareness of the relative rarity between the types is only going to continue to build in the hobby as time marches forward and the rolling snowball of growing newsstand awareness continues to roll down the mountain.  And those opportunities out there in the marketplace to find newsstand comics listed for “regular” price are going to become harder and harder to encounter.

Might we see some newsstand copies of certain of the mega-keys valued at automobile-level-dollars out in the distant future?  I can definitely think of certain ultra-rare newsstand cover price variant mega-key-first-appearances that I’ve covered on this blog having that kind of future potential in highest grades given the passage of enough time and the building of enough actual awareness of their existence out there among collectors broadly…

Meanwhile!  Over at Mile High Comics (not a price guide but a store with its own internal catalog of price data), Chuck Rozanski has put his own thought into what kind of newsstand premium multiple to apply over regular direct edition price, and he published his own range to his website — here it is, copied and pasted below, where as you can see the newsstand multiple he uses starts at 2.0x the value of direct edition, and the newsstand value multiple moves higher as the timeline moves later (which makes sense on a relative basis because the percentage of newsstand sales continued to dwindle over the years):

“1979-1985 2X regular catalog price
1986-1990 3X
1991-1996 4X
1997-2000 5X
2001-2002 6X
2003-2004 8X
2005-up 10X”

I should note that Rozanski qualifies his sliding-scale newsstand premium model with this statement: “While this pricing does accurately reflect the scarcity of newsstand editions, the fact that we rely upon base price as our starting point for our multiplier does lead to some distortion.” Also worth noting is that Mile High often runs sales/promotions where you can input a promo code for a large discount to catalog price, so the asking prices are routinely available on a “discount-code-adjusted” basis. For some of the big keys these multiples Rozanki is using strike me as realistic on a discount-code-adjusted basis (and for some of the Image Comics keys, which had a particularly tiny newsstand percentage, the resulting year-by-year newsstand asking price multiple under this sliding scale actually works out to be a bargain for the newsstand versions), but, these asking multiples do seem high for encompassing any and every in-between-the-keys comic book issue, especially towards the later years where as you can see, for the post-2005 publication time-frame of the three $3.99 cover price variant entries CPG just added into their guide, Rozanski would meanwhile have applied a 10x multiple… considerably higher than the 3.2x average multiple CPG gave, with Rozanski’s multiple more in-line with CPG’s 35 cent variant multiple for the Star Wars #1 35 cent variant.

But while valuing newsstand rarities remains “tricky” to do with any kind of surgical precision, the bottom line is that a clear picture is starting to be painted out there in the hobby, that newsstand comics broadly, and the rare $3.99 cover price variants specifically as a newsstand-exclusive “class” of late-modern CGC-recognized variants, are worth a considerable premium over direct edition copies of the same issues.  As more $3.99 cover price variant entries make their way into CPG and are noticed by some of the 960,000+ members as they look up these issues, and as Overstreet one day joins in and eventually wakes up to their existence, perhaps awareness will ultimately grow to the point where a 10x newsstand multiple won’t seem so extreme looking back from the distant future, for certain keys?

That will take a lot more awareness-building among collectors, as well as passage of time for collections to turn over into new hands.  From hands who don’t know what they own, into hands that do.  Remember, unlike retailer incentive variants where thousands of retailers are continually educating customers about the desirability of such incentive variants before they buy them, newsstand-exclusive variants meanwhile have not been given that kind of intense exposure… the people who bought these newsstand comics originally generally did so as readers… as an entertainment purchase… which is a way-different situation versus retailer incentive variants as far as awareness among the original owners.

Outside of the Doc Collection, many of the best grade late-modern newsstand copies I’ve personally found out there have fallen under the category of “read once” condition at best.  But for so many copies out there among late-modern newsstand comics, the original buyer might have casually read it and then tossed it haphazardly in a pile afterwards.  The typical buyer didn’t treat these newsstand comics as the rare collectibles we now know them to be.  Did the original buyer of a $3.99 cover price variant know at the time of their newsstand purchase that the comic had incredibly low distribution as a minuscule percentage of the total sold, with rarity competitive to modern-day 1:50 incentive variants (and even 1:100 incentive variants in some cases)?  Not at all.  Did they investigate how CGC “breaks out” such copies as variants on their census?  Fat chance.

So I think the opportunities out there to buy the rare variant in the marketplace for regular price will continue to selectively appear for those who have their eyes open and their eBay email alerts in place…  And now with some early guide values out there online in CPG as an impartial source of pricing information, those collectors who land these rare variants for regular price can now have a better idea of just what kind of bargain they are taking home: in other words, in addition to knowing “I just landed the rare variant for regular price” someone can have the thought, for example, “I just landed a $200 ASM #607 variant for under $100” which is a thought that amplifies the specific value gained through their hunting effort in a more quantifiable way.

And for other late-modern $3.99 cover price variants not yet listed in the CPG guide, whether we apply a 2.0x multiple to figure out what they are likely worth, or a 3.2x multiple, or a 10x multiple, or somewhere in between, one thing is for certain: it is starting to become quite apparent that if you can find the newsstand version of a comic you already were looking to collect listed for “regular price” then you’re getting a relative value bargain, and by targeting the newsstand edition you have given yourself two ways to win instead of one: the issue’s value may increase broadly by issue number, and, the newsstand rarity premium may grow as newsstand awareness in the hobby matures.  And that’s especially true for cover price variants, which have the added appeal of being CGC-recognized with their own census entries, allowing the relative rarity to self-express in the census data.

And that is why newsstand comics present such a fantastic collecting opportunity today… those bargains are still out there to be found by collectors willing to put in the work.  If you’re willing to scour eBay listings for pictured newsstand comics that are not titled or priced as such (where the seller doesn’t realize there’s a difference between newsstand and direct edition), then having put in that hunting effort I can comfortably say that you are going to find these bargains out there in the marketplace today from within all the different “classes” of newsstand-exclusive CGC-recognized variants I’ve highlighted on this blog: $3.99 newsstand editions for sure, but also Type 1A price variants that were exclusive to newsstands, from the 1990s such as the New Mutants #98 type 1A variant, and from the 1980s with 75 cent variants (and 95 cent and $1.00 cover price variants too).

Happy Collecting! 🙂

– Ben

Standard
$3.99 Newsstand Editions

DC Rebirth, $3.99 Newsstand Editions

By Benjamin Nobel, May 12, 2017

D.C. $3.99 Newsstand Editions

D.C. $3.99 (and $4.99) Newsstand Editions are CGC-recognized.

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)

Superman #10, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (regular copies were $2.99).

Superman #10, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (regular copies were $2.99).

Here’s a link to the CGC census lookup for this issue.

Justice League #40 (1st Grail; June 2015)

Justice League #40, $4.99 Newsstand Edition (regular copies were $3.99).

Justice League #40, $4.99 Newsstand Edition (regular copies were $3.99).

Here’s a link to the CGC census lookup for this issue.

Batman #1 (“Rebirth”; August 2016)

DC Universe Rebirth, Batman #1, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (regular copies were $2.99).

DC Universe Rebirth, Batman #1, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (regular copies were $2.99).

Here’s a link to the CGC census lookup for this issue.

And all the other “rebirth comics” had this same $1-higher cover price phenomenon over on the newsstands, so in addition to Batman #1 you’ll find a $3.99 price tag out there on newsstand copies of Superman #1, Wonder Woman #1, Detective Comics #934, Action Comics #958, and others, while their prevalent direct edition counterparts were meanwhile priced a dollar lower, at $2.99.

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 generalizationbut… 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! 🙂

Standard
$3.99 Newsstand Editions

What If Venom Possessed Deadpool? What If There Was A Rare Cover Price Variant?

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:

Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 (

ComicsPriceGuide describes the issue as “Scarce” and pegs the Near Mint value at $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:

venom-possessed-deadpool-sa

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:

venom-deadpool-what-if-2.99

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:

mcs-what-if-venom-deadpool

In Comichron’s sales estimates that I mentioned before, that $2.99 cover price is shown there as well:

sales-estimates-what-if-ven

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…

venom-deadpool-variant-pric

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!

“Our experience has shown that the comics sold in comic shops had a 90% probability of being put into a plastic bag and preserved, while comics purchased from newsstands had a 90% probability of either being read to death, or thrown away.” ~ Chuck Rozanski

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…

econ-101-law-of-demand

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!).

Marvel Newsstand Rarity Percentages

This slide is part of my post entitled Newsstand Rarity Discussion & Estimates where I have collected quotes and graphics related to the discussion of relative newsstand rarity over the years, compared to direct edition copies.

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):

venom-deadpool-variant

Happy Collecting! 🙂

Related: What if Venom Possessed Wolverine (There’s a rare variant for that one too!)?
And: Venomized Mary Jane (ASM #678 variant)

Standard
$3.99 Newsstand Editions

What If Venom Possessed Wolverine? New Avengers #35, $3.99 Newsstand Edition

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 today’s example features a “Venomized” Wolverine, with an absolutely amazing cover by Leinil Francis Yu: New Avengers #35. Here it is side-by-side with a couple of the famous Venomized-cover-comics you already probably know about:

Venomization Examples: Amazing Spider-Man #678, Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, New Avengers #35

Venomization Examples: Amazing Spider-Man #678, Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, New Avengers #35

“Venomization” seems to really work for Marvel, fans seem to really love all of the various Venomized covers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, hanging up somewhere in an office at Marvel, there’s a sign to remind staff members that fans love Venomization!

venomization_reminder

And some comics with Venomized characters (like pictured above) are worth quite a bit of money in the collector’s market for comic books — “Venom/Deadpool: What If #1” is one highly valued example you’ve probably heard of; and the Venomized Mary Jane variant of ASM #678 is another.  It sure seems that “Venomizing” characters, when done with truly spectacular cover artwork like these examples, really gives these comics “the it factor” that makes collectors want to own them — and when you then see the combination of that “it factor” with low numbers of copies in existence, then a supply/demand imbalance is created that can really drive up market value considerably.

Side note: I can’t think of any other comic book characters that have turned into a verb… I.e. while you can Venomize, I’ve never heard someone talk of Spider-man-izing or Wonder-woman-izing or Batman-izing, etc. So Venom is pretty unique in that respect, of existing as both a noun and a verb in the hobby. And I’m reminded of a great Calvin & Hobbes (below) about how “verbing weirds language”:

verbing-weirds-language

New Avengers #35, $3.99 Newsstand Edition Rarity

regular-vs-variant

New Avengers #35 was published in December of 2007, and the $3.99 cover price copies were exclusive to newsstands (while direct editions carried a $2.99 cover price — by the way, any readers unfamiliar with the difference between direct edition and newsstand comics should pause here and first read the following: Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference), so the way I approach probable rarity for the $3.99 cover price variant version of New Avengers #35 is to first look up the Comichron sales estimates for the issue (their estimate covers the direct edition copies ordered by comic shops in North America), and then, do some extrapolation from there, making use of nearby-year newsstand rarity estimates. [Although it is impossible to know issue-by-issue how many copies were precisely sold on newsstands, by applying the nearby-year Marvel-wide-estimate to the sales numbers for this issue, it gives us something to work with as an estimate for the probable number of variant copies sold]. As you can see, this was the #1 selling comic of its month, with estimated sales to comic shops of 111,363 copies:

new-avengers-35-sales

Two nearby-year newsstand rarity estimates that I’m aware of, which we can then use for estimating numbers for $3.99 cover price copies of New Avengers #35, are (1) an estimate from the book Economics of Digital Comics, by Todd Allen and Mark Waid which discussed a 2003 newsstand rarity estimate of 4.25% for Marvel, citing a BPA audit, and (2) Chuck Rozanski has published a 2005 estimate for Marvel newsstand rarity at 2%.

With these nearby-to-the-publication-year newsstand rarity estimates in hand, we can now extrapolate out some estimates for $3.99 copies of New Avengers #35, using the sales estimates we saw earlier of 111,363 direct edition copies of the issue number 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. 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 ~122,500 copies.

From there, we can extrapolate out a likely newsstand rarity range: by using Rozanski’s 2% newsstand (98% direct edition) figure on the low end (this being the 2005 estimate), and for the high end we’ll go up to that estimate from all the way back in 2003, then if the sales of this particular issue followed those broad Marvel-wide newsstand rarity figures, we’d then get a range of ~2,500-5,500 copies of New Avengers #35 with a $3.99 cover price as our estimate, which is shockingly low in the context of other modern age comics…  As a specific point of contrast for context, the highly-valued “Venom/Deadpool: What If #1” had estimated sales of 17,609 direct edition copies to comic shops (dubbed “Scarce” by ComicsPriceGuide and very highly valued by collectors) — so that means by comparison, our $3.99 variant copies of New Avengers #35 are likely 3x to 7x more rare than the “scarce” direct edition copies of the highly-valued Venom/Deadpool: What If #1!  And I’ll stress the word “likely” and will repeat that there’s no way to really know precisely how many newsstand copies sold issue by issue (no such figures exist).  But applying these broad Marvel-wide estimates from 2003 and 2005 as nearby years, this extrapolation exercise gets us to extremely low numbers of variant copies likely sold for New Avengers #35 — keeping in mind all the while that with the book published late in 2007 there would be years of additional newsstand dwindling between the time of those newsstand rarity estimates we’ve used in this exercise, and the time New Avengers #35 was actually published — which arguably gives us a buffer of conservatism in this exercise.

econ-101-law-of-demand

Another buffer of conservatism is how with New Avengers #35, the newsstand cover price at $3.99 was a full 33% higher than the direct edition cover price.  But earlier in 2007 the newsstand and direct edition prices were equal.  And Economics 101 teaches us that all else equal, a higher price for a product should mean a lower quantity sold.  So compared to the 2007-wide newsstand percentage, the particular newsstand copies priced 33% higher at $3.99 would likely have pulled down the average rarity for the year, i.e. selling at a lower newsstand percentage of each issue versus when both versions had still been $2.99 in cover price.

Furthermore, still another factor making this exercise likely to err on the side of conservative, is the fact that we’re merely talking about the original sales at time of distribution — remember, the original buyers of these comics on newsstands did not know they had just purchased a rare variant.  The typical newsstand buyer was a reader unconcerned about preservation of condition, assuming they kept their copy at all. And so layered on top of the low original distribution of the $3.99 cover price copies as a tiny percentage of the total sold for this issue, we also have that notorious newsstand destruction rate in play as well.  While collectors were mostly out there taking home and preserving the direct edition copies of this issue — the ones priced at $2.99 — we meanwhile likely saw huge numbers of the $3.99 cover price copies get tossed away or read to death.  The fact that the $3.99 cover price variant of this issue number was a newsstand exclusive is a highly interesting situation in the hobby indeed; the surviving count of these, especially survivors that remained in “CGC-worthy-condition” has got to be remarkably small indeed.

“Our experience has shown that the comics sold in comic shops had a 90% probability of being put into a plastic bag and preserved, while comics purchased from newsstands had a 90% probability of either being read to death, or thrown away.” ~ Chuck Rozanski

And 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 as distinct variants of the issue number, is that the count of surviving copies of each type that have passed through CGC’s doors will increment separately.  The prevalent direct edition copies will be separate and distinct from the rare $3.99 copies, which means the newsstand rarity percentage of surviving copies can self-express in the census data over the course of time.

And that, of course, is absolutely fantastic news for collectors who study rarity data and collect these rare newsstand-exclusive cover price variants, because all that extrapolation and number-crunching we did before is estimation, whereas the actual count of CGC census copies is a cold hard number of copies that actually survived and have actually been graded by CGC. Simply put: if you are a collector who wants to own a CGC-graded copy of the variant with the $3.99 cover price, then you can see precisely how many CGC graded copies are floating around out there by doing a census lookup!

Here below is an example CGC graded variant copy (note the variant notation “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” on the label):

Happy Collecting! 🙂

Related: Venomized Mary Jane (ASM #678 Variant)
And: Venom/Deadpool: What If? #1

Standard
$3.99 Newsstand Editions

Daredevil #21, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Superior Spider-Man Cameo)

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:

Dan Slott's December 2012 tweet, about Daredevil #21:

Dan Slott’s tweet about Daredevil #21: “SURPRISE! Superior Spider-Man’s 1ST official appearance is in DAREDEVIL #21 by @MarkWaid & @ChrisSamnee! Awesome book! OUT TODAY! Run! Get!”

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?

Superior Spider-Man cameo in Daredevil #21:

Superior Spider-Man cameo in Daredevil #21: “I will find Daredevil… and I will crush him.”

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:

Direct Edition copies of Daredevil #21 had a cover price of $2.99.

Direct Edition copies of Daredevil #21 had a cover price of $2.99.

Newsstand copy with $3.99 cover price, $1 higher than the direct edition copies.

Newsstand copy with $3.99 cover price, $1 higher than the direct edition copies.

Here is a full view of a $3.99 Newsstand Edition example, graded by CGC:
Daredevil #21, $3.99 Newsstand Edition

Daredevil #21, $3.99 Newsstand Edition

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:

daredevil_21_sales

Comichron estimates sales of 35,848 direct edition copies to North American comic shops (note the $2.99 cover price mentioned).

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):

Current census screenshot for Daredevil #21, showing three $3.99 Newsstand Edition copies versus 135 Direct Edition copies.

Current census screenshot for Daredevil #21, showing three $3.99 Newsstand Edition copies versus 135 Direct Edition copies.

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! 🙂

Standard
$3.99 Newsstand Editions, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books

Variant vs. Variant: Amazing Spider-Man #678 (Mary Jane Venom) vs. #607 (Black Cat $3.99 Cover Price)

By Benjamin Nobel, January 11, 2017

Variant vs. variant! Meeeow... vs. Face It, Tiger, You Just Lost the Jackpot. Retailer incentive variant vs. $3.99 cover price variant!

Variant vs. variant! Meeeow… vs. Face It, Tiger, You Just Lost the Jackpot. $3.99 Cover Price Variant vs. Retailer Incentive Variant.

For anything you can spend money on, there’s a difference between the price tag and the value you get for your money.  Before renting an apartment or leasing a car, you compare various similar choices, right?  The one that is going to give you the most utility at the lowest cost — the most value for your money — is the one you’re likely to open up your wallet for…

Well, some collectible comic books can have price tags that compare to several months of rent or car payments!  And it can be interesting to do this same kind of “relative value comparison” for comic books, that you do every day for all kinds of other purchases.

WARNING:  I am about to compare a COVER PRICE VARIANT, against an alternate-cover-artwork RETAILER INCENTIVE VARIANT.  To some readers, I’m certain the very idea of such a comparison will strike you as comparing apples vs. oranges.   If you and I were in the produce section of a market, and I was deciding which fruit to spend my budget on, would you object if I were to compare the apples to the oranges as I decided how to spend my money?  If the answer to that question is “yes” (that you would indeed object), then this post probably isn’t for you and you can skip on to something else.

But if you’re willing to have an open mind about a “head to head” between a cover price variant and an alternate-cover-artwork-retailer-incentive-variant then read on with me as we walk through the metaphorical produce aisle and compare an apple versus an orange as two interesting types of fruit we might choose to spend our hard-earned money on.   Because over in the world of comics, we similarly have lots of choices out there competing for our collecting dollars.  And lots of interesting variants among those choices.  With this introduction stated, if you’re among those still reading along, then thanks for having an open mind… and let’s proceed!

Amazing Spider-Man #678 vs. #607 — Variant vs. Variant

There’s a 1-in-50 retailer incentive variant version of Amazing Spider-Man #678 that features an awesome cover of Mary Jane as Venom by Joe Quinones… and looking at it makes me think of another awesome Amazing Spider-Man cover: issue #607, featuring a now-quite-famous J. Scott Campbell Black Cat cover.  Black Cat says: “Meeeow…” on the cover of #607.  A Venomized Mary Jane says “Face it, Tiger, You Just Lost the Jackpot!” on the variant for #678.

The price tags?  Let’s start with a look at the ASM #678 variant.  Here’s a recent auction for a copy described as Near Mint; it had 15 bids and went for $2,100:

variant-asm-678-sale

A recent variant copy of Amazing Spider-Man #678 auctioned for $2,100.

This is a hefty sum indeed!  One thought you might have seeing this sales price, if you didn’t know much about issue #678 might be: “there must be something pretty important about this issue number, like a key first appearance!”  But you’d be wrong — there is no key first character appearance in issue #678.  There’s no key anything about issue #678.  In fact, “regular” copies of issue #678 are valued by ComicsPriceGuide at… four dollars:

Guide value for ASM #678 in Near Mint is four dollars for

Guide value for ASM #678 in Near Mint is four dollars for “regular” copies and one thousand four hundred dollars for the variant.

Sometimes guide values are way off of reality — and the eBay sale we saw before was quite a lot higher than the $1,400 quoted here for the variant… so maybe the guide is wrong about the “regular” copies too?  Nope: they have it about right… here’s a recent example eBay sale of a “regular” copy:

regular-asm-678-sale

Recent sale of a “regular” copy of Amazing Spider-Man #678.

So clearly, the force driving the market price of the Mary Jane Venom variant isn’t the application of some rarity premium onto the value of the regular version… in other words, the market isn’t valuing the variant by placing some multiple on that $4 price that “regular” copies are going for — instead, the market price for this variant has detached from the underlying issue number itself.  The market price is entirely being driven by the combination of the scarcity (at 1-in-50, a very low number of these were sold), and the demand (this variant just has the “it” factor and has gotten a lot of attention — plus, it definitely doesn’t hurt that it is a humorous take on Mary Jane’s “face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot” from ASM #42).

asm-678-variant-hit-lost-ja

How many variant copies might have been sold?  As a 1-in-50 variant, we can answer that question by knowing the total number of regular copies ordered by comic shops, and then estimate from there.  A great research resource providing such sales estimates is Comichron, which pegs sales of ASM #678 at 54,252 copies:

asm-678-sales-estimate

An estimated 54,252 copies of Amazing Spider-Man #678 were ordered by comic shops. If every block of 50 out of that number came with 1 variant, that implies a maximum of 1,085 variants.

If every block of 50 copies got a retailer one Mary Jane Venom variant, then based on the above sales number at most there should have been 1,085 variants (but the true number is likely lower because not all retailers may have ordered enough to get a variant).  Imagine yourself as a comic shop owner who ordered the required 50 copies, and your variant has just arrived.  How are you going to treat that copy?  Carefully, right?  How are you going to price that copy?  As much as you can get for it, right?  How are you going to talk about that copy to your customers?  You’re going to talk it up as much as possible, right?  A question: What odds would you put on a comic shop owner actually reading one of these variants?  Zero…  That variant was going to be protected by a bag and a board from day one and remain unread.  The only chance it was going to suffer damage was by accident.

How about the buyer who ponied up whatever premium price the retailer decided to ask?  Would they actually read one of these variants?  Nope.  They didn’t pay through the nose to own one, only to bring it home, read it, and then toss it haphazardly in a pile… no way.  That collectible was recognized from day one as something to preserve and protect.  Excepting copies lost in the mail and accidental damage, these retailer incentive variant copies were incredibly well preserved.  So that initial count of copies pretty much represents the count of copies carefully stored away.  Some of them would be sent in to CGC to be graded and slabbed.  As of this writing there are 130 such CGC-graded copies on census:

As of the date of this writing, there are 130 variant copies of Amazing Spider-Man #678 on census at CGC.

As of the date of this writing, there are 130 variant copies of Amazing Spider-Man #678 on census at CGC.  (Published 3/2012, Marvel Comics).

And Now…

Let’s look at the ASM #607 variant!  First of all, why is the #607 variant “a variant” in the first place — what special attribute about it causes CGC to “break it out” on census with its own distinct entry?  Variant copies of Amazing Spider-Man #607 are, in a way, “doubly” variants — let me explain what I mean…  CGC initially broke out these variants because, as it turns out, the variants were not distributed with the “right” UPC code on them… they were distributed as Sensational Spider-Man.  This means copies were only delivered to those who ordered the Sensational title… stores that merely ordered the Amazing Spider-Man title did not actually get these!  [Here’s a more in-depth discussion of this incredible phenomenon].

Because of this “incorrect” code on the variant copies, CGC initially broke them out with the designation “Newsstand Variant” on census.  So that single reason alone would have made them CGC-recognized variants.  However!  There is something else different about these copies.  Let’s see if you can spot it in the below picture taken from a variant copy, if I first tell you that the cover price on Amazing Spider-Man #607 is supposed to be $2.99 (i.e. it is $2.99 for all the “regular” copies):

ASM #607... Sensational.

ASM #607 variant… it carries the Sensational Spider Man UPC code, and, is a cover price variant, at $3.99 instead of the expected $2.99.

You spotted correctly: you’re looking at a cover price variant here too!  Instead of the $2.99 price tag that all the “regular” copies carried for issue #607, the variants have a cover price of $3.99, a dollar higher!  Once this was pointed out to CGC, they changed the variant name they use on the labels and on census, to read “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” for this variant.  So you get two “variant-worthy attributes” with this newsstand issue, any one of which would have been sufficient for CGC to break them out.

OK, so, some readers are probably wondering at this point, if retailers had to order 50 “regular” copies of Amazing Spider-Man #678 to get the Mary Jane Venom variant, how many “regular” copies of Amazing Spider-Man #607 did retailers have to order to get the cover price variant with the $3.99 cover price on it?  Nope: that’s not how it worked!  In fact, the cover price variant copies were not sold to comic store retailers at all.  This type of variant was exclusive to newsstands… which is why they’ve flown under-the-radar for so long — it took the eventual demise of Marvel’s newsstand distribution channel before industry insiders really opened up in a major way and started discussing newsstand comics in a way that actually educated collectors about their desirability… and now, the growing newsstand awareness in the hobby could arguably be called a “mega-trend” today. But the ASM #607 variants hit the stands at a time when the hobby was still paying no real attention to newsstand comics.

So for the newsstand-exclusive ASM #607 variants, to peg their “1-in-something” rarity, we need to understand the relative distribution of comic books on newsstands, versus direct sales to comic shops, in the era when Amazing Spider-Man #607 was produced (which was 11/2009).  It turns out that a decade earlier, Marvel had made a conscious decision in 1999 to “walk away” from the newsstand model.  According to the book Economics of Digital Comics, by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, newsstand sales would dwindle to a stunning mere 4.25% of total sales by the time of a May 2003 BPA audit.  But that’s 2003…  ASM #607 would not be published until six years later.  What was happening six years later?  Marvel was about to head into the period where they would dismantle their newsstand distribution entirely, in stages, with certain bookstore partners being the last to carry them.  What did this end-of-life newsstand sales period look like at Marvel?  According to estimates by Chuck Rozanski, newsstand comics had dwindled to a mere 2% by 2005 for Marvel!

And what is 2% in “variant terms?”  Why, it is 1:50 (1/50=2%)… matching the retailer incentive ordering ratio we saw earlier for ASM #678 variants.  Yep: and that’s a newsstand rarity estimate from 2005 so there would be four more years of newsstand dwindling from there until the time of ASM #607’s publication.

And what about the Comichron sales estimates for issue #607?  Comichron pegs sales of ASM #607 at 62,517 copies:

asm-607-sales-estimate

Comichron estimate for sales of issue #607 of Amazing Spider-Man: 62,517 copies.

From that total, which represents the comic shop orders (i.e. the “regular” old direct edition copies with $2.99 cover prices on them), we can then extrapolate a tiny fraction of copies to be the newsstand copies.  What fraction should we use?   Based on the newsstand rarity discussions and estimates I cited earlier, the rarity percentage was probably highly competitive to the 1:50 #678 variant (which we saw before would have been limited to no more than 1,085 copies). Recall too that on top of whatever tiny newsstand percentage we might assume for ASM #607, this particular comic also had the phenomenon of having the Sensational Spider-Man code on it which we know for certain lowered its distribution as compared to the surrounding issues.

Clearly the variant copy count sold for ASM #607 would be very small.  But that’s only part of the story… Let’s now think about the buyer behavior (and staff behavior) for the copies that have the variant $3.99 cover price and variant UPC code.

These variants were newsstand copies, so to the staff, they were handled just like magazines: a publication meant to be read.  Just ate a slice of pizza for lunch before stocking the shelves and hands are still greasy?  No matter.  Sliced into the comic delivery bundle with a box cutter and shredded through some pages?  No matter.

I know this behavior sounds crazy for how one would handle a rare variant, but remember, the staff didn’t know it was a rare variant, nor did the buyers who took it home at the time.  Would the staff carefully lower them into place on the shelf?  Nope… probably just dropped them carelessly inflicting condition damage immediately.  Would the staff carefully slip them into plastic bags with boards: nope… not a chance.

As for the buyers who took one of these variants home, they had paid $3.99 — that’s an entertainment purchase… way different situation versus the ASM #678 variant.  In the case of this variant, the buyer probably did indeed read issue #607!  They might have tossed it haphazardly in a pile afterwards.  They weren’t treating it as a rare collectible.  Did they know it had incredibly low distribution as a minuscule percentage of the total sold?  Not at all.  Did they know CGC “breaks out” such copies as variants on their census?  Nope.  Did they notice it carried the Sensational Spider-Man UPC code on it?  Fat chance.

So here we have a demonstrably-rare CGC-recognized variant with drastically different behavior by the buyers (and staff), as a newsstand exclusive versus how retailer-incentive variant comics were treated.  The total number of copies sold initially for the ASM #607 variant wouldn’t represent the number of copies carefully stored away… the high grade survivor count would logically be much smaller than the already-small count of copies likely sold.  We’d probably see a low survivor count reflected in the CGC census data…  How many copies of this variant show up on the CGC census today?  Before, recall that we saw 130 copies of the ASM #678 variant.  By contrast, as of this writing, there are a grand total of five copies of the ASM #607 variant on census:

asm-607-cgc-census-data

As of the date of this writing, there are 5 copies on census of the $3.99 variant for Amazing Spider-Man #607.

Let’s circle back now to the idea of our head-to-head variant-vs.-variant look, and a price comparison.  We saw that for ASM #678, the “regular” copies were not any kind of key or valuable on its own on the basis of the issue number itself: they were worth four bucks.  But for ASM #607, “regular” copies actually fetch a decent amount.  Here’s a recent example eBay sale of a “regular” copy:

asm-607-regular-value

An example sale of a “regular” copy of Amazing Spider-Man #607: a CGC 9.0 (VF/NM) copy at $64.95.

So if “regular” copies are already very-nicely-valued, what is a variant copy worth?  Let’s check eBay for recent sales of copies identified as $3.99 variants:

asm-607-no-variant-sales

Darn: No variant sales in the sold listings section.

Unfortunately, a search comes up short… there are no copies identified as $3.99 variants in the “sold listings” section of eBay.  How about active listings?

Darn: no $3.99 variants listed.

Darn: no $3.99 variants listed.

Sorry, no active listings for the variant either…  How about we look at the ComicsPriceGuide page.  Earlier, we saw that their guide value in Near Mint was $4 for “regular” ASM #678 copies, and $1,400 for the variant.  Let’s see what they show for ASM #607:

The guide does not presently have an entry for the $3.99 variant.

The guide does not presently have an entry for the $3.99 variant.

As you can see, although they have an entry for “regular” copies (at $60… fifteen times the value of “regular” copies of ASM #678, incidentally)… they do not even know of the existence of the $3.99 variant.  That’s how ridiculously rare we’re talking here folks… the price guide people have never even heard of it yet!

Left: retailer incentive variant of Amazing Spider-Man #678; Right: $3.99 cover price variant of Amazing Spider-Man #607.

Left: retailer incentive variant of Amazing Spider-Man #678; Right: $3.99 cover price variant of Amazing Spider-Man #607.

So we’re left only seeing half the picture on the price side.  But perhaps that is an opportunity to put your own independent thought into the question: What is a reasonable price tag for the ASM #607 variant?  Is it more or less desirable than the ASM #678 variant?  Do both variants carry the “it factor”?  Where might the guide value the ASM #607 variant when, eventually, they are made aware of its existence?

6/15/2017 UPDATE

I am pleased to report that the ASM #607 variant has been brought to the attention of ComicsPriceGuide.com and they have now “broken out” the ASM #607 variant as a distinct entry in their guide!  Applause to CPG for adding this missing variant in!  In the new guide entry they also included the key-comments information of “$3.99 newsstand” in the note (and clicking through to the details page the $3.99 cover price is reflected there too), which is great because part of understanding this variant is knowing that its cover price did not match the “regular” copies.  When the standard edition is $2.99 and there’s another version out there with a different cover price deviating from that standard, that’s critical to know.  So it is great they’ve pointed it right out in their entry.

Also great to see is that they have additionally pointed out the “UPC error / coded for the title ‘Sensational Spider-Man'” which is such a critical thing for collectors to understand… because any time a newsstand comic is identified by its UPC code as a different title than it is, that means, among other things, that (1) CGC by precedent will “break out” such newsstand books as distinct variants on census, and, (2) the distribution of the book did not follow the norm because it was only available at newsstands that also ordered that alternate title… which in this case appears to have made it substantially harder to find, suggesting stair-step-lower sales versus neighboring issues with the “correct” code.

And here’s how they have pegged the value:

comics-price-guide-asm-607-

So at $200 in NM, you could own 7 copies of the ASM #607 variant before getting to $1400 (the guide value for one NM copy of the ASM #678 variant).  Seven apples, versus one orange, as the guide value pegs these two variants today as of the middle of the year 2017.  Which do you think is the winner on the basis of getting the most interesting/desirable variant comic for your money?

My opinion?

My opinion is to think about these two variants as illustrative of how two “worlds” exist today… the world where the ASM #678 variant lives is one where thousands of comic book retailers have educated collectors about the desirability of collecting incentive variants, and where every single copy is being preserved and treated from day one as something valuable.  There is no chance that the owner of an ASM #678 variant is going to confuse their copy with a “regular” #678 and price it for sale at $4… that just isn’t in the cards.

The ASM #607 variant comes from an entirely different world; it is an entirely different kind of variant.  It is the kind that initially goes unnoticed, then eventually gets discovered, and there is a period of time in between where there is a good chance that the owner of a #607 variant is going to confuse their copy with a “regular” #607 and price it for sale at the going rate for regular direct edition copies.

Even as newsstand awareness continues to grow among collectors, it should still be possible in 2017 to find sellers of newsstand comics out there who do not know they own newsstand comics.  In other words, I believe opportunities will still arise from time to time where someone owns the ASM #607 variant but doesn’t realize they own anything different or special and just thinks about what they own by the issue number broadly, i.e. they know that they own ASM #607, period.  The new CPG guide entry will help a lot of people who might use it to look up their comic’s value before selling it, to understand if they own the variant (CPG has over 950,000 members); but, other guides like Overstreet are still unaware of this variant’s existence sitting here in 2017… and a lot of people still rely on Overstreet as their price guide of choice (and then there are those who do not refer to a guide at all before selling their comic).   So I think it may still be possible to come across an opportunity in the marketplace to pay regular price for the $200 variant — in other words, to my way of thinking, it isn’t just a question of 7 apples or 1 orange, it is a question of whether I can find that $200 apple on sale for $60.  But over at the #678 variant, no such opportunity exists: every original buyer of that variant paid through the nose to own it, and knows exactly what they own.

So for my money, the relative value opportunity in comic book collecting today is over in the world of newsstand comics!  Learn more about this world if you haven’t stepped into it before… I strongly believe that for anyone who collects modern comic books, understanding the newsstand versus direct edition difference is must-know information — and understanding that difference leads into some highly interesting and incredibly-low-distribution variants including the CGC-recognized $3.99 cover price variant “window” that encompasses the ASM #607 variant [here are more $3.99 cover price variant examples I’ve written about].

Happy Collecting! 🙂

Standard