$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

$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! 🙂

$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:


As you can see from the above sampling of recent eBay sales, ComicsPriceGuide is not exaggerating about the market values out there…  This book has indeed emerged as one of the must-own late modern keys to collect, especially among Deadpool fans.  The cover price for all of the above-pictured eBay example copies is $2.99… and that $2.99 cover price is also listed at ComicsPriceGuide when you click through to the details page:


Anywhere else you might look out there online today for reference information about this issue, you’ll see the same $2.99 cover price referenced.  For example here’s MyComicShop:


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


But what I’m about to show you, is that not all copies of Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 carry the $2.99 cover price.  Just because price guides and comic shops are not aware of something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist… lack of awareness can also arise when a comic book variant simply exists in such small numbers that it has gone unnoticed: the principle of “out of sight, out of mind.”

And indeed, it turns out that this key late modern issue is among the examples you’ll find out there where the rare newsstand copies are a $1 higher cover price variant of the issue!  And these $1 higher cover price copies are recognized by CGC as distinct variants, “broken out” on their online census as “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” instead of lumped together with the prevalent direct edition copies.  Take a look at the two examples below side-by-side, where the $1 higher cover price variant is at right, and see if you can spot all the differences…


As you can see, the copy at the left is the “typical” version you’ll find out there, the one everybody knows about, the one which carries a $2.99 cover price and has the words “Direct Edition” on it — that phrase means it was one of the ~17,609 copies (by Comichron’s estimate that we saw earlier) that was ordered directly by comic shops (ordered on a non-returnable basis: for the publisher, these direct edition copies were a guaranteed sale). [For more information about the difference between direct edition and newsstand comics, read Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference.]

But the copy pictured at right is different: it carries a completely different UPC code — the code for “Marvel Notables” — and the cover price is $1 higher… at $3.99.  It also has the word “Newsstand” on it. That’s right: here we have a higher cover price variant for this issue and such copies were found exclusively on newsstands (where the distribution model called for unsold copies to be returned for a refund): offered for sale to the public at newsstands that had ordered Marvel Notables.

That last point regarding Marvel Notables is a non-trivial one: recall from my post from last year about these $3.99 newsstand comics how we saw that for newsstand sales of Amazing Spider-Man, at some point in time Marvel utilized different UPC codes, alternating Amazing Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and Sensational Spider-Man codes depending on the issue number… And we saw that the largest late modern newsstand collection ever offered for sale was actually missing every third ASM issue: they were missing the ones distributed under the Sensational Spider-Man code, simply because the newsstand (a drugstore) where that collector acquired their comics didn’t order that title… they ordered Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, and they ordered Amazing Spider-Man, but did not order Sensational Spider-Man. And what that situation teaches us, is how what is on the UPC code for these newsstand comics was so important when it came to their distribution, because if you went to a given newsstand (such as that drugstore) looking for a given newsstand comic, it wasn’t enough that a given newsstand version of an issue actually existed… it also had to be within a title that was actually ordered for that newsstand.

So, in the case of Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, for a given newsstand to have actually gotten one of these, they would have had to order Marvel Notables.  For the more “major” titles it is easy to picture the corresponding box getting checked when ordering: i.e. for Amazing Spider-Man, Superman, X-Men, Batman… those titles would naturally be the highest priority when ordering.  But when it came to “lesser” titles — even ones with Spider-Man in the title like our example with Sensational Spider-Man — it would logically have become increasingly less likely that a newsstand would have bothered ordering it… So, an important question for this particular issue to consider is this: Where would “Marvel Notables” have likely ranked in priority when it came to the proprietor placing their orders, and what did that mean for this comic book’s newsstand distribution relative to the popular titles?

Meanwhile, another important consideration is how the publication year here for Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 is 2011. That’s right smack in the likely timeframe when Marvel was actually winding down newsstand sales to all but two last bookstore partners (Barnes & Noble and Books-a-million were cited as the last partners to carry Marvel newsstand comic books). A 2013 quote from Marvel’s David Gabriel indicates that Marvel had actually stopped selling newsstand comics outside of those two bookstore partners “about two years ago” (which working backward from the time of the quote puts us circa 2010-2011). Given where Venom/Deadpool’s publication date lands in relation to that timeframe, when perhaps it was only those last two partners that might have carried it at all, the newsstand sales for this particular issue could be very low indeed.

How low are we talking? Well, clearly around that 2010-2011 time-frame there would have been a “stair-step down” in newsstand sales at Marvel, at whatever point when they ended sales to all but those last bookstore partners. But newsstand sales had actually been on the decline since the mid-1980’s (direct edition sales are cited to have surpassed newsstand sales sometime around 1985/1986), and in 1999 a Marvel VP described a decision to “walk away” from the newsstand — this business decision may have exacerbated the relative decline in newsstand sales because they were cited to be 14% for Marvel in 1999, but we learn of a 2003 newsstand rarity estimate of 4.25% for Marvel, citing a BPA audit, in the book Economics of Digital Comics, by Todd Allen and Mark Waid. That’s quite a pronounced decline indeed… And then in 2013, industry insider Chuck Rozanski published a series of newsstand rarity estimates for Marvel at different years, including a 2005 estimate for Marvel newsstand rarity at a mere 2% (to put that in “modern variant terms” 2% is 1:50).

And remember, those above estimates I just cited are informing us about the newsstand rarity from several years before Venom/Deadpool was actually published, which was way out in 2011. But let’s pretend that newsstand sales of this 2011 issue actually followed those estimates from 2003, and from 2005, and see what the numbers would look like.  In other words, let’s use these two estimates [also see: Newsstand Rarity Discussion & Estimates] to extrapolate out some numbers for $3.99 copies of Venom/Deadpool, working off of that Comichron estimate we saw earlier of 17,609 direct edition copies sold, and answering the question: if the sales of this particular issue followed those broad Marvel-wide newsstand rarity figures, what kind of numbers are we talking?

That 17,609 number from Comichron is an estimate, and only for distribution of direct edition copies to North American comics shops (Canada and the USA), which would mean the numbers exclude newsstand distribution (i.e. exclude our $3.99 copies). The numbers Comichron gives us would also exclude subscriptions, complimentary copies, and distribution outside of North America such as Diamond UK (this would all vary unpredictably depending on the issue but probably did not add more than 10% to Comichron’s number). So let’s first inflate Comichron’s number by 10% to account for some of these variables and make our estimates more conservative — that takes us to ~19,400 copies.

From there, using Rozanski’s 2% newsstand (vs. 98% direct edition) figure (this being his 2005 estimate) for one end of our range, and for the other end of our range we’ll go up to that 4.25% estimate from all the way back in 2003, we’d then break out our calculators and get to an extrapolated range of ~400-900 copies of Venom/Deadpool: What If #1 with a $3.99 cover price as our newsstand estimate. This result is absolutely mind-blowing… to have a rare cover price variant of this highly-sought key modern issue — a CGC-recognized variant with its own distinct census entry — and one that may have sold only in the hundreds of copies is an absolute stunner…  But suppose because these estimates are so crazy-low, suppose we were to see what would happen if we pretend that we were way back at 1999 levels for newsstand sales, i.e. back before that decision to “walk away” from the newsstand and to effectively leave it for dead (albeit with newsstand sales allowed to continue), was made. That would be super-conservative to use that 14% figure from 1999, right? Even at that 14% newsstand level from 1999 as applied to Venom/Deadpool we would still have been at only ~3,150 copies with $3.99 cover price! Bottom line: this is a situation of “no matter how you slice it, the cover price variant is obviously absurdly rare.”

And we haven’t even talked about the notorious newsstand destruction rate yet in all of this… Remember, newsstand buyers tended to be readers and the extreme rarity was not known to them when these were originally on the stands, which spells survivorship numbers for $3.99 cover price copies that are likely far lower than what was originally sold on the newsstands!

“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…


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):


Happy Collecting! 🙂

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

$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!


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”:


New Avengers #35, $3.99 Newsstand Edition Rarity


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:


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.


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

$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:

But then, says:
Prompting the surprised reply:

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:


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! 🙂

$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:


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:


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).


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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! 🙂

$3.99 Newsstand Editions, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books, Rare Comics To Collect

Newsstand Variants, $3.99 Newsstand Editions, and The Doc Collection

By Benjamin Nobel, August 31, 2016

Newsstand variants, $3.99 newsstand editions, $4.99 and manufacturing difference newsstand editions

Types of CGC-recognized newsstand variants:  “Newsstand Variant” (broken out because of UPC code “errors”), “Newsstand Edition” (broken out because of manufacturing differences such as different paper quality), and “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” (where newsstand copies are cover price variants with a $1 higher cover price than their direct edition counterparts – sometimes the newsstand price was $4.99 or higher depending on the price of the regular direct edition counterpart but the important thing is: it is a cover price variant)

One of the most intriguing questions about modern comics for collectors to ponder is newsstand versus direct edition rarity. Beginning in 1979 (or 1977 if you count Whitman/Western non-returnable comics), Marvel sold two distinguishable versions of their comics across two distinct distribution channels, one where comics were direct-sold to specialty comic shops on a discounted but non-returnable basis, and another where comics were distributed to newsstands and unsold copies could be returned for a refund. Collectors can distinguish returnable copies from non-returnable ones in the same way the publisher did: by looking at what is in the UPC code box area (if this is something you were unaware of, you may want to read Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference).

In any discussion of the question of relative rarity between these two types of modern comic books, one is bound to have the thought: “If only CGC had decided to break out newsstand and direct edition comics separately on census, that would have given us some great data to study!”

Had they done this, we could then look up any given issue we’re curious about and actually see the count of how many CGC has graded of each type, understanding of course that the CGC census data for any given issue is a small sampling of the total outstanding copies that were sold — it is only going to reflect the subset of total copies out there that collectors have turned in for grading… but that still would have provided an extremely useful input and it is a shame that the data is forever lost and lumped together.  Because much like TV ratings and election polling is done with a small sampling of the total audience/voters, CGC census data can be very revealing, especially for those issues where collectors have turned in a thousand+ copies giving us a fairly large sample size. But alas, CGC’s policy has been to lump together newsstand and direct edition comics by issue number… except in certain special situations. In this post I will talk about these special situations, including two new special situations I only became aware of this year on account of The Doc Collection (if you’re wondering “what is The Doc Collection” — I will discuss that as well, including a very interesting Q&A with its seller).

Special Situation #1: Canadian Newsstand Comics of the 1980’s

The population of Canada in 1982 represented 9.8% of the population of North America... because the United States simply had substantially more people living there.

The population of Canada in 1982 (and throughout the variant window) represented 9.8% of the population of North America.

One such special situation that I’d been aware of for a long time (and have written a lot about) has been the window of time in the 1980’s that newsstand copies of comic books that were produced for Canada — but importantly: printed simultaneously with the other copies by the same publisher and on the same equipment here in the USA — were printed with a higher cover price (for more information see 75 Cent Variants: Canadian Newsstand Editions and read the comment section as well where a reader revealed that the distribution was imperfect and some of the variants were in fact sold right here in the USA in border states — if collector peers right here in the USA bought them in their own home towns, that is arguably all the more reason that these variants are “fair game” for the rest of us too!).

Before the variant cover price window, the prices were the same across all of North America (typically 60 cents per issue) and therefore all of the North American market got the same exact newsstand copies; and after the window, we find that the newsstand batches were “merged” and both the US and Canadian prices were shown on all newsstand copies (and so all of North America once again got the same identical newsstand copies).  But during the window two distinct batches of newsstand copies were produced, one for each price.  Canada was a small 9.8% fraction of the North American market for comic books by population size during that time (most people don’t think about how despite Canada’s giant geographic footprint it actually has a tiny population relative to the USA, similar in size to that of California alone, for example).  And the higher cover price variants were a newsstand-only phenomenon (because all of the direct edition copies during that window were the same and had both prices on them).  So these particular CGC-recognized newsstand variants were only sold to a portion of that already-tiny Canadian market.

Special Situation #2: Manufacturing Differences

Spawn Batman is one example of a newsstand issue that CGC “breaks out” as a distinct variant, noting on the label that the cover is paper stock, and that there is a UPC code on the back cover (which direct edition copies lack).

For U.S. newsstand comics, one of the special situations where CGC will “break out” newsstand comics as variants is in the case of manufacturing differences (such as different paper quality), which was a common phenomenon among newsstand comics produced by Image Comics. Not all Image newsstand comics had this phenomenon (for example Spawn newsstand comics only began to be printed with newsprint pages instead of glossy around issue #8 — I say “around” because there are no “Newsstand Edition” variants of issue #7 or earlier showing up on census at the time of this writing and I haven’t personally verified the paper used for issues after #3 myself, so it could be the case that newsprint was indeed used before #8 but that nobody has sent one in yet).

But although this means some of the Image mega-keys like Spawn #1 are unfortunately not broken out between direct edition and newsstand, many of Image’s newsstand comics — including some other pretty important ones — do have the kinds of manufacturing differences that cause CGC to “break out” newsstand copies as distinct variants on census with their own distinct count of graded copies…  Below is a table of the census count as of this writing, of some of the ones I’m aware of where CGC breaks out newsstand copies as “Newsstand Edition” on census.  Included in here is Spawn #9 which is another huge “key” featuring the first appearance of Angela (now part of the Marvel universe) and has a copy count reflecting well over a thousand submissions (over 1,500 in fact, as of this writing, a really nice sample size):

Issue Census Count: Direct Edition Census Count: Newsstand Grand Total CGC Has Graded
Spawn Batman 251 12 263
Spawn #8 289 4 293
Spawn #9 1495 38 1533
Spawn #10 177 2 179
Spawn #12 94 1 95
WildC.A.T.S. #1 326 16 342
WildC.A.T.S. #2 170 22 192
Pitt #1 335 3 338
Darker Image #1 43 3 46
Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 179 6 185
Grand Total 3359 107 3466
97% 3%

Image’s tiny sliver of total sales on newsstands was so small as to be “nearly invisible” [with some even concluding Image was exclusively direct edition — a completely forgivable mistake considering that if you actually go looking for Image newsstand comics in the marketplace they are buried under a mountain of direct editions]. There are probably many other Image titles and issues beyond those 10 examples listed above that have similar newsstand edition manufacturing differences, but that collectors have yet to send in to CGC for grading.  I’m not currently aware of any Marvel or D.C. comics with such differences in paper quality between newsstand and direct edition; it is possible this could be an Image-specific phenomenon (if you know otherwise please comment at the bottom of this post with that information). Image as a new entrant in 1992 faced a major challenge with newsstand sales — think of the competition they faced as a new start-up with new/unknown characters going head-to-head against the well-known characters published by industry heavyweights…

And so while they did succeed in attaining some newsstand distribution, they sold the vast majority of their comics as direct editions, to comic shops — and some of the manufacturing choices they elected for the newsstand copies may have been done in order to save money to help them compete (using cheap newsprint instead of expensive glossy paper for example; as another example for Spawn Batman the direct edition cover was thick card stock while the newsstand edition cover was regular paper). Some of Image’s titles did better than others on the newsstand, for example sales of the more popular Spawn title fared better than Savage Dragon — Erik Larsen has posted about that title’s struggles on the newsstand, saying that he completely pulled Savage Dragon off of the newsstands by 1996 because it was losing money. Because of this special situation as a new entrant, Image’s experience as a publisher on the newsstands in the 90’s would certainly be a much different one as compared to Marvel or D.C. — but it is widely discussed out there that newsstand sales even for those heavyweights were in major decline and I’ll go into that more, later in this post.

Aside from manufacturing differences like the Image examples above, in the last year I became aware of two other special situations where CGC has decided to “break out” U.S. newsstand comics. What caused me to become aware of these other special cases was The Doc Collection.  Read on: I will next explain these other two “special situations” and also what The Doc Collection is, as well as present an interesting Q&A with the seller who has been liquidating that collection on behalf of its owner (which is posted with their permission).

The Doc Collection

“The newsstand cast a wide net. It funneled wannabe collectors into the comics shops. In a way, the spotty, unreliable, inconsistent nature of newsstand distribution was a good thing, because someone who just had to have every issue was more or less forced to seek out a comics shop.” – Jim Shooter

The “typical” comic book collector in the modern era purchased their collectibles from a specialty comics shop. To buy comics on newsstands was to buy comics that had been manhandled by the staff (who treated them just like the magazines beside them — publications meant to be read — with no reason to preserve condition). And that was assuming the comic sought was even there on the stands in the first place, given how unreliable newsstand distribution could be. By shopping for their collectibles in a comics shop, the typical collector was able to reliably take home a pristine-condition copy and do so without missing an issue.  The comics shop I frequented in the 1990’s as a kid had a special program for regular customers like me, where a mint condition copy of the next issue for any title you wanted to collect was bagged, boarded, and set aside with your name on it, ensuring not a single collectible was missed.

One of these is the “direct edition” version, the other is the “newsstand” version… Can you tell which is which? To the untrained eye they look the same, but they are in fact different, not just having a different UPC code but the cover prices are $1 apart!

But by focusing on condition and reliability, that typical collector (like me back then) may not have realized that they took home a “direct edition” copy…  Even today, not all collectors realize that there was another version out there other than the one they themselves took home.  The Overstreet price guide doesn’t distinguish the types, giving no “cue” in the guide to prompt anyone to think about the difference when looking up values…  And the difference is practically invisible as we move to “late modern” comics where both newsstand and direct edition copies have UPC codes (albeit different ones), making them look identical to the untrained eye. But this UPC code difference, while it may look like trivia “at a glance” it is far from trivial — indeed, what’s in that code box can cause the newsstand version to be a CGC-recognized variant.

“The Doc” was not your typical collector.

Nicknamed “The Doc” by the friend (hirivercomics) who has been auctioning off his collection on eBay one comic at a time, this collector was a doctor, living in the mountains of North Georgia. And The Doc, being a Doc, had an interesting connection… he knew the owner of his local drugstore. And through that connection, had an advantage that the typical collector did not: The Doc could cherry pick newsstand comics before they were handled by the staff, before they ever touched the rack in the drugstore.

The Doc Collection is, simply put, the largest known late modern newsstand collection, and most certainly the largest pristine-condition late modern newsstand collection. And quite possibly a one-of-a-kind collection in that sense. And because the pristine condition is so abnormal among newsstand comics, submissions of comics from this collection are responsible for at least one, and possibly both, of the other two “special situations” where CGC has elected to “break out” US newsstand copies as distinct census variants.  The typical newsstand comic book out there would just not be in “CGC-worthy” condition, compared to a typical direct edition copy… but the Doc’s comics are CGC-worthy.  In this way, prompting submissions and causing CGC to consider new situations they hadn’t encountered before where breaking out newsstand comics as variants was warranted, the Doc Collection has already changed comic book history, by giving us a whole new “class” of CGC-recognized variants where CGC’s census data will separately track newsstand copies as distinct from their direct edition counterparts!

Newsstand Variants

X-Men Origins: Deadpool #1, Newsstand Variant, published 9/2010 by Marvel Comics, but with the UPC code for “Incredible Hulk”.

And here’s a close-up of the UPC code:x-men-origins-code-close-up

This is one of the other types of “special situations” that I noticed for the first time specifically because of the Doc Collection, that I hadn’t known about before. It turns out that Marvel did not always print a given newsstand comic with the “right” UPC code. In fact, they did not always create a distinct UPC code at all (especially for one-shots it seems).

In many cases, instead of creating a whole new code, newsstand copies of this era were instead given a “borrowed” UPC code, i.e., borrowed from another title. Whether we consider this an “error” (arguably it isn’t erroneous if the publisher did it on purpose as they appear to have done), or just an interesting phenomenon, the result is that CGC breaks these newsstand comics out as variants. So this is hardly just a bit of “trivia” because it is giving us a group of Marvel newsstand comics where we can actually see the copy count accumulate over time on census, allowing us to be able to compare the count of newsstand and direct edition copies of these issues.

The name applied to these types of newsstand comics on the census lookup and on the CGC labels is “Newsstand Variant.” I first noticed these on census when looking up Amazing Spider-Man #600, #606, and #607 — although the variant name for newsstand copies of these three was later changed (this year) which I’ll get to in a bit. For those three examples plus a lot of other copies of Amazing Spider-Man during this time-frame, it turns out Marvel used codes other than the Amazing Spider-Man UPC code.  (See more about this interesting phenomenon about UPC code “cycling” in the ASM title in my separate post about Amazing Spider-Man / Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man / Sensational Spider-Man code cycling).

Outside of this ASM “cycling” phenomenon, other comics such as X-Men Origins: Deadpool #1 exhibit a similar phenomenon (pictured at right, where the Incredible Hulk UPC code was used).  [Worth noting too is that this Deadpool example is also a cover price variant, so CGC might have just as easily chosen to put it in that other special situation category, one which I’ll talk more about in a bit].  Here are just a few of the other many examples of Marvel newsstand comics that exhibit this “borrowed” UPC code phenomenon:

Spider-Girl #1 Newsstand Variant, manufactured with UPC code for “Avengers Classic.”

Nova: The Origin of Richard Rider, Newsstand Variant, manufactured with UPC code for Uncanny X-Men.

Nova: The Origin of Richard Rider, Newsstand Variant, manufactured with UPC code for “Uncanny X-Men.”

X-Men Origins: Emma Frost #1, Newsstand Variant, manufactured with UPC code for Iron Man.

X-Men Origins: Emma Frost #1, Newsstand Variant, manufactured with UPC code for “Iron Man.”

3.99 Newsstand Editions

$3.99 Newsstand Edition CGC variant label.

$3.99 Newsstand Edition CGC variant label.

Amazing Spider-Man #615, $3.99 Newsstand Edition. Although the UPC code identifies this comic as a different title (Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man), so CGC could also have chosen to go with “Newsstand Variant”, the cover price at $3.99 is a dollar higher than direct edition copies, and CGC broke it out as a “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” variant.

And here's a close-up on the UPC box where you can see that this issue is priced at $3.99 -- not the normal $2.99.

And here’s a close-up on the UPC box where you can see that this issue is priced at $3.99, not the normal $2.99.

Here’s the one “special situation” category that I know for certain CGC only considered this year (2016), specifically because of the submission of Doc Collection newsstand comics.  There is an entire publication “window” during which newsstand comics were priced $1 higher than their direct edition counter-parts (which had cover prices of $2.99).  If you’re thinking this reminds you very much of 35 cent variants then you’ve had the same thought as me: it might very well be the case that Marvel was testing a price increase for a period of time by measuring newsstand sales (because this cover price variant “window” was followed by the direct edition regular pricing broadly catching up to $3.99).

Whatever the reason for the existence of this cover price variant window, my applause goes to CGC for making the great decision to “break out” newsstand comics from this cover price variant window as distinct census variants!  Since newsstand copies of ASM #600, 606, and 607 are cover price variants (in addition to having that “incorrect” UPC code phenomenon), CGC ultimately changed the name for those — possibly for the sake of consistency across the title — so you may find older graded copies out there that say Newsstand Variant, or, you may find newer ones that say $3.99 Newsstand Edition.

Here’s an example of what the CGC Census currently shows for ASM #607:

Amazing Spider-Man #607 census lookup as of this writing, where you can see the $3.99 Newsstand Edition broken out as a variant.

Amazing Spider-Man #607 census lookup as of this writing, where you can see the $3.99 Newsstand Edition broken out as a variant.

It will be very interesting to watch the census numbers accumulate over the course of time for these and other $3.99 Newsstand Edition comics; this “era” of newsstand publication was very close to the point in time where Marvel ended sales to most newsstand outlets — I’ll talk about that further a little later. So for the census data to differentiate the newsstand comics from their direct edition counterparts during this cover price variant window is going to be exceptionally interesting as the data fills out over the fullness of time.

And because these $3.99 newsstand comics (and also $4.99 when the regular copies happened to be $3.99) are from an entire window, there are lots and lots of titles collectors can dig into for interesting major and minor keys to consider collecting. Just a few examples that I find particularly interesting:

  • Amazing Spider-Man #569, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Anti-Venom key)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #601, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Jessica Jones app.)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #606, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (J. Scott Campbell cover may go down in history as a “modern classic cover” a good test of which is whether it is being cover-swiped by others in the future, because why swipe a past cover unless there is something really important about it?)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #607, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (another famous J. Scott Campbell cover)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #611, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Deadpool app.)
  • Amazing Spider-Man #617, $4.99 Newsstand Edition (1st New Rhino)
  • Incredible Hulk (2008 series) #1, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (1st Red Hulk)
  • Daredevil (1998 series) #111, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Lady Bullseye)
  • Wolverine (2003 series) #67, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Old Man Logan Story-line)
  • Daredevil (2011 series) #21, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Superior Spider-Man cameo)
  • Venom/Deadpool: What If #1, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Venomized Deadpool)
  • New Avengers #35, $3.99 Newsstand Edition (Venomized Wolverine)
  • This post is about Marvel but a similar $1-higher newsstand phenomenon took place at D.C. as well, encompassing their “Rebirth” for example

These are just a few examples to get you thinking (I go into more depth for some of these examples here), and they only scratch the surface of this fairly large cover price variant window.  And I’ll say again, my applause to CGC for breaking out this “class” of cover price variants, I find it exciting that in the fullness of time, this decision will give collectors great CGC census data to study, to compare newsstand versus direct edition rarity in this time period. As I’ll get to later in this post, it was very close to the wind-down of Marvel’s newsstand distribution, and an industry insider has even suggested the relative newsstand rarity towards the end (2013 being the end for Marvel) may have been as extreme as 1-in-50 to 1-in-100 for Marvel in those later years. I’ll also share a pertinent quote from Marvel’s David Gabriel related to this, but first, here is a very interesting Q&A with the seller of the Doc Collection, posted with their permission:

A Q&A with hirivercomics, seller of the Doc Collection

Q) I feel very fortunate to have picked off some of the Doc’s comics at auction, especially some Amazing Spider-Man books in incredible shape. But there are notable “holes” in the Doc’s ASM run, which seem to correspond to the UPC code that was used on them. At some point, Marvel started “cycling” the codes on these, alternating between “Amazing Spider-Man”, “Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man”, and “Sensational Spider-Man”. It seems every third comic was missed by the Doc?

A) I was puzzled by Doc’s Amazing run when I first saw it — after they started putting Amazing and Friendly on the UPC code every third issue was missing! I found out later about the missed ones that they had Sensational Spider-Man on them!!!

Q) For the missed Amazing Spider-Man issue numbers with the Sensational code on them, do you know if this missed distribution was specific to certain types of stores, or certain regions?

A) I found some out there with the Sensational code and the seller/sellers were all from the Northeast (NY,etc)!  During the time Doc was getting his, I can tell you that there wasn’t anybody in the Atlanta area with newsstand comics anymore!

Q) What about the Doc’s area?

A) The drugstore was the only store in the entire North Ga area to receive news stand comics! Like I said this would most likely mean that from south of Atlanta to maybe even the Fla border to the northern Ga borders there was only the one store receiving these!!  I’m sure that the far northeast of the country (where bigger cities with a more walking population were) was still getting more news stand copies!

Q) It is really fascinating that they cycled the ASM codes, and they only sent two out of every three ASM’s to the drugstore based on those codes.  Were there other titles that his store simply wasn’t sent?

A) They didn’t get a large variety of titles — No Flash, Wonder Woman, Action, Ghost Rider!!!  Since the store owner wasn’t concerned with titles and was the only client for the distributor, there wasn’t any rhyme or reason to the ordering!!

Q) Is there any way to estimate how many newsstand copies of a given title or issue made it out there to the public?

A) No one can actually find out how many of an issue were printed if any.  A Holy Grail is Daredevil Vol 2 # 15 – rumor has it that there was a news stand version, but no one I know has ever seen it!  Also Amazing Spider-Man Vol 2 # 559 and Annual # 37!  I only know of one guy that has a 559.  I was offered $1,500 for the three if I could find them!!!

For Superman #677, newsstand copies have a sticker slapped over the UPC code box they were manufactured with.

For Superman #677, newsstand copies have a sticker slapped over the UPC code box, covering up the original. Click here for a zoomed in look at this picture

Q) I’ve noticed some Doc listings where there’s a sticker over the UPC code, like the Wolverine #47 listing, I’m curious if you can tell what’s behind that sticker, i.e. is this maybe a case where there wasn’t a distinct print run of newsstand copies for that issue number and the distributor is using copies from the direct edition print run and covering up the UPC code with a sticker to get the right code onto it?

A) According to what I’ve been told when there was a mistake like with price instead of reprinting them, a sticker was placed on the comic! Along with the 47 I’ve found JLA 118 and Superman 677 had stickers also!! Even crazier is that there’s two different stickers for the Sup 677–I only have one of them!!

Q) Are you able to reveal the total size of the Doc’s newsstand collection and how many you’ve already sold?

A) The Doc collection originally had around 50,000 comics–it’s down to around 6 or 8,000 now!!

Relative Newsstand Rarity: Giving Us Two Ways To Win Instead of One

When collecting a given comic book issue, its value may go up as collectors grow to prize that issue more highly over time — maybe for example because that issue contains a key first appearance of a character that gets more popular, or because the issue is particularly important to the story-line in some way, or is an important work for a given artist or writer, or other such typical reasons. But whatever the reason a particular issue’s value may rise in the future, that’s just one way to win: i.e. you made a good choice about which issue to collect.

The way I see it, all of the examples of “special situation” newsstand comics I’ve discussed here — Canadian Editions (higher cover price), Newsstand Editions (manufacturing differences), Newsstand Variants (UPC code “errors”/borrowing), and $3.99 Newsstand Editions (cover price variance) — are clearly going to be proven out over the fullness of time as more rare than their “regular” counterparts. And incredibly, collector awareness of these variants is so low, that at the present time it is possible to win these variants at auction for regular prices or very close. If you’re able to pay little to no premium for the more rare version, that gives you a second way to win. Collectors of Iron Fist #14 or Star Wars #1 or any number of comic books during the 35 cent variant window of 1977 could have placed 30 cent copies or 35 cent copies into their collections when targeting any given issue they were looking to collect… and until 1998 very little attention was paid to the difference. But fast-forward to today, and clearly, collectors who targeted the 35 cent copies have been more richly rewarded… because they had two ways to win instead of one. Not only did the issue itself climb in value, but the rarity premium grew (or “exploded” may be the better word — look where the Star Wars variants are valued today!).

As an example of a demonstrably-rare CGC-recognized newsstand variant that is being overlooked resulting in a situation where collectors may place the newsstand version into their collections for a cost basis pretty much in-line with the going rate for direct edition copies, consider Amazing Spider-Man #606: here is a screenshot I took earlier this year of two copies, one being the rare $3.99 newsstand edition and the other being a plain old direct edition copy:


Two sales of ASM #606 from earlier this year: the one at the top is the $3.99 newsstand edition, while the one at the bottom is a regular prevalent direct edition copy.

Notice that the $3.99 newsstand edition is the top copy (if you look closely at the UPC code you’ll recognize it as a newsstand copy), while the bottom copy is one of the prevalent direct edition copies that make up the vast majority of what you’ll find out there if you go looking to buy a NM copy of ASM #606.  These two copies were priced pretty much in line, and you’ll further notice that the seller of the newsstand edition did not title it as such, in other words their listing title does not have the “newsstand” key word in it, nor the $3.99 keyword, etc.  This seller therefore may not have realized their copy was any different from all the rest… and so they priced it in-line with the market price for the issue number broadly.  The same lack of market awareness can be observed in eBay sales of issue #607:


Similarly, $3.99 newsstand edition copies of ASM #607 can recently be found for prices in-line with regular prevalent direct edition copies.

The same phenomenon can in fact be found among examples from all of the different “special situation” categories I’ve talked about in this post.   But one cannot rely on a “refined” eBay search with “newsstand” in it to find them, so there is extra effort involved in reviewing all the new listings and doing your own visual screen for newsstand copies, but with that extra effort and a lot of patience I’m certain you can find these newsstand bargains out there, giving you similar cost basis to the going rate for their direct edition counterparts.  And if you can get in at a similar cost, then you will have those two ways to win: the issue number may climb in value, and the relative rarity may command a premium in the distant future, the same way 35 cent variants were initially overlooked but command such a premium all these years later.

Newsstand Rarity: Discussion & Estimation

[ Related slideshow: newsstand rarity discussion & estimates ]

If you like the idea as I do of having “two ways to win” then you’ll also be interested in getting a sense of just how rare these newsstand comics may in fact be relative to direct editions…  And for this, one must focus on the industry: what was happening with the two comic book distribution channels, at different times?  This subject has been a topic of discussion and estimation by industry insiders, with one particularly valuable discussion that I’ll get to in a moment, published by Chuck Rozanski.  Rozanski has written extensively about comic book distribution and is cited by Jim Shooter as follows:

“In the mid to late 1970’s, the comic book Direct Market started to evolve. The story of its origins is told better than I could ever tell it, starting here: [ this links out to Rozanski’s “Evolution of the Direct Market Part I” ]. I differ from Chuck Rozanski’s accounts only in details, which are in the big picture, of no consequence. To wit, I believe that I was present for his first meeting with President Jim Galton and, in fact, played a part in making that meeting happen. … ”

— Jim Shooter, Comic Book Distribution Part III

The above Rozanski link shared by Shooter is a great read with multiple parts.  Shooter himself has also described how by 1986, he was concerned about how the distribution pendulum had swung so far in the direction of direct edition, and he came up with ideas to support the ailing newsstand market, including the idea of a newsstand exclusive (which ultimately was “shot down”):

“I felt that we needed the newsstand market. That, if we became completely dependent on the Direct Market, we’d wind up in the same position as when we’d been entirely dependent on the newsstand market. Up the creek without a paddle. Screwed. Helpless. At their mercy. I spoke with Marvel’s newsstand sales manager, Denise Bové. Denise was in charge of our dealings with Curtis. Like me, she felt the pendulum had swung too far. So did our Curtis account people. We came up with a number of support-the-newsstand-distribution ideas. I suggested, for instance, doing a newsstand exclusive. Why not? You know the Direct Market shops would go to their local ID’s and buy copies anyway. It would be a big hit for the ID’s, and maybe the retailers they served. And great PR in that market. Maybe get them interested in comics again. A little. That would have been in 1986. At that point, I was engaged in daily battles with the President and the other owners of Marvel.”

— Jim Shooter, Comic Book Distribution Part III

But Shooter would lose this support-the-newsstand battle, and direct edition sales would grow to that point he had feared where ultimately they were entirely dependent on the direct market, and eventually Marvel would shut down the newsstand channel entirely (very interesting quote from David Gabriel on this subject I’ll share in just a minute).

“The Direct Market was easy money, quick money, sure money to the brass — not that any of them had ever set foot in a comics shop or even opened a comic book. To them it was about moving the units and collecting the cash. Might as well have been widgets we were selling. But, they knew the Direct Market was shooting fish in a barrel. Why jeopardize that? Circulation V.P. Ed Shukin, both Kalish and Denise’s boss, kept his head low and his mouth shut. He knew which way the wind was blowing upstairs. So, Denise and I lost and Kalish won. I was gone from Marvel not too long afterwards, so, it was my problem no longer. Kalish passed away in 1991, but ultimately Marvel arrived where she wanted it. And that’s where we are now.”

— Jim Shooter, Comic Book Distribution Part III

The point in time when newsstand sales were overtaken by direct edition sales was estimated by Rozanski to be in that same 1985/1986 timeframe that Shooter is talking about above:  in “Modifications to the Distribution System,” Rozanski revealed the following information about newsstand versus direct edition sales figures by year in the 1980’s:

“Because I had such a personal vested interest in the growth trends of the Direct Market, during the early 1980’s I quizzed everyone at Marvel who would give me figures as to what impact comics shops were having on the sales at company. I derived the following estimated numbers specifically from conversations with Jim Shooter, Ed Shukin, Michael Hobson, and Carol Kalish:

1979 Direct Market 6% of Marvel’s gross sales
1982 Direct Market 20% of Marvel’s gross sales
1985 Direct Market 50% of Marvel’s gross sales
1987 Direct Market 70% of Marvel’s gross sales

While the exact figures may vary slightly from my derived estimates, the fact remains that Marvel’s choosing to open up their distribution system to new entrants in 1979, and providing working capital at the same time, turned out to be the turning point in the history of the company. In fact, if you consider that the expansion in market share by the Direct Market was paralleled by the simultaneous collapse of the newsstand business, it becomes clear that Marvel Comics would not have survived the 1980’s without the robust growth in comics specialty shops.”

A later-year newsstand sales percentage and Marvel’s 1999-era thinking about the newsstand distribution channel was revealed by Marvel VP Bill Jemas — newsstand sales were cited to be 14% when Jemas arrived in 1999, and he described how the company had made a decision to “walk away” from the newsstand:

“When Jemas arrived at Marvel in 1999, newsstand sales were at 14%, according to the BPA’s audits for the first half of the year, and the company made a conscious decision to walk away from the newsstand in favor of reprint collections in bookstores, owing to the serialized nature of the stories. “I have a pretty good imagination, but I can’t see a twelve-year-old going to a newsstand six months in a row to pick up the right Spider-Man comic to get a complete story. I can see a twelve-year-old going to a bookstore and picking up a book with the whole Spider-Man story in it,” is how Jemas explains the decision.”
The Business Of Content

In the book Economics of Digital Comics by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, Marvel’s newsstand percentage is said to be down to a mere 4.25% by 2003:

“Examining Business of Performing Audits International’s (BPA) “Circulation Statement for the 6 Month Period Ended June 2003” for Marvel Comics, several interesting things come to light. First, in the breakout for May 2003, the Total Qualified Circulation is 3,095,661 copies. Of that number, only 131,625 are “Single Issue Sales,” or newsstand-distributed copies. If May is representative of Marvel’s circulation, and there is no reason to believe otherwise, then only 4.25% of Marvel’s circulation comes from the traditional newsstand distribution system.
— Economics of Digital Comics

From there, if we fast-forward ten years to 2013, Marvel’s David Gabriel reveals that Marvel’s single-issue newsstand comics program ended to what were the last remaining newsstand outlets (those last outlets being Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million). But equally interesting is that Gabriel indicated that newsstand sales had ended to all of their other newsstand outlets about two years prior — which would have been circa 2010-2011:

“Gabriel confirmed that Marvel’s single-issue comics program to bookstores has been ended. He said that Marvel ended newsstand sales of print comics “about two years ago,” and the single-issue program at BAM and B&N “ended almost three months ago to no fanfare or notice from the comics industry.” Gabriel said “the business in the direct market [the comics shop market] is a much stronger model and try as we might, we have not been able to make the comics newsstand model work for years, I don’t think anyone has.”

A great comics research resource, Comichron, estimated industry-wide 2013 newsstand comic book sales of only $25 million versus comic store orders (direct edition) of $340 million — add those two numbers together and we reach a total of $365 million. Divide $25 million into that total, and that would put the estimated newsstand percentage at 6.8% for 2013, versus direct edition at 93.2%.

Anything in the “single digits” is already an extremely low percentage worthy of collector attention; but there are other estimates out there which come out even more aggressive on the side of rarity for Marvel in its last years of newsstand sales. Chuck Rozanski, whose Marvel estimates from the 1980’s I quoted before, is the owner of Mile High Comics, a comic book retailer. Mile High’s website proclaims they are the largest comics dealer in the USA, with over 10 million comics in inventory. And in 2013, Rozanski would give more estimates of newsstand rarity, including an estimate of 1-in-50 by 2005 and 1-in-100 by 2013 for Marvel. These estimates may have been informed in part by an interesting exercise that few other people would be in the position to do: breaking out this kind of enormous inventory to separate newsstand and direct edition comics, and see where the numbers fall. According to Rozanski, before this project, some savvy collectors were specifically demanding newsstand copies, and meanwhile other dealers with knowledge of newsstand rarity were pointing out how stupid he was being to continue to charge equivalent prices for the two types:

“All of the above information was interesting, but completely irrelevant to our website until just about two years ago. At that time, we had the dual circumstances arise of certain astute collectors demanding that we send them only bar coded (newsstand) editions, while a couple of very smart comics dealers (with whom we have good relations) telling us that we were being very slow and stupid for not charging a premium for our bar coded issues. We resisted that pressure for a while, but after a few months of watching this new demand for newsstand editions emerge in the back issue comics marketplace, we decided that we had no choice but to comply with this new reality.”

– Chuck Rozanski, Newsstand Editions History

Although we must take his estimates with the proper grain of salt since his exercise of “breaking out” the two versions may have allowed survivorship difference to creep into his numbers (newsstand comics seeing a much higher typical destruction rate than direct edition), and while furthermore we must be cognizant of the fact he is selling newsstand comic books on his website, it is also the case that few other people out there would have this kind of internal database to draw information from: i.e. having performed this incredible undertaking of breaking out that enormous inventory, he can look at his database and see the count of newsstand copies versus direct edition copies he’s accumulated after buying so many comic book collections and accumulating so many back issues.  He can presumably see the comparative counts by issue number, title, publisher, and year. Doesn’t that make you a little bit jealous, that hobbyists like you and me do not have access to that same wealth of information?

As I said in the beginning of this post, it would have been fantastic if CGC had counted the two different types for every issue so we could compare CGC census data to Rozanski’s estimates for Marvel, but alas, CGC only does so for our “special situation” categories that I reviewed here. So Rozanski has something the rest of us do not, something not even CGC has: a ton of internal data about newsstand versus direct edition rarity. Non-public data of course, that we cannot review — but I for one am glad Rozanski worked on his estimates and then shared them with collectors. Whether he is on the side of aggressive with his 1-in-50 by 2005 and 1-in-100 by 2013 estimates for Marvel into the end of their newsstand sales, or whether the numbers for Marvel are more like Comichron’s 2013 industry-wide newsstand estimate of 6.8%, is something we’ll start to see reflected in the CGC census data in the fullness of time, as it fills out for $3.99 newsstand editions. And that — hobbyists getting to see the newsstand versus direct edition census count across this new “class” of variants — is something I for one cheer! 🙂

But one thing to conclude from all of this is fairly clear to this collector and perhaps you will agree: regardless of precisely how relatively rare newsstand comics are to their direct edition counter-parts, they are definitely more rare by some very large margin especially in those later years: and that margin gives us a second way to win. When collecting any given late modern comic, I therefore prefer to collect the newsstand version, especially out of those “special situation” categories where we get CGC-recognized variants that I talked about here and especially when I can pay little to no premium to do so!

Happy Collecting! 🙂