35 Cent Variants, Canadian Newsstand Edition, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books, Growing Newsstand Awareness, Rare Comics To Collect

Two Ways To Win Update

By Benjamin Nobel, October 29, 2018

“When collecting any given key comic book issue, it is better to have two ways to win, than just one.”

We have just published The 2019 Price Guide for 1980’s Marvel & DC Newsstand Canadian Cover Price Variants (Type 1A), which included a few new features this year — one of which is a new Market Reports & Articles section.

My fellow collaborators have done a fine job presenting discussions about the state of the market for 1980’s price variants, including example sale highlights, and so for my report I decided to approach a discussion from a different angle: to give you an update on the “two ways to win” strategy that I’ve been advocating for so long on this blog.

What is the strategy? For newer readers, let me describe it by painting a scenario. Suppose it is the mid 1990’s and you decide you want to collect a copy of Star Wars #1 (Marvel Comics, 7/1977). Before embarking on your collecting quest, it would be very useful for you to know that there exist both 30¢ cover price 1st print types as well as 35¢ cover price 1st print types of that issue, and that the higher cover price type is actually dramatically more rare than the lower cover price type.

Star Wars #1 35¢ Variant

Star Wars #1 35¢ Variant

Suppose at the time you embark on your collecting quest, the relative rarity of the 35¢ type versus the 30¢ type is not very widely known in the hobby: it might be possible for you to pay “regular price” (or close to it) for the more-rare 35¢ version! If you can accomplish that feat of landing the 35¢ version for a cost basis close to regular market value, you’ve just given yourself two ways to win instead of one: (1) the issue number itself may rise in value, and (2) collectors of the future may be willing to ascribe a hefty premium to the more rare type, as its rarity becomes better known throughout the hobby.

Had you executed such a strategy back in the early days of 35¢ variant awareness, today you’d be grinning from ear to ear — because look where the Overstreet price guide values the two different types today in its most recently released guide (OPG #48):

The regular 30¢ 1st print type is given a $215 value in 9.2 by Overstreet, while meanwhile the more-rare 35¢ type is given an $11,000 value in 9.2 — that’s a premium of ~51x for the price variant over its regular counter-part!

But that ~51x premium didn’t happen overnight… it built over the years, even after the rarity difference was widely known throughout the hobby. For example, check out how that premium has grown over the last eight years — here’s the same Overstreet guide page from back in 2010 (from OPG #40):

star-wars-1-opg-40

As you can see above, back then the regular 30¢ 1st print type was given a $95 value in 9.2 by Overstreet, while meanwhile the more-rare 35¢ type was given an $2,500 value in 9.2… for a premium of ~26x for the cover price variant.

With 20/20 hindsight, Star Wars #1 clearly would have been a good pick for a key issue to collect back in 2010, as its “base value” (the 9.2 Overstreet guide value for the regular 30¢ type) has grown at a +10.7% annualized rate of return during these past eight years.

But what about the 35¢ type? Even at a monster premium of 26x back in 2010, you were still better off collecting the cover price variant: because in the ensuing years, the 35¢ type would increase in value by +20.3% annualized!

Looking at this result, it is clear that those who had the choice but decided to collect the regular 30¢ type instead of the more-rare 35¢ variant lost out on all that additional upside. To illustrate this, suppose in 2010 you had invested $10,000 in each of the two types. At the 9.2 guide values back then, that would have resulted in a box of about 106 copies of the 30¢ type (rounding up a smidge) versus 4 copies of the 35¢ type. Fast-forward to today and here are what the two $10K investments would be worth at today’s 9.2 guide values:

star-wars-investment-growth

“You won in two ways with the cover price variant.”

So in the above hypothetical scenario, had you invested your $10K into the plain old 30¢ type and ignored the cover price variants, you missed out on roughly $21,210 of upside! And that’s from a starting point where the 35¢ variant already had a guide value twenty six times higher than the regular cover price copies! With 20/20 hindsight, clearly you did dramatically better going with the 35¢ variant — because you “won” in two ways: (1) the issue number itself grew in value, and (2) the cover price variant premium over regular copies expanded in multiple. You won in two ways with the cover price variant.

Let’s keep that result in mind, as we fast-forward to a 1980’s key: Suppose you now decide you want to collect a copy of Amazing Spider-Man (ASM) #238 (Marvel Comics, 3/1983). Is there a “Two Ways To Win” collecting strategy?

You bet there is!!!

Before embarking on your ASM #238 collecting quest, it would be very useful for you to know that there were two distinct distribution channels through which comics of that era were sold: (1) newsstand sales, and (2) direct edition sales. The prevalent direct editions have a Spider-Man logo in place of a bar code, and were ordered by comic shops at a discounted but non-returnable basis — that Spidey Head logo was a way for the publisher to identify a direct-sold copy and be able to refuse refund and say “sorry comic shops: you’re stuck with any unsold copies!”

Newsstand editions meanwhile have a bar code, such copies were treated/handled by newsstand staff like magazines (i.e. something to read) and sat on newsstands waiting for a buyer… any unsold copies were returned to the publisher and typically pulped/recycled forward. The newsstand copies that sold tended to be purchased by readers (as an “entertainment purchase”) instead of by collectors (who instead were over in comic shops loading up on direct editions and carefully placing them in plastic bags), and thus newsstand copies saw a notoriously high destruction rate as compared to their well-preserved direct edition counter-parts.

So: collectible-condition surviving newsstand copies of the 1980’s are considerably harder to find versus collectible-condition direct edition copies… That already gives us a second way to win: to go for the more-rare collectible-condition newsstand survivor, versus settling for a prevalent direct edition copy…

But as readers of this market report already know — because you already read our guide intro — during a window of time in the 1980’s, Marvel actually published two distinct newsstand types: a lower cover price 1st print type (60¢ in the case of ASM #238), and a higher cover price 1st print type (75¢ in the case of ASM #238). And that the higher cover price type is by far the most rare type — the target market for that type had ~1/10th the population! [Here is a rarity walkthrough with explanatory graphics, here is Paul’s “common sense approach” to understanding their scarcity, and here is Doug’s scarcity discussion.]

Conclusion: going after that dramatically-more-rare 75¢ cover price variant type gives us our strongest “Two Ways To Win” when collecting our ASM #238.

Back when I began this blog, it was widely possible to collect the cover price variant (CPV) for any given 1980’s key published during the price variant window, and pay “regular price” for it: awareness throughout the hobby about this type of variant was historically sparse back then, so there were many people who owned variants in their collections without realizing it, i.e. they knew they owned Amazing Spider-Man #238, but did not realize there was anything different or special about their copy, with its 75¢ cover price.

“I refer to such listings with generic titles but pictured variants as “mis-listed” variants.”

Such a person, when looking to sell, might look up the recent OPG guide value or the recent market price that the issue number in general was selling for, and then list their rare variant on a buy-it-now asking “regular market price” for it (or auction it off). Since they did not realize their copy was anything special, they would choose a “generic” listing title (e.g. “Amazing Spider-Man #238, Marvel Comics, 1983”) as opposed to a title that would allow CPV collectors to find it in a refined search — no “Variant” in the title, no “Canadian”, no “Newsstand”, no “CPV”, nothing you might search for when looking for this type of variant. But zoom in on the picture to see the cover price, and it would clearly show the variant. I refer to such listings with generic titles but pictured variants as “mis-listed” variants. Many of us have been successfully hunting down such opportunities for years (high five, fellow hunters!).

And that brings me to my Update on the Two Ways To Win Strategy. Applying this strategy to my own collecting of 1980’s CPVs, my approach over the years can be described by the below “decision tree” [it is a general representation of the approach but some things are “assumed” such as, for example, that there is a “grade hurdle” in mind for the variant in advance of hunting for it — personally I aim for “9 out of 10” on the grade scale (VF/NM) and if I can exceed that goal I’m thrilled]:

cpv-decision-tree

For years, my collecting of these variants mostly ran along two paths down the branches — often, I could hunt through listings and either find myself a “mis-listed” variant to collect…

mis-listed-cover-price-vari

… or I felt confident that with enough patience — which I should make clear was often measured in months or even years of waiting — I would eventually see a mis-listed variant come onto the market:

wait-cover-price-variant

I’m not the only one who has pursued this collecting approach, and here’s why the approach is important to understand when considering the current state of the CPV marketplace: for many years, given the state of collector awareness (unawareness) of these cover price variants, I was reluctant to traverse down the branches towards that “pay a premium” box for a given issue. I was so confident that with the passage of enough time I’d eventually land myself a mis-listed variant copy of the issue I was looking for, that I was very reluctant to pony up a premium price.

That may sound hard to understand when at the same time (1) I’d mentioned before that it could be months or even years between mis-listed variant sightings for given issues, and (2) clearly I am someone who has studied the rarity of these variants and I know very well that they are deserving of a hefty premium. So why was I so reluctant to pony up a well-deserved premium? Consider this: suppose hypothetically that you have a given issue where you tend to see a mis-listed variant hit the market once a year. Waiting around for that opportunity might sound nearly futile. But suppose for sake of argument that you have 365 different variants you are hunting for, each of which tends to produce a mis-listed variant opportunity once a year? Well my friends, on any given day you should expect that an opportunity would come your way! You just wouldn’t know which opportunity. [By the way, this was the inspiration for this year’s Top 365 / A Variant A Day list].

So picture yourself executing this strategy of hunting for mis-listed variants over the years… As the years progress, and more and more collectors learn about the variants, more collectors then recognize when they own variants and in turn more often list them properly. Thus, over time, you begin seeing fewer and fewer mis-listed variant opportunities. Instead of an opportunity per day among your hunt list of issues, you’re seeing an opportunity per week… then every couple of weeks… then even longer… Now suppose a new key issue catches your attention to collect, one which you do not already own in any grade — i.e. something you have not been trying to collect or upgrade, until today, so that you do not even own one single starter copy of the variant. How are you going to approach the decision tree? In today’s marketplace of rapidly increasing variant awareness, you are probably going to be increasingly willing to traverse down that “pay a premium” path:

pay-price-variant-premium

And speaking for myself, that above path down the tree is where I have been finding myself these days. For example, one of the issues I collected in the past year was Detective Comics #583 (February 1988, first appearances of Ventriloquist and Scarface, and a gorgeous Mike Mignola cover). It was during one of the proof-reads of our 2018 guide that decided I wanted to own this variant. Let’s go down the tree: Were newsstand copies published for the issue? Yes. Do Type 1A cover price variant newsstand copies exist? Yes! Was I able to find a “mis-listed” variant for sale at “regular” price? No. Not a mis-listed copy in sight, at any price. I decided very quickly that I’d be willing to pay a premium for a properly-listed copy. But there were zero properly-listed copies available. I found myself waiting for one. And waiting for one. And waiting for one…

Detective Comics #583 $1.00 Price Variant

Detective Comics #583 $1.00 Price Variant

Eventually, a variant appeared on the market! It was properly listed, with the listing title identifying it as the variant, reading: “Detective Comics – 583 – Rare 1.00 Price Variant! – DC Comics – NM- 1988″… The buy-it-now cost with shipping was $58.12, representing a premium price over the going rate for direct editions in the same grade. Friends, I didn’t even hesitate: I slammed that buy button. And I’m so glad I did — I have yet to see its equal come onto the market since. In fact, I sent my copy to CGC, and as of today the CGC census still shows only one variant copy on record for the issue… my copy. I tell this anecdote to illustrate how my own behavior has changed over the years, as the hobby’s awareness of this type of cover price variant has grown. How many others like me fit this description, and how are we impacting the CPV marketplace in the aggregate?

I do still see mis-listed variants out there as well — those opportunities certainly haven’t yet “dried up” completely (here’s a mis-listed variant I landed recently) — but nowadays I do find myself time and again traversing the tree down towards that “pay a premium for a properly listed copy” box. If other market participants are behaving like me, then mis-listed-variant-hunters are increasingly losing their patience to wait for mis-listed opportunities and are realizing that the best move, if we actually want to land that variant we’re looking for, is to be willing to pony up that hefty premium (especially in the highest grades where supply is so very limited). This marketplace behavior change which I observe in myself — and then potentially multiplied across other mis-listed variant hunters out there if their behavior has similarly changed — certainly would argue for a continued shift towards higher marketplace premiums paid for properly listed variants. How much of a variant premium is reasonable these days? Each collector will need to find their own answer to the question of what a reasonable premium is, for them, for any given issue in a given grade at a given point in time. (Hopefully our guide is a useful tool to help in that decision).

What kinds of premiums have informed collectors been observed paying lately for properly listed variants? Looking at the new Noteworthy Sales section of the guide and looking at the sales prices for variants compared to where the prevalent direct editions in the same grades have been selling lately, I can confidently say that those cover price variant premiums being paid these days still seem very reasonable to me in relation to the underlying rarity. Still “early innings” is a good way to describe it — and actually, fellow guide collaborator Angelo Virone recently gave a baseball analogy himself (quoted in this post), i.e. what “inning” are we in as far as awareness in the hobby about this type of cover price variant, its extreme relative rarity, and incredible collecting appeal?

Angelo placed us in the second inning as of that day; but as those who have been following my blog already know, there has recently been a major milestone for Type 1A 75¢ variants like our ASM #238 example: CBCS has begun to dignify them with a price variant label, e.g. “75¢ Canadian Price Variant”. That will make for a huge leap forward in collector awareness: The proverbial snowball of growing awareness was already rolling down the mountain at unstoppable speed, but now just got a huge step-up in mass. This is a leap forward for Type 1A price variants.

How much of a leap? Angelo described it as skipping the third inning and jumping straight into the 4th. I have to agree, that this milestone is going to result in a huge step-up of collector awareness about Type 1A price variants (my blog’s “stats page” was on fire with hits when that news broke) — in fact, I have to wonder to myself just how quickly our guided values in our 2019 guide edition will slip woefully out of date? As an example, at the time we conducted our annual value survey for the 2019 guide, our median advisor value for the ASM #238 cover price variant in 9.2 came in at $425… Meanwhile, in between that survey and today, we have seen more record-breaking sales for ASM #238 including a CGC 8.0 (VF) copy selling on the marketplace for north of $600 (fully +44% higher than our 9.2 guided value, for a CGC 8.0)!

And this continued rise in the variant premium over time is our second way to win by targeting the dramatically-more-rare 1980’s newsstand cover price variants: The first way we can win, is by making a strong selection for which keys to collect — looking issue by issue at the collecting merits, and selecting wisely; the second way we can win is the potential for the variant premium to widen over the upcoming years as awareness continues to grow in the hobby and as other comic book “authorities” follow in the footsteps of CBCS in properly recognizing Type 1A price variants for the true 1st print US-published cover price variants they are!

Happy CPV Collecting Everyone! And now please read more Market Reports & Articles from our 2019 guide! 🙂

– Ben

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Australian Newsstand Edition, Canadian Newsstand Edition, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books, Growing Newsstand Awareness

Applause To CBCS’s New “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” Labeling

By Benjamin Nobel, October 9, 2018

The first type 1A cover price variant to be labeled “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” by CBCS.

My fellow price guide collaborator, Angelo Virone, has just received back the very first CBCS slab carrying their new labeling treatment for Type 1A cover price variant comics: instead of “Canadian Edition” in the variant field of the label, going forward CBCS will now use “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” (with the variant name beginning with the individual variant cover price for the particular issue, 75¢ or otherwise)!

This excellent improvement by CBCS demands our applause! Three cheers for CBCS!!! I have no doubt this change required a huge amount of effort to accomplish; if you had asked me a year ago when I discussed the “what to call these” question and encouraged grading companies to make an improvement, I would have said that the best we collectors should hope for would be that a grading company like CBCS would be able to do a “find/replace” and go from “Canadian Edition” to “Canadian Price Variant” — i.e. that having the variant cover price itself in the variant name seemed like too much to hope for because of the man hours necessary to input each individual cover price and change each census entry one by one…

Since then, as collector interest in Type 1A price variants has continued to build, pressure on the grading companies to make a labeling improvement has built as well; and earlier in the year we saw an incremental improvement to CGC’s labeling — although they retained the “Canadian Edition” variant name, they began to input the variant cover price for each issue onto the right-hand side of their labels on a piecemeal basis as new books are submitted.

Not to be outdone, CBCS decided to take on the workload necessary to input each cover price into the variant name itself in their census entries — and in doing so, CBCS has now leap-frogged CGC in appropriately labeling Type 1A cover price variant comics as cover price variants and with the individual cover price included in the variant name!

This move by CBCS is a milestone moment. When I first looked at the new label atop Angelo’s slab (shown below), it struck me that for all of us who work so hard to hunt down these rare variants, we’re going to want this new CBCS label (I for one am absolutely going to send my next submission of Type 1A variants to CBCS) because we will feel gratification when our comics are appropriately recognized as the 1st print US-published cover price variants that they are!

75¢ Canadian Price Variant - CBCS

In the past I had argued that the ideal label name for a comic like the above was “75¢ Cover Price Variant,” but I recognized how time-consuming a task it would be to accomplish inclusion of the price in the variant name itself (necessitating each variant cover price be individually inputted for each of the many variants already on census). Since 75¢ was the intended price for Canada, using the shortcut “Canadian Price Variant” would have been understandable and likely a heck of a lot easier — so it is wonderful that CBCS has taken the extra time and effort to place the cover price itself in the name.

At first it struck me that including both “75¢” and “Canadian” was redundant — either of those words tells us we’re looking at the Type 1A variant — but I think CBCS may be including both of those words because the labeling change they have made is larger than the newsstand cover price variants of the 1980’s… They are actually changing their labeling for all of the different “classes” of Type 1A variants, and the inclusion of “Canadian” or “Australian” or “U.K.” helps identify which “class” the given book belongs to — here below is a quote from CBCS’s International Comic Specialist, Tim Bildhauser, commenting on the labeling change:

“CBCS’s perspective on labeling comics submitted for grading has always been to do so as accurately as possible and providing as much information about the books on the label as we can fit. We had previously notated these as “Canadian Edition” and, while that’s not necessarily an incorrect classification, it also doesn’t do a clear enough explanation of the difference from the standard U.S. versions of these books. A more detailed notation was needed to not only make them more identifiable but also to help educate newer collectors that might not be familiar with these books.

We will be carrying this change in notation over to both the Australian newsstand comics from the early 1990s as well as the various U.K. price variants as well.”

— Tim Bildhauser, CBCS International Comic Specialist

So indeed, this is a milestone moment not just for the newsstand-exclusive 1980’s cover price variants but for all Type 1A price variants! The terms “Type 1” and “Type 1A” were coined by fellow price guide collaborator Jon McClure. Most collectors are familiar with the 30¢ and 35¢ price variants of the 1970’s — these are “Type 1” variants. Such price variants are true 1st print US-published copies, fully identical on the inside to the other first print copies but carrying a different cover price; and as far as their distribution, Type 1 variants were restricted to certain test markets. Type 1A variants are also true 1st print US-published copies, also fully identical on the inside to the rest of the print run, but carrying a different cover price and restricted in their distribution to a certain country as the target market.

I checked in with Jon to get his reaction to the new CBCS labeling change. He said as follows:

“How we categorize books, and especially what we name them, has a tremendous impact upon value and desirability. Calling any U.S. Published Cover Price Variants by the name “Canadian Edition” conflates them with foreign editions which is misleading to collectors. The new “75¢ Canadian Price Variant” CBCS labeling is a tremendous improvement! Type 1a variants are universally scarcer than regular editions, regardless of era, going all the way back to the Golden Age. Because scarcity and demand drive the market, CBCS’s new formal recognition of them as price variants ends the “Canadian Edition” (or UK or Australian edition) nonsense for U.S. published comics and provides accuracy for the fast growing market of Type 1a variant comics. CBCS has done the hobby a great service by properly identifying such books. I predict that the fast growing Type 1a variant market will reflect and embrace this important change with ever-increasing fervor, as collectors realize what they are actually looking at (for a change), and that they will pursue and invest in them accordingly.”

— Jon McClure, Senior Overstreet Advisor

CBCS is on a roll with their labeling improvements… Last year, CBCS began to “break out” newsstand comics broadly, from their direct edition counter-parts — recognizing what I would call a “mega-trend” in the hobby. On page 178 of this year’s Overstreet, Steve Ricketts of CBCS discusses this trend, stating as follows:

“Newsstand and Direct variants are quickly gaining popularity with the mainstream collectors. CBCS has seized the reins on this niche of the hobby, by being the only grading service to identify Newsstand and Direct Edition copies in the variant field of the label on books from 1977 through 2000. Once the CBCS census goes live, it will be interesting to see the numbers that have been submitted. In the late 1970’s, Direct Edition comics were less common than Newsstand Editions. As years progressed, Newsstand copies became more and more scarce, with the Newsstand copies of some comics being incredibly hard to find. The hobby will start to learn about the scarcity of each issue in the coming years. More information is better for everyone, especially involving something that was hiding right under our very noses.”

— Steve Ricketts, CBCS Head Presser

It is indeed an exciting time to be a collector of newsstand comics; and if we’ve already reached the conclusion that we should be hunting down the more-rare newsstand version of a given comic from the 1980’s-onward, instead of the prevalent direct edition version, then indeed if there’s an even-more-rare newsstand version — a Type 1A Cover Price Variant newsstand version — then shouldn’t that be the type we treasure the most? And after all of our hard work hunting down that most rare of all the types, do we not want our selected grading company to properly recognize our comic with appropriate labeling? My applause to CBCS for giving Type 1A cover price variant collectors that gift: the ability to now have a slab that dignifies our variants with a price variant label!

You can bet my next submission of Type 1A comics is headed to CBCS — I want that new label atop my Type 1A’s! 🙂 This change by CBCS has elevated their grading company to “top-of-mind” for Cover Price Variant (“CPV”) collectors. Fellow guide collaborator and CPV collector and historian Angelo Virone agrees and puts it this way:

“Eureka! C.B.C.S. has done it!

Being the “first mover” and correcting labels to better reflect historical accuracy, regardless of the cost incurred and manpower needed, elevates this respected company to a level that is second-to-none.

As a play on words from a famous quote after the lunar landing, “That’s one small step for a collector, one giant leap for the comic book collecting community.”

In my humble opinion, I believe we are now at the top of the second inning … skipping the third … and now entering the fourth. This is an exciting time to collect and/or start investing in Canadian, Australian and U.K. Cover Price Variants because awareness of their scarcity is picking up, thus increasing demand and leading to future potential price increases.”

— Angelo Virone, Cover Price Variant Collector and Historian

Happy CPV Collecting, everyone! 🙂
– Ben

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Canadian Newsstand Edition, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books

CGC 9.8 Census Comparison: 1970’s Keys vs. 1980’s Keys

By Benjamin Nobel, December 9, 2017

summary-cgc-9.8-table

The #1 most frequently asked question I receive about 1980’s Type 1A Cover Price Variants is always some variation on the theme of: I need 9.8’s but can’t find them! Help!

Everyone who collects 1980’s comics appears to be “pre-conditioned” to expect an abundance of 9.8’s from that era — and who can blame them for that expectation in the context of what happened to comic book distribution during the 1980’s and what that meant for high grade survivorship?!

Direct Edition sales took over in the 1980’s to eventually become the dominant form of comic book distribution [read more about this]. And such copies were direct-sold to specialty comic shops on a discounted but non-returnable basis — those shops then handled the comics with great care because they were catering to a customer base heavily focused on the condition of the comics they took home.

The comic shop I frequented as a kid had a special program for repeat customers like me, where for any title we wanted to collect, a mint-condition copy of each new issue was bagged, boarded, tagged with our name, and set aside in boxes that lived behind the counter, ensuring that not a single mint condition collectible was missed.

Little did I realize at the time, that my friends and I were all taking home and preserving direct editions (the newsstand vs. direct edition difference wasn’t something we even thought about back then)!  Our comic shop proprietor would sometimes even talk up particular new issues judged to have great collectible appeal by sharing stories with us wide-eyed kids about the big-money customers who were buying 250+ copies at a time of the new issue for investment!  Who could resist such stories — each one of us in the crowd would scramble to buy a handful of copies of that new issue for ourselves, even if it wasn’t already on our list of set-aside titles!

So it is really no surprise that this mountain of well-preserved 1980’s (and onward) direct edition comics originally sold in specialty comic shops has led to a nice supply of CGC 9.8 graded copies all these decades later.  This situation creates quite an incredible juxtaposition between the number of copies known to exist in 9.8 on the CGC census for 1970’s keys, versus 1980’s keys…  And this situation also really highlights the incredible appeal of the Type 1A copies of the same 1980’s keys, as newsstand-exclusive cover price variants of the very same issues (below is an animated graphic and then the three individual slides are presented after it and can be clicked to enlarge; I selected ten of the top 1970’s keys, plus the top 10 issues from our 1980’s Type 1A price guide, for this comparison):

I selected 10 keys from the 1970's and 1980's, and looked up the number of CGC 9.8's known to exist to date, by checking the Census. I then looked up the numbers for the Type 1A Cover Price Variant for the same 1980's comics. This animated graphic shows a table and then bar charts of the numbers.

I selected 10 keys from the 1970’s and 1980’s, and looked up the number of CGC 9.8’s known to exist to date, by checking the Census. I then looked up the numbers for the Type 1A Cover Price Variant for the same 1980’s comics. This animated graphic shows a table and then bar charts of the numbers.

What a striking comparison!

Meanwhile, some collectors, ones who don’t really think about or care much about relative rarity between types, might look at a Type 1A variant newsstand comic from the 1980’s and think: “it is the same thing as the gorgeous CGC 9.8 direct edition copy I already own, only there’s a bar code on that one instead of the logo that’s on mine, and, that one has a different cover price… What’s really so appealing about a different cover price and a bar code?

But such collectors who would focus on the “appeal or lack of appeal” of the physical differences alone are missing what the rest of us are seeing — that the absolutely dramatic difference in rarity is itself the glaring appeal of the higher cover price variants among first-print copies of each issue. These Type 1A variants are an opportunity for us to collect the same 1980’s comics we know and love, but via a true first-print US-published cover price variant version that is dramatically more rare.

Those of us who collect these Type 1A variants aren’t suggesting that “75¢ is a ‘better’ cover price to have been charged than 60¢” or that “bar codes are intrinsically ‘better’ on comic book covers than logos” — instead we’re saying to look at the facts surrounding 1980’s Type 1A variant creation and distribution: the 75¢ type is demonstrably much more rare than the 60¢ type (or whatever the pair of cover prices happened to be issue by issue)! [Not to mention the fact that awareness of this type of variant still has plenty of runway left before it reaches “awareness maturity” (for a peer group, we can contrast to the maturity of awareness of 30¢ and 35¢ variants where there is widespread awareness in the hobby today of those 1970’s cover price variants… but once upon a time they too were under the radar!), and also, that the question of “what to call them” has presently been answered by CGC (as far as how they label the slabs) in such a way that there is still a lot of confusion out there about what these variants actually are, with these 1980’s Type 1A variants being conflated with the Canadian Editions of the 1940’s/1950’s that were published abroad by a different publisher, on different equipment, with different content, and at a different time (read more about this).]

Collectors who do care about relative rarity among first-print types (and there are huge numbers of us out there) will recognize the same pattern over and over again in the world of comic books through time: whether we’re talking about the relative rarity between a 35¢ cover price copy of Star Wars #1 vs. a 30¢ copy, or whether we’re talking about the relative rarity between a 75¢ cover price copy of Amazing Spider-Man #238 vs. a 60¢ copy… or whether we’re talking about the relative rarity between a $3.99 cover price copy of Amazing Spider-Man #607 vs. a $2.99 copy, etc.: Those of us who care about relative rarity and are offered the choice of a Near Mint copy of either type will like the dramatically-more-rare higher cover price type over the regular, lower cover priced type. To me, if I can get in at a similar cost basis, the choice is an absolute “no brainer” — I’d like the dramatically-more-rare higher cover price variant copy please!

Here’s a recent quote from another collector who gets it and who recently articulated the collectible appeal of the 1980’s Type 1A Cover Price Variants beautifully and succinctly:

“I do like them and there is a reason. I grew up on many of these comic books and stories. Some are my favorites, but there is the stigma of too many copies being too easily accessible for many of them.

I want an investment worthy copy of some of these keys. Do I disregard U.S. newsstands or direct market copies of the time? No, but as one who keeps the comic investment aspect in mind, ’80s Canadian Newsstand comics do appeal to the rarity factor that I have always yapped about since the beginning of this site.”

Vic J. of Total Comic Mayhem, on 11/24/2017

Rarity matters. And Type 1A 1980’s cover price variants have rarity in spades: Not only did they have restricted North American distribution, but they were newsstand exclusives that were therefore purchased mostly by readers — because the “real collectors” meanwhile understood that the condition of newsstand comics was going to be terrible since they were handled like magazines with no staff training to preserve condition, and so most collectors were over in comic shops taking home pristine-condition direct editions!

Either one of those two rarity factors for 1980’s Type 1A variants (restricted distribution area + newsstand exclusivity) would already have made them plenty attractive… But having both factors in play leads to extremely low odds of a given Type 1A copy from Marvel or DC surviving in 9.8 shape from the 1980’s through to today. Hopefully over time collectors will come to grasp this rarity, but for now, judging by how often people ask me about 9.8 Type 1A copies for issues where none are even on census yet, it apparently remains baffling to many collectors out there just why they cannot find the 9.8’s they are looking for… Perhaps the newsstand exclusivity aspect isn’t being appreciated (newsstand exclusivity for Marvel & DC’s 1980’s Type 1A comic books that is — Archie is meanwhile known to have done some Type 1A direct editions here and there, one example being Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1, the first appearance of Krang in comics, which has both newsstand and direct edition $1.25 cover price types). As Overstreet Advisor Bill Alexander put it, “People just have no idea how ‘uncared for’ and mishandled newsstand copies were”:

“The chances of a Canadian cover price 75¢, 95¢, or $1.00 variant surviving in the top grades is very slim indeed. I can remember all too well how newsstand copies were not cared for, especially by the retailers who put them out on the spinner racks. I can remember how I would walk into a 7-11 store and see a shopping cart with string-bundled comics waiting to be unleashed onto the comic racks by store employees. The strings cut right into the spines on most of the comics in the bundle, leaving deep grooves and indentation marks. This lowered many of the NM copies down to FN/VF to VF grade even before they were crammed into the comic racks where they were then carelessly handled by kids. I believe the few comic rack newsstand copies that survived in NM grade were in the center portions of the bundled comics (protected in that way), or else the ‘string bundle effect’ would have surely gotten to them. People just have no idea how ‘uncared for’ and mishandled newsstand copies were.”

— Bill Alexander, Overstreet Advisor

And as Senior Overstreet Advisor Jon McClure noted in his recent market report:

“Most of the Newsstand editions were bought by non-collecting readers, with a much lower survival rate, and most are well read FA/G to FN/VF copies. Most VF/NM or better Type 1a Canadian Newsstand Cover Price Variants are 50 to 250 times Scarcer than their US Direct Market counterparts in high grade…”

— Jon McClure, Senior Overstreet Advisor

As more collectors come to further study newsstand comics vs. their prevalent direct edition counter-parts and read newsstand rarity discussions & estimates, and the drastic difference in high grade survivorship between the types eventually becomes common knowledge, perhaps “9.0 will be the new 9.8” when it comes to newsstand comics broadly (and 1980’s Type 1A variants in particular) — because for certain 1980’s keys, if you are going to be so discerning about grade that you demand a 9.8 for your Type 1A cover price variant copy then depending on the issue you might very well find your grade goal an impossibility! For a Type 1A copy to have survived from the 1980’s to present in 9.8 shape, it needed an incredible amount of good luck, plus it needed a collector to have taken it home instead of a reader.

“We have found that VF and NM newsstand editions are far scarcer as a percentage of issues that we purchase in collections. Simply put, newsstand readers (and the staff of newsstands) were far more likely to beat up their comics, and newsstand racks (such as metal spin racks) actually damage comics darn near the minute that they are racked. As a result, finding the few surviving NM newsstand editions is surprisingly difficult.

Aside from getting damaged, however, we have also discovered that comics purchased from newsstands are far more likely to have been destroyed. You would think that newsstand editions from 1980 would be relatively easy to find, and indeed, they are. But not nearly in the disproportiate ratios that the original distribution statistics would indicate. Our experience has shown that comics sold in comics 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, Newsstand Editions History

So to all the collectors who keep asking a variation on the same common question about 1980’s Type 1A Variants — I need 9.8’s but can’t find them! Help! — my advice is to take that grade goal down at least several notches… Think about those tables/charts showing the 9.8 census counts, think about the explosion of Direct Edition sales in the 1980’s and how well preserved those direct editions are that you’ve become used to, and then re-calibrate your grade expectations for Type 1A 1980’s comics as newsstand exclusives. If it was a 1970’s key you were collecting, wouldn’t you be thrilled to own a 9.0 copy of any of the key issues I selected to list in that table?

Since the 1980’s Type 1A cover price variants were newsstand exclusives with very low distribution as a percentage of each issue, I think collectors of these variants need to set their grade bar according to the reality, rather than according to what we’re used to when it comes to the direct edition peers.

Personally, when I open the box from CGC and see the Type 1A variant key I sent in achieved a grade of 9.0, I break into a huge grin; and when I see a 9.4 or higher I shout for joy and do a happy dance! The very few times in all these many years of collecting type 1A’s that I’ve ever opened the box to see a 9.8, I’ve felt like I spotted a unicorn!

Happy Collecting Everyone! 🙂

– Ben

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$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

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Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books

Amazing Spider-Man #400: Understanding The Real Newsstand Edition

By Benjamin Nobel, July 16, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #400:  I’ve been asked about the newsstand edition of this particular Amazing Spider-Man issue so frequently, and I’ve found there is so much misinformation out there about it online and in the marketplace, that I concluded the situation demands a “reference article” that collectors can turn to for information on how to understand the different versions and how to tell a “real” newsstand copy apart from what’s actually just a commonplace regular-cover direct edition copy.  But my goal today is to go beyond just giving you the ultimate answer… I want you to understand that answer.

First thing’s first: collectors must understand “the basics” of how to read the code box on a later-modern direct edition copy.  [By the way, if you do not yet know about the difference between direct edition and newsstand edition comics, you’ll first want to read my separate post entitled Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference before proceeding, otherwise it will be hard to follow what comes next.]  At issue #379 of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel switched from denoting their direct edition copies using logos, to using UPC codes that say “Direct Edition” on them:

Amazing Spider-Man #378 direct editions were the last to be denoted by logos; at #379 the direct edition begins to carry a UPC code.

Amazing Spider-Man #378 direct editions were the last to be denoted by logos; at #379 the direct edition begins to carry a UPC code.

So after this point in time, both the newsstand copies and the direct edition copies of Amazing Spider-Man issues carry UPC codes (albeit different codes).   Think about how confusing a situation this created for someone who hadn’t studied newsstand comics in detail: up until the later three-hundreds for Amazing Spider-Man issues it used to be the case that the newsstand edition could always be told apart from the direct edition simply by the existence of a UPC code; in other words, the way it used to work for Marvel’s comics of this era was that if a comic had a UPC code box on it, then it was a newsstand edition.  But all of a sudden, Marvel switched things up… and the mere existence of a UPC code from that point on no longer meant that you were definitely looking at a newsstand edition.  You had to be able to discern a direct edition bar code from a newsstand bar code!

Let’s take a look at the two versions now, for issue #379.  In the picture below, the code at the top is from a newsstand copy, while the code at the bottom is from a direct edition copy.  Notice the spots that I’ve circled in red:

asm-379-reading-the-codes

The first thing I’d like you to notice is how the first numbers I circled (at the bottom left of the codes) are different from one another.  But you needn’t worry about the specific numbers, because, helpfully, the bottom code box also says “Direct Edition” right on it, so you can look for the existence of those words as an easier “visual short-cut” to recognizing you’re looking at a direct edition copy: direct editions say ‘direct edition’ on them (side note: for other publishers you may see other variations of naming convention for denoting direct-market copies such as “direct sales”).

asm-379-top-right-of-codes

But here’s another short-cut: please notice the second set of numbers I circled, along the top right of the codes.  For the newsstand copy, you’ve got a very narrow bar, and just two numbers along the top to denote the month (in this case, 07 for July).  But for the direct edition copy you’ve got a wide bar and a lot more numbers.  And understanding what these numbers mean is the next piece of background information you’ll need in order to understand the puzzle of the different Amazing Spider-Man #400 versions.   So in that second circle on the direct edition copy, the first three numbers are the issue number.  So, since this is Amazing Spider-Man #379 we’re looking at, the first three numbers in that circled area are 3, 7, and 9.

After that, you’ll notice two 1’s.  The digit immediately following the issue number is used by Marvel to denote different cover variations; the “regular” cover for a comic would be given the number 1.  Marvel can then denote other cover variations for the comic, using different numbers.  Amazing Spider-Man #379 just has the one cover version, but below I’ll show you an example from Amazing Spider-Man #678 (which I posted on recently and has a cool variant cover), to illustrate how Marvel utilizes this digit to denote alternate covers:

asm-678-reg-v-variant

As you can see above, the top copy is the “regular” direct edition copy of Amazing Spider-Man #678 and it has a “1” (circled in red) after the 678; below that is the Mary Jane Venom cover and Marvel has denoted it with a “2” (circled in red).

And then Marvel can use the final digit to denote different printings.  An example issue with several different printings is Amazing Spider-Man #700; take a look at the picture below showing first, second, and third print copies:

asm-700-1st-2nd-3rd

So: now you understand the basics of these Direct Edition code boxes well enough to make a prediction for what you might see on different types of copies of Amazing Spider-Man #400.  Let’s review what different types are out there for issue #400 and then proceed to make such a prediction.  We know from various price guides and other online sources that there are three different variations; for example, here’s Overstreet:

asm-400-overstreet

Overstreet denotes three versions, the first carrying a $2.95 cover price, the second carrying a $3.95 cover price and denoted as an embossed double cover, and the third denoted as a “Collector’s Edition” with a white cover.  Here are those three versions pictured, in a screenshot from over at Atomic Avenue (which taps into the ComicBase system), where they list the same three versions that Overstreet listed out, except in a different order:

asm-400-comicbase

As you can see, they have a “regular” cover listed, and then the two embossed versions (one of the two being the white cover version that Overstreet described as the “Collector’s Edition”).  And here below is a third guide listing, also showing the same three versions, from ComicsPriceGuide.com:

asm-400-cpg

Once again the same three versions, just listed in a different order.  Given what we learned about the Direct Edition code structure, what might we predict to see on these three?  Before we answer that, let me rule one out for us, just to make our lives easier: the White/Collector’s version doesn’t have a code (in its place it simply says “1 of 10,000”):

asm-400-white

That leaves two versions with bar codes on them: the “plain” cover and the gray embossed cover.  Based on what we learned earlier, if both of those are indeed direct editions, we’d expect both would carry the numbers “59606” along the bottom of the code (and the words “Direct Edition”), we’d expect the numbers along the right-hand side of the codes to start with 400 (since this is issue number 400), then after the 400 one of the copies would carry “1” for the cover variation and the other would carry “2” and since these are all first print copies the final number would be a “1” … so in summary, our prediction would be that the “regular” direct edition would carry the numbers 40011 and the “alternate cover” would carry the numbers 40021.  In looking at the two, it seems fairly logical that the special/more-expensive “embossed” version would be the “alternate” cover… while the plain/lower-cover-price version would be the “regular” cover, would it not?  (While I’m sure there are exceptions out there in the ordering of which is ‘1’ out of a plain/enhanced pair, let’s make that most-logical “first guess” and see if we’re correct that the plain cover is ‘1’ in this case).

Here’s the two versions below zoomed out to show the full front and back covers (for the embossed version the code is on the back) and then let’s zoom in on the circled code boxes and see if our prediction is right (we predicted that the top copy as the “regular” version would carry the numbers 40011, and the bottom copy would carry the numbers 40021, if these are in fact both direct editions).
amazing-spider-man-400-vers

You can already make out the words “Direct Edition” on each of these zoomed-out pictures, and indeed, when we zoom in we can confirm that both are indeed direct editions, and our prediction for the codes was correct (shown first is the top copy zoom-in; shown underneath is the bottom copy zoom-in):

asm-400-code-structure

Confirmed: both say Direct Edition, both carry the numbers 59606 along the bottom, and the codes along the top right are 40011 for the “regular” copy and 40021 for the embossed copy (and as we saw earlier, the “Collector’s Edition” with white embossed cover has “1 of 10,000” in place of the UPC code box).

So if these are direct editions, why are people out there referring to the “regular” direct edition as a newsstand edition, and, what is the “real” newsstand edition?

Let’s examine that first question: why are people inaccurately referring to “regular cover” direct edition copies as newsstand editions?  One factor that likely plays a part in the confusion is that an “enhanced cover” seems like something that would be available in comic shops, leaving the “plain cover” as something that seems like it would be what was available on newsstands.  And there’s another factor that may add further to the confusion:  I contend that the confusion is likely also related to the “switch-over” from direct editions being denoted by logos, to denoted by UPC codes, combined with the fact that the embossed edition has its UPC code on the back cover.

So therefore, “at a glance”, anyone looking at the front of the pair sees one type that apparently lacks a bar code (because for the embossed version that code is “around the corner” on the back and out of sight), and another type that has a bar code…  And remember, before issue #379, that pattern meant the bar-coded copy was the newsstand copy; in other words, it used to be the case that shown two copies, one with bar code and one not, that meant one could conclude the bar coded copy was the newsstand type.  So this would be a very easy mistake for someone to make, who hasn’t really studied the bar code in detail (of course, in making this mistake, someone would have also had to overlook the words “Direct Edition” on the code box).  And that exact mistake appears to be what happened over at MyComicShop, which inaccurately describes the regular-cover direct edition copies as newsstand edition copies, in error, on their site (and numbers them 400N when listing them for sale including on eBay, following their newsstand-numbering-convention):

asm-400-possible-culprit

Notice in the screenshot above how they describe the regular-cover direct edition with the words “newsstand edition” (and they also have an error for the date for that #400N entry, mistakenly cataloging the book under April 1994 instead of 1995).  So is this the “culprit”?  I.e. the misinformation source that causes so many collectors to describe their direct edition regular copies as the newsstand edition?  Or did MyComicShop simply transcribe this bad info from somewhere else?  Who knows; it is listed improperly all over the Internet now, so it is hard to trace it back to one particular source… here for example is Amazon.com, also with the regular direct edition copies inaccurately titled “newsstand edition”:

asm-400-amazon-culprit

And the “false newsstand edition” is all over eBay too.  All of this misinformation out there certainly helps to explain why this particular issue has generated so many questions from readers, who are hoping to understand what’s what… and understand what the “true” newsstand edition looks like.

What does the “true” newsstand edition look like for issue #400?  The only type that I’ve ever seen for issue #400 carrying a newsstand distribution code on it is the embossed type.  And it is frustrating to spot, because most sellers don’t bother to picture the back cover of their copy… which of course is where the UPC code lives for this particular issue [side note: newsstand copies of Spawn Batman have this same frustrating phenomenon: the UPC code is on the back cover making it especially difficult to find newsstand copies in the marketplace].  But look hard enough, and message enough sellers asking them to picture the back cover, and you’ll eventually find one; they look like this on the back:

Real newsstand copy of Amazing Spider-Man #400

Real newsstand copy of Amazing Spider-Man #400

And here’s a zoomed-in side-by-side look at the code boxes of direct edition and newsstand edition embossed-cover copies:

amazing-spider-man-400-news

Another related question that comes up with all these different versions is whether CGC denotes them separately on census?  CGC “lumps together” the two above embossed-cover direct edition and newsstand versions… because there is no “variant-worthy attribute” in their eyes, to break them apart — we can tell them apart by their code boxes, but the UPC code difference alone is not enough for CGC’s view of the newsstand versus direct edition distinction, to discern them as distinct census variants.

By their current policy there needs to be something beyond the “normal” newsstand vs. direct edition difference for them to “break out” the newsstand edition… such as a different cover price between the types (which there isn’t in this case, as both are $3.95 US), or a difference in the manufacturing (which there isn’t in this case), or an error of some type on the newsstand code (which there isn’t in this case).  So on the census, “real newsstand” and direct edition embossed-cover copies are therefore “lumped together” and both denoted with the variant designation of “Die-cut cover” (the White copies are meanwhile denoted “Die-cut variant cover” and the “regular” copies are just regular copies).

Here below, to make this more clear, I’ve taken a screenshot of the current census data and then I’ve pictured the corresponding comics to the left of each section:

amazing-spider-400-census-c

What about the sales numbers for the different versions?  A reader recently suggested I pick up a copy of the 2005 publication, Comics Buyer’s Guide Standard Catalog of Comic Books, which is a 6 lb phone-book-sized publication that includes, among other things, circulation statement numbers and Capital City order numbers.  [I get such great suggestions and information from readers!  I picked up a library discard copy for a bargain and find this to be a great reference guide, as those early Capital City numbers are not found online anywhere.]   The book then also helpfully estimates the percentage of sales that were Capital City orders, which for 1995, it pegs at 24.2% for Marvel.

So from the photo I snapped below, we can see that “regular” copies of issue #400, if they followed the 1995 average for Amazing Spider-Man, would have had total paid circulation of 234,290 copies.  And then for the embossed version, breaking out a calculator, we can estimate that if the Capital City number they show was 24.2% of the total sales, then we can extrapolate to 260,227 total copies of the embossed version.  And then we know the White version was limited to 10,000.

asm-400-std-cat

orange-cat-phenomenon

What about the “real” newsstand edition, the embossed cover version sold on newsstands?  Let’s give estimating the sales count of those a shot, but before you read on, I want to urge readers to remember that such estimations are about seeing the forest as opposed to the trees [please also read this related post: The Orange Cat Phenomenon (by the 1980’s, Overstreet Senior Advisor Jon McClure estimates that fully 80% of surviving copies are Direct Editions; just 20% of surviving copies are newsstand) ].

There are a number of newsstand rarity estimates out there for Marvel by year, including an estimate from Chuck Rozanski at 15% newsstand by 1990 and 10% by 1995 for Marvel (that being his “Marvel-wide” estimate), and a BPA audit for 1999 citing 14% newsstand sales at Marvel overall.  But such broad Marvel-wide estimates would be inclusive of all comics: picture a scale with two sides, and all the newsstand sales would go on the left, while all the direct sales (inclusive of direct edition exclusives) would go on the right. When you picture this scale, you’re probably picturing comics piled on each side, but those estimates are actually talking about dollars. Turning that into an estimate of copies sold for one specific title (Amazing Spider-Man) is only going to be a ballpark estimate.

So from these broad Marvel-wide ranges by year, if we go to Amazing Spider-Man specifically, something else we can look at is the publisher’s statement numbers (in the above picture, note how it says that issue #400 has the 1994 statement… well, the 1995 statement appeared in issue #407).  And that 1995 statement denoted the 234,290 average paid circulation number that we see referenced in the picture above for issue #400.

Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man paid circulation, at an average of 234,290 for the 1995 statement (October filing date), was down from the average of 353,025 the prior year… which in turn, was down from an average of the 592,442 seen in 1993!  The 90’s were some roller-coaster times for Marvel, starting out in a “boom” and then ending in a “bust” (they’d eventually file for bankruptcy reorganization by the end of 1996).

And against these paid circulation numbers we see for 1995, the statement for Amazing Spider-Man also reveals something else, as relates to newsstand distribution, and that’s the return numbers, at an average 159,946 copies returned.  Since the direct edition sales were final (discounted and non-returnable), whereas the newsstand distribution channel called for unsold copies of comics to be returnable to the publisher for a refund (after which the returned copies were typically pulped/recycled forward), we know that these return numbers in the statement are fully from the newsstand distribution channel and include no direct editions.  And we have learned from industry insiders that Marvel over-produced each issue such that the bulk of newsstand copies didn’t actually sell and were returned, with Chuck Rozanski for example writing that, quote, “it was seldom that a newsstand sold more than 30% of the new comics that they displayed.”

So if one wanted to do some newsstand number crunching and estimation of likely newsstand edition sales for issue #400, it is possible to guesstimate off of those 1995 average return numbers, under different assumptions for the ratio of returns to actual sales: I come to a quick “back-of-the-envelope” range of likely no more than ~69,000 newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #400 sold and likely not much fewer then around ~24,000 copies sold, all assuming of course that sales of issue #400 followed the average.  

By the way, check out what happened to the newsstand return numbers towards the end of the 1990s… they fell off the proverbial cliff and crossed into the 5-digits… by 2001-2008 the average return numbers for Amazing Spider-Man fluctuated in a range of just 17,210-42,593 copies (which means the actual newsstand sales were positively minuscule — with numbers like these you can start to understand just why I’m so incredibly fond of late modern newsstand comics, especially the ones CGC does “break out” as variants such as the $2.99 cover price variants from 2003-2006)!

Fun fact: in 1995 when Amazing Spider-Man #400 was sold, this was how you might have connected to the Internet:
1995-technology

It really is quite amazing how much information access and sharing ability collectors have today, versus collectors of past decades. Today, it is possible to gain more knowledge about newsstand comics in one afternoon of reading, than collectors of past decades were able to accumulate over the course of years!

And so with Amazing Spider-Man #400 what for past collectors might have seemed like a situation of a newsstand comic, we collectors of today can very quickly come to understand these bar codes and definitively conclude that the “regular cover” copies of Amazing Spider-Man #400 are not newsstand copies but rather are direct edition copies; and, we can also spot the “real” newsstand copies:

yes-no-newsstand-asm-400

And for all the readers who have contacted me looking for help with this particular issue of Amazing Spider-Man #400 (and anyone else who has stumbled upon this post looking to making sense of the current marketplace information for this issue), I hope that reading this far that you have now learned not only the answer to the puzzle but why that answer is the indisputable truth — in other words, if I’ve done my job here today then you can now explain to another collector just why the regular-cover direct edition is indeed a direct edition…  And I applaud you for expanding your newsstand versus direct edition knowledge! 🙂

Extra tidbit: Some sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that for some of the later-year direct edition examples I showed (the #678 and #700), the second set of numbers along the bottom of the bar code on direct edition copies was different from the #379 and #400 examples… with those earlier examples reading “02457” while the later examples reading “04716” in this spot.  If you spotted this and wondered why, the answer is that the code switched from 02457 to 04716 on direct edition copies starting at the point of volume #2 issue #1 in January 1999:

bar-code-numbers

I hope you have found this article helpful, and I wish you Happy Collecting! 🙂

– Ben

Standard
Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books

$2.99 Newsstand Edition CGC Census Variants, and, “Partial Cover Price Variations”

By Benjamin Nobel, June 12, 2017

A different cover price between two copies of the same issue number of a comic book 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 very clearly makes those copies 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 and their grandmother knows how to read a price tag and can tell if two cover prices differ.

For most modern comic book issues, the newsstand edition and direct edition copies carried identical price tags on their covers.  For example, below are pictures from two copies of Amazing Spider-Man #492 (v2 #51) side by side, zoomed in on the UPC codes.  As you can see, the cover prices between these two examples are the same: $2.25 US ($3.75 CAN) in both cases.

Amazing Spider-Man #492, Newsstand vs Direct Edition

The copy at left is a newsstand copy, while the copy at right is a direct edition copy.   Both carry bar codes, and if you look closely you’ll see that the bar codes are clearly different (publishers always needed newsstand copies to be distinguishable, because only newsstand copies were returnable).  And even without reading the bar code numbers, you can see how the direct edition copy actually says “Direct Edition” on it while the newsstand copy does not — so you can tell the two types apart by those words as well.

Given the choice of either of these above copies in the same grade and same cost, those of us in the “newsstand preference camp” would choose to collect the left copy as the “no brainer” more-rare and therefore more-preferable choice.  But many collectors out there today, if you showed them the above picture, they would look at these two comics, shrug their shoulders, and say, “both of them have bar codes — so… what’s really the difference??”  [If any collector friends of yours are in that shoulder-shrugging category, I hope you will encourage them to read this post, or, read my separate post entitled Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference which is a better “introduction” to the difference for those who haven’t put thought into it before].

Amazing Spider-Man (“ASM”) #493 (v2 #52), and #494 (v2 #53) follow the same pricing as issue #492 across newsstand and direct editions (i.e. the pricing is the same by type at $2.25 US, $3.75 CAN).  But that pricing is about to change… here’s the next issue, #495 (v2 #54)… notice that the direct edition copy (at right) is still $2.25 US ($3.75 CAN), but the newsstand copy at left is priced higher, at $2.49 US ($4.00 CAN):

Amazing Spider-Man #495 Cover Price Comparison

Newsstand copy (left) carries a higher cover price!

The above pair of pictures is a completely different story when it comes to explaining to our fellow collectors that the newsstand version is different from the direct edition version.  Because here, we don’t have to talk about bar codes, we don’t have to talk about how newsstand copies were returnable, we don’t even have to talk about how newsstand copies are more rare, in order to show a fellow collector that the two are different…  All we have to point out is the higher cover price on the left copy and then “SNAP!” they immediately “get it” that they’re looking at two different versions.  Because when the price tag is different, everybody and their grandma will tell you they are indeed different. And everybody and their grandma will all very easily and very clearly be able to articulate how they are different: one version cost one amount, the other a different amount. Simple. Clear.

And now that we have everybody and their grandma seeing the two comics above are different, we can proceed to tell everybody and their grandma that the higher cover price type is more rare than the lower cover price type.  They’ll find that out on their own if they actually try to look for the higher cover price type in the marketplace (they’ll quickly discover it is extremely difficult to find), but it also helps to tell them what was going on at the time of publication at Marvel to explain why it is so much harder to find.  With issue #495 of ASM, we’re at a publication date of 8/2003.  And here’s what was happening on the business side at Marvel, when it came to the 2003-era distribution numbers for newsstand versus direct edition comic books:

Marvel 2003 Newsstand Percentage: 4.25%

This is a slide from 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.

That 4.25% number is a stunner… especially given how from that starting point, newsstand comics were absolutely notorious for getting beaten up: newsstand comics were poorly preserved, while direct edition comics were well preserved.  So the surviving numbers of newsstand comics of that 2003 era are bound to be a whole lot lower than the original time-of-distribution numbers.

“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 the newsstand numbers at Marvel would continue to shrink as the years ticked by: for 2005, we see a published estimate from Chuck Rozanski at 2% newsstand (versus 98% direct edition) at Marvel.   Late modern direct edition comics, at these overwhelming-majority-levels, are clearly “the standard edition” out there for any given issue… said another way, the direct edition comics are the “regular” copies of any given issue.  Meanwhile, their incredibly-low-distribution newsstand counter-parts are the small minority… and so to have members of this small minority also stand out further in being “non-standard” by being cover price variants of the issue number is exciting for the hobby indeed!  [Think about it: “Two cover price types, one being a tiny fraction of the total sold” — the same could be said of the 35 cent variants of 1977… but unlike those bronze age rarities which are widely known among collectors today, you, reader, are among the earliest collectors in the hobby to be aware of late modern cover price variants found exclusively on newsstands… awareness has already been growing but in the big scheme of things is still practically non-existent at this point, with Overstreet making no mention of them in the guide yet (arguably, only after Overstreet starts breaking them out will the awareness level reach its maturity), and ComicsPriceGuide hasn’t broken them out yet either… but “stay tuned”…]

The 2003-2006 Cover Price Variant “Window”

Before, we saw that ASM #495, published in August of 2003, marked the beginning of this particular “cover price variant window” at Marvel. Continuing on to examine the next issue, we see that the higher $2.49 cover price continues for newsstand copies of ASM #496.  Then, Marvel raises the newsstand price again, and goes up to $2.99 at ASM #497 (Direct Edition pricing meanwhile holds at $2.25 — I’ll share a full spreadsheet at the end by the way, as well as reference photos where I drew the newsstand cover price numbers from, for those who want to really pore over the cover price data):

Amazing Spider-Man #497 cover price difference

At #497, Marvel raises the newsstand price up to $2.99 US, and holds direct editions at $2.25.

So now we’re up to $2.99 on newsstands (versus $2.25 for direct editions). This pricing then continues for awhile, with the exception of #500 which was priced higher at $3.50 US ($5.75 CAN), and for that issue Marvel applied the same pricing across newsstand and direct editions.  But then at #501 they’re right back to $2.99 on the newsstand copies (versus $2.25 on direct editions), and that pricing continues until issue #521 — then, the $2.99 newsstand price holds, but they raise direct editions up to $2.50:

asm-521-cover-price-differe

That $2.99 newsstand vs. $2.50 direct edition pricing then holds until issue #531, published June of 2006, when Marvel catches up the direct edition pricing to $2.99… and thus our “$2.99 Newsstand Edition window” of higher-cover-price newsstand copies closes and the prices between the types are back to being the same:

At #531, prices are back to the same.

At #531, prices are back to being the same across newsstand and direct editions, at $2.99 US ($4.25 CAN).

During that cover price variant publication window I just walked through, notice there’s a big key: ASM #529…  And I’m sure you’re wondering: how does CGC treat these higher cover price copies, do they consider them to be distinct variants?  Do they “break out” such copies on census?

CGC Newsstand Treatment: What Attributes Are “Variant-Worthy”?

When it comes to how the biggest comic book grading company, CGC, views the newsstand vs. direct edition distinction today, the present “default” newsstand treatment policy by CGC is to essentially “waive away” the newsstand difference as unimportant and simply lump the two types together as one and the same… Unless there is some bigger difference between the types that they consider sufficient reason to “break out” the newsstand copies.  Unfortunately, for the vast majority of comic books, there is no bigger difference… so even though we can tell the two types apart, CGC lumps them together by issue number and so we cannot count how many of each type have been graded to point out the relative rarity on census (nor see the grade breakdown by type, nor be able to quickly spot which slabbed copies of ours within the CGC box are the newsstand copies from the top of the slab).  Bummer.

So as you can imagine, for a newsstand-focused collector, finding the special “variant-worthy” attributes where CGC does break out newsstand copies is really exciting!  What are the various “variant-worthy” attributes that cause CGC to deviate from their default policy, and actually “break out” newsstand comics as distinct variants on census?  The “special” attributes some newsstand copies have where this big “authority” in the hobby will concede “yes, these are indeed different” and give them a distinct entry on the census?  I’ve observed the following main categories (there could also be other attributes too that I haven’t encountered yet, so don’t treat this as an “exhaustive” review):

  • Manufacturing differences — for example if newsstand copies of a given issue were manufactured with cheap newsprint paper, while direct edition copies of the same issue were manufactured with heavy glossy paper, that’s apparently considered a variant-worthy attribute by CGC: i.e. CGC is known to “break out” such newsstand copies as distinct census variants.  Example: Spawn #9 Newsstand Edition copies were manufactured with newsprint paper instead of glossy, and are broken out on census as a distinct variant (1st Angela appearance — now part of the Marvel universe as Thor’s sister).  Another example in this manufacturing-differences-category: Spawn Batman Newsstand Edition copies were manufactured with a regular paper cover instead of card stock, and are broken out on census as a distinct variant (Frank Miller / Todd McFarlane collaboration, Miller’s return to Batman, and considered a companion piece to his 1986 work, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns).
  • Artwork differences — when the newsstand copies carried a variation of the artwork, or completely different artwork, CGC is known to “break out” such copies. Examples include Savage Dragon #10 (alternate cover artwork was used on the newsstand edition), and WildC.A.T.S #2 (where direct edition copies had a “prism” cover, and the newsstand copies got a regular-paper-adaptation of the artwork).
  • When the UPC identifies the comic as a different title than it is — if newsstand copies of a given issue of, say, Amazing Spider-Man, actually carry the UPC code for, say, Sensational Spider-Man, that’s apparently considered a variant-worthy attribute by CGC: i.e. CGC is known to “break out” such copies.   Another example outside of the ASM title: X-Men Origins: Deadpool #1 newsstand copies carry the Incredible Hulk UPC code (Origin of Deadpool retold; “From Russia with Love” movie poster homage cover) and are broken out on census as a distinct variant.
  • Cover price differences — the category that relates to this post…  If the cover price of newsstand copies is different, that’s apparently considered a variant-worthy attribute by CGC: i.e. CGC is known to “break out” such copies.  And throughout this blog I’ve covered many “classes” of newsstand-exclusive cover price variants all recognized by CGC in this way as distinct census entries, including the 75 cent newsstand-exclusive cover price variants of the 1980’s at Marvel and DC (also 95¢ and $1.00 variants of the 80’s, these too found exclusively on newsstands), AUS cover price variants of the 1990’s, and $3.99 Newsstand Edition variants of the 2000’s at Marvel (and then later on, the $3.99 Newsstand Editions and $4.99 Newsstand Editions from DC).

Last year, back when I introduced you to $3.99 Newsstand Editions as a then-brand-new “class” of CGC-recognized variants, at that time of CGC’s great decision to “break out” those $3.99 cover price newsstand comics (where their prevalent direct edition counter-parts carried a $1 lower cover price at $2.99), there was discussion at CGC about whether to instead apply the treatment they had used for Amazing Spider-Man #529…

Because back in 2006, CGC appears to have treated that one as a “one-off” when it was pointed out to them — and back then, instead of “breaking out” the $2.99 copies of ASM #529, CGC’s solution was instead to make a Key Comments label note pointing out they exist.  In retrospect, that initial decision was the wrong one for the hobby — imagine for some contrast if CGC had decided to treat other “classes” of cover price variants this way, for example suppose on copies of Star Wars #1 from 1977 that CGC had decided to “lump together” both cover price types by issue number and then simply place a label note stating that 35 cent copies exist, on all copies.  That’s effectively what they’d initially done for ASM #529 (emphasis on initially).

Here’s how CGC labels for ASM #529 had looked under this initial treatment:

Prior CGC treatment was to lump together newsstand and direct edition copies by issue number, and then point out in the key comments note that newsstand editions exist with $2.99 cover price.

Prior CGC treatment was to lump together newsstand and direct edition copies by issue number, and then point out in the key comments note that newsstand editions exist with $2.99 cover price.

As you can see, the label note for all copies simply included an indication that “newsstand editions exist with $2.99 cover price.” But as you must have already guessed by now, that was only their initial treatment…  That old way of thinking has gone the way of the Dodo, and CGC has since decided to “break out” those $2.99 copies they once merely referenced in the note.

And that is great news for us to have another big ASM “key” issue in the hobby where CGC recognizes newsstand copies distinctly from their prevalent direct edition counter-parts.  And so it gives me great pleasure to be able to point out the below census screenshot to you, showing how CGC now applies the same basic treatment they used for the $3.99 “class” of variants, for Amazing Spider-Man #529 too, “breaking them out” on census distinctly as “$2.99 Newsstand Edition” variants on census as you can see below:

CGC has started to

CGC has started to “break out” newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #529, on account of the higher cover price, denoting them “$2.99 Newsstand Edition”

For anyone who hasn’t seen what a newsstand copy of this issue looks like, here’s a picture below: it looks the same as the standard copies, except instead of the expected $2.50 cover price that the vast majority of copies carry, the rare newsstand copies instead are priced at $2.99, making them a cover price variant of the issue number:

Rare $2.99 Newsstand Edition CGC-graded copy of Amazing Spider-Man #529

And that ASM #529 issue is the biggest key I’m aware of with newsstand copies falling within the 2003-2006 $2.99 cover price variant window.  And although I haven’t checked every other title, it does appear that the higher newsstand cover price phenomenon extends beyond ASM and that it was done this way on other titles as well — but these variations can be spotty (like we saw for ASM #500 for example which was priced the same across both types despite falling within the window), so I wouldn’t want to make an assumption about all other titles or about specific issues within other titles without verifying each.  But here’s just one example within another title outside of ASM, to show you the higher $2.99 price on a newsstand copy; New Avengers #1:

new-avengers-1-cover-price

Partial Cover Price Variations

The New Avengers title was fortunate to have some absolutely phenomenal artists contribute to its success, and some of the cover artwork in the series really blows me away — one example issue being New Avengers #26, featuring what I consider the greatest Scarlet Witch comic book cover of all time, a “painted cover” by the incredibly-talented Alex Maleev:

Newsstand copies of New Avengers #26 have a higher CAN price than direct edition copies.

Newsstand copies of New Avengers #26 have a higher CAN price than direct edition copies.

But aside from its stunning artwork, this comic makes for a good example to illustrate “Part II” of this post. [The purpose of Part I was to share with you how CGC now “breaks out” $2.99 Newsstand Edition copies of ASM #529 (consistent with their treatment of $3.99 Newsstand Edition comics they will apparently break out newsstand copies for any issue with this higher $2.99 cover price phenomenon; another $2.99 Newsstand Edition example you’ll find on census today is X-Men #451), and to show you the “cover price variant window” that ASM #529 is a part of, where the US cover price on newsstand copies is higher than the US cover price on direct edition copies for a considerable stretch, not just the one issue.]

Well, to start off “Part II” of this post, check out below how the cover price compares between newsstand copies vs. direct edition copies of New Avengers #26:

Newsstand copies of New Avengers #26 had a 13% higher cover price in a restricted geographical subset of the broader North American market.

Newsstand copies of New Avengers #26 had a 13% higher cover price in a restricted geographical subset of the broader North American market.

As you can see, the US price is the same… but Canadians meanwhile had to pay a 13% higher price to own a newsstand copy, versus a direct edition copy! There is a partial difference in cover price here!  And that’s what I’m going to explore for “part II” of this post.

To explore this phenomenon more fully by publication window, next I’ll take you back over to the Amazing Spider-Man title (where this kind of research is easier), and I’m going to jump to issue #544.  Notice below how Canadians were asked to pay $1 more to own the newsstand version, versus the direct edition, of this issue:

ASM #544: Canadians asked to pay $1 more for a newsstand copy than a direct edition copy.

ASM #544: Canadians asked to pay $1 more for a newsstand copy than a direct edition copy.

And I want to pause here to make sure I emphasize exactly what I’m pointing out… I’m not pointing out that the CAN price tag is higher than the US price tag — we all know that currencies fluctuate against one another and at different times Marvel needed to charge more in Canadian dollars than in US dollars, for their comics.  That’s not what I’m pointing out.  What I am pointing out is how the CAN price is higher on one type versus the other type, for the same issue.  So for issue #544 above, Canadians had to shell out an additional $1 per copy to buy the newsstand version, versus the direct edition version, of the very same issue number.

An interesting phenomenon, wouldn’t you say?  What was Marvel “up to” here? Just when you might be thinking “well, perhaps there were additional costs to Marvel associated with Canadian newsstand distribution” or something along those lines to justify the higher newsstand price Canadians were asked to pay versus direct edition copies, here’s where things start to get bizarre:  Because for the very next issue, #545, Canadians were asked to pay less money to own the newsstand version, than the direct edition!  Check it out:

ASM #545: newsstand copy was cheaper for Canadians than direct edition copy!

And this pricing held for issue #546 as well.  Sharp-eyed readers will also notice that in the picture below for #546, the newsstand copy (at left) does not have the numbers “02457” along the bar code at the bottom… it carries the numbers “02199” instead:

asm-546-cover-prices

Indeed, that’s not the “Amazing Spider-Man” code you’re seeing on the newsstand copy.  That’s one of the instances I touched upon before where the UPC code actually identifies the book as a different title than it is (which was one of the attributes identified as “variant-worthy” in CGC’s eyes, i.e. the precedent for copies like this is that they’ll “break out” such copies).  The code you’re seeing on the #546 newsstand copy is actually the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man code (and the words “Frndly Nbhd Spider-Man” appear along the left-hand side of the code box).

This is the earliest ASM issue with an alternate title’s code on it that I am aware of (it could also very well be the case that there are variations of earlier examples and I simply haven’t had the luck of seeing them).  And with this issue, Marvel appears to start the “code cycling” (such beautiful weirdness — read my separate post about this strange-but-true phenomenon here), where the next issue, #547, I’d therefore predict would have the “Sensational Spider-Man” code on it.

I’d also predict #547 to be the first of the ASM $3.99 newsstand editions (a cover price variant window where newsstand copies were priced at $3.99, while direct edition copies were priced at $2.99). I have to resort to the word “predict” because I’ve found that Sensational-coded newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man are darn near impossible to actually find (I couldn’t even find a picture of a #547 newsstand copy to confirm the cover price let alone an actual listing for sale)…  If your experience matches mine, you’ll be out there looking for ASM newsstand copies of this time period only to find that every third newsstand issue from this point on — the ones with the Sensational code which include some important keys like #601 and #607 — become frustratingly impossibly difficult to find out there in the marketplace.

And as we saw from the Q&A with the Doc Collection seller, there’s a reason for that: the particular newsstand where The Doc acquired their collection (a drugstore), simply didn’t order the Sensational Spider-Man title.  Probably there were other outlets like it that simply didn’t order the “lesser” Marvel titles.  So at the time of distribution, if you wanted to buy a copy of Amazing Spider-Man with the Sensational code on it from your closest newsstand, it wasn’t enough that newsstand copies of the issue number existed… you needed to also find a newsstand outlet that carried that alternate title in addition to the Amazing Spider-Man title. With a situation like this it is easy to see how the number of newsstand copies sold carrying alternate codes was likely a stair-step lower than those newsstand copies carrying the “right” code (the actual Amazing Spider-Man code).

So from issue number #547 forward, finding a picture of a newsstand copy for every issue isn’t something I’m going to even bother to attempt.  I’ve even heard of ASM completists placing bounties as much as $500-per-copy for anyone who can produce some of these Sensational-coded newsstand copies, such as #559. Who knows what month (or even what year) this post would have been delayed to, had I waited to actually lay eyes on a #547 to confirm the cover price instead of just predicting it… So I decided to proceed without it.

[11/8/2017 Update!  Huge thanks to a very helpful reader who found a picture of a newsstand copy of ASM #547 for me and shared it with me!  The picture quality isn’t the best but we can still see that it indeed has the Sensational Spider-Man code on it (with “03503” along the bottom), and it indeed carries a $3.99 cover price instead of the regular $2.99 price tag found on Direct Editions:]

asm-547-newsstand

But I did find pictures of every newsstand ASM issue going backwards from #546, down to #492 where this post started off its look at the cover prices, and from examining all the cover prices in this range, the “Partial Price Variation” phenomenon actually spans a fairly large window.  And what I find particularly fascinating, is how we see instances where Canadians were charged less to buy a newsstand copy versus a direct edition (like we just saw above), then there were other instances where Canadians were charged the same to buy a newsstand copy versus a direct edition copy, and, finally, instances where Canadians were charged more to buy a newsstand copy versus a direct edition copy!

I showed you #544 earlier (an oversized issue), where the CAN price on newsstand copies was $5.75, while the CAN price on direct editions was $4.75.  From our look at the $2.99 US cover price variant window, we saw that at issue #531, the direct edition pricing “caught up” with newsstand pricing at issue #531.  At that issue, as we saw before, the pricing across both types was $2.99 US, $4.25 CAN.  And that pricing holds… until #535.  At that point, Marvel decided Canadians still needed to pay $4.25 for a newsstand copy, but $3.75 for a direct edition.  Here’s #535, published 11/2006:

ASM #535:  $4.25 CAN (newsstand) vs $3.75 CAN (direct edition)

ASM #535: $4.25 CAN (newsstand) vs $3.75 CAN (direct edition)

And this partial cover price difference at $4.25 CAN on newsstand copies, versus $3.75 CAN on direct edition copies, continues through, until #544 which we saw earlier (published 11/2007).

And this higher newsstand pricing for Canadians appears to have been applied across other titles as well; an example of a key comic in another title within this window is Captain America #25 (published 4/2007; Death of Steve Rogers):

Captain America #25 Newsstand

Newsstand copies of Captain America #25 have a higher CAN price than direct edition copies.

The above pictured copy is a newsstand copy; here’s a close-up look at just the cover prices, comparing newsstand versus direct edition.  As you can see, Canadians were charged 21% more for a newsstand copy versus a direct edition copy:

Newsstand copies of Captain America #25 had a 21% higher cover price in a restricted geographical subset of the broader North American market.

Newsstand copies of Captain America #25 had a 21% higher cover price in a restricted geographical subset of the broader North American market.

What Was Marvel Doing?

In Part I of this post we’ve seen cases where the US price tag was higher on newsstand copies versus their direct edition counter-parts — and established that such a variance in cover price is considered a “variant-worthy attribute” at CGC where they will deviate from their standard newsstand treatment and instead will “break out” the newsstand version as its own distinct variant entry on census, because the newsstand copy is a higher cover price variant of the issue number by its US price.

And in Part II of this post, we’ve now also seen cases where the US price tag was the same across both types but the CAN price was different… a “partial” cover price variation.  Even more fascinating for these “partial” cases where the US price was the same but the CAN price was different, we saw cases where Canadians were charged more to buy a newsstand copy versus its direct edition counter-part, and also saw cases where Canadians were charged less to buy a newsstand copy versus its direct edition counter-part!  So what was Marvel doing?

I don’t really have a definitive answer as to just what Marvel was doing when they chose to vary the newsstand-vs-direct prices in this way for Canadians, but I do have an observation: By charging these different cover prices between the types within Canada, for different issues, Marvel undoubtedly gained sales data: they could compare how well the different issues sold on newsstands in Canada.

So my observation is that because Marvel’s newsstand distribution was already a tiny fraction of their total sales in this time-frame, and within that tiny newsstand market they had two price tags which they could tweak (US and CAN) and cause prices to be partially and/or fully different from what was charged on the direct editions, they effectively had the perfect setup for price experimentation. They didn’t need to create a new “small test batch” of copies to test market reaction to different prices (like they did in 1977 with 35 cent variants), because their newsstand comics were already a small batch which they could use to test reactions to different prices.

Regardless of what Marvel might have been doing with these partial cover price variations, they’ve left us with an interesting batch of newsstand comics that have a difference from their direct edition counter-parts that goes beyond the bar code. For the partial cover price variations, we have something additional that we can point out to a fellow collector who might otherwise have shrugged their shoulders and might otherwise have said “both of them have bar codes — so… what’s really the difference??”  Because for these issues with different CAN pricing, we can point to the price tags and illustrate how one type has a partially different cover price than the other type.

As for CGC treatment, I do not know how they would consider this “partial price difference attribute”… in other words, is it a “variant-worthy” attribute in CGC’s eyes?  Does “partial cover price variation” rise to the level of “partial cover price variant” with its own unique census entry?  I do not see any evidence that any of these are broken out as of today… but I also do not know if they’ve considered these as a group / as a “class”…  It is equally possible nobody has “presented” them to CGC and asked them to break them out.

If somebody were to ask them today, it would be in the context of the strong trend in the hobby today to embrace newsstand comics — and the grading industry does very clearly seem to be on a track of “let’s slowly warm up to newsstand comics” today.  CGC’s competitor CBCS, for example, announced they’ll be recognizing newsstand comics broadly for every issue published during certain years.  And even at CGC, we saw how ASM #529 newsstand copies with their $2.99 cover price only just began to be broken out (as of only last month!)…  Not to mention the $3.99 “class” of cover price variants, a group CGC only first considered and decided upon last year.

So maybe in the context of this overall “mega-trend” in the hobby of growing awareness among collectors about newsstand desirability relative to direct editions, maybe grading companies like CGC and CBCS have “toggled” their stance on newsstand comics:  from a stance of looking for any reason to say no to breaking out newsstand comics, over to a stance of warming up to reasons to say yes to breaking out newsstand comics. And arguably this partial cover price difference, if nothing else, is something concretely different that goes beyond “the norm”… something beyond the normal newsstand-vs-direct-edition-difference…

whammy

In other words, perhaps it could be a reason to say yes to breaking out another group of newsstand comics.  But I’m not going to be the one to ask them…  You all remember the game show “Press Your Luck,” right?  I feel like I’m overdue for a whammy.  So someone else had better do it!

I hope you have enjoyed this look at $2.99 Newsstand Edition variants as well as newsstand comics with “partial cover price variations,” and I wish you Happy Collecting! 🙂

– Ben

p.s. And now for anyone interested in poring over the data for the ASM comics in the range covered in this post, I present below my spreadsheet and my source images (just newsstand copies are shown; there was no need for me to collect pictures of the direct editions as they are so very easily found).

ASM #492-546

Issue Newsstand US Newsstand CA Direct US Direct CA
492 2.25 3.75 2.25 3.75
493 2.25 3.75 2.25 3.75
494 2.25 3.75 2.25 3.75
495 2.49 4.00 2.25 3.75
496 2.49 4.00 2.25 3.75
497 2.99 4.75 2.25 3.75
498 2.99 4.75 2.25 3.75
499 2.99 4.75 2.25 3.75
500 3.50 5.75 3.50 5.75
501 2.99 4.75 2.25 3.75
502 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
503 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
504 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
505 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
506 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
507 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
508 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
509 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
510 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
511 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
512 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
513 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
514 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
515 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
516 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
517 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
518 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
519 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
520 2.99 4.25 2.25 3.25
521 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
522 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
523 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
524 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
525 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
526 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
527 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
528 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
529 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
530 2.99 4.25 2.50 3.50
531 2.99 4.25 2.99 4.25
532 2.99 4.25 2.99 4.25
533 2.99 4.25 2.99 4.25
534 2.99 4.25 2.99 4.25
535 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
536 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
537 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
538 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
539 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
540 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
541 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
542 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
543 2.99 4.25 2.99 3.75
544 3.99 5.75 3.99 4.75
545 3.99 3.99 3.99 4.05
546 3.99 3.99 3.99 4.05
547 2.99 3.05
548 3.99 3.99 2.99 3.05
549 2.99 3.05
550 3.99 3.99 2.99 3.05
551 3.99 3.99 2.99 3.05

$1.99 Newsstand Editions, Anyone?

Wow, you read all the way to the end, I’m impressed!  Thanks for letting me hold your attention this long; you must be an avid newsstand collector and cover price variant enthusiast like me!  Here’s a “bonus section” for you 🙂

Clearly, between $2.99 Newsstand Editions and $3.99 Newsstand Editions (and $4.99 Newsstand Editions and even $6.99 Newsstand Editions in spots), Marvel gave us a lot of newsstand-exclusive cover price variants of their issues that are now CGC-recognized as distinct variants on census.  A question you might have after seeing this pattern: going backwards in time further, did Marvel give us any $1.99 newsstand comics priced higher than their direct edition counter-parts?

Why, yes!  To show you these, let me start just before the cover price went up to $1.99, with Amazing Spider-Man #420, which was still priced at $1.50.  Sharp-eyed readers will notice that this issue has a partial cover price variation in that the newsstand copy was less expensive for Canadians than the direct edition copy:

asm-420-cover-prices

And then at issue #421, the cover price went up.  Ah, but check out what Marvel did here… on the newsstand, the price went up to $1.99 (one ninety nine), but on direct editions the price went up to $1.95 (one ninety five):

amazing-spider-man-421-1.99

That same $1.99 vs $1.95 pricing continues at #422:

asm-422-1.99-cover-price

And #423 and #424 are the same way:

asm-423-cover-price-variant

amazing-spider-man-424-1.99

But this fairly short $1.99 cover price variant window now comes to a close, with #425 priced equally at $2.99 for both types (although it does have that partial cover price variation phenomenon, with a cheaper Canadian cover price on newsstand copies), and then at #426 the price drops to $1.99 for both types:

asm-425-cover-prices

Note: the cover prices are on the back cover of issue #425.

amazing-spider-man-426-cove

But as you can see, although the US prices are now equal, the partial cover price variation continues, with newsstand copies less expensive for Canadians than direct edition copies.

The $1.99 newsstand edition cover price variant window from March 1997 through June 1997 appears to extend to other titles as well, for example here’s Deadpool #4, published in April:

deadpool-4-1.99-variant-199

In between those $1.99’s and the later comics I covered in this post, there’s also these other fascinating variations pointed out to me by a reader, including ASM v2 #10, #11, and #13 — Marvel sure was one heck of an experimenter with prices, and who really knows what other crazy variations are out there to discover!

Happy Collecting again! 🙂

– Ben

Standard
Canadian Newsstand Edition, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books

95¢ and $1.00 DC Price Variants: How Do We Know What They Are?

By Benjamin Nobel, April 25, 2017

star-wars-35-cent-variant

It is 1977; your home team in the MLB is the Baltimore Orioles.  You pass by a newsstand on the way to the game, and pick up a copy of Star Wars #1.  It has a cover price of 35¢.  Sitting there in the stadium waiting for the game to start, and holding your comic book entertainment purchase in your hands, is there any chance you’d realize you just purchased a rare cover price variant?

batman-1-dollar-variant

It is 1988; your home team in the MLB is the Toronto Blue Jays.  You pass by a newsstand on the way to the game, and pick up a copy of Batman #423.  It has a cover price of $1.00.  Sitting there in the stadium waiting for the game to start, and holding your comic book entertainment purchase in your hands, is there any possible way to know you’ve just purchased a rare cover price variant?

Exploring this question for Batman #423 (and this same question would apply for any of the 1980’s D.C. 95¢ and $1.00 price variants in general), let’s think about what you might do, sitting there in the stands reading your copy of Batman #423, waiting for the game to start, to find any indication that the copy you just picked up at the newsstand was any different from the rest…

Let’s put ourselves into that scenario, transport ourselves back in time to September of 1988, sit there in the stadium, and put on our detective caps.  What might we do, sitting there in the stadium, if somehow, the thought magically crossed our mind that maybe our copy was a cover price variant?  We might turn to the indicia page for more information, right?  Here’s what we’d see:

Batman #423 indicia page.

Batman #423 indicia page.

The text in this image may appear a little small (especially if you’re reading this on a phone or small device), so I’ll transcribe it below for you — as you read through, please keep the following two questions in your mind and then see if you can answer those questions by the indicia information: (1) Can I tell if the comic was published in the USA by DC Comics? (2) Can I tell what the cover price is supposed to be?

Batman 423 (USPS 045-340). Published monthly by DC Comics Inc., 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10103. Second class postage paid at New York, NY and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to BATMAN, DC Comics, Inc., Subscription Dept., PO Box 1981, New York, NY 10185. Annual subscription rate $9.00. Outside U.S.A. $11.00 in U.S. funds. Copyright 1988 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved. The stories, characters and incidents mentioned in this magazine are entirely fictional. All characters featured in this issue and the distinctive likenesses thereof are trademarks of DC Comics Inc. Advertising Representative: Print Advertising Representatives Inc., 355 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017. (212) 391-1400. Printed in U.S.A. D.C. Comics Inc. A Warner Communications Company.

The answer to question (1) is yes, we can tell that this comic was published and printed in the USA by DC Comics, it says so very clearly.  But what about the answer to question (2)? There is absolutely no mention of what the single-issue price is supposed to be for the issue! The only discussion of price/cost has to do with the annual subscription rate, mentioning a $9.00 cost, and mentioning $11 as the cost in US dollars for anyone outside of the USA. With no mention anywhere of the single-issue price for the issue, and no mention of the cost in currency other than US dollars, how, sitting there in the stands, would we know we were holding a cover price variant?

We couldn’t know.  The best we could do would be to divide the $9.00 annual subscription cost by 12 to reach 75 cents average cost per issue for an annual subscription.   Suppose we’re really curious now, so we’re going to find a payphone and call a buddy who we remember told us he picked up a copy of Batman #423 from a newsstand on the other side of town, and recommended it to us as a good read.  He answers.  We ask him to check the cover price on his copy.  We wait while he finds it.  It’s $1.00, he says.  Same as ours.  Do we conclude that $1.00 is simply the “normal” cover price for the issue?  After all, our buddy paid the same on the other side of town.

I think it should be fairly obvious that the above scenario is completely invented, and there’s no reason the buyer of a $1.00 cover price copy would have had this curiosity at all in the first place at the time of their purchase; it is hard to imagine any average newsstand-goers would have thought about whether the copy they purchased was anything rare or special, or studying the indicia page.  But in our hypothetical world, in this invented scenario of ours, let’s not give up just yet on our question.  There’s a comic shop nearby; let’s swing by after the game.  OK, we’re in the comic shop.  They tell us sorry, they’re all out, this issue sold like hotcakes, with incredible artwork from rising Canadian superstar Todd McFarlane (who was born in Calgary).  We proceed home, and life goes on.

Then maybe one day we notice a second print copy:

Batman #423 Second Print

Batman #423, Second Print.

OK now we’re really intrigued… this second print copy has a 75¢ cover price on it… but the newsstand copy we had picked up on the way to that Blue Jays game had a $1.00 cover price on it.   We’re now so curious what a first print comic shop copy looked like, that we go through the phone book (remember those?) and go down the list of specialty comic shops calling one after another, until finally, we find one that has a first print Batman #423 copy available in the back issues section.

A comic shop copy, as we know today, is known as a “Direct Edition” (aka “Direct Sales” aka “Direct Market”) copy.  Comic shops across North America ordered them on a discounted but non-returnable basis.  For the publisher, those comic shop orders were a guaranteed sale.  And those comic shop copies were different from the newsstand copies…  Instead of a barcode at the bottom left corner of the front cover, like the copy we picked up on the newsstand, the comic shop copies, meanwhile, have a Batman logo in that spot.

The logo — or better put, the absence of a bar code — was the publisher’s way of being able to distinguish a non-returnable copy from a returnable newsstand copy (had we not made that purchase on the newsstand on the way to the game, and if nobody else ultimately bought that copy, then eventually it would have been returned through the traditional newsstand distribution channel; the publisher would often then simply pulp/recycle it forward, or try to sell it into another market).  Here below is a first print Direct Edition copy of Batman #423… where we can see that the cover price… is…

Batman #423 1st print direct edition copy.

The price box is weird if you were used to what newsstand copies looked like and had never studied the price box on one of these direct editions before because there’s no one price on it.  Instead, there’s 75¢ under the #423 in bold type — that’s obviously meant to be the cover price…  But then there’s also “CAN $1.00” (and “U.K. 40p”) in small print.

So back to our hypothetical scenario, we’d see this price box and then think things over… $1.00 matches what we have on our newsstand copy…  Is it possible that $1.00 was charged on newsstand copies in Canada, while 75¢ was charged on newsstand copies in the USA?  Let’s call up our buddy in New York.  He’s a Yankees fan and we met at a game once and now we talk baseball.  Maybe he’ll talk comics too.  Turns out he is a Batman fan!  He agrees to try and hunt down a copy of Batman #423 for us locally and report back.

The phone rings.  It is our friend in New York.  He describes what he found…  he’s describing a direct edition copy of Batman #423.  It’s all he could find, he says.  We ask him to please look harder, for a newsstand copy, one with a bar code on it…  Weeks go by.  Did he forget about us?  The phone rings again… he found one!  It has a 75¢ cover price on it!

OK, now we’re back in 2017.

We have the Internet; we have smartphones; we have eBay; we have CGC; we have instant online information access again.  We know, now, what those $1.00 cover price copies are: they’re indeed US-published, first print Type 1A cover price variants (under Jon McClure’s definition), which were found exclusively on newsstands, and priced for the Canadian market (where the buyer would be paying in Canadian dollars).

But back in 1988, this would have been an exceptionally difficult puzzle for the average person to work out, especially considering that our hypothetical story of the collector-turned-detective probably had extremely low odds of happening…  because what on Earth would have prompted them to dig into it in that way?  No, much like the buyers of 35¢ variants in 1977, our original 1980’s price variant buyers as a generalization would have had no clue the copy they had just purchased was anything different or special or rare.  They just read that comic as an entertainment purchase (such as while waiting for the ballgame to start), and might not have even kept it from there after they’d finished enjoying it.  A collector buying comics from a newsstand was the exception, not the norm; those collectors were mostly over in comic shops and buying direct editions. People weren’t studying these 1980’s cover price variants until way, way down the line in the far-distant future from their original publication.

Even Jon McClure himself, in his famous article published in January 1998 (an article that collectors credit as “ground zero” for 35 cent variant awareness in the hobby), McClure writes: “And we haven’t yet investigated the 75¢ price variants that are known to exist…”  So the person who made us all aware of 35 cent variants as a broad “class” of rare cover price variant collectibles hadn’t even begun to investigate the 1980’s cover price variants at that point, a full decade after Batman #423 was published as the final DC price variant of the 80’s.  McClure cites 75¢ variants in that quote — those came before the 95¢ and $1.00 variants that I mention in this post’s title.  Why is this post specifically talking about 95¢ and $1.00 DC variants?

Because unlike Marvel, where they had decided from the very beginning of their price variant window not to identify the price shown on front covers as Canadian dollars on the cover (i.e. just a price denominated in $’s and ¢’s is on the Marvel variants), DC, meanwhile, at the start of their Canadian price variant window, specifically spelled out that the 75 cent price was 75 cents Canadian, right on the cover.  Here’s an example, with Batman #357:

batman-357-canadian

As you can see, it doesn’t merely say 75¢, like Marvel had done on their variants… Instead, DC actually spells out that they are charging 75¢ Canadian. But that raises an interesting question: they eventually stopped including the word Canadian, which they seem to have done when the price went up to 95¢ (it would be impossible to check every single variant but I’ve spot-checked a bunch and found this to be the case).

But think about this for a moment: we know that the 95¢ and $1.00 price variant copies were Canadian price variants only by other reference information. To be crystal clear, I do truly believe they are Canadian price variants (because it makes so much sense, with the pricing on Direct Edition copies as a reference point, and Canadians reporting that’s the type sold to them on the stands).  But when it actually comes down to what’s on the comic and what’s in the indicia… well, for those 95¢ and $1.00 copies, they don’t actually spell it out!  The per-issue price in Canada is not included in the indicia (the per-issue price isn’t spelled out at all)… the word “Canadian” is not included on the cover, when it used to be included for DC’s 75 cent variant copies…

I contend that DC was giving themselves optionality when they designed their 95¢ and $1.00 price variant copies. They removed the word “Canadian” when they got to the 95¢ price-point by design — it was their choice and decision to remove it. Their indicia page states no per-issue cover price, no Canadian dollar price.  So while we may conclude with logic and reference information that these higher cover price copies were produced to serve Canadian newsstands, I think it is a non-trivial point I’m raising here that in isolation, there is no way to tell from the variant comics themselves that they are indeed Canadian price variants. If you didn’t know what the cover price was “supposed to be” for a given 95¢ or $1.00 DC issue, and you were presented with one of these DC variants in isolation from outside information — like our Blue Jays fan sitting isolated in the stadium in 1988, back in the age of pay phones — you would have no way to conclude just what it was that you were holding in your hands.

A thought exercise I like to do with these variants is what I call a “scissors test” — namely, just what would you have to “snip out” at minimum in order to make a variant copy indistinguishable from a regular copy?  And then compare the “scissors test result” against a different “class” of variants and see how they compare:  For example, if we were to take a 35 cent variant copy of Star Wars #1 and snip out the price box with scissors, we’ve just rendered our copy completely indistinguishable from the “regular” ones. And in the very same way, if we snip out the 95¢ or $1.00 price from one of our 1980’s DC price variants, that edited copy is now completely indistinguishable from the “regular” ones. So on a “physical” basis, the 35 cent variant “class” of price variants and our 95¢ or $1.00 DC price variants are equal on a scissors-test-basis: the same amount of snipping renders a variant physically indistinguishable from a “regular” copy.

And then on the distribution rarity level, the similarities continue: while we know that 35 cent variants are rare because they were distributed only in certain restricted geographical areas within the larger North American market (such as the Baltimore area as one of Marvel’s chosen markets for them), we similarly know that the 95¢ and $1.00 variant copies of Batman and other DC comics were sold in population centers like Toronto — i.e. places where buyers would be paying with Canadian currency.  By population within North America, that’s a very restricted area indeed.  And then it was only the newsstand portion of those geographical areas that got the variants (because the comic shop version was the very same direct edition copies sold in the USA).

How big was the newsstand market versus the direct edition market at that time?  It turns out that industry insiders and book authors peg the middle of the 1980’s as the time when direct edition sales would surpass newsstand sales for the major publishers like DC and Marvel.  Here is a quote from the book Economics of Digital Comics for example:

Middle of 1980s: Direct Edition Takes Over

This quote is included as a slideshow slide in 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.

At the 50:50 point we basically have a “pie” of comic book sales divided into two equal sized slices: a newsstand slice and a direct edition slice.  But our 95 cent and $1.00 DC price variants only came out of the newsstand slice.  So we’d have to divide that newsstand slice up between the US-priced copies, and the Canadian-priced copies, to understand the distribution rarity of the price variants.  One guidepost we can use to make such a division is population… the market size.  And looking up the population of each country in the 1980’s we can see that Canada was just 9.8% of the North American market for comic books at that middle-of-the-decade mark:

The market for Marvel's newsstand comics was the USA plus Canada; by population size in 1985, Canada represented 9.8% of that market.

The market for Marvel’s newsstand comics was the USA plus Canada; by population size in 1985, Canada represented 9.8% of that market.

A lot of people don’t realize how small Canada is, by population… but California alone has more people living there!  So in the middle of the 1980’s when direct edition sales surpassed newsstand sales for the big publishers, the distribution rarity of the Canadian price variants would be 4.9% if we use population difference as a guidepost, i.e. we take 9.8% of the newsstand pie slice to arrive at 4.9% distribution rarity for our price variants:

1980's Canadian Price Variant Rarity Illustration

1980’s Canadian Price Variant Rarity Illustration

But DC was publishing $1.00 cover price variants as late as September of 1988 as we saw with the Batman #423 example.  That’s well past the middle of the decade… well past that 50:50 point… Direct edition sales had already taken over.  Chuck Rozanski of Mile High Comics has described the collapse of the newsstand distribution channel in great detail in his writings, including the below quote about the state of the newsstand market in 1987:

State of the newsstand market in 1987.

“With sales of comics melting away into the much more efficient Direct Market specialty stores, only the most dedicated newsstands chose to keep comics available after 1987.”

Indeed, Rozanski has estimated that over at competitor Marvel, newsstand sales had dwindled to a mere 30% of the total, for that 1987 year.  If DC had a similar experience, then we’re now dividing up a much smaller newsstand pie slice between the USA and Canada, in our price variant distribution rarity exercise.  Instead of 9.8% of 50%, we’re now at 9.8% of 30%… which is 2.9%.  And that 2.9% figure is just the estimated original distribution percentage of the total copies for a given issue, and the notorious newsstand destruction rate would then be layered on top of that original distribution rarity when considering surviving copies!

“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

I don’t know about you, but I think the mathematics pointing to a probable ~2.9% – 4.9% distribution rarity in this middle-to-later 1980’s period for the DC price variants (and 1988 was probably lower still), and the newsstand-exclusivity aspect with the associated high destruction rate, is a pretty stunning situation in the hobby, that demands collector attention and demands price-guide attention as well.  We’ve basically got 35-cent-variant-like-characteristics here with our 1980’s price variants, both on the physical differences side (what’s different about the variant comics themselves — i.e. that “scissors test” we did earlier), and with demonstrably low distribution as well.

There’s no good reason why price guides should be breaking out modern variants available only at Fan Expo Canada (like this ASM example below), while simultaneously ignoring the Canadian price variants of the 1980’s, especially when the hobby has such a rich history of recognizing cover price variants!

ASM-638-fan-expo-canada

It is an interesting time we live in, fellow collectors, where sitting here in 2017 our level of information access — which is absolutely unparalleled versus what collectors of past decades had — lets us study and comprehend the rarity of newsstand-exclusive variants like our 1980’s variants and like our late-modern $3.99 Newsstand variants… But while we happily study and collect these rarities, meanwhile the price guides happily ignore their existence!  Here’s what ComicsPriceGuide shows for Batman #423 for example… where’s our $1.00 variant?  Where’s the US newsstand version for that matter?  Absent, that’s where.

Example guide page for Batman #423.

Example guide page for Batman #423. They’re pretending the newsstand versions do not even exist as the unique distinguishable types they truly are!

The price guides are happy to make space for incentive variants — those variants which were most important to retailers — but where are the price guides when collectors point out rare cover price variants that the comic shops didn’t carry… that could only be found over on the newsstands?  The competing newsstands… (I say “competing” because no comic shop owner would want their customers leaving their stores to buy comics over on newsstands instead… and maybe that is part of the answer of why newsstand comics have been so “overlooked”).

I’ve written an open letter to Overstreet encouraging them to “break out” newsstand comics in the guide, starting with our rare 1980’s Canadian price variants, and if you feel the same way I do that it is well past time for the “authorities” in the hobby to pay better attention to the rarity of newsstand comics, I encourage you to take a moment of your time out from hunting for these rarities, to contact your price guide of choice and nudge them to break out or otherwise recognize newsstand comics.  One alternative to “breaking out” a given variant on its own line (thereby consuming valuable page space), would be to have a permanent newsstand and cover price variant newsstand identification page, and some rarity guidelines with reasonable multiples to guide price to apply to the baseline direct edition guide price, for different “classes” and years of newsstand variant comics.

But something must be done to recognize newsstand comics in the price guides soon… because the market price disparity between the types is getting too obvious for them to continue to ignore; and because CGC is now breaking out newsstand comics from their prevalent direct edition counter-parts in several special situations (including our 1980’s variants); and because CBCS just recently announced they’ll be recognizing the newsstand vs. direct edition difference even more broadly.  We’re basically witnessing a rolling snowball of growing newsstand awareness in the hobby, and it is gaining mass every day as it continues to roll down the mountainside towards its final destination.  So it is probably simply a matter of time before the price guides “catch up” to the current reality.

Happy Collecting! 🙂

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