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


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

$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, (“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: (“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

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:


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”).


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:


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:


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:


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:


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


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”):


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).

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):


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):


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, also with the regular direct edition copies inaccurately titled “newsstand edition”:


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:


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:


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.



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:

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:


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:


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

– Ben

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:


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:


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:


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:]


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…


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:


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):


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


And #423 and #424 are the same way:



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:


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


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:


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

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


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?


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:


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!


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! 🙂

Australian Newsstand Edition, Direct Edition vs. Newsstand Edition Comic Books, Rare Comics To Collect

New Mutants #98 — $1.50 Cover Price Variant (1st Deadpool Appearance)

By Benjamin Nobel, January 14, 2017

I begin this story with a bar code, the kind that appeared on 1990’s Marvel newsstand comics…  There is so much you really should know about newsstand comics versus direct edition comics in general [read this first if you’re not already in-the-know about the difference between the types], but for the purposes of this story all I want you to know right now is that in the below bar code that I’m about to show you, the numbers along the bottom are what you could think of as the “base code” for the monthly New Mutants title, and the numbers at the top right corner tell you the month.


New Mutants #98 newsstand UPC code.

Direct Edition copies of New Mutants #98 have this logo in place of the bar code.

Direct Edition copies of New Mutants #98 have this Captain America logo in place of the bar code.

What you’re looking at above is the bar code — the Universal Product Code (UPC) — for newsstand copies of New Mutants #98 (“direct edition” copies meanwhile lack this code, instead they have a logo in this spot as pictured at right… such copies with logos were direct-sold to comic shops on a discounted but non-returnable basis and make up the vast majority of copies you’ll find out there in the marketplace). The publication month for New Mutants #98 was February, so the corresponding numbers on the top right of the code you just saw are “02” as pointed out below:

The circled portion, with the numbers

The circled portion, with the numbers “02” denote the month of February.


If you find a copy of New Mutants #98 with the above code on the cover, the price box at the top left corner of the front cover of that copy will look like the picture at right — showing a $1.00 US price in bold, a smaller $1.25 CAN price underneath, then the issue number (98) below that, followed by the month (FEB).

Below the month, notice the numbers “02207” (and now look back at the UPC code I showed you before, and note where 02207 appears along the bottom).  That part will be consistent from month to month.

So, knowing this information, if I asked you to now predict the code you’d find on newsstand copies of New Mutants #99 (published in March), and New Mutants #100 (the final issue, published in April), you’d be able to correctly predict that the code on issue #99 would look just like the one you just saw but would read “03” at the top right, and the code for issue #100 would read “04”— and you’d be right in your prediction; here are pictures of newsstand copies of New Mutants #98, #99, and #100:

New Mutants #98 (Newsstand)

New Mutants #98 (Newsstand) [ ENLARGE ]

New Mutants #99 (Newsstand)

New Mutants #99 (Newsstand) [ ENLARGE ]

New Mutants #100 (Newsstand)

New Mutants #100 (Newsstand) [ ENLARGE ]

And here, to zoom in and show you that you were right in your prediction, is a close-up of the code for issue #100, the final issue of New Mutants (a fact we see quite clearly proclaimed and repeated across the cover), where you can see that your “04” prediction was correct:
UPC code for New Mutants #100, the final issue.

UPC code for New Mutants #100, the final issue.

So that’s the final New Mutants issue, where the code ending “04” would have therefore been the end!  The X-Force would appear in this issue, and then begin with their own title with the smash-hit release of X-Force #1 in August.

And it is at this part of the story that I have to throw a mystery your way.  There was no issue #101 of New Mutants… that’s confirmed…  So, how is it possible, that I hold in my hands a 1991 New Mutants comic with the following UPC code on it?

That's right folks, this NEW MUTANTS comic, newsstand code 02207, is from 1991 and the month is 05... MAY.  WHAT?!?!

That’s right readers, this code above is from a NEW MUTANTS comic, carrying the same newsstand code 02207 that we’ve become familiar with, it is from 1991, and the indicated month is 05… MAY.  But… but… the New Mutants title had ended at #100 in April!  It didn’t go to #101… WHAT is going on?!?!  What have we found here?  Read on, and by the end of this post, you’ll find out!

At this point in the story I need to give some credit where credit is due.  I did not make this discovery myself.  Instead, this is one of the many times I’ve learned of an interesting comic I’d never encountered before, from a reader of this blog.  As I’ve said before and I’ll say it again now: this is one of the huge benefits of blogging… I learn so much from readers!

The reader who brought this to my attention is Bill Alexander, an advisor to the Overstreet Price Guide.  So before I proceed further in the story — before I answer just what this mystery comic is and how it came to exist — a big thank-you to Bill who not only gave me the heads-up on this fascinating situation, not only shared invaluable research he’d already done, but actually sent me example comics in the mail so I could see what he’d seen, with my own eyes — and hold the comics in my own hands.

As I continue this story of the “05 mystery comic” I need to briefly give you a taste of Marvel’s history as a newsstand experimenter through the decades — and I’ll start with the 1970’s just before direct edition comics came to exist — so that you’ll have the background information I feel you’ll need to fully appreciate the answer to the mystery when you hear it.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— A quote often attributed to Mark Twain


A smaller batch of copies carrying a 35 cent price tag were distributed.

A smaller batch of copies carrying a 35 cent price tag were distributed.

The UPC codes (and everything else about the comic within) were identical.

The UPC codes (and everything else about the comic within) were identical.

Before committing to a cover price increase, it turns out Marvel sometimes experimented, to test the market reaction to the higher price tag…  by distributing smaller batches of comics carrying the higher price, to specific North American test markets, and seeing how well they sold by comparison to the regularly priced copies.

A famous example you’ve probably heard of, are the 35 cent cover price copies of Star Wars #1-4 from 1977. As the lower distribution version, copies with the 35 cent cover price are quite rare as a percentage of the total copies out there.

What percentage are we talking about? A great source of data that collectors are very fortunate to have in this day and age, is the CGC Census. CGC has kept track for us, of just how many copies they’ve graded, of the rare 35 cent type, versus the common type.  Much like election polling and TV ratings that tell us relative popularity are done with a small sample of the total population of voters/viewers, CGC census data, while representing just a portion of the total copies out there (the portion that have been turned in for grading), can still tell us a heck of a lot about relative rarity.

I just looked up the current census numbers for Star Wars issues #1-4, and as I type these words, a grand total of 8,375 copies across these four Star Wars comics have been graded by CGC to date. And out of that grand total, across these four issues, 388 variants appear, or 4.6% of the total. That’s a very small percentage indeed!  No wonder the higher cover price variants are so much more valuable than their ordinary counterparts!

By the way: outside of Whitman packs, “direct edition” comics didn’t exist yet at this point (that development would happen in 1979… and arguably represented one of Marvel’s most successful business “experiments” ever, as direct sales not only worked, they quickly grew to be the dominant form of comic book distribution).

Marvel is a business… we must remember this, as collectors.  And businesses, to remain successful, must continually experiment, they must try different ideas and make changes to the way things were done in the past, in order to adapt to what is thrown at them, and survive (and even to try and grow). In this way I think using the word “experiment” to describe their initial foray into direct edition comics is a great way to think about the business-level decision-making.

If they knew exactly what they were doing at each step along the way to inventing non-returnable direct edition comics, then they wouldn’t have had the initial ‘loophole’ where the earliest direct-sold comics were indistinguishable from newsstand comics, and could therefore be sneakily returned through the newsstand channel (a problem, because direct sold comics were heavily discounted and sales were meant to be final)…

Marvel learned as they went along, reacted to problems thrown at them, and in the case of direct edition comics they closed that loophole, first by putting a strike through the bar code on the cover of direct sold copies, and then eventually introducing the “Spider-Man Rectangle” (and other such logos) to direct-sold copies in place of the bar code.

So that when we now proceed to look at the 1980’s, there are now two distinct sales channels for Marvel’s comics: direct edition sales, and newsstand sales.


The currency exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollar had been relatively stable during the 1970’s, fluctuating around parity (sometimes a tad above, sometimes a tad below, but on average it was roughly one-for-one). But in the 1980’s the exchange rate began to jump substantially and didn’t reverse course, with the Canadian dollar becoming weaker against the US dollar. This meant that when Canadian revenues were exchanged back to US currency, they were a much smaller amount for Marvel — and the solution was to demand a higher price when the buyer was paying with Canadian currency.

Direct edition copy with both US and Canada price

At the time this exchange rate movement became a problem for Marvel, the normal price tag on their comics was 60 cents. And they solved the currency exchange rate problem by adding an alternate 75 cent Canadian price in small type, to their direct edition copies…  I’ve pointed that out with an arrow in the picture at the right (the comic shown is Amazing Spider-Man #238, the 1st Hobgoblin appearance).


A rare 75 cent variant copy of Amazing Spider-Man #238 (1st Hobgoblin).

But with their newsstand copies, instead of putting both prices on those too, Marvel essentially experimented… That “experiment” was to have two newsstand batches instead of one, a separate batch for each price — a 60 cent batch, and a 75 cent batch (thus giving birth to 75 cent variants as a category — and yes, there is a rare 75 cent variant version out there too for this Hobgoblin key as pictured at right [here are some other keys and interesting example comics from this variant window]).

These different versions were all identical on the inside; so if you tore the front cover off of a 75 cent variant copy (don’t!), or just snipped out the price box with scissors (don’t!), and then sent it in to CGC, they’d grade it as a “regular” copy… because the all-important indicia page (and everything else about the comic within) would be identical to the other copies.

What this 1980’s two-batch newsstand window means for the rarity percentage of the 75 cent cover price variant copies (or whatever the higher price tag was issue by issue) is quite interesting.  Let’s briefly walk through it, in steps, to arrive at the likely percentage of total copies that were the variants.

By the middle of the decade, Marvel reaches the 50:50 point of direct edition to newsstand sales.

By the middle of the decade, Marvel reaches the 50:50 point of direct edition to newsstand sales.

In the book Economics of Digital Comics by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, we learn that by the middle of the 1980’s, direct edition sales began to surpass newsstand sales. This 50/50 point is corroborated by information published by industry insider Chuck Rozanski, as well as supported by the writings of former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, who described his 1986 struggles to save the ailing newsstand channel [see this slideshow for relevant quotes from these various sources].

This 50:50 point for direct-edition:newsstand falls right within the “window” of time in the 1980’s when Marvel was printing out two separate newsstand batches [the variant window eventually closed when Marvel “merged” these batches and began to put both US and Canadian prices on all newsstand copies, thereby returning to one newsstand batch].

So in thinking about the rarity of these middle-1980’s Marvel cover price variants as newsstand exclusives printed for Canadian newsstands, we’re starting with that 50/50 direct/newsstand point, taking that newsstand pie slice, and then thinking about how to split that newsstand pie slice up between Canada and the USA — which I will do next by considering the relative market size between the two countries… and the best way I know how to do that, is by population.

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 1980’s newsstand comics was the USA plus Canada; by population size in 1985, Canada represented 9.8% of that market.

Example copies of New Mutants #1: the top copy is part of the large batch priced at 60 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the US market. The bottom copy is part of the small batch priced at 75 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the small Canadian market.

Example copies of New Mutants #1: the top copy is part of the large batch priced at 60 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the US market. The bottom copy is part of the small batch priced at 75 cents, sized to serve the newsstand portion of the small Canadian market.

When we look up the population of each country in 1985, we find that Canada was just 9.8% of the market for Marvel’s newsstand comic books, by population size. So, starting with the 50% newsstand pie slice, and then 9.8% of that being our higher priced variants, we’d arrive at an estimated 4.9% of the total copies being the higher cover price variants at that middle-1980’s 50:50 point [here’s a discussion of how it might have broken down year by year during the variant window].

Interestingly, CGC also tracks these variant comics separately on census, just like they do for our higher-cover-price 1970’s variants, but with different terminology this time:  Instead of calling them “75 cent variant” akin to their terminology from the 1970’s, they instead dub these “Canadian Edition” on the Census — Canadian referring to the price on the cover, because CGC knows from looking at the prices listed on the corresponding direct edition version of any given comic, what the higher cover price would be for that issue for the batch of copies produced to serve the Canadian newsstand market.  In the case of graphic novels, however, where the newsstand variable wasn’t in play and the purpose of the higher cover price isn’t crystal clear [i.e. no direct edition version to look at for reference to see both prices], CGC simply denotes the higher cover price variant by the price itself, for example the variants for Marvel Graphic Novel #4 (1st New Mutants appearance) are simply denoted “$5.95 Cover Price” by CGC.

I recently studied the historical census data for the variant copies of Amazing Spider-Man #252 — data which, it turns out, goes back to 2001 in census snapshots.  I found that back in 2001, the 75 cent variant copies of that issue were about 2% of the total CGC had graded at that point in time… and, fast-forward to 2016, the variants were also about 2% of the 2016 total going into year-end. And for these past 15+ years in between, the numbers have fluctuated a bit as new submissions of each type came in to CGC, but the total variant percentage has consistently been in that same ballpark ~2% percentage rarity neighborhood for the last decade and a half.

This incredibly low variant percentage showing up on CGC’s census may be so much lower than the estimated original distribution percentage in part because of survivorship difference between newsstand and direct edition comics.  The direct edition copies of any given comic should see a “magnified” survivorship percentage given that they were so well cared for by the collectors who took them home (and also well cared for by the comic shops that sold them who knew all too well that preservation of collectible condition was important — the owner of the comic shop I frequented as a kid had a special program for repeat customers like me where a mint condition bagged-and-boarded direct edition copy was set aside with your name on it, ensuring not a single collectible was missed).

The typical newsstand comic, by contrast, needed a lot of luck to survive through to the present in any kind of decent shape worthy of sending in to CGC…  The typical buyer on newsstands bought a comic to read it, not as a collectible — remember: the extreme rarity as a higher cover price variant wasn’t known to the original buyers who took them home.  So instead of treating them as treasured collectibles (like they’d treat modern-day 1-in-whatever retailer incentive variants), generally speaking they were treated as an entertainment purchase, something to read, with no thought given to preserving collectible condition.

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

“Serious collectors” knew the condition of the comics over on newsstands was terrible — so if they wanted to collect mint condition copies, they needed to make their purchases over in comic shops instead… where, whether they realized it or not, the direct edition type were sold.   With this myopic focus on condition, collectors “self-sorted” the market for comic books into a mostly-collector-group taking home (and carefully preserving) direct edition comics, leaving a mostly-reader-group as the ones buying the newsstand copies — which was where the cover price variants were found — and then reading those already-low-distribution variants to death from there.

But graphic novels didn’t have this “newsstand variable” in play.  Take first print copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 for example, where, instead of direct edition and newsstand types, there was just the one type, with a batch priced at $4.95 for the USA, and another batch at $5.95 for Canada.  So, with that newsstand variable removed, the behavior of the buyers (and staff) comparing the $4.95 and $5.95 first print copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 would have been similar

With similar behavior — and without the Canadian market split between the two sales channels with two distinct versions — variant cover price copies of this graphic novel would therefore have reached that full Canadian pie slice of that graphic novel market (remember, with comic books, the market demand was satisfied by direct edition copies and variant newsstand copies — but in this case, the whole Canadian market got the same one version).  Therefore, we might expect the variant percentage on census for Marvel Graphic Novel #4 to be driven purely by that Canadian:USA market size difference, in this particular case.

And indeed, when we look at the census numbers for first print copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4, we see the CGC census rarity for the $5.95 variant for that issue comes in at almost 9.8% on the nose — this near-pinpoint-precision tells me that using market size by population as a “guidepost” along the path to understanding rarity is the right way to think about the 1980’s category of cover price variant comics produced for Canada.


Yes, I’m skipping the 1990’s for now but I’ll come back to them in a minute (they are the topic of this post after all).  Newsstand sales at Marvel, over time, continued to decline dramatically relative to direct edition sales, and by 1999, Marvel made a conscious decision to “walk away” from the newsstand model.  The impact this decision had on newsstand sales apparently further exacerbated their relative decline versus direct edition copies, with newsstand comics falling from 14% of sales in 1999, all the way down to 4.25% by May of 2003, as discussed in the book Economics of Digital Comics, by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, citing BPA audits.  Marvel would eventually shut down newsstand sales altogether (in stages, with certain bookstore partners being the last to carry them), but not before the newsstand percentages fell to as low as 2% by 2005 and 1% by 2013 for Marvel, according to estimates by Chuck Rozanski.

Newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #569 (first Anti-Venom) are a price variant.

Newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #569 (first Anti-Venom) are a price variant.

And it turns out that Marvel once again experimented with newsstand cover prices in this 2000’s era, with many known instances where newsstand comics carried a higher price tag than their direct edition counterparts, either for the US price, the Canadian price, or both.  This higher price tag phenomenon includes an entire “publication window” where direct edition comics were regularly priced at $2.99 (US) each, and the same comics appeared on the newsstands with a $3.99 (US) price tag.  (Eventually, apparently satisfied that the market would accept the $3.99 price tag, direct edition copies “caught up” to that $3.99 price point).  Comics such as Amazing Spider-Man #569 (1st Anti-Venom, 10/2008), are among the keys that can be found out there with this $3.99 variant price (and once again CGC “breaks out” such variants, this time with the terminology “$3.99 Newsstand Edition” — here is a separate post that covers these in greater depth and gives some keys and other interesting examples out of this window).

So here yet again we have comic book history rhyming, where there are key issues many collectors would like to own, and with the existence of cover price variant copies out there as a very low distribution percentage of total copies of each issue.  Effectively these newsstand copies represent a “1-in-some-much-larger-number variant” version (where that much-larger-number grew bigger in size as newsstand sales dwindled in relation to direct edition sales over the course of time), but one that wasn’t actually known to be rare by the market that purchased them at the time they were originally sold.

Imagine, if you would, a comic shop owner sitting behind the counter enjoying a slice of pizza. The bell on the front door jingles and it is a delivery: they have gotten a new 1-in-100 variant through their door.  The comic shop owner casually wipes their greasy hands on their pants, signs for the delivery, then proceeds to open the comic up,  read it with their still-greasy fingers, and then toss it haphazardly in a pile.   The scenario I just described would be crazy, right?   That would be like setting fire to a pile of cash.  Would never happen!  Yet, what I just described, that’s effectively what late modern Marvel newsstand comics are: low distribution variants that were treated terribly by not just the staff but also most of their buyers, buyers who were unaware they had purchased anything special or rare by print run comparison…  Thus leaving precious few highest-grade-survivors out there among these already-ludicrously-rare cover price variants.


And now back to our “mystery comic”… and the 1990s.   The comic book industry was booming as we entered the 1990’s.  This boom period would eventually go bust, with Marvel famously going through Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization (they filed for bankruptcy protection at the end of 1996 [chapter 11 is a “reorganization” where the company doesn’t disappear, it survives on, but debts are restructured]).

But in 1991 when the New Mutants title was going into its final issues, they had no idea bankruptcy reorganization was looming five years on the horizon… instead, times were great for Marvel with sales roaring.   In our heads we can imagine Marvel executives of this time period popping champagne bottles and optimistically projecting out continued boom-time sales growth in charts presented in the board room, with discussions taking place about new growth initiatives to penetrate markets they hadn’t attempted in the past…

To get an idea for the established markets for Marvel’s comics of that time, let’s look at the price box for a direct edition comic — here’s a direct edition New Mutants #98 for example:


A “direct edition” copy of New Mutants #98.

As you can see, there are three prices shown on direct edition copies: $1.00 US, $1.25 CAN, and then at the very bottom, UK 60p (for copies sold in the United Kingdom).  That covers all the biggest English-speaking markets for Marvel, right?  Or does it?  Any other big countries out there with English as the primary language?

What about the “Land Down Under”?

And here, finally, I give you the answer to the “mystery comic” I presented in the beginning.  The comic that would have appeared from its newsstand code to be New Mutants #101 (a non-existent comic)… the 1991 comic with the “05” New Mutants newsstand code… is, in fact, New Mutants #98 again!  Note the $1.50 AUS cover price:

New Mutants #98 with

New Mutants #98 with “05” newsstand code… May month on the cover… and $1.50 AUS cover price.  Under the UPC code at the bottom, $1.50 AUS is repeated.

Marvel, that continuous newsstand experimenter, produced the above-pictured copies of New Mutants #98, continuing the same New Mutants UPC code used on newsstands here in the USA (and Canada) but with “05” at the top right of the code (it is possible these copies would be sitting in a container on a slow boat to Australia for quite some time, and the May month would ensure they didn’t seem out of date when they eventually hit the stands there)… And of course, it was priced for Australia, at $1.50.

And here’s the craziest part…  If I tore off the front cover of one of these and submitted the book to CGC for grading, guess what they’d find in the indicia?  It is, in fact, identical to all the other copies of New Mutants #98, just like we saw with the variants of earlier decades.  Everything on the inside — from the February 1991 publication month, to the “Printed in the USA” line, literally everything inside the cover — is identical to other New Mutants #98 copies!

Despite the

Despite the “05” code and “May” on the cover, the indicia page states February.


The indicia (and comic within) is fully identical to all the other copies of New Mutants #98, down to the Printed in the USA line.  This comic’s birthplace: The United States of America.

The existence of these newsstand variants is extremely surprising, because there was no “cue” in the direct edition copies to go looking for their existence… i.e. there is no Australian alternate price shown for any direct editions.  So why would anybody think to go looking for a newsstand edition priced for Australia?

So: how might we begin to think about the likely rarity percentage of these variant copies?  Let’s see what we get when we do the same kind of breakdown we did earlier for the 1980’s variants, i.e. we’ll start with a pie divided into two slices between direct edition and newsstand (this time based on 1990’s sales statistics), and then we’ll divide the newsstand pie slice by market size (by looking up the 1990’s population of each country that got newsstand copies).


Estimated 1990 split for Marvel: 15% newsstand to 85% direct edition.

For 1990, there is an estimate from Chuck Rozanski at 15% newsstand to 85% direct edition; and the book I mentioned earlier, Economics of Digital Comics by Todd Allen and Mark Waid, mentions a 1999 audit showing Marvel’s newsstand sales for the first half of that year at 14%.

Since these two percentage figures from two different sources are pretty close both in year and in value, let’s proceed to see what happens when we take an assumption of a 15% newsstand pie slice, and then divide that by market size (by population) among the countries that got newsstand copies.


A 1990 population comparison for the USA, Canada, and Australia, shows Australia at 5.8%.

According to the US Census Bureau and World Bank numbers, entering the 1990’s we had a population here in the USA of 249.6 million people, Canada had a population of 27.79 million, and Australia came in at 17.07 million.

As we saw in an earlier picture, Marvel’s North American newsstand batch had both US and Canadian prices listed, in other words the newsstand copies found on the stands in the United States and Canada were the same in this time period (that 1980’s dual-batch-window had long since closed). So in dividing the newsstand pie slice, we’re really just dividing it into two types: the North American type, and the Australian type.

Australia’s population represented 5.8% of the combined market size across the total of these three countries that got newsstand copies.  So if we now take 5.8% of the 15%-newsstand-pie-slice, that gets us to: 0.87% (zero point eight seven percent) of total copies being these AUS variants. (Excuse me a moment while I pop my eyes back into my head).

It is very difficult to know, as a probable newsstand experiment, and as one conducted overseas, whether the population size would have followed through in this way to the number of copies — after all, with any experiment, the one conducting the experiment calls the shots just as much as the market size does, and in this case the experimenter had an interesting problem to consider: what to do with any copies that didn’t sell through on the stands.

Here in North America these unsold newsstand copies would be known as newsstand returns… with the infrastructure in place to recycle/pulp and/or sell the returns into a secondary market (like these example Whitman packs containing 75¢ copies inside the plastic and sold in Toys R Us) as warranted by market demand.

But the idea of Marvel pulping unsold returns is a very different question across the world in Australia.  Given this unknown, how might we think about the possibilities?  Here in North America, it was common to over-produce (not knowing how many would ultimately sell through, it was better to err on the side of over-producing, than under-producing, knowing the excess could simply be recycled forward).

If Marvel was just doing a “test” with these Australian copies, and the overseas aspect made handling of returns tricky, might they have erred on the side of under-producing so as to minimize unsold copies?  Or, might Marvel have still erred on the side of over-production with the idea to later liquidate any unsold newsstand copies locally there, for the best bulk price they could get?  Either of these scenarios makes sense to me logically as possibilities, but I have no way to know what actually occurred (or if it was something in the middle).

So with the caveat that we can’t really know for sure how well we’ve done coming to these numbers, and this is an exercise in estimation, I’m going to take the 0.87% figure we arrived at earlier and turn it into a range to allow for the possibility that Marvel may have over-produced the Australian newsstand copies, and that the unsold copies still made it out to the Australian market via some other sales channel rather than being destroyed.

So let’s triple our number on the high side to give plenty of leeway for some of the unknowns, and use “0.87% to 2.61%” as a range for the rarity percentage, and then let’s apply that against the total count of copies of New Mutants #98, to see what kind of total numbers we might be talking about for the $1.50 AUS variants.

According to this source, New Mutants #98 had a print run of 275,000 copies. Apply our estimated variant percentage range just discussed, and we’d be in the neighborhood of 2,400 to 7,200 copies with the variant $1.50 AUS cover price. [By the way, Bill Alexander shared with me that he independently arrived at his own estimate for this issue, of 3,225 copies].

And this is before considering buyer behavior — that notorious-newsstand-destruction-rate variable would be in play with these.  Recall that when we looked at the rarity percentage for Marvel Graphic Novel #4 variants (where the newsstand variable wasn’t in play), it followed the predicted distribution rarity almost on the nose, but meanwhile when we looked at 1980’s newsstand variant comic books which had that newsstand variable in play, the percentage we observe on census (like Amazing Spider-Man #252 — at a mere 2% Canadian Edition) is much lower than what we might have expected if our expectation had been based on the likely percentage sold at the time of initial distribution.

Marvel Australian cover price variants were only newsstand distributed (no direct edition copies exist). These are type 1A Marvel Australian cover price variants, where the 1990-1994 issues are both cover PRICE and cover MONTH variants, while the 1996 group are only cover PRICE variants. Marvel appeared to be test marketing these, and they were so off the radar to everyone that until a few years ago I myself had no idea they even existed!”

The 1990-1994 Marvel AUS variants as far as I can tell began with 10/90 issues and ceased with 1/94 issues. The 1996 Marvel AUS cover price issues as far as I can tell began with 2/96 issues. The test marketing apparently failed and Marvel gave up completely when the 1996 AUS variants ended with 11/96 issues.”

— Bill Alexander, Overstreet Advisor

[ Related discussion: Type 1A Price Variants — “What’s In A Variant Name?” ]

New Mutants #98 Variants — CGC Treatment

I’m a big fan of CGC, as so many of us are — and a logical next question that might occur to you at this point is: How does CGC treat these $1.50 AUS copies? I certainly had that thought myself upon learning about the existence of these variants, and for one thing I was very curious to see how CGC cataloged the comic as far as the publication month — would they use the “05” (May) month shown on the UPC code on the front cover? Or would they use the February month shown inside the comic on the indicia page?

I suppose one way to think about this question, if you were the one deciding how to catalog the New Mutants #98 variant, would be in the identification of a coverless or damaged-cover copy. Tear off the cover — or remove key pieces of it with scissors (don’t!) — and if you handed me one of these in that altered state, I’d most certainly identify it by the indicia page, and I’d therefore conclude it was a plain old “regular” copy of New Mutants #98, published in February of 1991… just like it says there in the indicia.

CGC, however, appears to have gone with what’s on the UPC code on the cover: May. Here below is what a census search turns up; as you can see, there are two separate entries, one for February as the Issue Date (regular copies), and the other for May (our $1.50 variant):


CGC opted to catalog the variant under 5/91 (what appears on the cover) as the issue date, rather than 2/91 as appears in the indicia page.

I was curious to see, clicking through on that May entry, whether the “key comments” note would carry any indication that the indicia for this comic shows February as the publication month.  And I found there was not such a note presently there (see next picture below — the note does carry the 1st appearance credits, but no note about the conflicting indicia date or the USA birthplace).  I feel a special label note would definitely be appropriate given that the indicia information inside the comic is in conflict with what is shown on the cover (I will suggest an improvement to the “key comments” when I submit my own copy).

As you can see below, they denote these copies as “Australian Edition” (following the same naming tradition they use with 1980’s newsstand variants which they opted to denote as “Canadian Edition”), and as of this writing there are 5 copies total on Census, with 9.4 being the top grade — as newsstand survivors it is no surprise to see only 1 of the current 5 has been graded above VF/NM:

Present CGC census data, as of this writing, for the $1.50 cover price variant. As you can see, CGC denotes these as

Present CGC census data, as of this writing, for the $1.50 cover price variant. As you can see, CGC denotes these as “Australian Edition” but the key comments note does not make mention of the 2/91 publication date shown in the indicia.

More To Come…

If you’ve read all the way to the end to reach these words, hopefully that means I did proper justice to the topic of this rare variant version of New Mutants #98 (such an important comic!) and that you were as fascinated with it as I am, or, at the very least it means I did a minimally-decent-enough job to at least hold your attention through to the end! 🙂  There are of course other Australian newsstand comics out of this very same publication “window” and next time, I am going to delve into some other examples from this 1990’s newsstand variant window.  This has basically been “Part 1” of a two-part post…  I have submitted my own $1.50 AUS copy of New Mutants #98 to CGC along with a few other books.  And when the box arrives back, I will snap some pictures and compose “Part 2″…

Until I see you then, I wish you Happy Collecting! 🙂

[5/17/2017 update: here’s Part II: AUS Price Variants (Australian Newsstand Editions)]

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

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

By Benjamin Nobel, January 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

And Now…

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

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

ASM #607... Sensational.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Darn: No variant sales in the sold listings section.

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

Darn: no $3.99 variants listed.

Darn: no $3.99 variants listed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6/15/2017 UPDATE

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

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

And here’s how they have pegged the value:


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

My opinion?

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

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

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

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

Happy Collecting! 🙂