Newsstand Rarity Discussion & Estimates

By Benjamin Nobel, September 16, 2016

Why am I so interested in newsstand rarity estimates and discussions? To understand my way of thinking, I’ll have to set the stage for you… it all comes down to relative value. Read my intro below first, or jump straight to the slideshow.

Background Info — Case Study: 35 Cent Variants

Before 1998, 35 cent variant comics from 1977 were broadly overlooked by collectors as a “class” of comics. Collectors going after any number of comics published during that cover price variant window could have chosen to seek out 35 cent copies or just place the more prevalent 30 cent copies into their collections, when seeking any particular issue in those early years before the variants took off…

Take Star Wars #3 as an example. The exact relative rarity of 35 cent copies wasn’t pinpointed in those early days, and the idea of CGC or their online Census wouldn’t exist until many years later — so there wasn’t a handy way to look up the relative graded count of each type (we are so spoiled nowadays by contrast 🙂 !!)… but those collectors who still put thought into the difference and came to the conclusion that the 35 cent copies were the ones they should target, instead of the regular prevalent 30 cent ones, now have big smiles on their faces today.

Because, fast-forward to today, and guess what? The relative rarity between the two types is now widely recognized among collectors, and 35 cent copies now command a large premium. The days of sellers not realizing their 35 cent copy was any different than the rest, are long gone. How much premium are we talking? Here are two recent eBay sales of Star Wars #3 below: notice that the first one is a CGC Universal Grade 3.0 copy and sold for $305 at auction, while the second one is a CGC Universal Grade 9.8 copy and sold for ~$225… Can you guess which of the two copies is the 35 cent variant?  Yep: the top one.

Star Wars #3 Relative Value

Here are two recent sales of CGC graded copies of Star Wars #3. The top copy received a grade of 3.0 and auctioned for $305; the bottom copy received a grade of 9.8 and sold for ~$225. Both are Universal Grade (blue label). What’s different? The answer: the 3.0 copy has a cover price of 35 cents instead of 30 cents and shows up on the CGC census with relative rarity of 7.83%.

Why are collectors bidding up 3.0 copies of the variant to higher prices than 9.8 “regular” copies? Because there are simply far fewer of the variants out there. They were only sold to “test market” areas of North America, when Marvel was testing market reaction to a price increase — i.e. only the test areas got 35 cent copies, and as a result, fewer of that type were sold.  Here’s the CGC census count for 30 versus 35 cent copies of Star Wars #1-4:

Issue Census Count: Regular Copies Census Count: Price Variants Price Variant Percentage
Star Wars #1 5373 179 3.22%
Star Wars #2 764 71 8.50%
Star Wars #3 612 52 7.83%
Star Wars #4 511 55 9.72%

As you can see above, these 35 cent copies are quite rare on a relative basis to their “regular” 30 cent counter-parts looking at the CGC census numbers sitting here in the year 2016. For our Star Wars #3 example, only 7.83% of the total copies graded by CGC are the 35 cent variants.

So think back now to those early collectors who had the opportunity to choose to place 30 or 35 cent copies into their collections, decades back in time from today… The collectors who favored the 35 cent copies back then had two ways to win instead of one: (1) the issue number itself could rise in value over time (which it did), and (2) the relative rarity of 35 cent copies could command a premium over time (which it eventually did, and in a major way).

Newsstand Relative Rarity: Giving Us Two Ways To Win

In the same way that early collectors of 35 cent variants had two ways to win, I believe collectors today have two ways to win by targeting the more rare newsstand version of any given issue, especially in the special cases where CGC “breaks out” newsstand copies as unique variants on census — “Canadian Editions” (cover price variants), $2.99 Newsstand Editions (cover price variants), $3.99 Newsstand Editions (cover price variants), $4.99 Newsstand Editions (cover price variants), Newsstand Variants (UPC code “errors”), and Newsstand Editions (manufacturing differences such as different paper quality between the two versions).

[ More posts on these special situations where CGC breaks out newsstand comics as variants — category: Canadian Newsstand Edition Comics, category: $3.99 Newsstand Edition Comics, blog: Rare Spawn Comics ]

Amazingly, comics from within each of these categories are able to be found today at prices in-line with their prevalent “regular” counterparts, simply because nobody is paying attention to them, and they don’t know the difference — just like very early sellers of 35 cent copies might not have known their copies were any different from others out there (if their neighbor took home the same type, why would they even think there might be another version out there in existence?).  Here’s just one example, from the $3.99 Newsstand Edition category, where the more rare cover price variant can be found today for “regular” price… Amazing Spider-Man #569 (1st Anti-Venom):

Example Amazing Spider-Man #569 Sales

The top copy is a prevalent direct edition copy with $2.99 cover price. The bottom copy is a newsstand copy with variant cover price — $3.99. Yet, the seller of the bottom listing did not title it with the “newsstand” keyword (nor the $3.99 keyword), and furthermore they priced their copy in-line with the going rate for the issue number at large.

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.

Notice in this example how the seller of the rare cover price variant copy did not title their listing as such — in other words, the word “newsstand” did not appear in the listing title, nor did the “$3.99” keyword. This suggests that this seller did not know their copy was any different from the rest. But of course, it is: due to its variant cover price, this is one of the cases were CGC recognizes it as a variant and “breaks out” such copies.

Here’s one more example in the Amazing Spider-Man title. In the below screenshot, we see two sales of Amazing Spider-Man #601 in the same advertised grade. The bottom copy is actually the rare cover price variant (once you start to look at a lot of UPC codes — such as the pair at right, you start to be able to quickly recognize which copies are newsstand just by looking at the code box). And here once again the seller does not have “newsstand” in the title of the listing, nor “$3.99,” and they chose to price their copy right in line with the going rate for the regular prevalent direct edition:

Amazing Spider-Man #601 Recent Sales

The top copy is a “regular” direct edition copy of Amazing Spider-Man #601. The bottom copy is the rare $3.99 cover price variant only sold on newsstands. The seller of that bottom copy did not title their listing with the “newsstand” keyword (nor the $3.99 keyword) and priced their copy in-line with the going rate for the issue number in general.

In these examples, the buyer of the newsstand copy has two ways to win: having gotten in at similar cost basis to the prevalent direct edition, the issue numbers themselves may rise in value, and, the relative rarity of the newsstand variant may command a premium in the distant future — much like 35 cent variants are today prized for their relative rarity but for years were overlooked.

So That’s The Premise — Two Ways To Win

If you like the idea as I do of having “two ways to win” then you’ll also be interested in getting a sense of just how rare these categories of newsstand comics may in fact be relative to direct editions…  And for this, one must focus on the industry: what was happening with the two comic book distribution channels, at different times?

This subject has been a topic of discussion and estimation by industry insiders, and I’ve collected a bunch of relevant quotes and graphics into this page in the slideshow presented below.  At the bottom of the page are links to individual slides with my discussion of what I found particularly interesting about each slide.

Slideshow: Newsstand Rarity Discussion & Estimates

I’ll present the slides in a moment, but first, for anyone interested in a quick take-away / summary, here is a “cliff notes version”:

The early “bar code strike-through” Marvel direct edition comics were sold to comic shops in 1979 and in that year were said to be 6% to >10% of sales depending on the title (the more popular titles like X-Men said to be at that higher range).  This new distribution model exploded (the bar code strike-through would become the Spider-Man Rectangle and other such logos), and meanwhile newsstand sales collapsed, to the point where by the early 1980’s those comic book publishers who failed to embrace direct sales and instead remained reliant on newsstand sales began to fail… Harvey ceases publishing in 1982 [side note: later resurrected and had a Type 1A cover price variant window!]; Gold Key is defunct by 1984.

Meanwhile, at Marvel, for the 1985/1986 time-frame we see insiders talking about how the distribution pendulum had swung too far in the direction of direct edition; we see estimates of 50/50 newsstand/direct around this 1985/1986 time-frame.  By 1990 we see estimates of 15% newsstand; when Bill Jemas joins Marvel in 1999 we are told not only that newsstand sales are down to 14% but that Marvel made a conscious decision to “walk away” from the newsstand model. By 2003 we see a newsstand estimate of just 4.25% for Marvel.

By 2013, when we see an industry-wide newsstand sales estimate of 6.8%, we also learn of Marvel’s decision to pull the plug on their newsstand sales through bookstore outlets thus ending Marvel sales of newsstand comics in 2013 — but we also learn that two years prior to that (circa 2010-2011) they had decided to end newsstand sales across all other outlets — there are $3.99 Newsstand Edition comics in this Marvel newsstand-wind-down time-frame!


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Discussion slide by slide:

Intro: Where the puck is going
Intro: Greg Holland’s brilliant newsstand rarity chart
Slide 1: Marvel newsstand rarity
Slide 2: Image newsstand rarity 1%
Slide 3: Some even thought Image was exclusively direct edition
Slide 4: Image newsstand/UPC CGC rarity (2016)
Slide 5: The newsstand gamble
Slide 6: Direct edition takes over newsstand
Slide 7: 1980’s newsstand sales share
Slide 8: 1986 attempt to save the newsstand
Slide 9: Amazing Spider-Man newsstand returns by year
Slide 10: Amazing Spider-Man newsstand sales trend
Slide 11: 1987 newsstand rarity quote
Slide 12: Marvel Comics: 1980s survival
Slide 13: Middle 1980’s: direct edition overtakes newsstand
Slide 14: Middle 1980’s: “Newsstand and Direct Market editions split at about 50% each”
Slide 15: Greg Holland Quote, Observed 1980’s Newsstand Rarity
Slide 16: Jon McClure Quote: “roughly 80% of surviving copies are Direct Editions”
Slide 17: Canadian price variant rarity
Slide 18: Jim Shooter quote about direct market
Slide 19: Newsstand support: betrayal
Slide 20: Torn of covers: newsstand returns
Slide 21: Unsold comics were returns
Slide 22: 1979: 6-10% direct edition
Slide 23: Newsstand distribution: spotty, unreliable
Slide 24: Newsstand pendulum swinging
Slide 25: Newsstand model not working
Slide 26: Awash in direct edition profits
Slide 27: Image: mostly direct edition sales
Slide 28: 14% Newsstand by 1999
Slide 29: Direct market as “easy money”
Slide 30: Newsstand business collapse
Slide 31: 1st direct market exclusive: Dazzler
Slide 32: Marvel walks from newsstand
Slide 33: The newsstand helped ad revenue
Slide 34: 4.25% Newsstand by 2003
Slide 35: Sensational Spider-Man newsstand skip
Slide 36: Newsstand UPC stickers
Slide 37: Marvel ends newsstand sales
Slide 38: Conclusion: newsstand comics preferable