The Truth about Selling Comics

Today’s article is not about me selling comics, it’s about those that try to sell them to me. Not the publishers, not the Diamond sales reps, but the collectors, former collectors, girl-friends of collectors, children of collectors, etc. I will probably tell you some things you already know, and I will probably tell you some things you will be sorry to hear.  But, rest assured, everything I share will be the truth.The first thing you should understand, as it is one of the most important things, at least to me, is that I need to make a profit on every item I sell.  If I don’t make a profit, then I may as well turn the Neptune Comics sign off and go home.  So, do not bother to go buy a Wizard Magazine in order to look up every comic you have before you bring it into my store.  (Wizard prices are usually much higher than the going market rate anyway—you probably won’t get that price from anyone.) I cannot and will not give you the guide price on your comics.  If I bought them for that price, I would have to raise the price in order to make a profit.  Who would buy them from me for a higher-than-guide price?  In fact, if you have ever gone looking for back issues, you probably looked for a “deal.”  Well, I can’t give you a deal if I just paid guide price for those comics!

OK, so now you know I won’t give you full guide price. You know what? I won’t give you even close to guide price. Sorry, but that’s the truth. To understand why, you need to realize that there is more to profit than just the initial cost.  More often than not, the collection needs to be re-bagged and boarded.  There is a cost for the bags and boards, plus the cost of my and my staff’s time to do this.  They also have to be looked over to assess the condition of each one.  Then I have to price them and inventory them and finally, find somewhere to put them.  At my store we dedicate far more space to new comics and graphic novels than we do to back issues.  But, every item we sell needs to pay for the square footage it uses.  Unlike new comics, back issues can sit for a long time before someone comes around looking for them.  So, back issues need to cost less in order to compensate for the amount of time they will sit, basically being stored in my store instead of your basement or attic.

I also do not buy one comic, or five, or twenty-five, unless they are a higher-value comic, which I probably still will not buy because I couldn’t afford to give you a good price without knowing I would have a buyer on the other end to recoup my investment.  Depending upon the comic, a “going rate” is between five cents and twenty-five cents per book for the average comic book collection, so if I bought your five books you would not get much at all for them.  We buy collections, usually consisting of one hundred books or more, and usually offer the same per book amount for every one of them.  It is always our hope that there will be a few “good” books in there that we can use to recoup our cost on the collection. These books are usually higher value and/or books in high demand that we know we can sell quickly in our store or on-line.  The rest of the collection will, more than likely, move very slowly, if at all, so we have to make back our money on the few good ones.  So, while I might say, “I’ll give you fifteen cents per book for these 200 books,” what I really mean is “I will give you $10 each for these three good books and be nice and take the rest off of your hands, so you don’t have to continue to store your worthless comics.”

Once, I had a high-school aged man come into my store with one comic clutched in his hand.  He looked around for a minute and then walked proudly up to the counter.  He smacked the bagged and boarded comic onto the counter and asked me how much I would give him for it.  It was all I could do not to burst out laughing, because the comic he put down was a “mint” mid 1990s era “collectors edition” War Machine #1. I have at least 2 of these in my “$1 or less” bin and probably a couple more in boxes in my back room.  I shook my head and told him that I was not interested in buying this comic from him, hoping he would just take that answer and go.  But he did not. He went on, asking me what I would give him if I did want it.  I thought about sliding a penny across the counter to him, but my husband butted in to explain that his comic book wouldn’t even fetch the cover price, and that, to a store like ours, it wouldn’t be worth much more than a couple of cents. He then gave us a look like we were nuts – It’s a “collector’s edition” after all, with the foil lettering and everything, and it was even bagged and boarded.

I am sure that most of you know why his comic was not worth the paper it was printed on, but just in case you don’t, I will explain it.  In the early-mid 1990s, comics suddenly became “hot.”  Just about everyone was buying them – most to collect, not to read.  People would buy multiple copies of number one issues, “key” issues and “collector’s editions.”  The comic book industry responded to this demand by producing their product en masse.  Today, a big print run is 200,000 copies—then, it was 2 million copies, so the first problem with back issues from that era is simply supply-and-demand.  There were also new publishers creating new books steadily, while existing publishers would create new number one issues on a whim.  Crossover stories were rampant, as publishers tried to get people to buy even more comics.  They would also make those “collector’s editions” and “special editions” and multiple covers and let us not forget my favorite—the holographic covers.  For comics, it was the best of times and the worst of times.  Retailers could mark up “hot” new comics as well as back issues, they would sell tons of comics because people thought they were collectable, rather than buying them because they were good.  But eventually people realized that most of these comics weren’t any good, and that the hobby was getting too expensive.  Prices began to slide downward, and people fled the market in droves.  This era of comic book gluttony created some very “interesting” comics but very few comics of value.  And now that graphic novels are so prevalent, the back issue market has all but dissolved.

So, now you understand why I cannot offer you top dollar for your comics.  You also know a bit about pricing and why certain books, unfortunately, won’t even give you back what you paid to acquire them.   But, you still want to sell them to your local comic book store.  Well, here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when you sell comics to retail store owners.  First, be sure to call first and confirm that they are buying, then find out if you can bring them any time or if there is a certain day or time that they do this.  Second, it is very helpful if your books are bagged and boarded, and even more helpful if they are in a nice box.  The better they look, the more likely the store owner is to give you a better offer.  Third, it is ok to have a price in mind.  In fact, I usually ask people if they have an amount they were hoping to get for the comics before I even look through them.  But, keep that price realistic—do not go buy a guide book or use on-line pricing site.  You will only get pennies on the dollar for most of them.  This is really a way for you to clear up space and make some fast cash.

If you believe that your collection is worth more than a store will offer, and you have the time and energy, sell the books yourself. When I have people bring in small collections I often recommend that they sell them on their own.  I do the same when someone is expecting to get a far larger dollar amount than I would give them, or if they tell me right off the bat that they looked up the books in a guide.  Like I said right from the beginning of this series, I have to be able to profit off of these comics, which means buy low and sell high.  If you don’t want to sell them to me at a low price, then you will have to put in the work yourself in order to get that higher price.  Ebay and yard sales and newspaper ads can all be used to sell off your collection.  Just be aware of the time and hassle you will have to go through, and, in the end, you will still probably only sell the “good” issues and the rest will either sit or you will only get pennies on the dollar for them.  But please, whatever you do, don’t sell off the good ones privately and then go back to the store owner and ask for their original offer on what is left of your collection!  At my store, if you walk out and don’t take my offer, and then come back, the offer always goes down, even if you have the exact same thing you came in with the first time—and that’s if I still want to buy them at all.

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One year after our first wedding anniversary, to the day, my husband and I picked up the keys to a 1000 square foot store front in a strip mall in suburban Waukesha, WI. Two weeks later that spot would become Neptune Comics, our very own comic book store. I grew up in Slinger, WI, the child of entrepreneurial parents who owned their own dog breading and boarding kennel. The first in my family to graduate from college, I earned a BA from St. Norbert College. Prior to becoming a comic book retailer I was a stock broker, and then gave up that stress to own my own house cleaning business. Comic books were a small blip on my radar before I considered opening a store -- I did not have a collection stashed somewhere. But jumping into comic book retailing has been a great crash course in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Being a woman and a comic fan, rather than a collector, I have no doubt that my opinions won’t always be that of the majority.

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