October 4 2008

Comic Books As A Stock Market Alternative

It seems that the 1990’s have returned, and this is not a good thing for the comic book industry.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve worked in the comic book industry, and I can tell you first hand about possibly the darkest times in comic book history: the speculator boom of the 90’s.  During the early to mid part of that decade, the comic industry was under siege by a wave of collector speculation as we received an influx of new customers from the bad stock market.  This then set off the already existing collectors into a buying frenzy where they would purchase multiple copies of the newest and “hottest” books, sure they had an upper hand due to their understanding the market.

People went nuts, to be blunt, thinking they could buy a copy of a comic that had a million-plus print run and it would be as valuable as any Silver Age comic (books published between 1956 to the late 1960s/early 1970s).  The thing they didn’t understand was that Silver Age books were valuable due to the low number of copies that existed from the day they were printed.  No comic had ever seen print runs anything close to what we were seeing during this time period.

The worst example of the entire speculative boom was Superman #75, published in 1992.  This comic finished up a storyline entitled The Death of Superman, and due to a culmination of the speculation boom, a slow news period and good marketing on the part of DC Comics, this single issue sold numbers unlike anything seen in the industry before.  To give you an example, in my town of 17,000 people (23,000 counting college students), we sold 1500 copies in 8 hours.  People came in to buy copies on release day that had never bought a comic book before in their lives, but they had heard “this will be a good investment”. Copies were going for as much as $25 on the first day it was released.

I actually spent a lot of time trying to tell people that a) there are too many copies being printed for this to be an “investment” and b) do you really think they are going to kill off the most well-known comic book character ever?  I just went on eBay and took a look and see copies in mint condition that their auction is over and they had no bids at $.99.  Color me not surprised.

So, why do I bring this up?  Will, with the economy the way it currently is, it seems people are looking to jump back into the industry again.  In an article from the Wall Street Journal, the following section appeared on October 3rd.

Mark Craddock, manager of Comic Book World, in Florence, Ky., says stock-market investors also are turning to superheroes. “There’s kind of a buying frenzy” in vintage comic books, he says.

The “Silver Age Comic Book Pricing Index” of 32 frequently traded ’60s comics, was up 14.2% in the 18 months ending in July, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index was down 11% in the same period. Mark Haspel, president of Certified Guaranty Co. in Sarasota, Fla., which grades comic books, often for investors, says it’s on track to handle 200,000 books this year, up from 150,000 in 2007.

“Spiderman is going to be here in 20 years — he’s not going away,” Mr. Haspel says.

The comic book industry saw an explosion of new stores during the a fore mentioned speculative boom, and when it was all done, all those stores closed… and so did many old stores.  The industry was crippled by that influx of collectors, and I fear the same thing could happen with another wave of speculators coming into the industry.

The other thing that concerns me is that they are buying books, at least for now, that they have no understanding of how to properly care for them, their historical significance to the art form or do they understand that they are actually creating a false market.  They may drive up prices for now, but how will they ever find people that are able to afford these new prices?  Golden Age and Silver Age comics have very small markets due to their already prohibitive costs, and with the prices being driven up by an influx of “investors”, that market will shrink even more.  This will leave these people with the option of selling their books to retailers, whom of course are not going to be able to pay them their going price guide value, but a percentage thereof so that they can in turn make a profit.  This is if they can even find a store willing to purchase them because not all stores are equipped to deal with such specialized books.

In short, I hope this is just a minor blip, and no one is considering this seriously.  If you are, I beg of you to rethink your investment strategy.  If you insist on going forward with it, try to learn from the past, and please, I beg of you, make sure you learn to properly care for these pieces of history you’re putting into your portfolio.

Cover of Prez: First Teen President #1 from Gorilla Daze.  And, yes, it was a real series.

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