The economy is changing. The Consumer Price Index rose. The CPI is a good indicator of everyday prices of goods we use like gasoline, food, rent, and other items. This means that everyone is paying across the board more for goods. The increase in the CPI will impact the comic book marketplace. Buyers have changed their buying habits. Dealers are also seeing changes. Several dealers were interviewed at the Motor City Comic-con on buyer tendencies and the comic book market. The signs are not looking good.
Good dealers see the early signs!
Mid Michigan Comics is a good bell-weather dealer to assess the comic book market. The store has an eye for bargains and trends while selling books at a fair price. The owner once picked up several coverless Bronze Age mega and regular keys at a time when most were focusing on high-grade books. These books were quickly sold at a profit because the dealer realized where the market would be not then, but in a few months. Knowing the wants of customers is how this dealer survives.
The booth reported interest in mid grade copies of Strange Tales #126, but no sales at the time I completed my final visit. Buyers wanted to invest in the MCU but not to the degree that they did years ago. This booth also had an interesting observation. One surprising note was that Romance comics were on the radar of some buyers. Nothing of significance. Volume was the key. The biggest targets, though, were his table books. Collectors looked for bargains and were finding them so they could complete their runs. Lower grade Marvels and semi keys were in demand but again, no one book was drawing great interest.
One buyer said the booth’s position at the front of the con made them one of their first stops. The wide array of products had them interested, but this person wanted books that were higher grades than the ones being offered at the booth at a steep discount. The problem was that the prices this person wanted to pay would have been more a theft than a deal.
Great variety to appeal to all?
Harley Yee Rare Comics is a dealer that has it all. The dealer has a wide range of books that targets most demographics. Harley has been around for years and has seen it all. He came to the show with a great selection of books that covered the spectrum. His wall was covered with books that are on the want list of many consumers. He had it all and came prepared to make some sales.
The targets of his booth were early Amazing Spider-Man and Batman books that were not super keys. There were also a flurry of purchases from his more common table books. In the past his major wall books would appear one day and be gone the next. This time some of those very expensive books were noted to be still on the wall as the show was closing. Buyers were focusing on the usual targets, but within their budget.
One potential buyer was looking for higher grade Gold Age books but at a very reduced price. They saw what they liked but not at the current prices. The buyer had a nice bank roll but said a book would have to be a higher grade one for them to bite.
Myth: Some books will go down but high end books will be safe
A common belief among comic book hobbyists is that blue chip books will be immune from the economy. These books will always be in demand because of the cultural and historic significance of books. Reece’s Rare Comics is a high end dealer that has cultivated an extensive lift of clients. If you are looking for high-end books, this is one of the dealers you must know.
The booth said shows can be hit and miss. They did have some visits from their usual buyers but were these visits converted to sales? Books were moving at his booth, but not those high-end books that journalists love to report about. Instead, lower keys were moving. There were no “out of the norm” books in demand at this booth. That was shocking because of the wide array of books on display. Gold Age books and Mega keys are rare in the comic book market and buyers in the past scoop up these books on first sight. Now, if a book was not sold at a greatly reduced price it would still be there at the end of the show.
Buying on the dip is always desired. Now may be a time to target some of those higher-end books that were skyrocketing in price. The prices may cool or drop on some of these books in a market readjustment, but that may not hold in the future. Buyers should determine if now is the time to add some of those dream list books when they can.
One known buyer saw the books that this writer knows he is looking to add and watched as he passed. His belief was that the market is going to re-adjust and his targets that once were selling at a premium were now overpriced even at a discount. He came to buy, but not in a perceived seller’s market. His dollar may not be able to buy the same amount of gas, but he has found it is able to buy more books on the secondary market.
The evolution of the comic book market from a dealer’s eyes
Keith Daggett of Daggetts Comics gave one of the best reports on the possible future of the comic book market. He indicated that the market was evolving and dealers had to adapt or go extinct. Wall books were not in demand. Instead, fans young and old were looking at the table books and books that were modestly priced. Modern Books were the name of the game. In addition, people were looking for deals. Buyers would view what was displayed and ask for a price and then leave, only to return after seeing if they could get a better deal on their selections. Those dealers that came expecting to have a few marquee books make the day were not going to leave the show happy. Volume is the key.
One buyer said he liked the books on display but believed prices would be dropping soon even on those books. The Modern Age books he believed would drop in value and he believed now was too early to buy.
A reliable source
Richard Hunter is both a dealer and a collector. He is known throughout the comic book community. He summed it up best when he said “People this year have brought their cash, packed their patience, and also brought their shovels. They are digging deep to find their treasures and with a little bargaining power willing to release their cash for their bit of gold.” He said people were willing to look for deals and would spend hours to find them. The problem is that they were also willing to walk away from a deal. That was not the case just a few months ago when people were afraid to lose their targets.
People were buying. “Something is Killing the Children” was in demand, as were other modern keys. The problem was that, again, the MCU was not driving sales. New Avengers #7 was not even a blip on the minds of buyers. Ms. Marvel titles were being asked about but if it was a major key above $500 you could forget about it. The sad thing is that this booth had a very large selection of high-grade books that were reasonably priced but ignored. The economy was now impacting buyers.
Richard Hunter was observed to make some post-con purchases at another auction using the same formula he described. Richard purchased a nice grouping of high-grade CGC books that were reasonably priced but had room to grow. He was looking for high grade books that were under the radar. The key was deals, and he was observed to walk away from a few books that would have normally drawn his interest.
Putting the MC3 Observations to Task
Several online auctions have been observed and an interesting trend has been noticed. Certain buyers have been dropping from the tiers that they normally are interested in. Books that exceed $1,000 dollars are seeing far fewer buyers than they normally do. Buyers are starting to slot down in their targets in both price and grade. That does not mean the comic book market is dying, but rather that the amount of competition is for certain books while increasing for others. Two buyers can still drive a book if they are interested but the degree of interest in a book may not be as great the farther up you go in both value and condition.
Test Book #1
Star Wars #42 is a book that has two major first full appearances with Yoda and Boba Fett. Interest in the latter character was sparked by the Disney series. Was that enough, though, to drop the 1 year average of $3,412 for a 9.8 copy to $2,600 or an 8.0 from $346 to $271? Star Wars books were hot and topping the market and yet now these books are still moving with downward trends in value.
Raw copies of this book drew very little interest at a recent online auction even though they were reported and observed to be in higher grade condition. Buyers are getting more selective on their purchases and are holding back. A few months before holding back meant paying a higher price because delaying meant a lost opportunity.
Test Book #2
Amazing Spider-Man #129 is one book where buyers dropping in their tiers can be observed. A 9.6 copy sold for $9,600 at a Heritage Auction on 5/17. That was around the time of the Motor City Comic-Con. Another 9.6 sold at Heritage for $8,400 on June 10. A possible reason is that the number of buyers who can tie up large sums of money for higher grade books is dwindling.
In contrast, careful observation of the lower grades reveals that the 9.0 books actually saw an increase in the 1-year to 30-day averages while other grades saw less of a decline in value. Buyers are slotting down and looking for the “discount” books, even at auctions.
Test Book #3
Keith Daggett and Richard Hunter both said more buyers were targeting Modern Age books. Buyers at the show all agreed that Ultimate Fallout #4 is the main book fans say is the mega key from that era. As a result, this book usually serves as a “canary in the mine” type of book for market evaluation. A review indicates that even for this book, the 9.8-9.4 copies that attract the higher-end buyers have dropped in value in the 1-year to 30-day averages. Higher-end dealers are selling this book at a loss, but then you look at the middle grades that were primarily ignored before by buyers.
9.2 and 9.0 copies are seeing an increase in value for that same time period. Could it be that buyers were upgrading their copies as the higher-end holders were willing to take a loss to get out of those books and a new segment was willing to buy in at the prices offered for these lower-grade issues? That may be the case because the 8.5-8.0 books were again seeing a slight loss. The lack of interest in these books may indicate that the comic book market is saturated now and that an influx of new buyers and collectors is needed to make those lesser-grade books desirable.
So now what?
Investors must take this time seriously. What happened in the past is not an indicator of what will happen in the future. The dot com investors are a sad indicator of how things can change quickly. Dealers have been observed making deals to acquire lower-end books so that their resources will not be tied up in mega books that may sit for long periods of time. Liquidity for some is now very important. Books that were once thought to be blue chip must-haves must now be looked at more closely. Investors must pay close attention to not only the book but the grade as well to see where to put their money.
Collectors must review the sales data to see if now is the time to readjust their purchasing targets to maximize their collections. Collectors may benefit by adding those books that were once thought to be out of the reach of many collectors sooner rather than later. Investors and LCS owners have no attachment to their books. Collectors may find motivated sellers that never existed when times were good.
A collector who once was priced out of recent books was noticed to have made several purchases at a live auction. The jewels of his collection that were once dreams were now falling in his lap. Competition dried up and he benefitted. As a result, he left the auction shocked at his haul. Collectors more than ever have to pay attention and re-evaluate their goals because now may be that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add a book that was but a mere dream a few months ago.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”