Comic Book Speculators vs. Comic Book Community

by Norman Robinson III

062022I-1024x536 Comic Book Speculators vs. Comic Book CommunityWhen I first got back into comics after many years of absence, I noticed one thing right off the bat. That some of the local comic shops outright refused to talk about speculation in comics at all. In fact, the more I brought it up, the more I got cold-shouldered. It was as if I were talking about some truly embarrassing social situation. Then I realized that some of these retail operations simply despise comic book speculators. I thought that was just so weird. Here we have people buying and selling to make money. Truly, what is the difference between online and brick and mortar; a sale is a sale?

Free Market

I am a huge believer in a truly free market. Not crony capitalism, but a truly free and open market that everyone can participate in. Why are speculators so hated by some establishments? Further, are there exceptions to this rule? What drives this animosity?

What is a Speculator?

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Put quite simply, a speculator in comic books is anyone that buys a comic and then decides to flip it. I think the time the comic is held denotes investment vs. speculation. Anything under one year, in my book, is speculation. Investment is 1-5 years and collecting is well beyond that and can even be a lifetime.  For the purist collectors, the speculators are kind of like an unwashed mob. You hold your nose from the smell but still do business with them. Even though, deep down, you hate them for their barbaric desecration of the comic book temple that is true collecting.

What does this all mean? It means that speculators buy to sell for short-term gain. That collectors buy to hold indefinitely, for the love of the hobby. Finally, investors buy to hold over 1-5 years for long-term gain.  There is a fourth option, namely collectors that dip their toes in speculation, but I will save that subject for another article.  For this article, a speculator is indeed a flipper!

What is a collector?

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Collectors are some of the savviest and most knowledgeable folks on any particular subject matter in comics. The comic book world that we all know and love is so vast, with so much inane detail that almost everyone specializes in. One collector might have a thing for bondage covers, and another might only collect Bronze Age comic books. The multitude of collectors is as vast as the number of people on the planet, almost.

What does a collector do differently from a speculator? Well, usually they almost always buy and hold. Also, I have known several “completist” collectors that will collect an entire “run” of comics, say Amazing Spider-Man first series and so on. Because the focus is on the collection and not the pursuit of the cash, collectors become the most knowledgable people in their comic book specialization. Collectors are savvy and ahead of most speculators, especially Modern Age speculators who chase hot books. The prime motivation for the collector is the love of comics; nothing more is needed.

20th Century Comic Resellers

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Animosity towards speculators is palpable, especially among collectors. Most of the people working in LCS shops are usually, themselves, collectors.  The shops that tend to treat the speculators as villains are usually run by an older crowd. These older folks are holding onto the age of collecting from the late 20th Century. By this I mean a time when “collectors” were their primary clients buying books like Fantastic Four #49, a big key and at full price. Now, that is no longer the case.

Modern Comic LCS

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I think comic book speculation, Disney blockbuster superhero movies, and the internet full of sales, have truly changed the market dynamic.  I do find savvy collectors in the younger shops and they are actively selling to speculators. They cater to their needs and try to guess the hot books and have them available.

But the market is changed you’re not going to see a +1000% upside without a speculative element. Truth be told, the speculators are giving us unheard-of prices for comics. Perhaps even the beginning of a new period, when comic books take their rightful place as investments.

Conclusion

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It strikes me that the retail establishment is really nothing more than a sophisticated speculation operation with slightly longer time horizons. Essentially, private collections come in the front door and are purchased at a significant discount to market. 

One small collection with the right books can literally make the LCS profitable for a year. Bravo to the LCS who manage to get a great deal out of walk-ins. How is this any different from me purchasing and speculating on a comic book from the back issue bins and selling it online for 4 x times what I paid? There is no difference!

Want more market breakdowns?

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*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.

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11 comments

Ken Davis July 6, 2022 - 5:47 pm

I don’t think LCD’s these days resent ANY paying customer. BUT when someone you have never met walks into your store, takes multiple copies of a new “key” comic off the wall, sorts through every copy loudly discarding this copy or that one as flawed- and then want to purchase 20, 50 or a hundred copies at a discount! That kind of speculator isn’t welcome anywhere. Since Wal-Mart started carrying comics, they too have had to deal with rude and thoughtless “speculators.”

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Manny July 6, 2022 - 6:48 pm

Truthfully this article is totally backwards (and behind the times). There are easily 20+ comic stores within a half-hour / 45 minute drive, maybe 2 of them stock back issues. In the majority of comic book stores , what was once back issues, is now Trade Paperbacks/GNs.

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algonwolf July 6, 2022 - 9:30 pm

You are obviously a speculator. Your bias, narrow interpretations and willful ignorance make it painfully obvious that you are trying to justify the existence of speculators by trying to make yourself seem like an LCS. Speculators are not an LCS and comparing yourself to them does a disservice to the LCS. Speculators are absolutely a blight on the comic industry, as they are in every industry they rear their ugly, greedy heads. Most bubbles are caused and burst by speculators. The dotcom, real estate, railroad, S&L, tulips, Florida Land Boom, are some of the more famous ones. Generally speaking, speculators take an industry that has an established group of buyers and sellers that interact in a predictable manner, and turn it on its head, flood it with money, drive the prices up and then pull the money out leaving the once stable market in an utter shambles. Speculators are parasites that care nothing for the industry and just want to suck it dry for all they can before they move on to the next. That is exactly what is happening to the comic industry (to be fair, there are absolutely other factors that are assisting in killing the industry…but this is a bash-on-speculators piece). What was once a small, quiet and relatively inexpensive hobby is now a cut throat business that Gordon Gecko would love a piece of. Go away and leave Bluestar Airlines alone.

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Aaron S. July 6, 2022 - 11:11 pm

I will be clear here I have nothing against speculation but when time are good, as in a seller’s market, they can be a huge problem for retailers, collectors, and readers. I was in the retailer business for 6 part of that time I owned a store and then when I sold it off I worked for the new owner for 5 years and we remain good friends. We talk about the business all the time. I should also point out that I don’t know a single “collector” or “investor” that has or doesn’t speculate or sell or trade books at some time. Most of the collectors and investor that get upset with speculators are those that are not or have been able to play the short game very well or at all. Basically it’s largely jealousy.

Anyway, the reason speculators get such a bad rap from retailers is that, especially now, in this well connected era where it’s easy to make money without a retailer the speculator doesn’t have much respect for the retailer. My friend frequently is taken to task when a the speculator doesn’t get the hot book of the week. The speculator is not a regular customer with a subscription they are a walk in. The speculator will also take the retailer to task if they offer the hot book for FMV or limit the number of copies that the speculator can buy. The funny thing is that the speculator and the collector are the same damn thing most of the time and they are angry because they hope to make a quick buck and any impediment to this is worthy of scorn but they will never admit that they are a speculator.

Another problem that come up for my friend the store owner is that he has a number of people that faithfully come in for their group of titles that they buy and read every month but they just don’t want to get a hold list started. There’s nothing wrong with this but the problem comes in if a particular issue is desired and the speculators snap it all up those non-subscribed customer are out of luck and now their enjoyment is all screwed up because they can’t find that book anywhere. So trying to balance all the various customers is a challenge and the speculator can really cause turmoil with their flavour of the week habits.

As you can tell I am pretty pro retailer. Yes, some are worthy of scorn but the simple fact is if they are truly as bad as they say then perhaps just stop spending money with them. If they are truly the villains then they should pretty much lose all their customers and have to close up shop. No? However, I would say that those are probably few and far between.

My issue with the comic marketplace now is that money and recognition seem to have taken over from the actual comics. Take the current market. A few years ago most of these sellers (not retailers) were whining about Marvel’s “forced” diversity and blather on and on and on …. but still bought the books. This boosted the price and many are worth quite a bit of money and every time one shows up in a movie or tv show the prices go up again. I have nothing against this as I bought many of these books (and enjoyed reading them) not because I thought they were going to be worth something but because they sounded interesting. I’m a 53 year old modern collector it’s always been moderns for me because it is the genre that has reflected the times that I have lived in. I don’t hate older genres but I just don’t relate to the content as much. I listen to people always throw tons of hate on most books that are 20 years old or less. That is until they can make money on it then it you see them snapping it up.

I don’t know I really hate the direction that the hobby has taken. It’s all value this, and value that or look at these expensive or key books that I bought. Slab this, slab that. How often do you hear talk of what is actually in the books? There’s just so much negative in the marketplace right now and speculators just stir that up because they just feed bad attitudes and force the focus away from the books and the stories.

Anyway, I better shut up now. I have no issue with speculation or people wanting to make money. Just have respect for EVERYONE in the marketplace. IF you don’t like a book, genre, age, retailer, etc JUST DON’T spend your money on it! Don’t publicly slam or or demean because someone out there may actually like that retailer, book, character, etc. Tell us what you like or what you would like to see. Be a positive force not an annoying money-grubbing jerk.

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Aaron S. July 6, 2022 - 11:31 pm

Oh and to answer your last question the difference between a speculator and a retailer is that one has chosen this as his business and they have to bring in stuff that they need to and add stuff that they hope will help sales. They want steady business. A speculator can be far more selective. Speculators don’t have to deal ordering in, what to order beyond their subscription customers, what new books to bring in, what walk-ins to buy (which are growing far less common and are more often than not, not going to be making them huge wads of cash for a year, what to bring in beside comics, budgeting, etc, etc. Retailer are not obliged to be your supplier. If you aren’t buying regularly or part of their subscription service they are under no obligation to do you any deals or even sell you their stock of books. There is just no comparison between a speculator and a retailer at all and not having any respect for the differences doesn’t help the opinion about speculators.

Speculation is a part of the hobby it has been and always will be there. I am fine with the concept because I have benefited from it. That being said speculators are often lacking respect for the media and the people who collect it in their drive to get rich quick and since we all love to dwell on the negative those negative options win out. Treat everyone with respect even if you have to fake it and you will get respect in return. Trample on peoples toes and it will never change.

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GQGuyforComics July 7, 2022 - 12:32 am

Thanks to the writer , i think this is where comic market is getting hurt. because what was suppose to be something that be read and talk about be as a past time or a hobby , now becomes affected by external forces such as movies, tv series , rumors , characters that got their own title series etc. i started collecting when i was 12 , now im close to 50. then nobody was talking about making money on this but to enjoy story telling and the speculation we do isnt about profit but what the next story be about , or what characters becomes or affected by what. i was in south east asia but we bought the titles we like by the characters we love. i remember grifter when introduce from the wildcats tv series we felt his a bad ass but image just mismanage the character till he wasnt that exciting anymore. now all you read , all you hear from social media , news etc are hot books and why its getting expensive and mostly because of the the entertainment industry. look im not slinging mud on the situation, ill be honest id love to see each person collection grow not just in quantity but also value. my buying power isnt as at par with most of you guys. i remember when i started getting graded books, i so loved wolverine that i bought a hulk 181 2.5 white for 3k usd and hulk 180 5.5 white for 1350 usd. the hulk 180 i believe i paid too much but at that time i was focus on getting my collection one by one, after hulk then daredevil , then xmen etc. it was a long strenous haul. i dont intend to sell much of my precious collection unless its for ff1 or xmen 1 1963 or action comics 1 ( im dreaming here ) . but overall do we view comic collecting as a way to day trade ? were missing the point, is it such a commodity right now just like cryto where it needs a market boom then dies like wtf! then rises again after many years? the problem with speculators is correlated to the manipulators such can be seen on venom 3 , 1st app of knull. i dont know what drove this book so crazy yeah it was hot , he was the upcoming super villain everyone is talking about but no movie, no press , not even a self title series , then when the series over it came all tumbling down. i dont get it speculators and manipulators is making the comic market like a house of cards. i may be wrong here since im talking from a collector side of view which is solely my own and mostly you guys wont agree. because whats happening is at this rate your just keeping this to yourselves when its suppose to be the time this get shared to the whole world. sadly not everyone buying power is at par , im not mentioning the 9.8 that sells by millions but even the .5 and 1,0 is slowly getting out of reach , your preaching about modern books or whats out there but in the end many will die and new ones will come out still maybe not much from the other parts of the world. cheers

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Z Ramirez July 7, 2022 - 12:47 am

Agreeing with many of the comments here. You are leaving out a great deal of why speculators are not generally liked at comic shops. Talk to any comic shop owner, and they will tell you that the problem isn’t the free market, it’s how awful speculators are when they come to a comic shop.

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Stone Culdesac July 7, 2022 - 11:55 am

Lifelong collector here, but I pick up first appearances and other books I like just to add value to my collection, I sell some here and there mostly because I need money or I want a different expensive comic, etc, eventually my kids will get them and sell them if they want someday. Anyway, I stopped by a shop of a guy who was a dick head, but I try to support local shops instead of ebay. I picked up two copies of a Thor comic, don’t remember which, it was the current issue at the time, and he yelled at me for being a speculator and ruining comics. He sold them to me, and I left to never return, a year or so later I noticed the store was closed when I drove by. It wasn’t speculators that closed his shop it was his poor attitude, IMHO. But it always got me that he complained when I bought two copies when his shop was full of overpriced comics that he had multiple copies of, I looked through a lot of them during my visits and most were priced about double quide prices. But I was a speculator because I bought two copies of Thor.

I saw him at a local con a few years later, I watched him and the other vendors for a bit and noticed he hardly had any traffic, and the others were very busy, not sure if it was his attitude or overpriced comics than ran people off, but it was fun to see lol.

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Matt Kennedy July 7, 2022 - 12:48 pm

In my experience, the backlash against speculation stems from an “us vs. them” attitude.

Just as in Record Stores and (back in the day) Video Stores, the employees generally have an attitude of superiority. They feel like their access to everything gives them a vantage point to arbitrate taste. This was best articulated in the book and then film of HIGH FIDELITY. The customers that are most appreciated are those with the same relative taste as the owner and/or staff (usually industry professionals) and who hang around a little bit to chat but ultimately don’t spend that much time in the shop. This provides those employees with a reinforcement of their opinions while not interfering with their reading or slacking-off time. And that’s not to say that they are all rude –just that they feel like they have better taste than anyone else and their reason for loving comics is a superior reason than someone else’s differing and specific attraction to fandom.

The best shops will have enough steady business to accommodate multiple employees with (hopefully) one of them being a casual comic fan who is less opinionated but super friendly, and the other being a veritable encyclopedia of all comics. In cases where that second person finds joy in hipping new customers to great old things you have an excellent LCS.

But the hate for speculators is not that different than the hate for cosplayers or anyone else deemed less worthy for whatever reason. There is an assumption that the speculator or cosplayer has put less time into the appreciation of the hobby than the collector. That said, some of each camp can be spectacularly annoying.

I remember thirty years ago there was ONE customer at the shop I worked who would go through every single copy on the new comics shelf looking for immaculate specimens and trying to haggle to pay less for flaws that were indiscernible to my eyes at the time. Nowadays that’s MOST collectors because paying $4 instead of 75 cents brings a greater expectation of potential value and everyone wants to get as close to a 9.8 as possible when or if they decide to get it graded. In the current era they are perhaps less likely to haggle than just move onto a different shop to find the mint copy they want, but not before spending a lot of time and requiring a lot of effort. If you have a line backed-up at the register on new comics day with three to five condition freaks slowing everybody down, you are going to develop a grudge.

I would be remiss to mention that the primary driver of speculation is media outside of the comic books. Fans of the comics treat fans of the films and videogames as Johnny-come-latelys. MCU fans aren’t “original” fans –an often ironic misnomer considering the ages of most comic shop employees who themselves were not alive when Spider-man or even Wolverine were first created. It’s amusing and a bit frustrating to see a kid who was born in the 90s rip into a new comic buyer for getting into Deadpool after the movies were released. And that’s a scenario that can be altered accordingly across anime, manga, and even deckmaster games.

The truth is that there is no wrong way to love this hobby. Each person’s taste is their own (as bad as it may be), and the joy a speculator gets from buying low and selling high is as legit as the joy a “collector” gets from reading a comic, putting it into a polybag with a backing board and filing it away in a box to never be opened again. Some people only collect slabs. That doesn’t mean they love comics less than someone who reads every book in their collection.

But anyone who logged onto GoCollect to whine about speculators should really read the room.

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Atom Ant July 7, 2022 - 2:13 pm

As a former LCS owner (20 years+ in the biz), I noticed that most speculators became subscribers and collectors, and most subscribers/collectors ventured into speculation at some point. Both groups actively spent money in the store and helped to buffer us against the weekly demands of paying for the Diamond shipments. Some weeks would favor the subscribers/collectors, and some weeks we may have just squeaked by because of a large purchase by an “evil” speculator. The only group I found insufferable were the “holier than thou” super collector/readers that condemned those who were paying for the hobby by eBaying or reselling certain hot books at the right time. These folks looked down on any comic fans who were not purists, like themselves. They always had an extremely high opinion of themselves based on their pure and perfect motives for buying funnybooks, and were always happy to explain why others were humans of a much lower caliber then they. I know many folks that would not have been able to afford their purchases if not for the extra money they made, so as a retailer, I tended to value the people who supported us with actual purchases, regardless of what their motives were. I never cared if the holier-than-thou types deserted us for another “more perfect” retailer. It rarely affected our bottom line when these types moved on, it merely meant we wouldn’t have to turn up the air conditioner to combat all the hot air they would spew…

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Ken D July 7, 2022 - 7:09 pm

Wow Norm you struck a nerve this time. Congratulations- every writer loves to see their audience respond to their work.

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