Comic market manipulation is talked about only in passing among investors and collectors. I would like to think that all comic book deals are non-problematic, but I am an attorney and know better. I know that comic market manipulation can occur on a large scale or on a micro-level. One has to be wary not to fall victim to this real problem in the market.
If You are Not Cheating, You are Not Trying
If you buy regulated investments, you must follow the rules set forth for those assets. Individuals that violate those conditions face either fines, incarceration, or both. Recently I wrote about Elon Musk’s Twitter purchase. In studying his purchase, you must also realize there were some questionable dealings that will probably be investigated. He weighed the penalties and looked at the outcomes to evaluate if it was worth him to make the purchase even if he faces possible sanctions. That is part of the game investors understand.
Comic book manipulators never really consider market manipulation as wrong because there are no real penalties involved with those that engage in that practice. We either accept it as part of the hobby or ignore it as fiction created by journalists.
Comic book market manipulation is real and it is about time we face it.
Penalties as Deterrence?
Penalties matter in our world. In college football, defensive players are instructed by coaches that if they are beaten in pass coverage they should commit pass interference if the play would result in a touchdown or large gain. The rationale is that pass interference in college is only a 15-yard penalty. In pro football, the ball will be placed at the spot of the foul. Pro players are much more reluctant to commit pass interference because of this difference. In comic book investing, there are no penalties. That should make you all the more observant when it comes to comic book market movements.
Type of Manipulation #1 – Innocent Reports or Mind Control
Innocent Prodding or Nefarious Plan?
We all see it on television. Investors recommend a hot stock pick that is going to appreciate in value. There are disclaimers on the screen, but you still see those picks. Many investors will buy or sell those assets based upon those recommendations. These “hot picks” also happen in the comic book marketplace. We make recommendations or highlight books and the market responds. The question you have to always ask is did the author benefit from the pick and was the pick based upon sound research?
In my Bronze Age report, I mentioned Marvel Premier #28. The book was one I saw moving, so I mentioned it as a possible player in the future. That issue picked up steam and rose on the charts because demand increased. I was only reporting on the numbers.
I did not benefit but the result was still evident. The sales numbers were there for all to see and I only brought it to the attention of readers. I did not base it upon an internet rumor or casual observation. You can report sales, but suggesting a book is hot should require more than those characteristics.
Read the disclosures. Does the author back up recommendations with sales data or outside information? Did the author then take the sale data and dig deeper? It is also important if they reveal if they own the book or are looking for it. I am always amazed at how casual observations of one store or location can make a book hot or not. This is a global market and we must treat it as such. Finally, if the report comes from a comic book site or store owner, look to see if they are selling or buying that book. You will be amazed at how many times that hot book they are suggesting is a book they are also trying to sell.
Type of Manipulation #2… The Covert Investor
GoCollect tracks the sale of graded books on eBay, Heritage Auctions, and other sites. Those sales are then reported to you. The data is there for all to see. We provide the reader with knowledge, and knowledge is power. The one thing a covert investor does not want to do is to give you that power.
Elon Musk bought his shares without possibly notifying the SEC, nor did he want to join the Twitter Board because it would have restricted the number of shares he could own. He used the rules of the game to his advantage. He is willing to pay a price to meet his goals.
Sadly, so many comic book investors miss the tricks of the trade among “covert collectors”. You may even be one and not even know it!
I have actually been tracking sales that do not appear on the GoCollect site. I cannot do this for all books, so I conduct it for those books whose data warrants further inspection. These issues can be seen moving in raw grades with an uptick/downtick in frequency. Prices will also increase/decrease in a way that contradicts the reported sales in GoCollect. Like Moon Knight, these individuals are doing their best not to leave a footprint in the sand that can be traced.
Battlestar Galactica #1 was a book I saw movement in a few months ago in the raw market. This book was usually sold with other issues of the series run or by itself for very low sales prices. This book could be found in the wild easily, so prices were down. Recently, I started to see these issues moving at higher prices. The next thing I saw were graded books starting to move. This issue is now one of the books that appeared on the Bronze Age Top #100 list in position number #15.
The reason I mention this is because of what an investor told me if I promised not to mention their name or location. This individual indicated that they purchase raw books first because once they buy the graded books they will be caught by the GoCollect tool and their “hot” picks will be known. They want to suppress the data to take advantage of their information before others do so they can maximize their return on investment.
Follow an auction and note the sales price. Later look for the feedback on the item. I have found that some sites will report the first and last digit of the screen name when the auction is revealed. You will get to know that buyer even if you do not “know” them. I did that for the buyer mentioned above. I knew one book they bought that was kind of rare and then saw the initials again in another auction because this person targets a particular type of book. Finally, I made a comment about their bids and when they asked how I knew it was them I told them my secret. The person said they will not leave feedback anymore because it leaves a footprint for people like me to track.
You should also check raw books to see how those markets are moving. I saw He-Man keys moving raw long before you started to see slabbed copies move. You may not want to buy raw, but use that data to see if a book is suddenly moving and if the price is impacted.
Type of Manipulation #3…Shill Bidding
Abnormal bids are interesting. These bids stick out and are easy to identify. The problem is that sometimes these bids may be from new or uneducated buyers looking to purchase an item. Other times, it may be a book that someone really wants and has to have. These may be innocent “mistakes” but that does not mean it impacts the market. The FMV of items will increase, so it is a benefit to sellers. The concern I always have is when these appear at auctions. I always look at auctions with abnormal bids carefully.
Spawn #1 is a very common book; eBay has numerous copies available in every condition. On April 16, 2022, a 9.8 copy sold at an eBay auction for $232.50. What makes this sale stand out is that a copy sold a day before for the fixed price of $150 in the same condition. A day later, you had a best offer accepted that was less than the $194.99 asking price as well as an auction for $161. Maybe it was because of shipping prices or the buyer’s rating, but sales like this always make me wonder if you have a very innocent buyer or something at play.
It would be extremely different to manipulate Spawn #1 with only one sale, but that does not mean it cannot be done. An author writes about Spawn #1 selling for over $230 and it may create a buzz that takes hold. eBay buyers react and the needle starts to move upwards. FOMO is a powerful motivator.
Buyers should always check the individual sales to see what the range of prices are in order to make an informed decision. eBay bidders should also be wary of second chance offers. Years ago, I received a second chance offer because the buyer changed their mind. The offer was for my last bid. The problem was that if that person was bidding me up, my take was that my second chance offer should have been the last bid before the winner started bidding. My counteroffer was refused. The book sold for well below my counteroffer at a later date. I believe the person used someone to bid up the item and then wanted me to pay the artificially raised price because their bidder won by accident. This happens on Facebook a lot, where there are even less protections.
Market manipulation exists. You may find it in the ways I described or other ways out there in the comic book marketplace. You can defeat the impact of market manipulation by admitting it exists and then perform your research on comic issues and people.
If you are conducting a Facebook auction, maybe vet each bidder to see that they are going to pay for the book if they win and buyers, look to see who is bidding against you. Identify bad actors who have developed a reputation for less than honorable conduct.
You should also research prices and auctions and compare them to other sales to see if the “big sale” was an abnormality. Finally, research all these “hot picks” to see if the information is sound and the person providing it is trustworthy.
The little time you may spend doing these things may save you in the long run.