How Inflation Could Affect Comic Book Collecting & Investing

by Douglas Ohlandt

052821A-300x157 How Inflation Could Affect Comic Book Collecting & InvestingWith inflation rising at a higher rate than at any time since the 1970s and commodities prices rising due to a number of different factors, it’s important to know how all of these different pieces of the economy could affect comic book collecting and investing.

Comic books are not immune to the price pressures currently affecting the overall economy.  Commodities prices are skyrocketing.  While some economists see this as a short-term situation, others are less optimistic, forecasting a potentially long period of inflation.  So, let’s go on a hopefully fictional inflationary journey and take a look at the factors that could lead to price increases in three main areas: new comic books, collecting supplies, and shipping.  We’ll then take a look at some potential trickle-down effects.

New Comic Books

printing-300x200 How Inflation Could Affect Comic Book Collecting & InvestingComic books are produced using two primary ingredients, paper and ink.  Simple, right?  However, if the prices of those two ingredients increase you ultimately have a price increase in the finished product.  Those who purchased comic books in the 1970s can certainly recall the regular price increases – from 15₵ to 20₵ on and on up to 40₵ by the end of the decade.  That’s a 167% increase.

The increases at that time were due primarily to overall inflationary pressure and a subsequent rise in paper costs.  Fast forward to 2021 and we see the price of wood pulp – the primary ingredient in paper – rising 40% over the past year.  In addition, the price of ink has risen 10%.  You have to figure that printers will pass their increased costs on to publishers, who will, in turn, pass those increases on to consumers.  What could this mean for your bottom line when looking at purchasing a new comic book?  If the 2010s are at all similar to the 1970s in terms of new comic book price increases, we could see prices rise to $10 or more by 2030.

Avengers_Vol_1_91-195x300 How Inflation Could Affect Comic Book Collecting & InvestingCollecting Supplies

When one thinks of comic book collecting supplies, two jump out as potentially being affected by the price increase in wood pulp – comic book boxes and backer boards.

Both are made of cardboard, of which a primary ingredient is wood pulp.  However, the prices for plastics are increasing at a far higher rate than wood pulp.

Polypropylene, the primary ingredient in comic book bags, has seen a price increase of 100% over the past year.  Combine that with an increase in demand as the comic collecting hobby has seen huge gains since the start of the COVID pandemic, and you can already see price increases and delays in fulfilling orders. bags-285x300 How Inflation Could Affect Comic Book Collecting & Investing

Just try to order current/modern comic bags from BCW – they’re currently on backorder until September 20!  Other providers are showing similar price increases and delays.

So, instead of bagging those books, why not get them slabbed?  Not so fast.  The inner well of a CGC slab is made of polyethylene terephthalate glycol.  The price of polyethylene has risen 50% over the past year.  The outer well is made of styrene-acrylonitrile.  The price of styrene has risen 30%.

slabs-300x182 How Inflation Could Affect Comic Book Collecting & InvestingWhile CGC has recently adjusted their pricing, they won’t be able to absorb cost increases like that forever without eventually passing them along to the consumer.  It’s safe to assume that CBCS is experiencing similar price pressures as well.

Shipping

The price of gasoline has risen 50% or more (depending on location) over the past year.  However, this isn’t the only factor to affect shipping costs.  Increases in the prices of cardboard and plastics – particularly Styrofoam – as well as ink all play a part in the potential for shipping costs to increase dramatically.  In addition, transport of commodities has seen some recent logjams due to the hard freeze in Texas over the winter, the blockage of the Suez Canal, the recent pipeline hacking incident, and a bridge collapse over the Mississippi River.

All of these shipping issues have created logistical nightmares that are increasing prices.  Shipping will definitely need to be factored in when shopping for collectible comics on the internet.  It will become increasingly harder for anyone to offer free shipping and you will need to pay close attention to rising shipping costs when determining how much you will pay for a given book.

Trickle-Down Effects

download How Inflation Could Affect Comic Book Collecting & InvestingWhile this may all sound like doom and gloom – and I should say that none of this is carved in granite, it’s all speculation – there are some bright points to inflation.  The first is that wages often rise in an inflationary environment.  If rising wages are able to keep up with rising costs, the status quo remains.  Yes, you’ll be paying more, but you’ll be making more as well.  However, employers have been used to keeping salaries stable for many years now.  They likely loathe to increase them drastically.

Among other things to consider if inflation continues is the cost of back issue books.  If comic books behave like other investments, we could see a decrease in value for the riskier investments.  Golden Age books would likely be safe from huge devaluations, and most Silver Age keys.  However, many modern books could be hit by varying levels of decrease in value.  In other words, your Amazing Fantasy #15 is unlikely to decrease in value but hot modern comics with current high price tags – Ultimate Fallout #4, for example – could see some depreciation in an inflationary environment.  In addition, we all love it when we make a great find in the dollar bins.  But those dollar bins were once quarter bins and then 50₵ bins.  Don’t be surprised if dollar bins are two-dollar bins within a few years.

Again, the current inflationary pressures and commodity increases that we’re seeing could be but a momentary blip in a general upward trend for the economy.  However, it is worth considering how your comic book collecting and investing will be affected should inflation continue.  Have any thoughts on the subject?  Let me know down below.

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4 comments

D.M. May 31, 2021 - 5:32 pm

More accurately, infation has gone into overdrive not just “during the past year”, but more specifically, since election day last November. For example regular unleaded in the southwest US was only $1.73 a gallon on the day before the election; today it’s $1.89. Elections have consequences. Collectors are just now beginning to feel it.

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George May 31, 2021 - 5:33 pm

Great job putting the inflation thesis to work against the comic market. However, one nit to pick, what proof do you have that comic books would act in a deflationary manner? You don’t mention any specific asset classes to support your thesis. Tangible assets always are expected to be a safe place to park your money. Aren’t comics considered a tangible asset?
If you expect the price of a comic book to go up to $10 by 2030, why would you then expect the price of modern day comics to behave in a deflationary manner? Would you see lots of people purchasing $10 books to only have their values decrease, especially if we see a widening gap between the price of the hard asset comic vs the price of digital? Is the current rapid increases in prices of back issues actually a sign of inflation and a point against your thesis?

I actually don’t think you are necessarily wrong, but you back up your other arguments with hard facts but then speculate about how back issues would behave without any hard facts. I think if inflation continues to rise it will definitely be interesting to see if the comic market consider the books a tangible or speculative asset.

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Douglas Ohlandt June 1, 2021 - 8:41 pm

Thanks for you comments and questions, George. Much of this piece as it affects future prices for back issues could be considered theoretical. I think you bring up a great point regarding the tangible vs. speculative asset nature of collectible comic books. Yes, there’s the idea that, as a physical object, a comic book could be considered tangible. However, much of the current inflation in back issue pricing is due to those same comic books being considered speculative assets. I don’t necessarily think that new $10 books will decrease in value. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that pricing of new books does drive up back issues as well. We’ve certainly seen a reticence by comic book dealers over the years to price books lower than current cover price unless they’re destined for what is currently the dollar bin. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see no back issues priced much below $10 in a comic book shop by 2030 other than those that end up in whatever the dollar bin becomes – $2, $5, or more.

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Hunter June 1, 2021 - 1:18 pm

Thanks,Joe Biden

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