Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics – Survivability & Rarity Analysis

by Douglas Ohlandt

091222D-1024x536 Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity AnalysisWelcome back! Last time around we delved into the history of the bifurcation of the newsstand and direct markets for new comic books. This time we’re going to look at what makes newsstand editions much rarer and thereby much more expensive than direct comics.

A Caveat

ns_v_de_simple-300x84 Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity AnalysisFirst, though, a disclaimer. There is very little complete data on newsstand vs. direct sales for a single issue. Comichron is a fantastic site for sales data and it’s worth checking out the wide breadth of information they have available. For our purposes, though the data may not be complete, we are able to make some educated inferences based on anecdotal data.

Hopefully, someday soon the data will be complete, and we can more fully analyze it for some conclusions on an issue-by-issue basis. For now, let’s see where this anecdotal data can take us and what we can glean from it.

Direct vs. Newsstand Sales Percentages Over Time

FF213-194x300 Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity AnalysisTo recap our previous piece on newsstand and direct edition comics, in 1979 Marvel made a big move to support the direct comic book market (e.g. the comic book shops) by spreading the wealth amongst Sea Gate’s sub-distributors and by printing comics exclusively for the direct market – comics without the bar codes.

Estimates from Jim Shooter, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief at the time, are that 94% of Marvel’s sales in 1979 were on the newsstands, while 6% were in comic book shops.

Newsstand-vs.-Direct-Sales-Percentages Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity Analysis

By 1982 the split was 80/20, and 1986 saw the point at which the two lines converged and passed like ships in the night – the last time 50% of sales were on the newsstands. From then, newsstand sales shrunk rapidly – by 1990 down to 15%, 1995 down to 10%, until we reach the 1% point in 2013 when Marvel stopped printing separate newsstand editions and ceased newsstand sales.

To be frank, even Marvel would admit that newsstand sales had gone the way of the dodo long before this point, and comics with newsstand barcodes were really only being sold in chain bookstores by the mid-2000s.

Survivability of Newsstand vs. Direct Editions

pile-of-comic-books Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity Analysis

It would be a simple matter to say that, for example, 94% of comics produced by Marvel in 1979 were newsstand copies so 94% is what should still be around.

If only it was that simple; whether or not a comic survived either means of distribution becomes a tremendous key to determining value. Where the comics were headed and the people purchasing them became a deciding factor.

1980-comic-shop Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity Analysis

One of my first retail jobs was at a comic book shop. I began working there in the summer of 1982, just as the direct market was really heating up. Comics were delivered in boxes, carefully sorted through, and then placed in carefully designed racks so they wouldn’t fold over and create creases.

Collectors who came into the store to purchase comics handled them with great care. When they read them, they handled them in a way that would cause the least amount of damage. Comic books that didn’t sell were stored in boxes – sometimes bagged sometimes not – but again with great care.

In short, everything was done to preserve the comics in as pristine a condition as possible at the time. It’s no wonder that an estimated 90% of comics sold in the direct market in the 1980s survived.

comic-book-spinner-rack-1982-235x300 Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity Analysis

Let’s compare that to newsstand comics.

These were delivered bundled together and tied with twine or string. Already the first dozen or so comics at the top and bottom of the stack were dropped down to no better than a very fine condition due to spine creases. There was no careful sorting; comics were stuffed into spinner racks or magazine stands as quickly as possible.

Comics were then rummaged through by customers, typically bending them to see what was behind the ones in front. Upon purchase, a comic book was read as one would read a newspaper, without a care as to preservation. Comic books were tossed around from friend to friend or shoved in a closet.

Some people wrote their names on them or scribbled doodles on them. I can testify to all of this. Here’s my copy of Avengers Annual #7 that I bought at a convenience store in 1977 before I knew any better.

AvengersAnn7mycopy-225x300 Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity AnalysisYes, I erased Thanos’ pupils and drew in three of my own for each eye. Man, I loved this comic – nearly to death!

So, it shouldn’t be a shock when I say that it’s estimated that only 10% of newsstand comic books from the 1980s survived. In short, they were read to death. Or worse, thrown out by mom when you went to college.

Survival Percentages for Newsstand vs. Direct Editions

We now know the estimated survivability of comics based on where they were sold and who purchased them. Now, let’s take a look at the estimated percentage of comics that could have survived at a given point in time. Starting in 1979, when 6% of comics were sold in comic shops and 90% of the direct editions survived, and 94% of comics were sold on newsstands and 10% of newsstand copies survived, we can infer that roughly a little more than one-third of all surviving copies are direct editions – or 36.5% – and roughly a little less than two-thirds of existing copies are newsstand editions – or 63.5%.

Estimated-Survival-Percentage Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity Analysis

Compare that to 1982 when 80% of comics were sold on newsstands and 20% in the direct market. By this point, the likely survival percentages have nearly flipped.  69.2% of all surviving copies are direct editions versus 30.8% newsstand editions.

By 1985, the point at which newsstand and direct market sales were roughly even, 90% of surviving copies are direct editions and only 10% newsstand. The numbers decrease even further after that to the point where 1990s and 2000s newsstand editions can be considered rare or even scarce comics.

Sources

Besides Comichron, the Rare Comics blog by Benjamin Nobel is definitely worth a read. Some of it’s a tad dated. Still, it really is a treasure trove of information on comic book direct vs. newsstand distribution and survivability. I highly recommend it.

Next: Exceptions to the Rules, Condition as a Factor, and How This Relates to Graded Comics

We have our estimates of survivability. However, there are some exceptions to the survivability rules as we’ll get into in our next blog, where we’ll also discuss the condition of newsstand copies and what we can infer from CGC census data.

Want more 101 insight?

Do you collect or invest in newsstand editions? Let us know below.

Upgrade2_Footer Newsstand Editions vs. Direct Comics - Survivability & Rarity Analysis*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not represent advice on behalf of GoCollect.

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6 comments

John September 18, 2022 - 12:49 pm

This is the content I am here for! Great article!

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Mark Woodward September 18, 2022 - 1:24 pm

I have a difficult time believing that newsstands that survived the eighties, did so much worse than those newsstands from the 70’s. This article claims the newsstands began to not retain “nice” copies in the 80’s where there seems to be plenty of “nice” copies from the 70’s. Why did 80’s kids (and adults) suddenly change how they handled their comics coming out of the 70’s? This makes very little sense to me.
One more problem: this may be a regional thing, but I worked at a comic store in the 90’s where we sold newsstand and direct comics in the same stack. There was no difference in newsstand vs. direct to us or our customers. It was the same comic, just different barcode. We just wanted the best conditioned comic. Sometimes that was the newsstand issue. And this was the early 90’s in Seattle. So regional? I don’t know.

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Sean September 19, 2022 - 12:09 pm

Getting my first comics at age 4 in 1973, I was already buying comics off the rack at 7-Eleven and another local convenience store in Foster City CA back in the 1980-82 time frame you’re talking about and can tell you careful collectors WERE buying comics outside of comic shops back then. It was already common knowledge that back issue comics were collectible, and at 12 years old in 1981, I tried to handle my comics with care. There was the Mile High Comics two-page ad in Marvel comics starting in 1980, and comic conventions were already going on. I remember picking up 3 copies of Uncanny X-Men #155 off the spinner rack because I thought Colossus had died (based on the cover). The death of Phoenix already being so big, I thought #155 was another “death issue.” I remember being at 7 Eleven in 1981 and seeing two other guys there going through the comics on the wall rack at the same time I was and they seemed like careful collectors to me. I didn”t get my first comic bags until late 1981 or ’82 though, when I ordered through the Empire ad in a comic book. I remember bagging my two copies of Fantastic Four #236 (among other comics). I also remember Daredevil was sometimes hard to find at convenience stores. I remember looking for #173 and finding the last copy behind other comics in the top left corner of the wall rack. And at the other convenience store, I remember seeing one last copy of Daredevil #168 on the spinner rack. It was beat up with a chocolate stain on it. I remember contemplating whether I should buy that copy or try to find a nicer copy at 7 Eleven. I bought that copy and am glad I did because I didn’t find another one at the other store. I still have my copy after all these years. My copy survived, even though no one but me would know. So, I was there and can tell you there were careful collectors buying comics at convenience stores back then. I was one of them.

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Alan Harper September 19, 2022 - 7:32 pm

Love this. I see it more and more taking into account in the values of books.

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sean24242424 September 20, 2022 - 5:16 pm

This is a fascinating article that highlights the true rarity of direct, or indirect, editions which should lead to market corrections over time. Granted, the market doesn’t always behave logically but the data here does show some glaring discrepancies.

For example, let’s take Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 which was published in 1990. According to the chart, which is an estimate to be fair, only 2% of the direct editions of books printed that year survived; yet the market doesn’t come close to reflecting this massive discrepancy. For example, the direct edition Spider-Man #1 with a grade of 9.8 (green cover) currently has a fair market value of $93; however, the fair market value of the newsstand edition with the same grade is valued at $170. Logic would tell us that if the newsstand edition was 9.8 times more difficult to find then the value of the book should somewhat correspond… but it is nowhere close. The newsstand edition isn’t even worth twice the value of the direct edition.

What does this mean? It likely means that the market is rife with undervalued books. That said, until CGC or Go Collect start collecting the census on newsstand editions we will never truly know the scarcity of them. I fully understand that it’s impossible to correct this information retroactively, but it is relatively easy to correct this going forward.

When looking at where to invest in our collections it certainly appears that buying undervalued books in a depressed market is a smart move to make.

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Aaron S. September 26, 2022 - 2:06 pm

Yeah. Numbers get thrown around a lot with so much surety. There were plenty of specialty stores by the time the direct market came into being and there were STILL many comic stores that held both direct accounts and accounts with newsstand distributors. How many were purchased of each is pretty tough to track because no one really kept track and not all newsstand books ended out getting, damaged, sold, or returned. I would say it’s virtually impossible to say how many newsstand books survive in high grade and many don’t. Indeed newsstand copies do become rarer but those numbers are also not tracked that well outside of the publishers. Comichron also only provides numbers of comics sold to North American stores NOT beyond NA and not the error percent overrun and promotional copies.

I will allow that after a certain point newsstand books become less numerous and possibly scarce, but this doesn’t mean more valuable. Right now SOME newsstand books, at least Canadian Price newsstand books and a smattering of others are worth more but there are vast numbers of others that people just don’t give a care about because they aren’t Marvel or DC.

Compounding the issue is the “modern drek” problem. That being most modern books being much reviled for the better part of 20-30 years because people don’t like them for a variety of reasons. As such many copies get moved into dollar or vent bins unprotected and very few can reach the 9.x grades because they have accumulated too many defects. The end result may not be a lack of copies but a lack of copies in the most desired grades. When you have a series like the Daring Adventures of Supergirl already at a disadvantage because it’s a solo female hero with a diminishing print run you get the problem of trying to find the last six issues and in 9.x. Chances are slim of finding them.

Not all scarcity is attributed to newsstand copies either. Try finding 9.x copies of many Archie titles after 2000. It took me more than five years to complete my Holly G run in Sabrina (#38-57) and some I had to pay multiples of 9.2 guide for a few issues and I had to finish buying several online because so few stores even had Archies from this era.

If you want to talk scarcity you could probably talk about most books that aren’t Marvel or DC that have and will be printed. It’s extremely rare that indie titles sell 10K or more copies. So why are older issues worth more than a few bucks? Well, the demand isn’t there.

So, why should I automatically have to pay more for a newsstand where numbers surviving and what sort of grades are completely unknown? Just because we can throw around some numbers that make them seem actually scarce? I will pay more for a book I know is scarce over one that we are guessing may be scarce. I also have to ask what about those non-Marvel and DC publisher’s books?

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