My field editor made an interesting observation at the 2021 Motor City Comic Con (“MC3”). He is a former comic book buyer who recently returned to the hobby. He noted that fewer young people were attending the show for the comics than compared to shows held several years ago. This observation should concern everyone who invests in comic books. Comic book buyers are getting older with very few young readers replacing those that are aging. The demographics of comic book investing are changing.
Facebook’s concerns should be our readers’
Facebook is known throughout the world. The company is a trailblazer who exploited a market that was previously ignored. Mark Zuckerberg saw trends before others and profited from those observations. Facebook now has seen a potential problem that threatens the long-term viability of the company.
Facebook’s users are getting older. In addition, another concern for Zuckerberg is that younger users who were using the platform started to deactivate their Facebook accounts. Furthermore, younger users were not signing up for Facebook. Instead, younger consumers were migrating to other social media platforms and bypassing Facebook. An aging consumer base is problematic for the long-term growth of a company. Facebook saw the problem. Comic book investors should be aware of this problem as well.
Testing the waters
An informal test
My personal observation at MC3 was that the majority of comic book buyers were older. This issue was further exacerbated by the fact that there were very few buyers under the age of 20. This age group is the future of comic investing. I wanted to see if this observation was repeatable through a sampling test.
I asked comic book investors and collectors on the Internet how old they were and what the typical age of comic book fans they see in the store or where they buy comics. My request even produced a few responses from LCS owners who gave me their observations based upon store-driven data. The results are what I expected and that concerns me.
The majority of respondents were 35 years old and older. Very few said they were in their twenties. Almost everyone indicated that the average age of comic book fans was older than thirty years and very few young fans were seen in the stores or buying comic books. Very few teens and younger fans visit comic book shops anymore. My personal observations at live auctions and in stores are that the majority of comic book buyers are in their thirties or older. The older the buyer, the more they spend on their books. Finally, comic book collectors may bring their children to the stores, but very few are staying in the hobby when they hit their teens. These types of numbers scared Facebook and they should scare you too.
Interpreting the Results
Coming to market
Many comic book collections have recently come to market. Divorce and death are prevailing reasons that these books are sold. The buyers of these books are usually the same age or older than the seller. In addition, some of the respondents interviewed at MC3 said the same age demographic is buying new comics.
The fact that older buyers are purchasing these collections means that these very same books may come to market again. An aging consumer base scared Facebook so badly that they are changing their name in an attempt to shed the appearance of being a retirement home platform. Rather than trying to appeal to younger readers, comic books are targeting their base fans, and those fans are older. This may be a problem in the future.
LCS, Comic Cons, and beyond
Local comic book stores now cannot survive selling only old and new comics. These stores have re-invented themselves to fit the age demographic and customer base that shops at their store. New product lines are introduced in hopes to bring in younger customers to replace those older customers that have died or retired from the hobby. Stores are doing everything to survive but you rarely see new comic book sores opening up. Shrinking age demographics makes opening a new comic book store difficult.
Comic cons have also been affected. Decades ago, the MC3 was dominated by vendors who came to the shows to sell their comic books. Those that did attend the show this year saw record sales. Fewer vendors attended the show because of thriving Internet sales, but again most of those sales are to an older base. eBay and Facebook have many auctions, but most hobbyists who use these platforms are again middle aged
Locating the lost generation
A week’s worth of comic books years ago was not as expensive as it is now. Younger collectors have limited resources and the price of comic books has gone up. Collectors could buy a comic book for the same price as a bottle of cola but now that is not possible. Younger consumers are buying things for their phones. Children have also gone into different areas for their entertainment. Anime trade paperbacks now fill book store racks that were once the location of comic books. This has caused print runs to go down for even successful books.
Comics are still selling but you have to dive deeper than merely looking at revenue. Sales figures may be high but print runs are down. That means they are selling fewer books, but the books companies are selling cost more. Young collectors cannot afford these higher prices when their dollars are being spent on apps, video game systems, and phones. These fans may see the movies and television shows, but this does not necessarily translate to them being converted to comic book collectors.
How this impacts investing in comic books
Comic book investors must know their client base. Investors are not collectors. The investor buys books to make money rather than spending on books they like. The person reading this must look in the mirror and then at their customer base to make an informed decision on what books to invest in.
Comic book publishers know their consumers and make plans based upon that knowledge to sell books. Comic book investors NEED to start looking at their consumer base now and extrapolate that data for the future to make sound investments. Investors must also look to their investment strategy to best plan for a good Return on Investment (“ROI”). Long and short-term investment plans must be made now rather than left for a later date. People do not plan to fail, they fail to plan.
Older comic books have very low supply. Golden Age books were not kept in Mylar bags with acid-free backer boards after consumers read them, nor were these books encapsulated by a third-party grader to keep them pristine and preserved.
Golden, Silver, and Bronze age books were read and used, sometimes even abused. These books have low numbers on the GoCollect CGC census reports. The supply is limited and thus the demand for these books is high.
Even non-key Golden, Silver, and Bronze age books sell for a premium compared to Copper and new books. Your dollars should be here if you are looking for books to hold for the long term.
A broken model
Newer-age comics may have a shorter shelf life if the consumer base is shrinking. Short-term investment gains may be wiped out if you hold a book for the long term. Lower print runs for newer books may decrease the supply, but if there are fewer buyers for that book then the demand will be low as well. Some of the younger investors indicated that they are already turning to older books to protect against potential losses.
Investors seem to assume that the model that has worked in past will work in the future. The number of comic book investors and collectors is numerous, thus it will stay numerous. That is what Facebook thought in the past. Hal Jordan was the Green Lantern for their parents, and Kyle Rayner may be the GL for them does not necessarily mean that the first appearance of Jessica Cruz will be a good investment if there are not enough comic book collectors buying this book, even with a low print run.
Miles Morales is the Peter Parker for the next generation. His book will be worth a lot more once he makes it in the MCU and will be a key for years to come. This has been the argument made by many for investing in Ultimate Fallout #4. The question no one bothers to ask is, What if the next generation does not collect and invest in comics like we do today? Does this book have good long-term investment potential like Golden, Silver, and Bronze age keys?
The population is aging and fewer younger people are collecting based upon respondents and interviewees. Fewer buyers mean possibly less of a demand. Then there is a supply issue. In a previous article, I said that there were 73,764 total first print copies produced with 8,636 in the CGC census (11.7% CGC Graded). Ten months later, the census now has 11,426 books at the time I write this article (15.5% CGC Graded). This does not even include the graded CBCS and PGX copies.
Amazing Spider-Man keys are valuable because they are in demand and because of the limited number of books to choose from. If the number of comic book collectors and investors plummets, even these books may experience a drop in value. What then could be the fate of Ultimate Fallout #4 when the number of collectors and investors decreases while more books come to market? This is a question you need to know before you invest heavily in this or any book.
I am not suggesting that comic book collectors and investors will cease to exist tomorrow. Instead, I am suggesting that investors must re-evaluate the long-term viability of books to invest in. Demand will be lowered if comic book collectors and investors age and their numbers are not replenished by the same number of younger investors. People can not assume that what happened in the past is a guarantee of what will happen in the future. Investors should never let their own biases and love of collectibles get in the way of producing a healthy ROI.
Numbers do not lie. CGC and the new CBCS censuses should be studied with print runs of current books. Sales data should be examined to determine the short and long term investment potential of books. Facebook is successful because they are proactive rather than reactive. Investors must realize that collectors and investors are getting older. If comic book investors do not review the changing age demographics of comic book investing then in the future they may be the ones with the largest collection of newer comic books and no potential buyers. That is one game of musical chairs that you do not want to win when everyone else has left the room.