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Sunday, October 26, 2014 

Entertainment Weekly and Crave Online explain the downside of collecting

Entertainment Weekly addressed the topic of collecting comics, and makes some sense about why collecting for moneymaking doesn't pay off:
Like most things made by people, the comics industry is rife with frustrating institutional problems that will probably never be solved in our lifetimes. If you ask five different people about the worst thing to happen to comics, you’d probably get five different answers (or one cheating answer: the 90s). But, as someone who writes about comics, here’s the one that I find the most destructive, the one that gets in the way of a lot of people reading and enjoying great work: the idea that comics are supposed to be collected.

Note how I worded that. There is nothing inherently wrong with collecting comics, but the idea that it’s what you’re supposed to do is what’s destructive, because of what it implies. First and foremost, comics are meant to be read and enjoyed. Collecting comics just sort of happens as a natural extension of that—they pile up, and since they’re serial narratives, you want to hold on to them while seeking out gaps—after all, who wants to have just part of a story?

No, this is about the other kind of collecting.

For a long time (the 90s), comics speculation was huge. Limited edition covers, ridiculously hyped first issues, and The Death of Superman all contributed to this weird atmosphere that led to people treating comics as a sort of commodity, something that might be worth a lot of money someday. A lot of this speculation turned out to be baseless. The economics of it all are complex and fascinating, but the end result is this: it is highly unlikely that you will make a fortune off your comic book collection. Unless of course you have something truly valuable—which isn’t most people.
Well they got that right. And that's why I'd rather buy a lot of this stuff based on how entertaining it is to read about, especially if I can find it in paperbacks.

However, their argument starts to falter when they discuss getting invested in superhero universes and serial fiction, and while there's one part where they score a point, they also proceed to say:
However, there are ways in which a collector’s/completist mentality can turn you off to comics. A lot of times, a book’s direction can be editorially mandated by people outside of the main creative team. Sometimes, these decisions can severely damage how much you enjoy a particular book—DC’s New 52 initiative in 2011 is an example so apt it hurts. And while comics publishers, more than almost any other entertainment industry, really listen to their fans, these sort of frustrating decisions are incredibly regular.
I'm sorry, but while they're right the New52 is bad, their claim the companies listen to readers has been exceedingly untrue for many years already. Even after Marvel backed away from what they did with the Clone Saga, they still wouldn't let go of the idea Spidey's marriage to Mary Jane Watson was the most absolute, flat-out worst thing that could happen, and now, look where we are.

In fact, if the Big Two and some smaller publishers really listened to their fans, do you think DC would've published Identity Crisis, and Marvel published Avengers: Disassembled? Would they have taken every minor character they considered a sacrificial lamb and wiped them out or worse? Would Hal Jordan go berserk and Hank Hall become Extant during Zero Hour? Would Peter Parker have made faustian pacts with Mephisto? The writer of this piece has to wake up and do far better research to realize his claim does not hold water.

Crave Online also brought this topic up, and pointed out how collectors are misled:
Whenever a comic book like Action Comics # 1 is sold for a high price, it’s often used as an example of the collectivity of comics. It’s the idea that comics are more than a combination of words and artwork that tell a sequential story. To some collectors, comics are simply “investments” that have no intrinsic value except for the money that they can be sold for.

Several of the biggest comic companies have played into that mentality. In the last few years, variant covers have risen again as publishers attempt to create collectors items by producing specialty issues. To put it more simply, Marvel and DC (as well as many smaller publishers) create a standard comic book with a set cover image, before offering retailers a chance to order the same comic with a different cover image if they increase their orders to reach a certain threshold.

Essentially, this creates variant editions of the comics that have far fewer copies than the standard editions. 1:10 (one variant cover for every ten copies of the standard issue), 1:40 and 1:100 cover variants are popular once again with the speculators and the people who are willing to pay inflated prices for the same comic that was only $3.99 on the shelf.

It’s in the publishers’ and the retailers’ best interests to pass off these variant covers as collectors items that can only go up in value. But it’s a lie. The variant covers are not inherently valuable. They are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them.

In the comic book industry, the publishers and the speculators both contributed to the major crash of the ‘90s, in which the market was flooded with comics packaged as collectors items. Those “collectors items” now appear in the dollar bins of comic conventions because there was no audience to buy them in the first place. Publishers and retailers went out of business because they overextended themselves. And it’s a mistake that the publishers and retailers of the present seem all too eager to repeat.
Without doubt, they're so desperate to make money and stay "relevant" it makes no difference to them if it precipitates their closures in the forseeable future. Yet that is just what's bound to happen, and if the revived Valiant intends to follow this example, they're only going to ensure they depart the market again faster than the original incarnation did.

Speculators are surely worse than mindless publishers, and some even go out of their way to buy multiple copies of the same book, which only proves many comics - especially mainstream - don't have the audience the major publishers supposedly wish they had. This is just why the time has come to abandon the pamphlet format and switch to simpler ones like paperbacks, but the major companies so far have no intention of doing so, no matter how badly they're already selling.

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