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Thursday, March 26, 2009 

An exaggeration of collectibles

The Kansas City Star publishes an interview with the owner of a local store and try to make it sound as though comics are recession-proof:
“Comics traditionally have been recession-proof. One reason is they’re collectible, and collectibles tend to hold their value.”
That may be true of the older publications, but what of the newer ones, past 1992 or so? And I think it would be foolish to assume that they'll be eternally invulnerable to recession.
Are people really buying comics in this economy?

Actually, yes, both nationally and locally. Earlier this month a rare copy of Action Comics No. 1, the first comic book featuring Superman, sold for $317,200 in an Internet auction. And closer to home, Mangiaracina sold Amazing Fantasy No. 15 to 51-year-old Kansas City firefighter Tom Chuning for $7,500. It was the largest sale the veteran comic seller has ever made. The highly collectible book, which features a cover by the legendary Jack Kirby, is where Spider-Man made his first appearance.
But even that's an exaggeration, and just how many people can afford to pay even that much? Not many. Collectors who pay tons to own a single issue of a famous series are but a handful of the overall public.
But how about regular priced comics?

“In a tough economy, comics are cheap entertainment,” Mangiaracina said.
At four dollars and rising? It's not that simple, I'm afraid.
William Binderup, owner of Elite Comics in Overland Park, agreed that comics are generally recession proof.

“The economy doesn’t affect us too much,” he said. “I guess it could if too many customers lose their jobs. But as far as most comics people go, they’re a pretty dedicated lot. They’re food, shelter, comic books, and not necessarily in that order. If money gets tight it’s a lot easier to go out to dinner one time less a month (than it is to break the comic-book habit) because a lot of these people have been reading Amazing Spider-Man since they were 12 years old. It’s been a big part of their life.”
They must be really desperate to keep a straight face. It does get a little more honest in the following though:
So people are still buying comics, especially vintage books. That’s good for sellers like Mangiaracina, since that’s the bulk of his business. But all is not perfect in comicland.

First, new books are not selling as well. Last year Mangiaracina took 40 percent of his back issues and put them in a new 99 cent department.

“We wanted to create a way that comics would still be cheap,” he said. “It has made a difference.”

Second, kids aren’t buying many comics these days. Most of Mangiaracina’s customers are between 40 and 60.
And that's pretty much the case in some, if not all, parts of the country, where only a small portion of the audience today is under 40, or even under 20. As for taking back issues and charging only a dollar for them, what else are they to do if they couldn't sell them the first time around? Those back issues they speak of that the store proprietor moved to the quarter/dollar bin could even include Spider-Man's Brand New Day!
“From 1939 to 1995, comics always cost twice what a candy bar costs, which meant they were cheap,” Mangiaracina said. “In 1995 Marvel and DC decided to double the price and go to four times the cost of a candy bar. As a result, Batman sales — sort of the bellwether of the comic market — went from 750,000 to 50,000 a month. We lost 90 to 95 percent of our sales, and Marvel went bankrupt. My feeling is it was because of the price increase.”

Prices have stabilized of late, helping the industry recover. Marvel is selling comics again. It would help sellers if people began seeing comics as investments again. Ten years ago prices soared as speculators bought books, hoping for big profits. But that market bottomed out about two years ago.
Umm, I think there's a little exaggeration here too - Marvel has begun to boost the price of at least several of their books to 4 dollars. That's not exactly a sign that they're selling well again. But they're right about something: the price hike in the mid-90s was one thing that led to the downfall of recent. However, they don't seem to realize that it was Marvel and DC's pandering to the "speculator/investment market" at the expense of good storytelling, to say nothing of their attempts to be more like Image Comics, that helped precipitate the collapse.
“There are very few investors (now),” Mangiaracina said. “People are buying what they want to read. They still keep them, but people aren’t going crazy trying to buy comics for investments. Although with how the stock market is going, it might be a better idea.”
He's got a point there. People have to be careful how they spend their money, and if it's something badly written, that's why buying specific comics won't pay off.
Binderup said comics can still be good investments.

“They can be if you buy Silver Age comics (comics before 1970)” he said. “That stuff has never gone down in value.”
IMO, that's because a lot of them are better written than much of what's come in the decades since, and in better taste too.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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