Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chronic Market Spotlight: Judging Books By Their Covers!

On Chronic # 143 I talked about the Marvel Zombies Vs. Army of Darkness hardcover that was fetching $40+ on Amazon. And that's true. But what I failed to mention was a very cosmetic but very important detail: if your hardcover doesn't look like the one pictured above, your book is worth about ten bucks, not forty.

We're talking about the exact same material between mind you, and both editions feature cover art by Suydam. Both versions were released at exactly the same time. So what's the big difference?

The difference is in the distribution. Marvel will often release books to the direct market with different covers than the book market release. This is a bit of a simplification, but basically the direct market is your local comic shop, and the book market is your Borders or your Barnes & Noble.

So the "Days of Future Past" mock up pictured to the right went to the bookstore market, and is worth peanuts compared to the direct market edition. Why is that? Because there are much, much fewer direct market editions available.

I highly recommend you check out the annual report that Brian Hibbs puts out on Comic Book Resources. One conclusion his research is clear about - there's a LOT more money in the book store market. Those numbers dwarf the comic shop ordering, and consequently, any time you see a split between bookstore/comic shop editions, the direct market edition is going to be significantly more rare.

And just to put another wrinkle on the situation, your local comic book shop can order (and often does) order the book market edition. It just doesn't work the other way 'round. And that serves to further dilute the DM edition's numbers. Borders can't order the comic shop version, but the your LCS often splits their inventory 50/50 on those books. So not only is the direct market ordering fewer books by far, they often don't maximize their ability to order the comic shop edition, which makes many of these books instantly scarce.

It doesn't always make the direct edition instantly more valuable, but this phenomenon is certainly not unique to Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness. Just as an example, take the recently released Old Man Logan story by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven.

The book market version with the gorgeous McNiven cover is everywhere, and available in very nice condition for $18. Comic shops were able to order a Michael Turner cover, pictured to the right. You want that version? Much more difficult to locate, and it's going to cost you $50+ on the secondary market. Same story, same release date, three times the price.

Probably the most classic example of this phenomenon is the Marvel Masterworks books. Each time one of those books comes out, the comic book shops are able to order a variant edition with an embossed cover, limited and numbered. They are gorgeous, and they look something like this:

I think the most powerful example of this is the Marvel Classic Premiere collection, though. Marvel have been taking classic storylines and releasing them in premiere hardcover format. The book market editions just sort of float out there as distinct entities, you'd never know they were part of a series.

The direct market editions all feature a volume number, so Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt is on the spine as Volume 1 since it was the first released. All feature a comic cover from the series or arc collected, and they are also numbered. Some of them (like the first Hercules volume) had print runs of around 600 copies. They are not going back to press. Now that's scarce.

Those books are just born for avid collectors, they are ugly scarce, and I think they are all buys. Some of them are already commanding $50 or more, and I expect that values will challenge some of the best Masterworks stuff, which means $500 or more down the line. Some of the tough ones to acquire right now are Kraven's Last Hunt and Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle. Won't be long before all of the early volumes are tough finds.

So that's that. Because the direct market is circling the drain, DM exclusives are pretty much by definition scarce. You can't just buy haphazardly and expect to turn a profit, but the DMs loss can definitely be your gain if you keep your eyes open.

- Ryan

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