Beauology 101: Back Off

Beau Smith

Beau Smith

by Beau Smith

When I’m not writing comic books I’m marketing comic books, I have for over 25 years. I speak to retailers every day via phone, internet and yes, sometimes even fax (You remember fax machines, don’t you?).

A topic that has been on the minds of retailers a lot in the last few years has been back issues. By back issues, I’m talking about anything from 1938 to last month. That’s over 70 years of back issues. What the retailers are telling me is that sales of back issues have dropped in the last decade. They mean REALLY dropped, like “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” kind of dropped.

They tell me that there are a lot of reasons for the lack of sales of back issues and of interest. Here are a few:

** Cost Of New Comics. With the average comic book carrying a $3.00-$4.00 cover price, the consumer has been really cutting back and looking hard at what they buy. The first place they trim is back issues.

** Age Of Consumers. The average comic book consumer is male between the ages of 35-55. They still have most every comic book they have ever bought stacked in long boxes in a room that was formerly used for sleep or house guests. They have so many that they really don’t have time to fight through the buffet of boxes and find “that” issues they wanted to reread. Consumers under the 35 year mark don’t even know, or care, that Chris Claremont & John Byrne did a great run on The X-Men or care that Walt Simonson made Thor a character that counted. (A shame in both cases.) These comics were before their time and their time today is spent on the internet, iPad, Smart Phone, video games and other vessels of entertainment. They don’t have time for back issues.

** Amount Of Back Issues. As I mentioned above, comics have been around since 1938. That’s a lot of paper still taking up space somewhere. Most back issues from the 1930s and 40s are very, very hard to find because they were not only disposable entertainment at 10 cents, but there were paper drives during WWII and mothers that tossed things out if they were laying about. Even if you find back issues from this time period in crummy reading condition, you’re still talking about paying a pretty penny. Comics from the 1950s-1970s are easier to find, but not bringing the dollars in sales they used to, unless they are icon or landmark issues. Of course condition is a factor here as well. The 1980s brought on the Independent Comic Book movement with low print runs, as well as smaller print runs from Marvel & DC Comics. Retailers tell me that comics from the 1980s will truly be the decade of highly collectable comics very soon. The 1990s brought on the speculators and comic book carpetbaggers, print runs were high and story substance was low. When the bottom fell out in the mid-90s, print runs were cut making comics from 1997-2002 the comics to hang on to, as the retailers inform me.

These are just some of the main reasons why back issues are hard to move for some retailers. You’ve also got to take in account storage space, handling, storage boxes and time to sell them in either the stores or on the internet. Not every retailer has the time or staff to do this. The back issues just sit and cost them money.

You also have to figure that a lot of retailers are fans as well. Like hoarders, they put a sentimental value on a comic book that really isn’t there. Those back issues have to be looked at as product to sell. The longer they stay in the store, the more money they will cost the retailer. They have to move them.

Some retailers I spoke to do move them, they buy low and sell reasonably low to move the comics in bulk with speed. This gives them a more constant flow of money coming in all the time instead of losing money for years hoping for some sort of one-time big sell profit that may never come.

Like in sports cards, some comic books are “commons” meaning they are not landmark issues or even potential landmark issues. They also have fairly large print runs. These are the comics retailers bundle, put in 4 for a dollar boxes and also blow out at in-store sales or conventions. They use the issues that allow a consumer to have an instant collection and learn to embrace the world of comics without having to take out a loan.

Guy Gardner Annual #2

Guy Gardner Annual #2

I was recently in an outlet store called Ollie’s Bargain Outlet where they had 10 prepackaged comics from the 70s through 2000s for $4.99. You didn’t know what you had until you bought them and opened them, but I took the chance. It was great. I even found an issue of Guy Gardner that I wrote! (I’m worth so little.) The package was Marvel, DC, Eclipse, and even a Gold Key comic. Well worth the $4.99 to me. More stores need to do this within their store. (Editor’s note: check out these grab bags Westfield is currently offering!)

My point is that I would hate to see the quest for back issues fall to the wayside for retailers and consumers. There’s a lot of comic book fun to be had out there for all and I really want as many people as possible to take advantage of reading comic books. I want folks to be smart about how they spend their money and what they buy, but most of all, I want them to be entertained.

What are your thoughts on back issues? Do you bother to buy them, do you bother to sell them, what would you do , if anything, to make them sell better and get into people’s hands?

I’m always here. I’d love to hear your opinions.

Your back issue buddy,

Beau Smith

The Flying Fist Ranch



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