Thursday, June 09, 2005

Limited Edition, Variant Edition, Special Edition--WHAT and WHY

For those of you who have been waiting for a rant, rather than reviews, here's one for ya!

Comics have always been thought of, at least by some, as a collectable item. And as with many things that people collect, sometimes they go up in value but often they do not. But it's the thought that they MIGHT that gets some people interested. The comic book makers know this. For those of you who believe you might have a comic make you big bucks some day, the publishers have got you figured out! It's all in the marketing.

Take for example, Marvel comics. They have recently created a phrase for their second print comics. Let me first explain that publishers like Marvel now print comics in a quantity based upon what retail stores order plus a certain percentage of extras. Once the comic is sold out, it is usually not reprinted again. However, for certain comics, when they think the hype has created enough demand, Marvel will go back and do another print run of a comic book issue. They don't call it a second print. Instead they use the clever phrase "limited edition variant." It's the same comic with a different cover. That's it! They're all limited edition, because as I just explained, they do the print run based on what they think they'll be able to sell in a reasonable amount of time, plus extras to replace any lost or damaged ones. In fact, Marvel's "limited edition variant" actually INCREASES the number of copies of that issue that are available in the market, making it LESS limited than it was before. Yet that fancy marketing term can make a "hot" comic even hotter, while in fact it should actually decrease the future values because of increasing the amount of supply.

Now how about those variant editions. These come in ALL shapes and sizes. Sometimes a book will be originally offered in one cover, and then someone will have a "great" idea to offer another cover. So, the comic will then be available in 2 covers, evenly split (if I order 20, I get 10 of one cover and 10 of another), but the cover that was not originally offered will be called a variant. It does vary from the original, so technically it is a variant. The more commonly known variant is also the most irritating for me as a retailer. This is when a different version (keep in mind it's ONLY the COVER that's different) is available in a far more limited quantity. For every X number of the regular issue I can earn the right to buy 1 variant. Sometimes these are reasonable, where X is 5 or less. Sometimes these are OUT of CONTROL, where X is 60 or more. Some people want these special variant covers because they are a fan of the comic or the character; others want them because they think they'll be worth a ton later on. Maybe they will, but probably not. And does the publisher care? Nope, they've already gotten their money.

Frankly they are a royal pain in the rear and I'd rather not even deal with them. If its order 20 and get 1 variant, and we're already ordering close to or over 20, we'll take the variant too. But if there’s one of those CRAZY ones where we need to order 65 copies of an issue to get 1 variant, and we're only ordering 20 copies, we WON'T order 65 just to get that one variant. We just can't afford to do it that way. It can be a risk ordering any comic, but we try to base our orders on perceived demand of the regular comic, and not on variants. And when someone asks for one and we don't have it to offer them, I always feel bad, like somehow I have failed this person. In MY ideal world, there could still be variants, but they wouldn't be announced to the general public. The publisher would send me one as a "thank you" for supporting X book. Then I could sell it, or give it to someone who has been a super big fan of the book and/or character as a "thank you" for supporting my store. Sure, some would end up on EBay and people might pay crazy money for them, but at least I wouldn't get 20 calls from people who have NEVER spent one red cent in my store but think they are entitled to a variant edition, even if they have to pay $20 to get it.

And lastly, the Special Edition. Well, this can be just about anything. It could be a glow-in-the dark cover that goes for $15 to anyone that orders it. It could be a "Director's Cut" where they throw some commentary and extra sketches from the creators in at the end. It could be an autographed copy. Again, if you are a fan this is probably something cool to have. But it SHOULD NOT be purchased just because the purchaser believes it will make them rich some day. I have plenty of "special edition" comics in the $1 bins here at Neptune that someone bought 10 years ago and thought they'd make money on. Well, if I'm selling it for $1, I bought it for less than that, so you know what, they didn't.

To conclude -- let me just instill on you readers a few key phrases to keep in mind regarding anything you buy to collect:
1. things usually only become collectable when no one is colleting them.
2. "A long time ago" and "very old" is more than 10 years, more than 20, more than 30... Think more like 50+.
3. If something you've collected shoots up in value one day, don't assume that value will continue to go up for years to come. If you're planning to sell it some day, and its worth more today than it was when you bought it, I suggest selling it today. Tomorrow it may be worthless.
4. Buy things because you like and enjoy them. If they become worth more some day, you can like it even more.

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