Thursday, April 28, 2011

Speculating Hordes

If you've been into comics for a while, you've dealt with speculators.  Speculators are those people who may or may not be collectors (the ones who are collectors make out better in the long run) who buy comic books with the sole goal of making money off them.  You typically see the ones who don't collect coming in to comic book stores after an article on a major comic event (the death of Robin, for instance) appears in the newspaper or on CNN.  The speculators who collect comics know this is rarely where the long term money lies, and buy those highlighted issues for very short term gains.  There's not a lot of difference between the two, but there is enough for me to say that education of the field you are speculating in makes a world of difference.

I've witnessed speculators going nuts on three separate occasions.  The death of Robin, the death of Superman, and the first issue of Spider-Man by that baseball collecting moron.  I was in Pennsylvania for the first two, and New Jersey for the final one.  In every cases people acted the same -- horde mentality, greed and a robust knowledge that the books they held in their hands was going to make them rich.  Anyone who has paid attention to the price of those comic books knows that never happened.

The death of Robin got a lot of coverage.  The idea, for those who don't know, was a bad one.  Comic readers could call a special phone number and vote whether or not they wanted to see Robin die.  It was a gimmick, and it took the storyline out of the hands of the writers for the most part, but it gained a lot of media attention.  Most of this attention was incorrect, and because of that people thought the original Robin was the one who was passing away.  As I heard one speculator say, "Burt Ward must be really unhappy about this."  The speculators I saw hording these issues (one guy buying the last five on the shelf) were all doing it to "hold onto" and sell twenty years down the line so they could retire.  Well, Robin came back, and none of those guys retired off those issues.

The death of Superman was equally insane.  Honestly, it was even worse than the death of Robin.  Only speculators who had no knowledge of comic books thought he was going to stay dead, but far too many people picked up multiple issues.  The news covered it.  Your grandmother knew about it.  It was huge.  It was also a publicity stunt, and DC published tons of issues, speculating on the speculators.  It paid off for DC and left speculators with a comic that is, at best, a footnote.

Spider-Man didn't get as much coverage, but collectors knew it was coming.  While in a shop in New Jersey, I witnessed the crowds eagerly anticipating the opening of the boxes.  (I believe it was 1,000,000 Comics, but I can't be sure.)  The store owner asked my friend and I if we wanted to join the masses to ensure we got ours, which were be limited to three per customer.  We declined.

The box was cut open and people immediately began clamoring for it.  The price being paid per issue out of the box?  $20.  Unheard of at the time for a new book.  This was not even for the variant covers.  $20 for a standard issue.  Unbelievable.  That said, some people made some very good money off the variants in the short and long term, and that shows the difference between speculators who know the industry and those who don't.  Those who understand it know what will make them money and when to sell, those who don't are living off dreams.  There's nothing wrong with that, really, unless you are playing a sucker, and that's what I witnessed far too many times.

Do I speculate?  Rarely, but I do engage in that on occasion.  For the most part I buy what I enjoy reading and hope that someday it will be worth money.  So far so good, but then again I wasn't buying forty copies of the death of Robin.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: If you click on one of my affiliate links (or any link), I could earn a small commission.  It should be noted that this will be the final column, too, as covered by CNN's own Clark Howard.

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