Last week, I promised you a strategy for investing in old comics that would drive your loved ones crazy. This strategy isn't for everyone, but I've been utilizing it for 32 years, and it has been very successful for me. If you believe that the comics world is here to stay, and that people will still be collecting comics in ten, or twenty years, then this technique is as close to a no-brainer as you can possibly find.
The specifics of my strategy are quite simple: only buy comics in bulk. By bulk I mean entire collections from private collectors, or long boxes of overstock from dealers. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to employ this strategy. Over the past twenty years, almost all the comics printed have been bagged and put away. As a result, there are tens of millions of comics out there in garages, storage lockers, closets, and back rooms. Inevitably, some of these accumulations come on the market each day. The trick is to locate as many of those bulk deals as possible, and then purchase the best ones in their entirety.
Clearly the big problem with my plan is that you're not only inheriting someone else's comics, but also their storage problem. Before you even think about going this investing route, first consider where in the heck you're going to store tens of thousands of comics. If you already have long-term access to a cool, dry storage facility, then you're doing great! Otherwise, figure that you're going to have to pay at least a penny a year (per comic) in storage costs.
The other important issue to consider is your cost of invested capital. While this kind of investing is vastly superior to buying new comics off the rack, there is still going to be some of your money going into every long box you put away. Make darn sure that you only invest money that you can afford to not get back for many years. That having been said, the trick to my strategy is buying the right material, at the right price. It is simply impossible for me to include in this column all the various criteria that I use when buying bulk. A few of the most important considerations, however, are age, condition, and popularity.
As regards age and condition, what I'm suggesting is that you purchase comics that are still relatively common, but are right on the cusp of becoming scarce. I currently define the borders by cover price, and grade. Comics from the late 1970's, and early 1980's, (with 30 cent - 50 cent cover prices) are still quite common in NM/M. It is not at all unusual to still find bulk inventories of NM/M comics from that time period at under $1 per comic. Comics in "Fine/Very Fine" are still common into the early 1970's, while "Very Good" 12 cent cover price comics are still common at shows in the Northeast.
On the subject of popularity, the safest way to go is to purchase only comics that feature characters that have been popular for many years. Clearly, the odds favor the best-selling Marvel and DC titles. On the other hand, I buy bulk (when I can get it inexpensively enough) on just about everything. As an example, in 1985 I bought 100,000 mixed-grade Warren magazines for about $3,000. At the time they were relatively worthless, as Warren had just gone bankrupt, and his huge warehouse inventory had been dumped on the market. I still have about 50,000 of those magazines in stock, and they now have a retail average of well over $10 each. This is a classic case of buying something for pennies that's out of vogue at the time, and winning by just putting them into storage.
One problem with buying bulk comics is that there will always be some relatively worthless comics in each deal. It might behoove you to buy deals, pick through them for what you think will appreciate, and then simply dump the remainder for whatever you can get. You'll not do well selling the junk, but at least you won't have to store them.
When looking for bulk deals, comics conventions, and your local classified ads, are a great place to start. On Sundays at conventions, out-of-town dealers will give you great deals if you are willing to buy in bulk. I typically go to guys who have mixed boxes of comics at 50 cents each, and ask for a price per long box (my choice). The usual price is $50-$100 per box, depending on the age, and quality of the material. Even at $100 a long box, your per unit cost is still under 35 cents per comic.
As regards the classifieds, run your own ad, offering to buy private accumulations. Be prepared, however, for plenty of calls from sellers seeking full retail. Not everyone understands the economics of buying and selling, so some folks come to the table expecting you to pay them full price guide retail for their comics. Politely bid those folks farewell, and patiently wait for former comics fans who are more willing to negotiate a price that takes into account the current wholesale realities. Unless you're completely out in the boonies, you won't have to wait long.
In conclusion, don't be surprised if this strategy will drive your loved ones nuts. Personal storage space is always at a premium, and even a single long white of comics, per month, will rapidly fill even the biggest closet. If, however, you buy the right material, and you keep your per unit costs down, this is one strategy that will greatly enhance the possibilities for a good rate of return investing in comics.
Next week: how to liquidate your investment.
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your letters to:
Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221