Fooling Bob Overstreet, and Other Fun Games

This week I want to talk about fooling Bob Overstreet, and other fun games. In last week's column, I wrote about dealers aggressively promoting selected genres of comics to the Overstreet team in order to maximize the price rise in the overall book value of their inventories from year to year. This is a process that begins from the minute the new price guide is released each year, as protests are immediately filed with the Overstreet team by dealers who feel that their particular areas of interest have been ignored, or at least didn't rise in price as much as they felt was necessary. The electioneering continues throughout the year, as reported sales at multiples of guide (or at least high percentages above guide...) in favorite genres are passed on to the folks working in the Overstreet offices. The real hard sell comes at the end of the year, however, when the "Overstreet Advisors" send in their annual reports. Have you ever read the Advisor reports that Bob prints in their entirety in the front of each year's guide? If you were to go back and reread them with the realization that many of the writers stand to enormously personally benefit if the genres they are promoting rise in value, I would think that you couldn't help but view the entire process with a certain amount of cynicism.

My skepticism about the entire process of pricing old comics is part of the reason why I had almost no direct involvement with the creation of the prices in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide for nearly 20 years. When I was an earnest young comics dealer (1970-1977), I would eagerly gather up information about missing titles, issue numbers, and bibliographic data, and send a compilation report in to Bob at the end of each year. During that time, however, I sold very few expensive comics, preferring instead to concentrate my efforts (as I do today) on creating a back issue service for fans looking for relatively inexpensive comics. I would occasionally sell some $100+ books, but most of the information I contributed during those early days of the price guide was about obscure comics from the 1950's.

Once I discovered the original Mile High/Edgar Church collection, however, I had no choice but to become intimately involved in the market for very rare and expensive comics. Frankly, I could have passed on that experience. Fans of ultra rare and expensive comics are, on their best days, an odd lot. While there are certainly some people of means who purchase old comics purely out of love, I ran into far too many who viewed rare comics only as objects of value. Even worse, my experience was that they manifested the process of purchasing old comics as an extended exercise in deceit, whining, and manipulation. I found that no matter how attractive I made the deal for some of these "collectors," they could find something to claim as a valid justification for yet even more price concessions on my part. I finally became so disenchanted with the entire process that I picked one righteous and reliable Golden Age dealer (Ron Pussell from Redbeard's Book Den), and wholesaled a block of Mile High I books to him at the beginning of each year. Other than that one sale, I stayed as far away from the Golden Age market as possible. That policy continues to this day.

While I was in the Golden Age market, however, one factor that became abundantly clear to me was the level of effort that some dealers put out in trying to "fluff" the value of certain genres. The thing to realize here is that Bob Overstreet does not sell any comic books. He compiles sales data that he receives from comics dealers. That makes him a prime target for all sorts of efforts to raise the values of certain genres. The simplest trick is for two dealers to "sell" each other books at inflated values. Let's say that dealer #1 has an ACTION #1 that hasn't been moving, while dealer #2 has a set of Captain America #1-#10 that he hasn't turned over in a while. Each dealer writes the other dealer a check for $200,000, and they swap inventory. The checks cancel each other out, but now each can report that they "sold" those books for record prices. This happens far more frequently than you would think...

Before you jump to the conclusion that these tactics fool Bob Overstreet all the time, guess again. Bob has been in the comics business since almost day one, and he has seen every scam in the book. That's why I admire his efforts so much. I think he does a very good job of sorting out which reports he's getting that are credible, and which are merely attempts by certain dealers to manipulate the market. The fact remains, however, that it is possible for dealers to corrupt Bob's data by simply lying about certain sales. That's not a factor that's unique to the comics business, however, as even some of the big international auction houses have been know to report record "sales," that turned out to be grossly exaggerated. In the world of art and collectibles, it is definitely a case of "buyer beware!"

Just so you don't think I am entirely innocent in this process, I want to tell you a short story about CONAN #3. For the past 25 years, that issue has been listed in the OFFICIAL OVERSTREET COMIC BOOK PRICE GUIDE as having low print runs in some areas. Ummm, I don't think that really true. Back in the early 1970's, CONAN was our best-selling title. A peculiarity about those early days, however, was that the CONAN paperback books were all still in print, and fans really cared about which issue adapted which particular R.E.H. story. Issue #3 contains the adaptation of Grim Gray God, which was especially popular. As result, we were constantly sold out of issue #3, while issue #1 tended to stick around longer because of the higher price. To rectify this problem, all the Denver area dealers started marking #3 as "scarce," and pricing it above #1. To our amazement, this "fact" ended up in Bob Overstreet's price guide soon thereafter. To this day, I can't help but smile whenever I see that notation in the guide.

In a similar vein, back in the late 1980's, when Overstreet, Wizard, and Comics Values Monthly were competing to put out monthly price guides, we were printing the most popular back issue catalog in the country. We actually started watching too see how many of the price guides would include our data two, or three, months after we published one of our quarterly catalogs. Phil Fornier (who later became a customer service legend at Diamond Distributors) was my assistant in those days, and we used to be astonished at just how much silly stuff would get picked up from our catalogs, and printed as gospel. Some of our increases in price from those days were quite valid (such as our being the first ones to hype the CALIBER PRESENTS #1 featuring the first appearance of The Crow), but the Joker "appearance" in a single group panel of one old Marvel New Universe title was a real stretch.

Given that I know how easy it is to inadvertently skew the process, when I agreed in 1997 to once again provide data to Overstreet an an "Advisor", I worked very hard to make sure that we submitted only clearly quantifiable sales data. Specifically, I have our staff print out a full listing of all of our online sales from the previous year each October. We send this huge document (I think last year's print out ran over 1,000 pages!) directly to the Overstreet staff. My assumption is that the Oversteet team will read through this huge amount of data and glean pricing trends and their own. Sadly, this does not always happen.

To be continued...

Mile High Comics, Inc.
Attn: Chuck Rozanski
2151 W. 56th Ave.
Denver, CO 80221

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