I Live in the Chaotic Zone

I dislike anomalies. In my professional experience, ignoring anomalies is a very good way to get bit in the butt. I have found that by focusing on anomalies the minute that they occur, I can avoid a great many problems in the future. This results from the fact that most seemingly random and unrelated events are frequently a part of a process that is occurring all the time, but of which you are simply not yet aware. Unless you figure out what is going on quickly, you can be badly burned. As an example, two of the largest cases of documented theft that I ever experienced had any number of clues that proceeded their ultimate discovery. By ignoring those seemingly unimportant little weird events, I ended up losing about $75,000 each time. Never, ever, ignore anomalies.

While anamolies can cost you money, they can also make you money. I earn my living by selling hundreds of thousands of back issue comics each year, most of which have a retail price of under $10. To facilitate my pricing structure on these issues I have had to devise my own system of pricing algorithms which focus primarily on the velocity of demand for any given title. If a title (or selected issues within a title) is selling quickly, we raise the price. But if inventory starts to accumulate on any given book beyond our expectations for one year's demand, we automatically lower the price. With hundreds of thousands of units flowing in and out of our system in any given year, we have actually managed to bring some measure of quantifiable demand function into an other wise chaotic market for lower-priced back issues.

Where anomalies come into play is that we watch very carefully for issues which spike suddenly, or for which overall demand continues to be strong, regardless of how high we raise the price. When I go to conventions on buying trips, my primary focus is to track down issues where our systems are revealing consumer demand that is hidden from the rest of the comics world. While this may seem odd, I most frequently find those books intermingled with completely worthless issues in other dealer's bargain boxes. That's why when I go to conventions, you will most frequently see me standing for hours, picking selected issues I know we need for our online customers from out of bargain boxes. Frankly, that's how I earn my living.

The reason I can succeed in my niche in the comics business is that I live in the chaotic zone. While The Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide does a commendable job of pricing back issue comics printed from 1933-1985, it fails miserably at pricing comic books of more recent vintage. Part of the origin of this deficiency results from the great price guide wars of 1985-1995. During that time, Wizard magazine became ascendent in the comics world, at least in part by providing far more up-to-date monthly information on trends in demand for recent back issues than Overstreet could ever provide with his annual book. Overstreet tried to compensate with a quarterly (and a monthly?) magazine that was supposed to update prices on recent back issues, but that actually aggravated the problem, as a pricing war began between Overstreet, Wizard, and Comics Values Monthly. Each magazine sought to identify back issue price trends first, which is a great deal of what led to the boom in prices in Valiant and Image back issues.

As I mentioned a couple of issues ago, Bob Overstreet is very conservative. He is also an old-time comics fan, greatly preferring comics from the 1950's, over comics from the present. I believe that it embarrassed him a great deal when the staff of his magazine went along with some of the wacky pricing that occurred on Image and Valiant back issues during the early 1990's, only to have to reverse those prices when the speculative bubble burst. Bob does not like to lower prices. He wants a stable back issue market that grows at a nice, steady pace over the years, with no reversals. The only way to accomplish that within the volitale new comics area is by simply ignoring most pricing trends on new comics, and listing most recent books at cover price. While that is a nice, safe policy, it means that his price guide is worthless for comics printed after 1990. It is getting better each year as a bibliographic tool for recent comics, but the prices he lists are totally specious.

For what it's worth, there is currently no real price guide for comics from 1985-2003. Wizard magazine still gives it a good try, but they simply can no longer afford the staff to research and update their overall prices on a regular basis. Wizard's old method was to survey comics retail stores on a monthly basis, and then compile the accumulated store reports. That doesn't work too well, however, when many stores have dropped back issues entirely, while others are so pressed for cash that they're dumping all their older books at $1 each.

The real market for recent back issues these days is either online, or at the dozens of regional comics conventions. In both those places, you will find a number of dealers who have begun to specialize in servicing the needs of fans who cannot easily find recent back issues. If Wizard could just afford to send their staff out to survey the dealers at these shows, I think they would be amazed at how strong the demand is these days for recent back issues. In reality, I find that the current market for recent back issues is far stronger than it ever was during the "boom" years. With current print runs on color comics now sometimes dipping below 20,000 copies per issue, finding a specific back issue of recent vintage can be quite difficult. That is why prices on many popular recent back issues have begun to climb to $10+, with no slackening of demand. This is a market which is incredibly strong, that Bob Overstreet completely ignores. If I were to point out one major criticism of the 2003 Official Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, pricing on recent back issue comics would easily top the list.

To be continued...

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

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