Recently I bought a very large comic collection. There are thousands of comic books, all from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s. Nice deep runs of the main Marvel and DC titles are present as are solid runs of Dells and Harveys. There were plenty of keys present including 7 of the big Marvel Silver Age keys.
Picking up a big collection is always nice but then you realize you have to start pricing it out. It’s hard work and it takes weeks to accomplish. Un-bag comic, count pages, look for restoration, assess grade, determine what market will bear for comic, re-bag comic, sticker comic, repeat procedure several thousand times. Even the CGC graded comics take time to price up.
As I fight through the collection I’ve come to realize just how valuable the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is to our hobby.
I am looking to price tracking websites now and again when dealing with the very expensive books but surprisingly I find myself often ignoring recorded sales data. What, how can I price a comic book higher than the amount the GP Analysis is showing the book to be getting? Easy. Very often GP Analysis and for that matter any site that posts recorded auction sales does not accurately reflect what a comic can successfully trade for.
There are 3 main reasons why I selectively overlook this data.
The 1st reason is that sites that track sales of graded comic books track only a percentage of those sales. A lot of graded comics sell privately, in comic book stores and at comic book conventions and often these sales are higher than the recorded sales we see posted on the net.
The 2nd reason is that many of these sales recorded on the net are sales under duress. By duress I mean the seller has to move the comic book now and has to throw it up on eBay or ComicLink or ComicConnect or Heritage or whatever. These sellers usually do not have the luxury of waiting for their price.
The 3rd reason is more a moot point. There are hundreds of millions of comic books out there and CGC only last year graded their millionth comic (a lot of those are modern era comics too). Ungraded comics sales are untracked and even if you were to find some data on eBay’s “Completed Listings” feature you’d find that the disparity between the few recorded sales of raw comics versus what similar grades actually realize at conventions, in stores or in private sales is even wider than we see with the graded comics and thus not even worth discussing.
If I’m lucky enough to be holding a CGC 5.0 Detective Comics #27 or a CGC 9.0 Incredible Hulk #1 I have little worries. Large auctions will generally bring me good results. But these high prestige types of sales represent what, way less than 1% of the transactions and not even 10% of the total value of comic books being sold even excluding all comics that trade at bargain bin prices. What if I’m holding an Amazing Spider-Man #15 CGC 6.0? Repeatedly solid comic books like this underperform on large auctions and for many reasons. A finite amount of money will naturally gravitate to the small percentage of prestige books, a limited time on market means limited exposure and the still strong army of buyers that will not buy over the net are absent.
Comic books like Amazing Spider-Man #15 at CGC 6.0 are solid collectible comics. They consistently sell for more that the 90 day average posted on the GPA in the places I’ve mentioned above. More of these comics sell unrecorded than recorded. I’m guessing that many of these types of comics purchased on the auctions at bargain prices are purchased by resellers willing to hold the comics in inventory until a buyer willing to pay more arrives.
The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide is the most overlooked and undervalued tool in the hobby. While investors and speculators depend more on the real-time results delivered by websites like GP Analysis the Overstreet remains the backbone of the hobby. Investors and speculators are the bastard children of a strong collecting community, they’re flashy and get a lot of press but they are still the minority. Sure, the Overstreet is an annual printed price guide and by its nature cannot reflect quick market changes. But again these quick changes affect a very small percentage of comics and the speculators and investors represent a small fraction of collectors. The vast majority of comic book collectors have confidence in the Overstreet Guide and thus the for vast majority of comic books that sell, a measure against the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide remains the main determinant of price.
I discovered CGC a few years back and I buy books off CLink, CConnet, and eBay on a regular basis. I’ve read many of the write ups on this blog and have enjoyed them, even when I disagreed. However, and with respect… I have to say I couldn’t disagree with you more when it comes Overstreet. Mainly because there are to stats to back up your assumptions:
1st reason: There is no way to track private sales and thus no way of knowing if the sales are higher than recorded sales. I’m sure some are… but I’m just as sure some are not.
2nd reason: Many private sales are under duress as well, but again how could we ever know what that % is? This is more an economic issue… and has less to do with the venue or forum.
3rd reason: I do agree the point is moot but that disparity probably has more to do with timing, impulse purchase at cons, current hype, risk factor, shipping consideration, exchange rate, etc… too many variables to pull out anything useful.
The reality is…, comics are worthless. They have no intrinsic purpose other than to entertain. So the only value they hold is what collectors are willing to pay… which is all based on perception. You can argue that the stock market is also based on perception and I would largely agree… but at least there are metrics in place to determine value, ie; earnings over time, margins, assets, book value or projected earnings (PE)… etc, which leads to my big question which no one in the industry seems able to answer:
“WHERE DO OVERSTREET NUMBERS COME FROM??”
Shouldn’t the value be determined by the market based on supply vs demand? Without any real legit tracking system, what meaning do Overstreet numbers have? As well I’ve noticed that ComicLink in particular hides it’s low auction sales which to me seems manipulative, so the next buyer will think that a book sells for $X when in reality, it currently sells for 25% of $X.
The only reason CGC exists is because of eBay, ie: to flip books so to call speculators “bastard children” means that organizations like the CGC are the mother of all bastards. Auction house that help facilitate the “flipping” of books, like CLink and CConnet are the aunts and uncles of bastards. In fact, isn’t the whole back issue market all based on speculation anyway, …we all hope to cash in our books some day… don’t we?
I think Overstreet can easily become outdated if they are not careful and considering most of the members are retailers with no governing body to keep them from manipulating the market in the same way that ComicLink does… it’s difficult, for me personally, to put a lot of value in what they offer.
I realize you’re an Overstreet advisor yourself so I hope you wont take any offence from my comments, especially since they are not meant to be personal and we are obviously both passionate about comics… but, I do feel that the back issue market is a kind of ponzi scheme where the value of a book is mutually fabricated by collectors (yes, I’m guilty as well…). So all I can say is, don’t be the last one holding a high grade Hulk #181 and keep an eye on the big demographics picture.
Thanks Charlie. I posted my views so they could be discussed. Your arguments are always welcome.
I do by the way state that I’m an Overstreet Advisor in my tag at the bottom and I do realize it may appear a conflict of interest but I’m a buyer and seller of comic books first and foremost and I stand by my views.
1st reason. I grant that there is no way to comprehensively track private sales. Remember that tracked CGC sales are incomplete in nature and extenuating circumstances could lead the data to be misleading. We should not blindly follow these posted results is my argument.
2nd Reason. I wish I had exact figure but I’m sure we both know people who’ve had to sell quickly and get what they get. I am confident enough to say that the percentage is high enough to factor in.
3rd Reason. Raw books are tough I know so let’s agree that it is a moot point. A whole article on ungraded books is needed!!!
Comics are not worthless. Neither are paintings, 1st edition literature etc. Record prices continue to be set in many collecting and investing markets. Many of these hobbies have long lost touch with the initial contemporary generation that spawned the hobby so I’m not really buying your argument about demographics. Pop culture is pervasive in our society today and is growing more so as we move forward and the new rich today may desire a 1st ever Spidey publication to a first ever Don Quixote publication. A Frazetta Conan painting may fetch more than a 17th century Dutch still life painting etc. Preferences will change over time but the hobby will stay strong for a while is my call.
Overstreet has accumulated sales data from advisers and retailers for the past 40 years. I know their figures are nowhere near perfect but they don’t have to. Supply and demand and hype and everything else has always lead to “this book can get double guide” or “this book is worth half guide” situations. At its best the Guide is meant to be an accurate starting point, a reference point from which momentary supply and demand can react, a trusted reference point for the hobby.
ComicLink hiding poor sales figures adds to my argument. Individual tracking of sales is too often seen as absolute. I think that is changing now. Dealers are picking up bargains at auctions and reselling them for higher, 90 day average be damned. The Guide value is NOT absolute but it IS accurate enough in general to act as the central reference for the hobby.
CGC did not give birth to the speculators they’ve been around since day one. CGC and the web in general has made it easier for the speculators though. Speculators can td a lot of damage to any market, you mentioned the stock market and recent history is a good example of speculators run amok.
I think all websites that allow people to trade comics are good. These sites can only help in getting the seller better prices. Comic collectors are sometimes too expectant though of a profitable return on their comic books. When you spend decades buying comics individually it may be unrealistic to assume that you can just take them all to a con and have someone offer you a tidy profit on your cumulative investment. Realizing top dollar for your collectibles will involve an investment in time and money.
Nowhere on this blog am I arguing that Overstreet is more accurate than places like GPA. I am arguing that the Overstreet is and can continue to be a very important resource in our hobby. I’m also saying that the initial interpretations of posted sales data as gospel is a path to ruin.
I will use and interpret data from both of these resources we are debating about. I am not discrediting either.
Walt, you make some great points and touch on many topics. Let me try and rein in the key issues and give you my final thoughts.
Comics as a medium has value as pop culture but the specific issues are less important, simply because comics are mass produced and the individual issues are meaningless. There are enough early books like Act#1 and Det#27 to represent the culture in the same way key records or books have value if they represent change or influence and are rare. But 99% of comics are not rare, ie: 1428 copies of Amazing Fantasy#15 and 4592 copies of Hulk#181 and counting… and these are only the graded books. In reality, comics are not anymore valuable then magazines or newspapers.
Still, I recognize the fact that markets are built on perception, ie; diamonds, it may be the hardest substance in the world but far from being rare… but the perception (and the market) is highly controlled by the likes of De Beers and diamond consortium. It’s a big scam but it’s the “belief” that people have that makes it work.
I’m avoiding comparing comics to art because art is too political and it would take too long to get into it. But I’m very aware that the value of comics started with the art. Collectors are basically drawn (no pun intended) to the art, and stay for the stories. There are more good artists today but less art being produced, thanks in part to Photoshop… but again, it depends on how you define art. I’ll also mention that I believe commercial art, or pop culture is the new artistic medium… which is what guys like Haring and Warhol was eluding to. Personally, I think fine art died in the 60s along with Pollack and Riopelle… as in there are no contemporary artistic heroes anymore but this maybe more of symptom of our changing society rather than any lack of creativity.
My point was that speculators gave birth to CGC and that in essence, the whole back issue market is primarily about speculation. Even though you refer to “flippers” as “bastard children”, I would argue that the only reason that the market even survives is because they are the ones who are actively buying and selling and thus adding to the perception of value. They are the reason that I’d be willing fork out $5k for book, knowing that I could sell it down the road. It certainly isn’t to keep that $5k hidden in a box or because I love that particular book so much, not at my salary level. Even all those doctors and lawyers hope to sell their collection eventually. It’s not like they keep their books in their library and invite people to view them as they would their art collection.
I also don’t believe that private sales are higher then the stuff we see on auction sites. Sure there is the odd book here and there but anyone who is willing and able to fork out $1k for a book must know and understand the value of what they are buying. So why would anyone be willing to pay more for a book at a store or at a con if they can pick it up cheaper on eBay or else where online. I’m talking strictly main stream of course, cause if I collected niche books like “Backlash” which you don’t see very often, I’d basically have to pay asking price because I may never see it up for sale again.
This leads me to Overstreet… which was an important book but is becoming less and less relevant due to all the online resources. To me, they seem asleep at the wheel when they should be jumping on to the online band wagon. I think it’s just a matter of time before sites like http://www.comicspriceguide.com become the standard… although I do hate using this particular site because it’s so bloody slow and not very intuitive. I remember reading somewhere that Overstreet was working on some database software or app which I haven’t heard much about lately but they really should make this a priority. Overstreet should also consider doing a separate book or section for CGC books since the market prices graded books differently…
Walt, I could go on but it’s late so I think I’ll leave it there. I understand that things are different from your perspective as a retailer but I just don’t believe that speculators are in the minority. I think speculators are the market. I also wanted to talk about how the market, including retail seems to be cannibalizing itself by under cutting prices, ie; massive sales and everyone is using US numbers, which doesn’t matter right now considering the exchange is at parity but… I digress.
There needs to be no separate listing for CGC graded books. A 9.0 is a 9.0 regardless of whether it has been slabbed. We need to stop the overpriced CGC madness.
You are right Tom, as long as the buyer and seller both agree its a 9.0 the price should be the same as for a CGC 9.0 (provided of course that both buyer and seller agree that CGC got it right at 9.0). One of the problems is that there are a lot of people un-confident in their grading abilities and trust the 9.0 if it is CGC’d. Another problem is that CGC buyers look at the book’s scarcity on the CGC census and assume there are only X number of books at 9.0 and better so they rush in and overpay. Meanwhile they are nowhere near as scarce as the census indicates because a lot of really nice ungraded copies are still out there.
In principal I agree with both of you that a 9.0 is a 9.0 whether graded or not, but the market does not always see it that way. First off, Overstreet only guides up to 9.2 so how do we gage value above 9.2? Also, it costs a minimum of about $20 to grade a book so do we need to factor in the cost of grading to the over all value? Not really an issue with high end books but for low value books worth $5, should the graded value be $5+$20? And it gets even more complicated if you add PGX to the mix since many collectors feel that PGX grading is 1 notch below that of CGC and is priced accordingly.
I don’t have the answers, I’m just asking the questions but you can see the grey gaps in the system. From a business stand point, I think Overstreet is missing out. Here’s a chance for them to generate additional revenue and help standardize the value of graded books but for what ever reason, they choose not to. Although I’m sure they’ve had talks with CGC which is probably why their grading only goes up to 9.2.
At the end of the day, the market is never wrong since books are only worth what people are willing to pay… which is why I keep saying that the value of a book is based on perception, and the market will always remain very speculative.
As a related side note; I recently picked up a raw and a graded 9.2 copy of Powerman and Iron Fist #50. They both look identical in terms of condition but I paid $1 for the raw copy and $32 + shipping for the graded copy. Not sure if I got a bargain or overpaid…
Charlie, about your PM&IF#50s – both: you made out on the $1 copy and also made out AND overpaid for the CGC copy (in my opinion, which is humble and useless) – the $1 copy is self-explanatory, the CGC copy is a bargain because it IS a fair price for a book thats not expensive but wouldve cost $25ish to get slabbed. but you overpaid because why would anyone slab a book for $25 thats not worth at least $100??? of the 2 options i would ALWAYS go with the $1 unslabbed copy and never slab it. there’s more chance of a profit with that than with the slabbed copy you bought. this relates to the article and comments above because i agree with what Charlie and Tom are saying than with what Walter is saying (though Walter is right that Overstreet IS a great place to go for a place to start pricing a book)
this is a great article with great comments!
i dont think a 9.0 slabbed should be much more than an unslabbed either – but when you’re buying through the mail its a great way to be assured of what your getting and therefore i could see adding on an extra $30-40 for the slabbing, and a regular slabber/seller would make a few bucks on that as well which is fair…
the best way to get great books at great prices in order to make a profit now or in the future is to hunt down collections i guess.
Part of creating any market is maintaining investor confidence. I do believe that Overstreet had a key role pre-internet bringing some level of order to the market, and maintains a role today. However, I am not sure if the role of Overstreet continues because of the usefulness of the information, or because it is a crutch for folks that don’t have a grip on the current status of the market.
CGC was the next step in bringing order to the market by creating a standardized method of grading. Some like it, some don’t, but what is important is that investors have confidence in CGC, and it takes a lot of the guesswork out of arguing with a dealer/collector about whether a book is good, very good, or fine, or whether a book has been restored, or whether a signature is authentic. Collectors/ investors are willing to pay a premium for this service because they know what they are getting (to some degree), which stabilizes the market.
One thing is for sure, if Overstreet wants to continue to be the standard in valuation, they are going to have to adapt to what investors/collectors want, which I believe to be more real time market analysis. If I purchase a stock, I can see all sorts of information regarding the company so I can make an informed decision about the purchase. I can see the volume at which it trades, the highs and lows over the course of the year and longer, etc. I think putting out a book saying “this is the price until we put out the next book” seems a bit antiquated given the technology that is at their disposal. At the point where investors lose confidence in Overstreet’s methods (which may be the trend) it could potentially destabilize the market, which if you talk to our friends in the baseball card community I think they would tell you that a destabilized market is bad for business.
In short, more accurate information for the investor/ collector community is always better for the market. Transparency of companies like Overstreet and CGC is imperative to maintaining the market and keeping investors/collectors investing and collecting.
For what it’s worth, I consider the prices in Overstreet a minor part of its value …. There’s so much detail in there on what happened in what issue, what book was referenced in SOTI, etc. And I love reading the market reports, especially from thoughtful folks like Walt, Dolgoff, Doug Sulipa, Cat and Doug Rader and others who write long entries. Those who just “mail it in” should be booted and replaced.
And on the other hand, I rely on Overstreet prices when I come across a book that is outside the mainstream. I like to think I have a good handle on “the market” but the reality is the mainstream comics market is merely the biggest slice of a niche-filled hobby.
As to comics and value, or any other collectible for that matter, keep in mind that the $1 bill and $100 are printed on the same paper. It’s all confidence. Money itself works because it is deemed legal tender by our governments, the entities that represent our collective arrangements as civil societies. It’s what you can pay your taxes with, unlike your comic collection or your garden output or your skills in trade. It serves as our medium of exchange.
I think the psychology that underpins the value of collectibles in general is that it allows diversification of stores of value with potential for appreciation. If you’re nervous, read Barton Biggs’ “Wealth, War, and Wisdom.”
Great insights Readcomix