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It's Only Comic Books!

The terminus of this mob was 2 blocks/2 hours away!
(Wordcount: 784; Pages: 2) The only comparable scene could have been from The Blackout of 2003 (1), state troopers and all. A crush of people were fighting, clawing, begging, and peddling their way into a conference snuggled into a relatively tight space in a venue that takes up 5 city blocks. The space, granted to accommodate only what exhibitors wanted - enough room for two or three tables - was in no way suited for what fans wanted. But that's what you get when you invite every comic book fan in the tri-state area to the first conference for them in 15 years. (This writer should know, he attended the comic book conferences in their heyday and nostalgically remembers their drawing power, no pun intended.)

Things to note when you're dealing in this medium: independent specialty retailers drive the business (contributing over 70% of revenues to some publishers [2]) and most of them are owned by geeky, old geezers, with no desire to decorate a store, let alone a section of a convention floor for three tables holding a bunch of dusty old boxes. Many of these geeks are in the business because they love comics, not, ahem, the business. Typical anti-corporation supporters of the artists who bring them so much pleasure, they fail to organize, chain-up, and remain at the mercy of the gorillas in the business: Marvel Comics (with a 42% share) and DC Comics (with a 35% share) ( 3). Ironically, despite their original lack of pricing power, publishers have become increasingly less dependent on retailers, relying on advertising sales, licensing, and toys for growth. (Today, direct retailing, or distribution of comics to mass market through specialty retailers, can ideally account for approximately 10% of a publisher's revenues [4]).

They accept Visa, Mastercard, Arms, and Legs...

So, after allowing their distinct advantage to evaporate, and with so many alternatives for their kids besides taking over the shop, traditional comic book retailers have seen their business erode disingenuously and have come to depend heavily on the secondary market, primarily aggregating comics from their Golden, Silver, and Bronze ages, pre-1960s, 1960s, and 1970s, respectively, to survive. And these collections, as you might expect, attract a specific, die-hard group of fans, particularly, as some prices can easily be in the hundreds and even tens of thousands.

After speaking with some staff of the trade organizers, Reed Exhibitions, about the volume of fans who schlepped from all over the eastern seaboard for this convention, only to have it shut down on them repeatedly by those pesky fire marshals, it's clear they didn't anticipate that sort of response. But why not? For decades, it was an open industry secret that comic book fans were regarded and treated like kids and zombies. Purchasing a comic book wasn't like purchasing an issue of, say, New York Magazine, you didn't buy it to read, and if you read it, you didn't actually learn anything, and when you were done, there was very little recognized value. Of course, who would have thought otherwise during the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Even as early as the 90s, the concept of intrinsic value wasn't fully realized until eBay facilitated it. Just why did fans place so much value on such useless and old content, with no business value?

This is not a paid actor.

As a comic book enthusiast and former collector for nearly 20 years myself, I can attest to why I value my own collection so much, why I used to spend countless hours preoccupied with their care and organization, why I used to tingle at completing a storyline or meeting an artist, and why I gladly "invested" over $300 in comic books at this recent convention. First and foremost, I learned to love to read with comic books. They permitted my imagination to flourish in ways I couldn't have foreseen while collecting, but I certainly appreciate today (as do you if you've enjoyed any of the creative ways we tackle research topics here). I learned to appreciate diversity and acquired a sense of financial literacy normally gained at a young age by running lemonade stands or paper routes. But most importantly, what I derived from my collection was that no matter how many times I didn't get picked to play on the team, or how many times I couldn't get the girl, comic book stories were always there to make me feel better. How do you place value on that? Simple, the secondary market is how. The secondary market allows those feelings to take a tangible value. It allows old, useless content to become valuable when there is no benchmark to value them. And most importantly, it's just great fun to hunt down and haggle over price when you get what you want and the seller gets what they want!


(1) "My Day in a Mob: Blackout 2003"

(2) Marvel Comics Annual Report: http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/933730/000111667905000688/form10k-2004.txt

(3) Diamond Comic Distributors

(4) al berrios & co. analysis.

Al Berrios is Managing Director of al berrios & co., an innovative strategy consulting firm advising leaders on the impact of human behavior on their strategies and on how to change their organizations to address the behavior. Write to Consumer Strategies Report at editor @ alberrios.com.


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