NEGATIVE ZONE: eBay-Worse Than Variant Covers and Obama Spider-Man Crossovers
When you're a Comics Reader you become a Comics Collector, but not all Comics Collectors are Comics Readers. The after market of comics starts in comic stores, back issues in long boxes with inflated prices, sometimes ten to twenty dollars more than what the Overstreet Price Guide lists. At one store a back issue of something you'd think no one would want like, let's say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures 2nd series issue #1, would be sold at the book price of $3 while another would have it for $20.
This could happen for a few reasons, the "#1" on the cover, the fact that it's a an older series, or because in some cases it's genuinely rare. The problem with "rarity" is that it's subjective from area to area and from seller to seller. Making a trip to visit North Carolina to see Brandon, it feels like I've hit a gold mine when we go to comic stores, things I can't find anywhere up here in any store I find there at multiple stores for cover price. It's simply a matter of a different area and therefore, a different market.
eBay, however, has no area specific market. When you've been looking for that one issue to complete a series or rare gem that you can't find, chances are someone on eBay is selling it. It's easy and fast, and this way you don't have to spend the gas money traveling to the four corners of your state visiting random comic stores. The "BuyItNow" feature allows you to jump ahead of the pack and grab the auction, and with all of the eBay stores, someone is bound to have what you're looking for.
The reality of eBay shopping is that a lot of times there are reserves on items, BuyItNow prices are too high, and "a little wear and tear" amounts to the back cover missing. Sellers who don't read comics but see it as a way to make more money hold on to that one issue, not selling a series in a "lot" but only individually. Most sellers, fortunately, will work with you but often the ones who have what you're looking for still have it because no one else was willing to pay their prices.
The Collectors' market and lack of knowledge about comics and what they are worth is mostly a product of the 90's, people buying every "FIRST EXTREME ACTION PACKED ISSUE" and foil cover with hologram card they could find. Since they aren't a part of the comics community, they haven't paid attention to the trends in the past ten years, and probably have never even opened their "investments" once. The prices they charge slowly become the standard, since other non-comics reading collectors only check a site like eBay for prices.
While it is a supply and demand issue, the demand comes from the person with the supply. Using eBay as a reference for prices and availability is just retarded, something you're looking for today may be on there tomorrow, and there could be ten of them by next week. Seeing one item doesn't always mean that it's so rare there's only one auction, it only means there is only currently one seller of the product. It far too often just amounts to complete rip-offs and a frustrating experience for someone who, you know, just wants to read the comic.
Now that comics are getting some press, the world looks to our little island and is curious. They still think of comics as something quirky and weird, but they understand some of us are willing to pay a lot of money for our little funny books. CNN reports on comics like The Death of Captain America and more recently, Spider-Man #583 which featured Obama on the cover and in the book, making it hard for us who weekly read these books but do not subscribe through our local comic shop or an online provider to get our new issue. This leaves a Reader without an issue, and a Collector with one more to put on eBay.
Right this moment, I went to eBay and typed in "obama spider-man 1st print". I'm not going to link the auction going for $38.05 with 6 bids, or the BuyItNow seller who's asking $84.99. This comic has a cover price of $2.99, and right now is in multiple printings and fortunately is available for the Readers to get their hands on. The one good thing about this whole Collector vs. Reader thing is that the Reader usually comes out on top, the publishers knowing that more printings means more money, and adding Variant covers on top of that can't hurt either.
It may just be a problem with the after market of comics themselves, no Readers or Collectors can really say what something is worth. With more and more older comics being republished online, some back issues may go down in price, the Marvel Masterpieces and DC Archive collections also collect older issues. Dark Horse and Fantagraphics have taken it upon themselves to collect many old, lost, out of print series into hardcover books making single magazine issues that were once impossible to find completely accessible.
With these collections becoming more and more popular with Readers and allowing people new to comics to get caught up, one day the Collectors' market will be just that, for Collectors'. All the Readers will have the issues they want, albeit not in issue form and not in a white box but on a shelf, and all the Collectors can rip each other off.