Is Bigger Always Better?

“Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life — its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness — conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.”

Susan Sontag

 

 

Greetings from the desert fellow CBSI members. Summer is in full effect here in dirt and weed land. We have already have hit 108 degrees. Ugh, it’s going to be a long HOT season.

I am looking forward to getting out of here for a few weeks soon. San Diego never looked so good, except on the pocketbook. Oh, speaking of pocketbooks this week’s discussion is going to look into a few news worthy topics within the financial arena of comics.

There is some very interesting data that needs to be looked at and discussed. On the surface, the initial knowledge may seem a tad repetitive for some, however upon completion it will benefit all and is needed to tell the whole story.

So let’s get started shall we? Break out your calculators…

Ok, let’s begin with this. What is a variant? There are so many different meanings to that term. Some examples include B cover variants, Incentive variants by quantity, and A/B covers unlockable to name a few.

With all of this, it’s important to know what each one represents to the retailers, and the buyers.

Here is the breakdown in order to speak intelligently about this subject:

 

A / B / etc. covers: Variant covers that are regular price and freely orderable.

A/ B covers, themed: Variant covers that are regular price and freely orderable but follow a particular theme.

Subscriber covers: Variant covers that are regular price and freely orderable, but aimed at standing order/subscription customers.

A / B covers, unlockable: Variant covers that are normally regular price but require you to order a certain number of the A cover before you can order an equivalent number of the B cover.

Incentive variants, by quantity:Variant covers that are not regular price. They require you to order a certain number of copies to unlock a set quantity of the variant.

Incentive variants, by percentage: Variant covers that may or may not be regular price. They require you to order a certain number of copies to beat the threshold of a previous order which will then unlock a freely orderable variant.

Retailer Variants: Variant covers that may or may not be regular price, ordered through individual deals between Retailers or Groups and Publishers. These are available only through certain retailers.

 

Now that’s a lot of info to keep track of if your a store! Yet, these also play into our buying habits as well. Why? Just think about how we get our comics now.

Those without Diamond accounts (The majority) probably play the game in this fashion: Buy LCS books for regular readers and pull list. Buy ratio variants online from one of the big boys because my LCS won’t qualify to receive that 1:75 variant I so desperately want.

This leads to hitting refresh on my phone about 10AM MST on Wednesday’s via Midtown for the next weeks crop of books to populate. Buy my TPBs off Amazon because they are the cheapest and I get free shipping with my Prime account.

Does that sound about right?

With the complexity changing in comics including items such as the birth of online subscription services, our ways of consumption change too. Everything is getting bigger, yet is it getting better? Let’s take a look at one of these elephants in the room.

Variants and the increased  printing of them. There is a reason for speaking to this besides this data some of you may or may have not seen. This will be explained later in the article.

Here are some graphs to start with for being able to break down, and more importantly retain this data. Speaking of these below numbers, they are roughly two years old, yet are relatable in today’s market because all of them have just continued to grow.

These are snapshots in time, but no different in totality present day. Just in larger excess. These will raise some eyebrows.

 

Credit goes to Peter Bickford and ComicBase for sharing the data:

What the chart above displays is the ratio of total variants – meaning the total variant covers, not just comics with a variant – to total releases in comics (including collections) mapped out from 1970 to 2016.

 

This first chart examines a simple ratio: the total amount of comics – not including collections – that are being published with a variant to go along with it. On the high end is IDW. From my count, over 89% of their releases in April come with a variant. Marvel and DC are within range of 50%, and Dark Horse and Image bring up the rear.

 

Now let’s look at another breakdown. This one is releases – including collections – divided by the total variants at each publisher.

 

IDW is still at the top, but in this iteration (which counts each variant in total rather than each comic that has a variant), Marvel is close to the top. A lot of books at Marvel have a laundry list of variants. Both publishers have almost one variant per release. That’s well above average.

 

Well, a lot to take in isn’t it?

However, as the words “Comic Bust” are being thrown around again, if and it is a big IF this is to come to unfortunate fruition, these numbers no doubt will play a large part in this like it or not.

Now, with our thinking caps on fresh with some real time data, not pie in the sky stuff or “variants suck” jargon, it’s time to go on a deep dive.

Have you ever had these thoughts, now or in your earlier comic buying career? Oh man I need to get that 1:100 variant because I can get it for $75 and the print run is going to be small.

It also has a hot character early appearance so this is a no brainer. Come on, we have all been there. Seduced by the allure of a higher valued PC book, or more cash to be made on a flip.

As a reminder for those newer to the hobby as stated above, a 1:1000 book as an example means a store had to buy 1000 copies of a particular book to receive one copy of this particular variant cover.

The interesting thing is most of these high ratio variants let’s call it 1:75 up to 1:5000 rarely hold above ratio. As a good brain exercise for the seasoned, and for the recent collectors let’s just be sure we are all on the same page the term “above or below” ratio value.

This means the following: A 1:100 book for an example is selling for $60 or has a current value of that so its under ratio value. On the Flip Side, a 1:200 book is selling for $350 or has a current value above ratio value.

Yes, we want many more of these ones!

We all want a strong ROI on our comic investments. With many potential money making opportunities, nothing is a sure bet. There is always a risk involved at some level for growth.

On the surface, less money spent equals less money to lose and vice versa with more capital exchanged. Yet this is not the case with purchases of ratio variants. You don’t spend X to get Y.

So why do we play in this field of volatility? Ah because of books like the recent Albuquerque 1:25 Cosmic Ghost Rider potential right? People spend over ratio and still came out ahead.

I know little to invest $40 for example and turn it into $150. We all get rich hallelujah! Do yourself a favor, look in your PC and find how many 1:25s are worth pennies on the dollar now.

On a higher scale, look at any 1:100s or higher ratios in your long boxes and see how many of those are showing a profit. Folks, the math doesn’t add up. We are not in the black in these situations for the most part at all.

This especially rings true the further you go up on the ratio scale.

I wanted to find a good size subset of variant books to see how close the aforementioned rang true. Well what better comics than the CBSI Top 100 Variants?

With my analysis I broke them down to a granular level. The list states the ratio, then number of issues within the top 100.

 

*As a reminder the CBSI list did not include anything above 1:200

  • 1:10 – 1
  • 1:15 – 2
  • 1:25 – 12
  • 1:40 – 1
  • 1:50 – 27
  • 1:75 – 7
  • 1:100 – 6
  • 1:200 – 3

 

Ok so what does this all mean:

  • 40% of the overall 100 are in the 1:25 – 1:50 range
  • 43% of the Top 100 were 1:50 and below
  • 16% were 1:75 and above
  • 27% were 1:50 making up the largest group
  • 12% were 1:25
  •  3% were 1:15 and below

 

The rest of the books were sketches, RRPs, or non ratio variants that were not added into the equation.

 

The safest plays seem to be 1:50s and 1:25s.

  • The largest payoff for a 1:50 showed a value of $1300ASM #678 Mary Jane
  • The largest payoff for a 1:25 showed a value of $700CM #14 Amanda Connor
  • Dell Otto Spidey #667 1:100 is removed due to it being an anomaly (which it is of course)
  • The next 1:100 is valued at $275WW #38 Finch. So let’s say you payed half ratio at $50 being a 1:100, you are profiting $225.
  • Alright to keep it apples to apples the second highest valued 1:50 is at $880Dell Otto X-23 #1. At it you paid half ratio at $25 you are profiting $855

 

In conclusion, with this subset of books more money is made spending less out of pocket thus decreasing the risk. I am no Calculus teacher, but that seems like a pretty damn good equation.

Many other books within that top 100 show the same thing – The 1:25s and 1:50s are where it’s at people. Now if you cap on a 1st appearance, key storyline, or first issue in the book, potentially the rate of a successful return goes up even more.

We know there is no perfect science to achieve complete prosperity with variants, but this is a good start. Bigger is not always Better. Yes, homeruns (1:100s) are more sexy. However only pay out 16% of the time.

Yet a person can get paid just as well with consistent singles and doubles 43% of the time. I prefer those odds!

Alright, I hear the pessimists saying this above data was in too much of a controlled environment or it’s too neat and tidy, or CBSI skewed this in their favor.

Oh, and it took place two years ago and variants have changed so much in that time. Here’s a good one well it’s too much volatility with what may be an NM or VF in people’s opinions.

Ok cynics, let’s look at real time data. This time we will complete this exercise using slabbed non SS 9.8s for complete apples to apples. The below will feature eight transactions including three pictures of EBay BINs, Completed Sales, and Completed Auction Sales of a specific ratio.

I use the Completed sales and Auction Sales because what people offer it at, at what the actual dollar figure of the transaction completes at are two completely different arenas.

 

CGC 9.8 1:25 BINs

 

CGC 9.8 1:25 Completed Sales

 

CGC 9.8 1:25 Completed Auction Sales

 

1:25s

Average BIN Price  – $1865

Average Completed Sale – $1171

*20% as an average was taken off each Best Offer Accepted

Average Auction Sale – $461

 

CGC 9.8 1:50 BINs

 

 

CGC 9.8 1:50 Completed Sales

 

CGC 9.8 1:50 Completed Auction Sales

 

1:50s

Average BIN Price – $1475

Average Completed Sale – $1441

*20% as an average was taken off each Best Offer Accepted

Average Completed Auction – $513

 

CGC 9.8 1:100 BINs

 

CGC 9.8

CGC 9.8 1:100 Completed Sales

 

CGC 9.8 1:100 Completed Auction Sales

 

1:100s

Average BIN Price – $1149

Average Completed Sale – $726

*20% as an average was taken off each Best Offer Accepted

Average Completed Auction – $586

 

CGC 9.8 1:500 BINs

 

CGC 9.8 1:500 Completed Sales

 

CGC 9.8 1:500 Completed Auction Sales

 

1:500s

Average BIN Price – $1222

Average Completed Sale – $355

*10% as an average was taken off each Best Offer Accepted

Average Completed Auction – $598

 

Ok so let’s chew on this above data before we close up shop for this week.

Again, these were roughly eight of the highest CGC 9.8s transactions. This data is telling, there is more money made on the lesser ratio book everytime. Yet, auctions show more profit for the higher ratio book.

However, it needs to be mentioned that how much Capital was put out for the higher ratio book up front by original owner in raw form before slabbed? I can promise it’s more than for the lesser ration so these minimal gains negate themselves due to up front costs – not for the slab, the price of the book!

Here is the raw data for consumption:

1:25 vs.1:100

$445 more profit on 1:25 Completed Sale

$52 less profit on 1:25 Completed Auction

1:25 vs.1:500

$855 more profit on 1:25 Completed Sale

$137 less profit on 1:25 Completed Auction

1:50 vs. 1:100

$715 more profit on a 1:25 Completed Sale

$73 less profit on a 1:25 Completed Auction

1:50 vs. 1:500

$1086 more profit on a Completed Sale

$85 less profit on a Completed Auction

 

Well that’s it for this week.

Yes, these are just two snapshots or subsets to analyze numbers. If they were ran every which way including Sunday, there would not be much deviation. I know some of this data is very deep in the weeds, but they needed to be brought down to that level to really see is higher ratio books worth the investment?

With this data both in raw and slabbed the answer is NO.

There will always be outlining books. In addition, yes it is realized that there is less of a pool to choose from in the higher ratios. Yet, the data in two different exercises shows really where the money is at it terms of profit.

 

In closing to be fair and impartial, how is money made on the higher ratio books? Here is a few keys that may help in that success:

 

  • Steer clear of high ratio Store variants, they will drop 99% of the time. Examples of these include: ASM 798 & 800, yes Batman 50 too!

 

  • Stay away from the higher ratio, larger event or reboot books as they are too volatile. Examples of these include: Convergence, DK III, Star Wars

 

  • Focus on mid series numbered books that may have a promising artist or cover and is not blasted over the internet. Examples of this include Wonder Woman 38, Wolverine 310, Batman 21

 

  • Higher ratios that are priced right – Be patient and do your homework. There are a lot of 1:100s, etc. that sell for pennies or minimal dollars all the time. 1st appearance in one of those with a known artist for $10 as an example? Grab and hold. Your out of pocket is minimal because next to nothing was put out up front.

 

Thanks again for all of you who continue to read this each week.

I hope there was something taken from it no matter where you are within your comic collecting knowledge.

I think anyone that stopped and asked themselves is Bigger always Better when making life decisions would go a lot further to a happy, well rounded life in all facets.

 

Talk soon,

Clint

Clint@comicbookinvest.com

 

11 comments

  • I’m not sure that’s a fair way to determine profit margins on variants. Using hindsight to invest is a dangerous game. In this scenario, if you only bought the variants that appeared in the top 100 variants list 2 years ago then yes, your argument has merit. BUT at the time the variants came out you would have to know these would become the cream of the crop. How many losers did people sink money into that didn’t make the list?

    As an example of the bias, it’s like saying: If 20 years ago, I invested in Apple instead of Microsoft, I would have made a better return on my investment. Then telling you that high tech companies named after fruit are much better investments. It’s cherry picking data. To eliminate the bias, you would have to take into account a broader sample of high tech companies (all of them at the time on a certain exchange?) assuming $1,000 invested in each and seeing your odds of a return after the tech bubble burst.

    I really don’t want to pick, but this sentence has no factual basis: ‘Yes, homeruns (1:100s) are more sexy. However only pay out 16% of the time.’ It’s taking the 16% from the top 100 list, as compared to other ratio variants, not the all other high ratio variants.

    I would put forth this method to determine potential gains: Take a full month of variants from a year ago (assuming ratio price was paid for each variant) and see where the prices sit today. (Do it for a few months to get a better sample.) Which ratios fared better? How many variants are at or over ratio value in the marketplace today? Then you could tell me how often the 1:100’s end up generating a profit.

    • I agree. I really like the article, write-up and analysis of data but i think you’re method may be flawed by only choosing books out of the top 100. There are a ton of 1:25 and 1:50’s that sank to half ratio or less and if it where possible for most of us to pick up books at half ratio to start we would all be killing the game. more often than not most of us are spending at ratio or just above/below on a variant.

      Seeing the complete variant market as of a year ago would be extremely valuable especially where small publishers are concerned. While the indie variants would be far and away more rare than the big publishers most don’t really gain in value. By the same token i think that a lot of the DC B variants have held, or sell slightly above, their initial price and even more for 1st appearance books.

      Thanos 13’s are the anomaly, a 1st appearance unknown to most of the comic world with a decent looking relatively high ratio variant.

      More knowledge never hurts, thank you for the work you put into this!

      • Rob thanks for commenting! I appreciate you reading and giving your opinion. You are 100% correct that 1:25s and 1:50s sank like rocks too. Hell, I have plenty of them myself. I wanted to look at lower vs higher ratios. No doubt they all sink. It’s a risk know matter what. However, monetarily I would rather spend half ratio or full ratio on a 1:25 or 1:50 then a 1:100. Less money out of pocket upfront, giving less exposure to a loss. That was really what this was about. What is a safer bet. Also, getting interactions within the group to better all of us!

  • Points taken, I appreciate your well, thought out responses. First, that statement was geared towards the CBSI top 100 as to the 16%. This was the whole point of the article was to bring out opinions and banter back and forth. No doubt people who are sitting on higher ratio books are going to have their opinions. People such as you, me, anyone under the sun are going to state the “Yeah but” and “well there is this one”. It happens in all these articles, people challenge the data. I get it, this makes for debate. That is a lot better than the “variants suck” spouted off from the peanut galleries. As the article stated, this was a snapshot, not the holy grail. It was taking two subsets of data and examining them. Put it in a blender for a month, 3 months, 7.26 months and data will be somewhat similar unless or hobby changes for the better. I will do a follow up to this at a later date as suggested to see if the data continues.

    Yes you bring up a fair assessment on “cherry picking” as you call it. However, only two companies really do high ratio variants with any validity. We all know who they are. Again, you taking the time to give your opinion is what we here are trying to generate. Thank you for reading the piece and commenting.

    • Clint, I should have started out by saying that I have appreciated and read your other articles over the months as well. They all well researched and informative. Since I agreed with all of your points, I didn’t comment on those articles, but I should have taken the time to give you praise. It’s not easy to write for a site like this where a lot of people have a vested interest and money on the line. Keep up the great work! Constructive banter is how we see different perspectives and that was my aim.

      As a side note, I don’t have an opinion on variants whether high or low ratio. I know they are dangerous to bet big on, but that’s about it.

      Appreciate the data and insight. Keep it coming.

  • Hi Clint,

    I am a longtime comic collector but I still consider myself a novice at the variant game. Your article is fascinating, however you lost me somewhat at “ratio value”. For example, are you saying the ratio value of a 1:100 should be $100? Does that factor in the price of the book, the print run of the ratio variant, and the demand of the title? Apologies if I missed understood the calculation. Again, interesting read.

    • Thank you for reading. Glad you enjoyed it. Great question! To make it easy, I copy/pasted this from my article explaining that very topic. It does factor in the value of the book at that particular time. Nothing to do with print runs! Please reach out with any additional questions, we are all here to get better in our knowledge.

      As a good brain exercise for the seasoned, and for the recent collectors let’s just be sure we are all on the same page the term “above or below” ratio value. This means the following: A 1:100 book for an example is selling for $60 or has a current value of that so its under ratio value. On the Flip Side, a 1:200 book is selling for $350 or has a current value above ratio value. Yes, we want many more of these ones!

  • Awesome article. Appreciate the effort

  • Just wanted to chime in here briefly – I found this article to be extremely interesting and well thought out. This obviously took a good deal of time and research. I would be interested in seeing how your ideas play out. Not saying you have to track latest sales and such, but if you had a set period of time whereby you followed X titles and then provided an update that would be something I’d look forward to reading. This feels very much like the kind of analytics you see in sports in the sense that you can’t predict everything but it helps give you an idea where to look. Great write up.

  • Not sure how accurate the information is but I once heard that IDW’s Subscription Covers also serve a dual purpose for creators wherein they receive a bigger cut of the profits when said Covers are sold versus just the “A” Covers.

  • Ben C

    Really strong article Clint.

    You have me out looking for variants again damn it 😉

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