Comic Mint is a new service for comic book collectors, specialising in selling people’s comic books as an alternative to eBay. But how does it work? I spoke to the man in charge, Steven Finkel.
Rich Johnston: There have been a number of attempts to run comic and collectibles sales specific portals as rivals to the general service offered by eBay. Every one has failed. Why do you expect Comic Mint to be different?
Steven Finkel: Whereas Imay not be familiar with every prior failed attempt, I am fairly comfortable that we have approached this in a manner that others may not have. The first question we asked is… are comics and pop culture fans HAPPY with eBay user experience. We all know eBay has a monopoly on the mass market, but are its users happy. More often than not the answer was no. The reasons were quite varied, but it was not difficult to come up with a list of about 10 things that bothered frequent sellers and 10 things that bothered frequent buyers. We asked ourselves…. how many of these issues were fixable in a competing entity… and we found MOST were. We also realized that a competing product would have to be appreciably better in terms of its policies, ease of use, and COST for users to consider it. I have seen other entities charge 8% to ebay’s 10%. I don’t think that is catching anyone’s attention. We made the conscious choice to charge less than half of what eBay charges… thus 4.5%. That is a real material difference that will affect customers wallets and sellers pockets in a positive way. We also realized that in the beginning, it was unrealistic to expect people to leave eBay, or list in both places and have to co-manage listings. We thus invested quite a bit of time in providing the ability to list from our site to eBay. I will address this further in your question below. We also concentrated heavily on matching the features that eBay DOES do well and customers have come to expect such as integrated shipping. I have seen several other sites that expect its users to log into a whole other site (such as usps.com to purchase shipping labels with no integration with the home site)
We then worked hard to customized a simple easy to use interface specifically for COMICS and pop culture collectibles… Our hope is that users come to see our site as a 24 hour a day comic con.
We streamlined policies that lead to an uneven user experience on eBay… like shipping times and mode of shipping, return policies etc. I think we are also different because prior efforts most likely did not reach out to physical store owners to gain their support or add value for its customers. We have…. a 2.5% commission rate for them is unheard of. We are looking for their support to help list items and spread the word about us. But we are also not expecting word of mouth to be enough… we will market aggressively on comic book websites, Facebook, Google ads, and will have our flyers distributed in many of our partners shipments. We have recruited several retailers to serve as our site advisors, and finally have been fortunate to land several partners (CBCS Comics, Desert Wind Comics, Avery Comics Pressing, Gemini Comics mailers, Collectors Resource), all of whom will be offering discounts off of their services.
And finally… I’m certain that no other prior effort made social outreach and giving back a focal point of its operations. We have a strong commitment to helping any comics related cause. This is reinforced most notably by our launch sale of 100 copies of star wars 1 cbcs 9.8 with 100% of the sale price (29.95) being donated to the HERO initiative. We hope that this and similar future endeavors will resonate with true comics fans. I’m sure I’ve left something out, but thats a good start!
RJ: How does ComicMint work internationally? Are there any differences in the process for folks buying or selling in different countries?
SF: To sell on the comic mint you must be a US resident. But you can ship to any customer anywhere in the world. The reason for this restriction is that our integrated shipping partner has agreements only with the US post office in place. This has been helpful, however as we can limit the shipping choices to priority and in so doing have 100 dollars of insurance built in. we also have shipsurance on the widget which allows for the purchase of insurance for items over 100 dollars. This tackles one of the largest issues to come up on eBay… what happens when a comic or collectible is damaged during shipping. eBay’s expectation in my opinion is that the seller eats that cost. Our policy protects both parties and should markedly reduce unpleasant seller customer disputes.
RJ: Damn, I was looking forward to trying it out selling myself. If the service grows and expands, do you plan provision for a more international audience?
SF: ABSOLUTELY!! I very much want to be able to include international sellers on our site should we grow. As a reminder.. international BUYERS can purchase items on our site at launch. There are extremely active sellers in Canada and England in particular and I would like to include them in the community. We will look into this as soon as it is feasible.
But for now, here is a link to 2 tutorial youtube videos we made that teach sellers how to list their comics on our site. Its a good introduction to the look, feel, and features we have incorporated.
SF: I suppose that is a risk. We modeled this feature after a well known functionality that has existed for a long time. Large sellers such as mycomicshop.com have utilized this functionality for years with seemingly no ramifications. We intend to provide this service to every single one of our users in much the same way. We feel that in the beginning this feature will be very helpful in getting people to utilize our site. It is our hope that eventually this sort of connectivity would not be needed.
RJ: What is so fair about your fair feedback system?
SF: The problem with the feedback system on eBay is many fold. First a buyer does not have to communicate with a seller before leaving negative feedback..
We intend to change that. Our site policy requires buyers who can not leave 5 star reviews to reach out to the seller in professional manner prior and explain the concern with the transaction. The seller must be given an opportunity to respond and address these concerns. This is part of building a community and dealing professionally with people. If after this interaction the buyer is still dissatisfied, any feedback is fair game. Negative feedback left without reaching out prior may be removed by our administrators discretion. We also have done away with seller feedback to a buyer. I never understood this anyway. On eBay you can only leave positive feedback to a buyer. So what are you saying exactly? Good job! you paid for the item you bought? it always seemed ridiculous to me.
But what people DO like is to have additional numbers next to their usernames…. so every time a buyer and seller complete a transaction they both get a plus 1 next to their usernames.
RJ: How does the retailer commission system work?
SF: Retailer accounts are set at 2.5% vs 4.5%… to get access to this rate retailers simply need to request the rate via a message to firstname.lastname@example.org including name, username, retail store its location and phone number. After verification the account will be set at the lower rate.
SF: Yes, it will. This is one of the few issues that when we looked at it will make some users unhappy. We require all shipments from thecomcmint.com be sent via usps priority. We did this for 2 reasons. 1. buyers hate waiting to get their items, especially in this day and age of amazon 2 day shipping. 2. and this is most important as mentioned above…. our integrated shipping provider gets 100 dollars of built in insurance up to 100 dollars. Additional insurance can be purchased on the widget for items above 100 dollars. Thus we have addressed one of eBays most glaring deficiencies… the buyer protection program.. which essentially means they can and will take funds out of the sellers account to keep the buyer happy. We can now make BOTH parties happy… for slightly more shipping cost.
SF: No. You have done some great features on this issue over the past year as eBay banned the sale of them. As a start up we can not afford potential litigation from allowing the sale of these items. In addition, the cost of these items (1-2 dollars) is so small that our income from these items is almost nonexistent.
RJ: Kickstarter has been used, unexpectedly, by some publishers as an advance order system. Could ComicMint equally be used as an individual subscription service?
SF: I have seen kickstarter utilized in this manner. I suppose we could mimic this system. Our site policies allow presales of items up to 3 months in advance. If an independent publisher wanted to sell advance copies of their books this way we have no problem with that. But 3 months is the limit. You can not try to raise money for a project you hope will be available 6 months later.
RJ: It’s argued that the collectable market in comic books during the nineties destroyed the industry as publishers tailored more and more product to collectors rather than readers, leading to a massive boom – and then bust. There are worries that we may be on the verge of a similar situation now. Isn’t something like Comic Mint, concentrating on the collectible side of comics over everything else, more likely to contribute to such a boom and bust? Or maybe just a bust?
SF: The issue of the 90’s collapse has been debated many times on multiple forums. I don’t recall collectibles per se being the culprit unless you are equating all the gimmick covers as collectibles. We are not concentrating on the collectible side per se. At its core we are a comics marketplace, but feel pop culture collectibles (funko pop, star trek lunch boxes, star wars lego, doctor who etc) all dovetail nicely with our primary focus which are the books.
But as an aside, i AM concerned overall about the unsustainable number of variant covers that come out every month. I DO think that is doing harm to the industry. But at the same time print runs are about what 20% of what they were in the 90’s? I haven’t seen the same frenzy that existed back then. Valiant started out hot because they were hyped by greg bus from kingpin comics and wizard magazine. It was a very different environment with no internet sales and no easy way to share information, so wizard and comic buyers guide had an almost monopoly. The initial stories were great. But then it stopped being about the story and it stopped being about the comic…. It was the feeling that any valiant book would double triple in price in a month. You had baseball card guys buying books like they were stock. The print runs were in the hundreds of thousands. Those conditions don’t exist today… Today’s valiant books are telling great stories with print runs of what? 10,000…. one major difference today of course is the frenzy for 9.8 graded modern books, especially signed books. but i digress …. that is a whole different conversation.
RJ: Could ComicMint see themselves publishing as well as facilitating the sales of comic books?
SF: We do not have the intent to become a comics publisher. our focus is on building the best marketplace and community that we can. You never know where the future takes you, but that is not our focus right now.
We are selling 100 copies of Star Wars 1 CBCS 9.8 for $29.95 plus $8.95 priority USPS shipping with insurance included with 100% of the purchase price being donated to the HERO initiative.