Comic Store In Your Future – So Why Do I Order Variant Covers At All, Then?

Posted by April 29, 2018 Comment

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

After my last column about variant covers some people have asked why do I order them? Why not simply not order them?  Stores order them to make money. If I simply didn’t order the variants, I would lose money and customers.

To answer those questions in greater detail, I will use some of my customer base to explain. I usually avoid writing detailed columns about my employees and customers due to not wanting to have them misinterpret what I am trying to say. That said, to all my customers that read this, none of the following in anyway is meant to be a slight to any of you. Obviously, customers are what keeps a retail business going.

As I have stated before variants, for the most part, get the existing customer base to buy more of the same issue. For a lot of their line, DC Comics have two covers; one regular and one variant. The variants by DC currently are set up to order as many as you want. I could order 1 regular cover and 200 copies of a variant of a DC book. For Harley Quinn, I order more of the variant cover than the regular cover. Frank Cho is popular and his variant covers for Harley Quinn outsell the regular cover. We do have customers that buy both covers of the various DC issues.

DC recently had ten different covers for Action Comics 1000 at $7.99 each. Before the issue came out, only two people let me know they wanted all ten covers. Not a problem, that is only twenty copies of the order. The day the issue came out, more people decided they wanted all ten covers. I also heard the week after the issue came out, people learned about it by watching the Krypton TV show. It’s great there was some advertising done for it. We ordered more copies of the Jim Lee cover which was the one most people wanted. I do remember over-ordering Amazing Spider-man 25 which cost $9.99. For us, it was a turn off for Amazing Spiderman’s readership. Yes, issue 1000 is much different than issue 25. Many people complain about comics for $3.99 so going above that means more risk. Risk means people balked at $9.99 for Amazing Spider-Man 25 so would $7.99 be worth it to the fans for Action Comics 1000? The answer turned out to be yes. Everything turned out to be roses for Action Comics 1000. We sold out. We took peoples’ names and contact info to let them know when we receive more. I had another set already ordered of all the covers. DC had plenty of the Jim Lee cover on hand after Action Comics came out for us to reorder. I wish all days went as well as the day Action Comics 1000 came out.  Of course, it is easy to say it went really well after the fact. DC could easily have not had enough on hand for more orders; or perhaps, my shipment could have been badly damaged and no replacements available.  For the last few months, Amazing Spider-Man and its variants have been selling great. I have upped my orders on each issue. The odds are that all the stores in the area are increasing their orders, so there is the danger we could have more supply than demand sometime soon. So far all the Amazing issues have sold out for us. I’ve already written about Power Rangers 25. The variants made our store money. Someone posted in the comments section they ordered 600 copies. That was after something was posted saying I did not understand the fan base. That’s nice and everything, but the fact is it is easy to say why didn’t a store order more after something has come out and it’s a hit. We had copies for everyone who wanted to actually read it, and then some. A kid managed to get the chase cover. The day after it came out speculators wanted it because they seen how much the black bagged issue of Power Rangers 25 was going for. No one complains about the unsold copies of comics stores have on the shelves other than the owner. That is lost money. I posted to the person who said they ordered 600 copies that it was too bad they didn’t order 1,200 copies, then they would have made twice the money. I didn’t receive a response. Why? Because it is easy to say after the fact what should have been done. It is easy to tell other people how to spend their money. If Power Rangers 25 was such a certain hit and money maker, then why didn’t people order a million copies, sell them all and make millions? Comics for the most part are non-returnable which make them a gamble for comic stores.   I have been known to go to a casino once in a while. I usually bring only $60. Why? Because that is what I am willing to lose. The part about gambling a person can control is how much one loses. When ordering, I can order thousands of copies of a title. I can spend thousands on one title. I don’t do that because it could lead to a huge lost. After being in business for years and due to the current downturn in comic sales nationwide, I along with many other stores don’t feel the need to take big risks.

Some most likely are wondering if I am making so much money on variants, why am I not more supportive of them?

There are the variants that haven’t sold in store. Last year, Image’s Walking Dead themed covers for their various non Walking Dead titles, bombed for us. The Walking Dead variants I thought would do well but, fizzled out. Marvel’s lenticular variant covers from last year bombed for us. In central Iowa, I was told only two stores ordered them;  ours and another one that went out of business in December. Some of you are most likely asking why did I order them? Because I was hoping they would be in heavy demand. For the Walking Dead themed covers and Marvel lenticular covers, we had the same prerelease demand as we did for Action Comics 1000 and Power Rangers 25. When purchasing the lenticular covers months in advance from Marvel, I assumed they would at least be the same quality as what DC was doing at the time. It also wasn’t the first time Marvel had done a lenticular cover. Instead of a decent looking lenticular image they used thinner cover stock and had a poorer image. It shocked the heck out of me. Marvel also had complicated insane ordering levels for the lenticular covers.

Marvel’s variants are complicated to order. Some require orders be a percent of a previous issue. At times it’s from 90 percent to 200 percent. Why does Marvel do this?

We have customers that follow certain artists or certain variants. The average comic customer doesn’t read comic online news. The casual customer knows what they want. They most likely aren’t reading about how many copies Marvel requires stores to order so we can get a variant they want. We had people buying the Marvel lenticular covers. It was so complicated most had no idea of the ordering process stores went through. The fact is we failed to sell the amount that Marvel required us to order just to be able to order them. Weird sentence right? Meaning we had more people buying them but not at the increased amount that Marvel forced us to buy just to be able to order the lenticular covers.

People really liked the shiny metallic covers of the DC Metal series. DC made them easy to order. It was a simple order for as many as we wanted and they sold well for us.

So why do I try to up my orders so we can order Marvel variants?  I have people who love Scottie Young covers. I have customers that have been with us for years who I think are really cool customers and great people. So if I have to up my orders a bit to get them what they want, I will. If I didn’t order them what they want, it’s basically telling them to go elsewhere.

It’s the same thing with the Star Wars variants. Some people really enjoy the Star Wars action figure covers and the other Star War variants Marvel offers.  The various Star Wars comics are still good sellers for us.  Again, the customers that enjoy these aren’t doing anything wrong.  I want as many people as possible enjoying comics.

I understand why people like the variants. The upcoming Iron Man 1 with the gold and red Iron Man armor I grew up with struck a chord in me. The Marvel action figures remind me of the action figures I had as a kid. From Secret Wars action figure variant covers to Star Wars action figures variants, I do check them out. The variants are supposed to get people interested in them.

Where things go wrong in my humble opinion is there are to many variants. Twenty-eight variants for Iron Man 1??? I overlooked the party variant in my previous write up. Variants are a distraction. Meaning I haven’t read much about the next Iron Man 1 other than about the variants. I know Dan Slott is the writer. I ordered the title already and forgot who the artist is for the book. Before you say well then you suck as a retailer, remember there are a ton of books coming out each month and often times with different creative teams from the previous month on the same book.  I have read nothing about Dan’s plans for the book. What villains will be in the upcoming Iron Man book?  Will it have anything to do with Bendis’s previous Iron Man material?

Another thing I think of when I think of Iron Man 1 is there is yet another first issue of Iron Man? After being open for less than eight years I have grown numb to all of Marvel’s re-numbering. Like variants, Marvel has done it way to often.

What did most people read about when reading news articles about Action Comics 1000? It was about the covers. The covers even overshadowed the first Superman work of Bendis.

Marvel costs some stores money with the way they do variants. For instance, I have customers that want certain Deadpool variants. Sometimes in order to get those, Marvel requires I order 125 percent (or whatever increase) of a previous Deadpool order so my customers who want them are able to get them through me. Often it is a small loss because it’s basically ordering more copies of a comic I doubt we will sell.  In an effort to keep customers, I do that. It’s not the customers’ fault. Marvel takes advantage of comic stores that want to keep their customers happy. Here is where it really goes wrong. Multiply that small loss among Marvel’s various titles. For the Star Wars titles, Marvel says order 125 percent of a previous issue to be able to order variants for those titles. Another small loss of money. Take that and add in the increase for doing the same for Avengers, X Men, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, and more and it adds up. So lose some money and hope in the long run keeping the customers is worth it.

The percentage amount of a past title could be above what was ordered or below.

Another thing (which hopefully I explain well) is when Marvel says order at least 90 percent of a previous title to order variants. If I feel we will sell more than that, I make sure to order just 90 percent and make the variants add up for the difference. This means Marvel has played the percentage game so long I know my new order could be used against me in the future and I want my numbers low as possible. Variants are usually counted differently than regular covers when ordering. When Marvel had numbers based on Original Sin numbers they were easy to hit. Original Sin was a dud for us.

When Marvel does their ordering for variants based on the number ordered and not percentages, it makes it easier for bigger stores to get since odds are they have a big customer base. For a brand new store or a fairly new one, good luck selling 100 copies of a comic to justify getting that 1 in a hundred copies ordered ratio variant for a customer. Even if a customer is willing to pay more for a hard to get variant it still often times leaves a lot of unsold issues of a comic.

Say a new customer walks into a new store, he just moved to the area and discovered the store.  He is a big fan of some artist and really wants the artist’s variant. That variant is a 1 copy for every 100 bought. Unless that customer wants to spend a lot of money to make it worth the new store’s buying that many copies, odds are the new store owner will be forced to say no. That customer then finds the next store and if that store has been around for a while and has a good customer base the store may very well be able to order the one in 100 copy variant and the new customer is now theirs.

For the past Amazing Spider-man 1 by Humberto Ramos, I ordered hundreds of that issue because I had a person willing to spend a good amount to get all the variants for that issue. I had so many left over copies I gave them to the local movie theater to give away. The next first issue of Amazing Spider-man the customer that spent hundreds for the variants didn’t want anything to with the issue. Marvel re-launched it so quickly. The sad thing is that person doesn’t buy comics anymore.

Over the years variants have been done a lot. The uniqueness has badly faded over the years and the variant well is running dry.

Marvel could really help stores by not taking advantage of those that want to keep their customers happy and doing away with their insane ordering guidelines to get variants.

Variants are getting the existing customer base to spend more instead of doing the hard work of getting new customers into reading comics.  Over the years, fewer people are buying variants because fewer people are wanting them.

To me, it feels like the comic market wants to correct itself but is unable to due to the propping up of the industry by variants. The 1990s had a comic speculators’ bust, how much longer till the next one?

(Last Updated April 29, 2018 9:57 am )

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