Sunday, October 9, 2011

On The Man Who Got Plentiful Variants

The custom cover variant has become the new iteration of the marketing gimmick that is the alternate cover.  If a store buys enough copies of a book, the publisher will print a custom cover featuring the store's name.  IDW did it for Godzilla, and Marvel just did it for Spider-Man.

Nice way to get your customers excited, only slightly more controversial than the idea of gimmick covers in the first place, a topic upon which I have spoken before. Now, the goal in doing a variant cover is to entice buyers to buy EACH of the covers to keep their collections "complete".  But in this case, we're talking about dozens of covers, spread out to individual stores across the country.  Surely the attempt to collect a full set of those covers would be impossible. Right?


Bleeding Cool shares with us the exploits of Dough Boy (whose name, I must assume, refers more to his wallet than his physical consistency) who successfully collected a set of all 144 variant covers to Spider-Man #666.  I shall quietly point out that 144 = 1 gross.  Sometimes the English language is kind to writers.

Through a combination of trolling eBay, calls to individual shops and requests via Facebook for people to pick up copies for him locally (One cover was only available in Japan, for example) he was able to collect a full set for just shy of twelve hundred dollars.  Now, there's a definite sense of accomplishment in doing something that no one else has been able to do.  But IMHO, there's a greater sense of accomplishment when there's a large number of people who would WANT to do it. There's a lot of entries in the Guinness Book of World Records for things that damn near nobody would ever bother to try to do, let alone beat, except for the sole fact of it would get them in the Guinness Book of World Records.

I am in no position to cast the first stone here.   I have in my possession a complete run of the American Perry Rhodan books (Yes, including the Master Publications magazine releases - who wants to touch me?) a complete run of The Destroyer, and am one shy of a complete run of Doc Savage Paperbacks (Double edition 117 - 118, since you asked). Similarly, I have multiple editions of E.E. "Doc" Smith's Lensmen series, as well as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, including the "bootleg" Ace editions.  But those were out of my love for the books and series in question.  This seems much more like an attempt to Do What Has Not Been Done, as opposed to some spontaneous show of affection for the issue.

But back the industry.  These are the two most intriguing paragraph's from the over-moneyed and under-goaled gentleman's story:

One thing became clear during the chase...retailers for the most part were not prepared for the onslaught of communications from completionists.  I contacted numerous retailers who said they would get back with me whom never did, or did so after a month.  It was great to contact most retailers who understood the desire to own them all and they were more than happy to sell a copy at a reasonable rate and ship it.

There were some retailers who would refuse to communicate with non-local consumers, some retailers who would not mail under any circumstance, and some retailers who decided they were going to jack their cost way up to take advantage of the completionists.

Now in honesty, even though the cover price of a variant book is the same as a regular cover, it does cost more to the store, because in most cases they have to buy quite a few other titles just to get the right to buy the variant.  So if a particular cover requires the purchase of fifty copies of the standard cover, as an example, that one book effectively cost the store the cost seventy-five dollars or so, based on the average discount they get.  So if they never sell all those standard covers, they have to charge at least that much for the variant simply to break even.  The same holds true of "chase" trading cards - someone had to open a box or a case full of cards to find that card, so the cost needs to reflect that expense, since the majority of those other cards will not sell.

So I don't see it as "taking advantage" of the customer to charge a premium for these rare items.  If anyone is taking advantage, it's the publishers, taking advantage of the collector mentality of the market.

But let's look at the other times that a store will attract new customers.  When a book makes the papers, say when Captain America or Batman died, and then returned a few months later, or the Spider-Man / Barack Obama issue.  Those weren't variant issues, they were regular issues of a monthly title.  But they made the papers, so stores get besieged by newcomers keen on getting that book.  At that point, the stores have two basic choices:
  1. Make hay while the sun shines, work under the assumption that they'll never see these people again, and get what they can for this one-time sale
  2. See this as a possibility to get more regular customers, make up some coupons for a percentage off their NEXT visit, get a bunch of stuff on sale while the newcomers are coming through, and aim for more long-term income.

I think it's safe to safe to say the lion's share of stores went with plan one.

The best way, I feel, for a store to benefit from the variants and heavily publicized books is in getting new regular customers, and maybe a bit of press for yourself.  Say you score one of these hot variant covers.  You could slap a hundred-dollar price tag on it (and settle for a fraction of that a year or two from now), or you could, say, raffle it off, and donate the proceeds to a local children's hospital or charity.  One phone call to the local paper could get you a photo in the leisure section, which could attract more folks to your store.  Make sure your local TV station knows about the next hot comic, and see if you can finagle yourself an interview about it.  The media is very lazy - once they have your name and number, it's amazing how they'll declare you the local expert and consult you when any comic-related story crosses their desk.

I know it's hard to overlook that short-term payday, but with all the things happening to the industry today, anything you can do to increase your market, or at least your potential market, is a good thing to try. 

As an aisde, I'm rather pleased that at no point in this post did I accidentally misspell "variants" as "varmints".  That would have been way too Freudian.

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