Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Like 1992 All Over Again

Remember the "Death of Superman" frenzy (are you old enough to?). Although X-Men #1 spearheaded the speculation boom, it was Superman #75 that blew it mainstream, with coverage everywhere from every trade magazin to your local news to national news to Entertainment-friggin-Tonight.

Today sees the release of something that is creating a frenzy perhaps not as parallel in proportion to Death of Superman, but the craziest push of the public masses into comic book stores that we'll see this decade. While the death of Captain America was a small spike and the Watchmen trailers has been a steady boon for the stores, this... this is an honest-to-gosh comics phenomenon.

And I'm not talking about Final Crisis #6 (which, if you didn't know *SPOILER*is the real Batman RIP*/SPOILER*)

Nope, Barack Obama is appearing in an issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Apparently it's been all over the news, and on the Colbert Report and in the papers and stuff. Well, not apparently, I just say apparently because I was indeed in a cave for the past week (actually moving house, but same dif) and didn't hear about it until a friend asked the wife and I if we could use our clout at the LCS to obtain a copy as a birthday present for her mom, a big Obama supporter and a one-time Spidey fan.

I talked to my LCS on Monday (they were a little disappointed that my wife and I, non-Spidey readers, did wanted to reserve a copy, appearing like bandwagoneers), and they hemmed and hawed but said they'd see what they could do, after all they'd told the dozens upon dozens of people who called the shop every day that they weren't taking any holds, and that it was first come, first served when doors opened on Wednesday.

This Obama-mania was sort of thrust upon the shops, without advance warning, if I understand what I heard. I'm guessing it wasn't part of their Diamond solicits. Where my LCS could have sold, likely hundreds of copies, (and they put a call into Diamond to see if they could up their order the moment the news hit and the first call came in) they only managed to sell the few dozen that were part of their regular order. They put aside a few copies for their regular Amazing Spidey readers (as any good shop should) and a few more copies for, well, people like me who are both customers and store supporters who help out when help is needed. The rest were left for the people who, no word of a lie, waited outside in -20 degree celcius, -30 degrees with wind chill (works out to -4 F/-22 F wind chill) for up to two hours before the store opened.

Reports were many of the people in line weren't the plebs who are interested in the book, but instead those guys who are buying the book at cover and immediately turning it around on eBay for... whatever they can get for it (the highest I've seen now is just over $50 for the variant, some people were selling, and some were buying, it in advance of it even hitting the stands, so I'm betting that there's going to be a few eBay orders left unfulfilled). If eBay were around in 1992, I think it would have shown, pretty quickly, the sheer volume of Superman #75 that were printed and how over-valued it is (of course, I sold a copy of that book this past summer for $18 which surprised the hell out of me that it still could carry such a pricetag).

I've heard that many comic stores are taking all or most of the copies they received and putting them straight to eBay, rather than appeasing the people that come into their stores. Now, of course, it could be that the people who are coming into their stores are just those guys that are going to take it on-line and sell it for a 200 - 500% profit, but you're also missing out of satisfying a potential new customer. I can't tell you how to run your business, and the market is tough enough that philosophical retailing doesn't put food in your mouth, but I think that drawing new people into your store, and having them leave satisfied is probably the best result we can hope for out of this, and also the least likely result to happen.

Marvel, who no doubt pushed the media blitz, knew they had a hot commodity, and are banking on 2nd printing sales to really pad the coffers, as it would seem there wasn't much of an overprint on this first printing to satisfy even a portion of demand. While a 2nd printing may come quickly (next week? the week after) it's the people looking for it this week, making the effort to go into a store that are going to miss out, disappointed...and how many of those people will come back? Hopefully bowing to the collectible, resale market was worth it. Sometimes the short-sightedness of the big publishers in this industry is astounding.

Anyway, my friend who received her copy of Amazing Spider-Man #583 was ecstatic. I personally haven't been that excited about a comic book since... I don't know when. That's something special, and I only hope that there are more stories of those people with gleeful expressions on their face as they see the first African American president standing next to a dork hanging upside down in spandex tights, rather than stories of gleeful expressions from basement-dwelling mouth-breathers selling them on-line for 1000% cover price.


Scotus said...

I agree that in a perfect world, Marvel would have printed enough copies to make sure everyone who wanted one could get one.

Unfortunately, that didn't happen, so stores had a tough choice to make. And honestly, I can't blame the ones who went the eBay route. (Full disclosure: I bought a copy on eBay, thankfully before word got out that stores were sold out and prices skyrocketed to over $100.)

Obviously, if you're a store owner, you have to take care of your subscribers and loyal customers, if you want to keep them. And after that, ideally, you make whatever's left over available on a first-come, first-served basis.

But all these people who suddenly became interested in comics and were calling up stores trying to reserve a copy? I don't have a lot of sympathy.

The odds of any of them coming back for non-Obama comics seem roughly somewhere between slim and none. The ones who didn't immediately try and flip their copies on eBay likely wouldn't have even opened them. They just wanted a trinket, a piece of memorabilia. Just like with Superman #75. And there's nothing wrong with that, but I don't see this as a missed opportunity, other than Marvel's.

So if some stores want to make weathering a bad economy a little easier by gouging suckers like me, I say more power to them.

samax said...

i voted for Obama. i think he's a good guy, a promising politician, and i'm geeked that he likes comics.

that said, i find the whole Obamania thing a little creepy. people who are willing to pay $60 for a comic that isn't even that tight are silly bastards, and if the comic shop didn't get 'em, the snake oil salesman peddling Obama Oil (snake oil with Obama written on it...) would.


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