I love talking to people who work at comic shops. They’re some of the most interesting people in the industry to me. Part of that is because of my lasting desire to own my own shop. My intrigue is naturally baked in. But much of it comes from the fact that they’re the only people who actually see what people are truly reacting to in comics. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought something up to a retailer that I thought or heard to be true, only for them to respond with the verbal equivalent of a scrunched-up face. They often have a better feel for what’s real and what isn’t in comics than most. So, when one of them points out a potential trend to me, I take it seriously, as the shops I talk to aren’t prone to hyperbole. 1
That happened recently. I was chatting with a retailer when they shared a building concern. It was part of a larger conversation, but the short version was this: could the current supply chain issues that are affecting comics create a new level to the speculator feeding frenzy we’ve been seeing? 2
It wasn’t something I had thought of before, even when I looked at this issue a few months back. But it makes sense when you think about it. One of the most crucial elements of speculation in 2021 is scarcity. Whether you’re talking the size of a print run or the total population of high-grade copies of key comics, value and available quantity are tethered together, even if that can be a flimsy line of thinking. 3 And if the supply chain issues – either from unpredictable releases, shorted inventory, or situations like Image’s removal of second prints – create natural product limitations, then there’s the potential that everything could become even more appealing to the resell crowd.
For retailers, this would make their jobs more difficult, as the prospect of warding off even more speculators trying to buy a stack of some random title “for their nephews” 4 is enough to make them consider early retirement. For readers, swarms of flippers eating up the week’s releases will make it more difficult for them to try new titles. And for publishers, this could lead to short-term gains but long-term losses, as titles crater when customers don’t return for subsequent issues at shops when they lack the heat of previous ones.
The world of comics retail is reliant on reducing as many variables as humanly possible. That helps minimize risk while maximizing profit. Now, speculators can lead to an increase on the latter. More copies being sold per release means more revenue, which can be a positive. But that’s only if this behavior fits within expected levels. If a new level to this boom is found, then the situation could get pretty nervy for everyone.
That is not the case for all retailers, though.↩
And by speculator feeding frenzy, I mean the significant increase in volume and interest in people who are buying comics for the purpose of reselling them.↩
If x comic only has 4,000 copies ordered, that could mean that it’s just not appealing rather than an opportunity for investment.↩
The “nephews” part of that scenario is a real story a retailer told me before. The shop had a limit of copies per customer, so the person created a bevy of nephews apparently desperate for the new hot thing. Fictional family members are a speculator’s best friend!↩