Newsstand Editions History and Newsstand Pricing Policies

One of the questions that is most frequently asked about our website is our deciding to break out newsstand editions of comics from copies printed for the direct market. The answer is rather long and complicated, so please bear with me on this one.

To begin, different printings of monthly comics were first created by Ed Shukin, the Vice President of Marketing at at Marvel Comics, in the summer of 1979. Ed was in the unenviable position of having to explain to 500 local magazines distributors scattered around America, all of whom had carved out exclusive regional territories during the distributor wars of the 1930's and 1940's, why Marvel selling directly to comics shops was not going to hurt them.

Comics were already seriously declining in sales at that point in history, so many of the local magazine guys did not really care that much about lost comics sales. But those who did care voiced a complaint that some devious comics shops owners were buying comics (nonreturnable) from Phi Seuling's Seagate Distributing company at 50% off, and then returning those cheaper copies to their local distributor at a small profit. This was costing them money. To quell these complaints, Ed agreed to remove the bar code from all comics being sold to comics distributors, replacing them with logos, or small ads. Thus the concept of "Direct Market" editions was born.


Spider-Man #193
For those of you who go back and look at the earliest Direct Market editions, they have only a simple slash through the bar code. This began in June of 1979. As I recall, this lasted three or four issues, depending on the editor in charge, and the publishing frequency of the title. Soon thereafter, Marvel's highly efficient Editor-In-Chief, Jim Shooter, established a unified program of monthly barcode replacement logos, which lasted until he was deposed in a vicious palace coup, in the summer of 1987. After that, as near as we can tell, individual editors were allowed to create whatever they felt like in any given month. This decentralized decision-making about the bar code boxes resulted in some titles (such as Alpha Flight (1983)) having bar codes, even though they were really on sale only in the Direct Market. This makes documenting the different printings sometimes very confusing...

A critical bit of data about newsstand ratios comes from a long conversation on the subject that I had with Jim Shooter, way back in 1979. Jim had been quietly keeping track of Seagate's sales to comics shops, even though that was not really within the pervue of his role as Editor-In-Chief. What he told me at that time was that approximately 6% of Marvel's total sales were going into comics shops through Seagate (and a couple of other smaller distributors), but that certain fan-favorite titles (such as X-Men) were over 10%. What was critically important, however, was that this was the only growth area in Marvel's sales.
v Soon thereafter, Shooter helped me to convince Ed Shukin and Marvel President, Jim Galton, to offer open terms for new Marvel distributors to the Direct Market. This led to an immediate destruction of Seagate's near-monopoly, as 18 new distributors (including my own...) to comics shops were created in just three months. These new comics shop distributors began putting Direct Market editions into just about any kind of venue that you can imagine, which had the immediate effect of shifting demand from newsstands, over to comics shops. The astounding statistics are roughly as follows:

Year% Newsstand%Direct Market
197994%6%
198280%20%
198650%50%
199015%85%
199510%90%
20005%95%
20052%98%
20131%99%

While clearly showing a huge shift of Marvel sales over to comics shops, these startling statistics actually understate the degree of scarcity of newsstand editions in the current back issue market, as they do not take into account survivability and damage. To explain, we have found that VF and NM newsstand editions are far scarcer as a percentage of issues that we purchase in collections. Simply put, newsstand readers (and the staff of newsstands) were far more likely to beat up their comics, and newsstand racks (such as metal spin racks) actually damage comics darn near the minute that they are racked. As a result, finding the few surviving NM newsstand editions is surprisingly difficult.

Aside from getting damaged, however, we have also discovered that comics purchased from newsstands are far more likely to have been destroyed. You would think that newsstand editions from 1980 would be relatively easy to find, and indeed, they are. But not nearly in the disproportiate ratios that the original distribution statistics would indicate. Our experience has shown that that comics sold in comics shops had a 90% probability of being put into a plastic bag and preserved, while comics purchased from newsstands had a 90% probability of either being read to death, or thrown away. This is true to such an extent that it is still more difficult to find newsstand editions from 1980, than the much, much lower print run Direct Market editions. Strange, but true...

All of the above information was interesting, but completely irrelevant to our website until just about two years ago. At that time, we had the dual circumstances arise of certain astute collectors demanding that we send them only bar coded (newsstand) editions, while a couple of very smart comics dealers (with whom we have good relations) telling us that we were being very slow and stupid for not charging a premium for our bar coded issues. We resisted that pressure for a while, but after a few months of watching this new demand for newsstand editions emerge in the back issue comics marketplace, we decided that we had no choice but to comply with this new reality.

Little did we know when we began the arduous process of identifying which comics had newsstand editions that it would turn out to be such a difficult and Herculean task. First off, we had to create entirely new product codes in our database for every single one. We are already over 50,000 newsstand listings right now (3/15/13), and still have many thousands to create. Simply put, there is no information available from the publishers as to which comics were sold on newsstands, so we have been forced to wait to create a newsstand/Direct Market duality until we actually have both copies in our hands. That is why you will see such spotty offerings of newsstand editions on our website, especially from the past few years.

We also had to shift a huge number of our cover scans, and replace a great many of our Direct Market scans, as we had not differentiated between editions when our scanning program was begun in 1998. What ended up happening as a result was that we had newsstand editions scanned as Direct Market copies. We then had to delete those scans, and shift them over to the newsstand listing, leaving a hole in our Direct Market listing. We are still trying to get all these scans corrected, but it will take us at least another year. Sigh...

Another consideration about newsstand editions is that different publishers produced them at different times. Image, for example, had a vigorous newsstand program right from the beginning, but still sold 99% of their comics through the Direct Market. Dark Horse has been extremely spotty, with most licenced comics having newsstand distribution, while almost none of their own titles came with barcodes. We are still struggling to figure out all these crazy variations.

All of the above having been said, I cannot begin to tell you how rare these damn things truly are! This has become a real challenge for me, as I now spend more of my own personal time seeking our rare newsstand editions than anyone on the planet. Even with all my contacts in the comics world, however, and all of my traveling to conventions, I have not been able to locate a great many newsstand editions that I think may exist. When newsstand editions are 1:100 variants, and also suffer a high destruction rate, finding them in the secondary market is damn near impossible, and takes a lot of luck and perseverance.

Moving on to our pricing policies on newsstand editions, I created a sliding scale based upon year of publication that is roughly as follows:

1979-19852X regular catalog price
1986-19903X
1991-19964X
1997-20005X
2001-20026X
2003-20048X
2005-up10X

While this pricing does accurately reflect the scarcity of newsstand editions,the fact that we rely upon base price as our starting point for our multiplier does lead to some distortion. Some really rare modern newsstands end up being priced too low, while relatively common older newsstand editions end up being priced too high. This series of formulas does seem to be working in overall, however, and I am in the middle right now of rationalizing a great many of our newsstand prices by hand, taking into account our base prices. Like them, or not, Newsstand editons now comprise 20%-25% of our total sales, which is quite a remarkable shift in just two years.

I hope that this explanation has helped you to understand our newsstand program, and why it had to be created. Your thoughts and comments are welcomed at chuck@milehighcomics.com.



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