One Man Comic Business
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ft88   
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You too can start a comic business!

 

Basic Journal to note my experiences buying and selling comics. Your mileage may vary if you replicate or emulate any of my experiences. But the enjoyment I've gotten out of this hobby and how I've approached it is something I thought I'd share.

 

First, a little background. I collected back issues in the mid 1980s mostly in the Boston area spending my paper route money on 1960s Spidermans and 1970s Xmen. I won't bore you with those details but formative years are formative years. Kept my books through college and an 8 year stint in the Army and then went to grad school. I now work in finance making a comfortable living supporting a wife and 4 young girls.

 

While in business school I wanted to apply what I was learning to buying and selling comics. I did do this with comics and baseball cards in the 1980s by renting a flea market table and setting up my wares. Fun stuff but I remember it being more work than profit. So basically I put the word out that I was buying collections and received a couple of calls. Indeed, bought a couple of nice collections - mostly 1970s. Date was around 2001 to give you an idea of where the market was. CGC was still new but basically established. Ebay was all guns blazing and I had a year or two of ebay experience buying and selling.

 

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ft88   
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Funny collection, one of them. There were about 1000 Marvel bronze comics and Every comic had the issue number colored in with green marker. Including the Hulk 181. I have yet to come across any of them in all these years later. I think I sold them as a lot except for a few keys and the Xmen and Spiderman runs.

 

Anyway, besides my free flow of thoughts, I figured I'd share some business practices that worked for me.

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ft88   
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Let's say you have a nice small collection of Silver and Bronze with a bunch of Copper and Modern, maybe 1000 comics worth $10,000 in the guide, $5000 on ebay and $2500 to a dealer. You basically know how to grade but you aren't an expert. You know your key books but not every key book or variant or character, there's just too much to keep up with anyway.

 

That about describes me and my collection 15 years ago. I basically sold off about 80%,by bulk, of my collection over the course of a year on ebay and here's what I learned.

 

Selling is work and it takes up front money. A lot of these things are easier now and you may already have them but in case you don't.

 

Get a credit card (or two) and a checking account (or two)

Set up an ebay account.

Set up a paypal account

Set up a photobucket account

Learn the basics of how to use all three

Research and buy a scanner. Repeat when it doesn't work right.

Acquire boxes, tape, and packaging materials

 

That only took a few hours right? Now you can sell a comic.

 

 

 

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ft88   
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Scanning and Photobucket

 

I really like photobucket, in the past 10 years I can remember two time periods where it just didn't work right or they forced me to drastically change my habits. Not too bad all said.

 

Regarding scanners. I use an old HP that I really like to use. So much so that I can't give up my desktop that uses Windows XP. The driver with any newer Windows won't let me scan properly. I set up with a pile of comics I want to scan and unbag everyone of them. I also get rid of any tape on the bags. I take the lid off the scanner and throw it away. Set dpi to 100, format scanning LxW so all corners show. Scan, put in new pile, scan, put in new pile repeat x48. No more scans and they download to a folder on my harddrive automatically. Grade comics as you rebag them. I do this while watching TV unless its a big book.

 

Don't make the mistake or cutting down the scan box to a modern comic and then the next 49 books are early bronze and you've just cropped the spine on each one. Done that a couple dozen times.

 

I don't rename the picture files. But I do open a dozen or so folders in Photobucket. MarvelBronze, MarvelSilver Batman Spiderman etc and then drop 100-200 pics per folder. Uploading to photobucket is pretty straight forward.

 

Summary: Goal is to scan books as fast and efficiently as possible. Start to finish, try to knock out a long box - scan, grade, bagged in about 4 hours.

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ft88   
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So my photobucket folders are named MarvelBronze and the files are scan0001, scan0002

Which is fine by me. In fact its much better than naming them ASM361, Sup233 and so forth.

 

Why?

 

When I sell on the boards I can easily list comic after comic without going back to photobucket

 

List a comic

 

ASM 361 VF $20

 

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v37/ft888/DC%20Bronze/scan0260.jpg (and with the proper IMG tags)

 

By the way a quick lesson in efficiency I simply couldn't teach my brother when I asked him to help me.

 

CTRL C - copy

CTRL X - cut

CTRL P - paste

ALT TAB - alternate between browsers - also a good "boss" button

CTRL Z - undo

CTRL F - find

 

There are others but memorize these and use them over and over. It is now second nature to me and I couldn't work in an office without them nor sell on the boards or ebay without.

 

OK back to images and selling on the boards. First post: list all the postage stuff. I'll get to a rant about that in a later post but the business details is your first post. Small rant: Have at least one book ready to sell with pic, grade, and price and don't start a thread selling a hot book like Spiderman 300 CGC 9.8 with all the EULA BS and then make folks wait an hour to post the first books. Uncool.

 

Second post is the Spiderman above. Then click back on he browser. Guess what, the text from that second post is now in the box. Whaaaaaaaaatttttt!

 

If you've never done this and you try it for the first time and it works for you, I expect a thank you. This one was free.

 

Change ASM 361 VF $20 to ASM 344 NM $10

Edit type the "scan0260" to "scan0261" click preview. If all good, click submit. Rinse and repeat x 100.

 

I like to keep the now bagged and graded books in order and then as I list them for sale I know the next scan is the next book. Simple. Or you can work from a list if that's how you graded, either way.

 

So much easier and efficient than starting from a blank text box in post 3, 4 and beyond. And now you see why I prefer scan0260 then scan0261 as opposed to naming files. I only have to change one digit and its in order. I really don't have to alttab or cut/paste from photobucket either. Sweet.

 

If I have 100 comics scanned and uploaded all with grades and prices, I could list them on a board sales thread probably in less than half an hour. Think about that.

 

Granted pricing is tough and inefficient as it takes a little ebay research etc but no way to really get away from that. That's fun though IMO.

Edited by ft88

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Hutch88   
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Very cool journal... +1 :applause:

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ft88   
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Only a bit off topic on business acumen. I mentioned before that I attended business school and I wanted to apply what I was learning to buying and selling comics. So while a motivator for me, you clearly don't need an MBA to buy and sell anything. However, there are things I learned, and learned just enough to be dangerous, as they say.

 

Like any college program, the value is 20% education and 80% networking, acceptance filter, reputation w corporate America, instructor ability and reputation etc.

 

The education part can be 90% learned on your own or through a decent community college. This can be done in about 6 months to a year with $1000 in books and a few $1000 in class credits - intro to accounting, finance, marketing, operations, etc.

 

There's no replacing the 80% part and the $150,000 I paid for it, grumble grumble. Still, the business learning is pretty vital IMO and if it only takes $5000 and some discipline, I'd highly recommend doing that in lieu of a $150,000 MBA. And it can only help in life in any capacity. I have some opinions on what's important in my business approaches in later posts, but here are a few.

 

Accounting: Inventory throughput and cashflow. Inventory is generally bad, especially selling online where you don't need wall books to show off. Cashflow is king. If you don't have it and don't have a legitimate credit line you are out of business. And not a credit card, jeez.

 

Marketing: This is more than advertising. Have a written plan. Brand, goals, partnerships, expertise, expansion etc.

 

Operations: Efficiency, expense control, quality control, leveling the steps of the sales cycle. As in, you don't want to keep buying and buying with no time to sell. Have a way to store things while buying and selling.

 

Entrepreneurship: Get motivated, think originally, new ideas all the time, don't be afraid to fail, prepare for success and failure. Understand your risks and prepare for them.

 

 

Edited by ft88

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ft88   
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Packaging.

 

This was a learning process for me and a growth experience. In the early years I was buying small collections and selling exlusively on ebay. I'd sell the key books as singles and then some lots. Finally, I'd sell everything left over as a large lot. I lived in an apartment in Baltimore at the time so space was at a premium. This method of selling cost me too, as I bought a huge collection (The Charm City collection for those that remember)

 

Charmlot.jpg

 

and got a little freaked out by the magnitude of it that I sold off quite a bit in lots. 100 comic run of Flash 25-50 centers for $250 that sort of thing. Left a lot of money on the table.

 

At the time but before this big purchase, I was basically scrounging for boxes and cardboard, cutting my own cardboard flats. Selling maybe 10 items a week on ebay so not a big deal but it was becoming a hassle. But my thought was that I could not afford buying boxes from the post office or Staples for $3.50 each. Little did I know that there are cardboard companies in basically every small town, let alone a city like Baltimore.

 

These are the kind of experiences I love. A part of life I would otherwise never know about let alone experience. That this is part of making money is only icing on the cake.

 

ABC boxes http://www.abcboxes.com/ was my store of choice. Located by/under the interstate within walking distance of the football stadium and Camden Yards. A seedy part of town and a part of downtown Baltimore that is going away but used to be what the entire city was like in the 80s and early 90s before it got pretty. The place is basically a warehouse of cardboard. 100 feet high and maybe 3 acres of warehouse. It smells like cardboard. Workers have full arm and face tattoos and the manager offices are something out of Sin City.

 

Long story short, boxes are not $3.50 each they are 50 cents each (3x9x12 if you buy a 100). And flats are 10 cents each. Yeah, I think I'll stop scrounging now and no more cutting my own flats, thank you very little.

 

When I moved to York PA, I thought was going to have to travel back to ABC. Nope, H&A corrugated right in this small little town is perfect and even cheaper. 100 boxes for $40 and 200 flats for $10. I bet every small town has a cheap box/cardboard place

 

When it comes to tape and envelopes, I buy a box of 36 rolls for ~$40 and box of 100 9x12's envelopes for $8.

 

I find bubble wrap to be too expensive but do reuse what I get from CGC or other deliveries. Peanuts you can get free from trophy stores. Again, that little nugget of advice is free. Otherwise, peanuts I reuse as I find them too expensive to buy and store.

 

So all in I can ship 100 boxes and 100 envelopes for $100 in packaging or 50 cents each all in. If the 200 shipments average $20 each, that's a 2.5% cost. Pretty good for a small operation.

Edited by ft88

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ft88   
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Packaging and Shipping

 

Early on I was a little too cheap and loose about packaging. Basically my rule of thumb now is VF or better, more than 4 comics, or higher $$ book, I box it after protecting it in cardboard flats and cushioning. Otherwise a $5 Fine Peter Parker #3 can go in a flat. I charge a $4 flat rate for US. So I profit a bit on the single purchase and lose a bit on the large lot buys.

 

I don't mind losing a bit in postage for someone buying multiple books. It's easy enough to either price in or think of it as discounting. And I think it's fair to make a bit on someone who only buys one book.

 

Without wading into the controversy, I do use Media Mail and my return rate due to Media Mail is maybe 1 out of 1000 or even less. The detriment to Media Mail is two fold. Any postal employee can inspect the box, and you are put in the back of the line behind first class and priority. This later is only an issue during the holidays, otherwise you are basically getting the same service as first class in terms of shipping times. Again, I don't want to wade in the controversy of using Media Mail, if you don't want to use it, all is good.

 

I use Paypal/Ebay postage labels. If you sell comics via mail and aren't doing that then learn and start right now. The discounts alone are worth it. 2-10% off postage. Tracking is either free or 23 cents if Media. This is not the case walking up to the counter. And by the way, once you have all your packages pre paid and labelled, either the postman will come get them. Or, do what I do and walk past the postage line and drop them off at the counter with a quick wave. So convenient. Also, I find postage label stickers very expensive and tough to use with my printer. I simply print them off paper and stick them on with my cheap packing tape.

 

USPS pricing

 

First Class: 1 comic is 4 oz and is just over $2. 3 comics is 9 oz and shipping is around $2.90 same as Media 1lb. 10-13 oz you lose money vs Media Mail at 1lb.

Media mail: Only goes in 1 lb increments. So don't waste your time typing in 1 lb 4 oz within Paypal if using media mail. 1 lb with tracking is $2.92, 3 lbs is about $3.88, and on up. A full long box weighs about 45 lbs and costs $25 media. I ship CGC books media mail too and have never had a problem.

Priority: Anything above 13 oz must go Priority instead of first class. Shipping varies by region. By you can ship 1-3 lbs within your own region for maybe $6.

 

International: Do not be afraid to ship internationally. Take the business risk, it's worth it.

 

I use USPS and have an account set up on the USPS site. Paypal labelling and customs forms can be spotty at best. USPS is pretty easy - user id, password and credit card/paypal account. The key I find with international is keeping it under 4 lbs. Its already expense, even to Canada, but it really jacks up once you go over 4 lbs. 1 lb to Canada is about $9 and $12-16 overseas (country dependent). 4 lbs is about $24 to Canada and $32-40 overseas (country dependent).

 

One issue with International is it is tough to track. Normal first class USPS won't be able to track a missing package. And Customs often holds things up, especially hard are the more non-modern countries like Turkey, Greece, even Mexico. One trick you can try is to buy minimal insurance, that can at least get you a tracking number. Either way, you are taking a chance and you should understand that. It's easy to give the lawyerly advice of setting terms before you ship. I've found it easier and more beneficial to simply take on the risk and work with the buyer if a package gets lost or destroyed. It happens but not often. My threshhold for pain is about $500-$1000, anything above that and I'd take more precautions. Again, country dependent. Canada, no problem. Ukraine, hmmmmmm,

 

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ft88   
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Storage

 

Depends on your situation and I've been at both extremes. City apartment 1 bedroom when I was single. Large house with basement now that I'm married w children. It also depends on your current collection and any collections you may buy.

 

With low storage options like at an apartment, something has to give. Wherever the computer is, that's where the comics go basically. You can stack your comic boxes easy enough but you'll have to live with the stacking and unstacking PITA as you go to scan or just look at your books. All this was pretty easy for me with a small personal collection and the collections I was buying were either small or I would sell fairly quickly in lots.

 

When I lived in the apartment and bought that huge collection, which eventually made it to my bed room and out of the kitchen. I received another call where I purchased another 6 long boxes. Mostly 1970s marvels but still good stuff. I'm selling off a bit and I get another call with another 15 boxes of magazines and comics. Mostly high grade Warrens and 1970s comics. This is what I mean by being ready for success - it presents its problems as well. At this point I bit the bullet and rented a storage unit. And that's when inventory starts to get expensive. Something like $40 a month for a year - a necessary evil and also very inefficient when organizing what to sell. As a business rule, Inventory = bad. Working out of a storage unit is no fun at all. And there is additional risk of loss, damage or theft.

 

With a house and a basement office, I do things a little different and it is a lot easier. I set up two gorilla shelving units and store about 10 short boxes there, the shipping supplies, printer, plus some other odds and ends. Add in a coffee table with 4 more boxes on top and 3 below on the floor. This is not a clean or a really nice room and it is small in its own right, about 10x10. And I just bought a 15 box collection that is now spilling over. With my own space I do have the luxury of spending more time selling books for higher prices by selling them as singles rather than as lots. Don't get me wrong I still lot up the VG Archies, but now VFNM Bronze Flash comics can get the singles treatment. More on this aspect later.

 

My personal goal is to not have comics spill over out of my office. Of course this gets violated all the time but when it does I get in selling mode and try very hard to sell in lots. Until I purchase the next Lost Valley pedigree I'll continue to do it this way.

 

Risk here is that my comics are in the basement. High risk of flooding, which almost requires the comic get up off the floor a few inches at least.

 

Everyone's situation is and will be different especially with storage issues. But it has to be dealt with and thought through. Comics are heavy, bulky, and can get unorganized very quickly. I'm pretty bad with labelling boxes but pretty good with memory. I do waste a lot of time looking for that sold book or two that I just can not find. You can be better.

 

Think about damage risks like smoke, fire, and flood or even unbalanced full boxes falling over. Think about theft. Bad stuff happens all the time.

 

 

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ft88   
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I collect and keep high grade 1st app cartoon characters and spiderman.

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HighRadArt   
I collect and keep high grade 1st app cartoon characters and spiderman.

 

That's great. My collecting habit is always changing and I've sold a few books I wished I had kept and sold a lot I "thought" I wanted to keep.

 

BTW, I don't live in a big city so I ended up ordering boxes online directly from uline in bulk, and the shipping information you provided is great. Shipping is one area you can lose a lot of money (it all adds up).

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