Is The Comic Industry's Reliance on Variant Covers Sustainable?
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While looking at the monthly sales charts lately, I started thinking, is the comic industries reliance on variant covers sustainable?  It is very clear from my monthly analysis of Star Wars comic sales that variant covers have a large impact on sales.  What use to be a special treat for collectors has now become the norm and the ratio of some of these variants are getting higher and higher.  Not only that, but we have businesses now that do nothing but sell variant cover exclusives.  Plus, existing businesses like Mile High Comics have also jumped into this craze and it is the focus point of most of their newsletters now.  And it isn't abnormal to see 10+ variant covers for a title launch.

So, what do you think?  Is this healthy for the industry?  Or are the publishers digging themselves a hole by catering to variant cover collectors?

Edited by rjrjr

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Past experience says the answer is no.  Manufactured limited edition (variants) collectibles have a very bad track record when it comes to maintaining prices over the long haul.  The critical question is how big an impact will a collapse of the variant market cause to the overall hobby.  But what do I know - maybe the variant collectors will laugh all the way to the bank while the rest of the market will decline.  My gut says the 1st option is more likely.

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Walking Dead seems to rely on them very little.  They seem to save them for special occasions, which is what they should be for.  The convention variants are another story.

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90's: Chromium/Gimmick covers

2017: Variant covers

m1703.gif 

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This topic gets asked a lot and I've never hard a good response to this

8 minutes ago, HarveySwick said:

90's: Chromium/Gimmick covers

2017: Variant covers

m1703.gif 

Not an equal comparison....

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Ratio variants are here to stay, whether you like it or not. Image tried to shut it down and even they returned for the $$$

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Just now, ygogolak said:

Ratio variants are here to stay, whether you like it or not. Image tried to shut it down and even they returned for the $$$

Its my understanding that Image only wanted to shut down the retailer variants because they didn't want to feed second market sales.

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3 minutes ago, Comicbookscalping said:

Its my understanding that Image only wanted to shut down the retailer variants because they didn't want to feed second market sales.

Yes, that it how it is looked at now that they are back in the game.

I don't read it as such:

If you are a retailer ordering more copies of a comic than you can sell simply to qualify for a variant incentive: Stop.

Variants don’t build a lasting readership on the books you’re trying to sell. At best, they pay short-term dividends; at worst, they deprive fans of something that is limited in nature. All comics should be for everyone. Not just collectors. Not just whoever has the most cash on hand.

By the same token, if you are a publisher trying to force your comics into the marketplace with exclusive variants retailers can only order by irresponsibly increasing their orders: Stop.

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I don't blame publishers anymore. They are only selling to a demand.

I look at that side of the market as just plain destructive. The spec sites fuel it

and manipulate it. I just feel for the people buying into it.

 

 

Edited by fastballspecial

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The results of this behavior as I see them...

  1. The majority of the copies available to collectors are usually the inferior, or at least less desirable, copies when speaking about a ratio or incentive variant
  2. Often, the 'less desirable' cover is done by the series regular artist - this can create a problem in and of itself depending on the regularity of variant covers for the series in question
  3. Loyal fans and collectors appear to eventually become fatigued with this behavior; they may want every issue printed of their favorite series, but most may wish to see a reduction in the frequency and ratios in use
    1. Intuitively, it would seem that for some percentage of collectors this practice will result in less money to spread around the hobby. Perhaps they decide not to experiment and take a chance on a new book due to the inflated cost associated with acquiring every issue of the books already on their pull list
  4. Again, intuitively, due to this new revenue stream, creativity may suffer since the publishers can always simply commission another incentive variant and print more books
  5. Shop owners need to deal directly with any ill will that may come out of this behavior - the publisher does not need to deal with the public every Wednesday or explain to a loyal fan that if they want every cover being released that month they need to purchase 1000 copies of the regular cover
    1. Compound the potential negative above with the potential positive of seeing increased numbers due to clients chasing high ratio variants
      1. Compound the potential positive above with the potential negative of customers growing fatigued and exacerbated with the publishers behavior and moving on from the hobby
  6. Something about ratio variants appear to fan the flames of speculation - look at the modern forum and a large percentage of the posts there on a weekly basis are about variant covers, perhaps even as many or more than there are about stories and content. Some of the most active threads are associated with variant covers. Of course, this may simply be due to the changing nature of modern comics in general.

 

I could probably go on, but overall... I don't see how my list is healthy for the hobby in the long term. I'd be interested to read the take of someone that feels otherwise.

Edited by SquareChaos

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No.:sumo:

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5 hours ago, 1Cool said:

Past experience says the answer is no.  Manufactured limited edition (variants) collectibles have a very bad track record when it comes to maintaining prices over the long haul.  The critical question is how big an impact will a collapse of the variant market cause to the overall hobby.  But what do I know - maybe the variant collectors will laugh all the way to the bank while the rest of the market will decline.  My gut says the 1st option is more likely.

I wonder how much Loot Crate also brings up sales numbers when they go on a buying binge?

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Never got into variants, and I don't understand the demand or the attraction.  I do understand that if the people selling them are making out like bandits than they will continue to make them and to sell them. I guess its the cult of the cover, that the cover is so important that to change it is to create a "new" comic. To me its the same comic with a different colour wrapping. But perhaps I'm answering my question. Variants are like Smarties, it wouldn't be the same if they were all the same colour. So variants are collector candy?

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9 hours ago, SquareChaos said:

The results of this behavior as I see them...

  1. The majority of the copies available to collectors are usually the inferior, or at least less desirable, copies when speaking about a ratio or incentive variant
  2. Often, the 'less desirable' cover is done by the series regular artist - this can create a problem in and of itself depending on the regularity of variant covers for the series in question
  3. Loyal fans and collectors appear to eventually become fatigued with this behavior; they may want every issue printed of their favorite series, but most may wish to see a reduction in the frequency and ratios in use
    1. Intuitively, it would seem that for some percentage of collectors this practice will result in less money to spread around the hobby. Perhaps they decide not to experiment and take a chance on a new book due to the inflated cost associated with acquiring every issue of the books already on their pull list
  4. Again, intuitively, due to this new revenue stream, creativity may suffer since the publishers can always simply commission another incentive variant and print more books
  5. Shop owners need to deal directly with any ill will that may come out of this behavior - the publisher does not need to deal with the public every Wednesday or explain to a loyal fan that if they want every cover being released that month they need to purchase 1000 copies of the regular cover
    1. Compound the potential negative above with the potential positive of seeing increased numbers due to clients chasing high ratio variants
      1. Compound the potential positive above with the potential negative of customers growing fatigued and exacerbated with the publishers behavior and moving on from the hobby
  6. Something about ratio variants appear to fan the flames of speculation - look at the modern forum and a large percentage of the posts there on a weekly basis are about variant covers, perhaps even as many or more than there are about stories and content. Some of the most active threads are associated with variant covers. Of course, this may simply be due to the changing nature of modern comics in general.

 

I could probably go on, but overall... I don't see how my list is healthy for the hobby in the long term. I'd be interested to read the take of someone that feels otherwise.

Well, I can't help you because I concur with you. While I sort of understand how point #6 happens (classic cover collecting has always been a popular niche) I think it's become a major part of collecting for the "this will be worth more someday" crowd because the odds of today's new books being scarce in High grade down the road are so much less. But it's hardly a foolproof long-term play, especially with so many options available. Plus, if I'm right that people think they are chasing the CSS22 of 30 years from now, the model is flawed. There are lots of awesome covers from all eras that don't necessarily command a significant premium despite their awesomeness. Still, speculation is usually part of a collector's make-up, and publishers' current business model plays on that.

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No, they are not good for the industry and I seriously doubt the current trajectory is sustainable. 

I'd also bet that most variant defenders are heavily invested in it, either collection-wise, speculation-wise or resale-wise. I don't think many objective observers think this craze is a good thing. 

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24 minutes ago, october said:

No, they are not good for the industry and I seriously doubt the current trajectory is sustainable. 

I'd also bet that most variant defenders are heavily invested in it, either collection-wise, speculation-wise or resale-wise. I don't think many objective observers think this craze is a good thing. 

I'm "invested" in all ages. The fact that I don't see a hard to find variant at a show of LCS compared to ANY Bronze age book is what makes me scratch my head at these types of comments.

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3 minutes ago, ygogolak said:

I'm "invested" in all ages. The fact that I don't see a hard to find variant at a show of LCS compared to ANY Bronze age book is what makes me scratch my head at these types of comments.

I'm not just talking about the top 10 variants. I am talking about the fact that seemingly every issue has some sort of variant cover. It's a money grab that takes advantage of OCD completionist collectors, and historically that sort of thing doesn't turn out well. 

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