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Tilting #217 is live

Brian Hibbs

Mm, look, it’s up!

A (full-on) rant on the subject of variant covers, it’s be at my prickliest.

If you can’t/won’t comment at CBR, feel free to do so below.


22 Responses to “ Tilting #217 is live ”

  1. Very straight-forward an easy to follow arguements there, Hibbs, good job. :)

    You’d think DC & Marvel wouldn’t bother with all this nonsense, if not for moral reasons (1000% markup just for a different cover is insane), but because it wasnt worth their time to engage in such petty behaviour.

    Is there analogous behaviour in other industries? I’ve seen ‘collectors edition’ versions of video games launched at the same time as the regular version but dont know enough about it to comment. This doesnt seem like something that book or dvd or magazine retailers would bother with.

    Also Savage Critic has heaps better commenters so thats why I post here :)

  2. I liked this one. Got some fire in your belly there, old son!

    But..can I just check this with you…don’t the variants actually cost more than cover price? I mean Retailers have to up their order to get them, so they have to pay for the extras and that’s why they charge silly money on the variant: to offset this. (And make a tidy profit.) I’m just checkin’, I’m not arguing with you. I’m no Retailer, so go easy on me!

    I really liked this one. It was full of good stuff. Cheers.

  3. Good column. One of my local comic shops charges $15 or $20 for new variant covers and it annoys me so much that it’s one of the reasons that I’ve all but stopped going there. And I don’t even buy monthly periodical editions so it doesn’t affect me personally. But it just bothers me so much on a basic philosophical level that they are trying gouge their customers that way. Is it unethical? Not sure I would go that far. But it does show a complete and total contempt for their customer base.

  4. Variant covers are fairly common (though not ubiquitous) in British newsagents these days on magazines. Doctor Who Magazine had three or four covers this month, and I remember a magazine I don’t buy celebrating their 200th issue with 200 covers.

  5. “Yes, comics are different in that they obviously aren’t doing direct harm to people…”

    Have you read Phantom Stranger?

    Good column..

  6. This whole topic is surpassing strange to me. I know people must buy these things or this wouldn’t go on, but…who? Who pays $20 for a comic they can get for $4?

    And I say this as a collector who has on occasion dropped as much as $80-$100 for a back issue–but those are decades-old comics not available at a lower price. Why would you walk in a store and pay 5x as much for a comic when the exact same item is right next to it on the rack?

  7. Well argued article., even if I disagree with a majority of what you’re saying. I don’t much care about variants one way or the other, but fail to see how jacking up the price on a variant is “gouging”, any more than feeling like a customer is getting gouged by paying $3.99 for “A vs X”, for example. If a customer wants to spend $20 on a variant comic, then that comic is worth $20 to him/her (let’s be honest, him) and I don’t see the harm.

  8. We stopped ordering variants after Walking Dead #100. After dealing with all those variant covers, I pulled a Scarlet Witch and said No. more. Variants.

  9. >Why would you walk in a store and pay 5x as much for a comic when the exact same item is right next to it on the rack?

    In my experience they aren’t on the rack, they’re at the counter… which leaves me wondering how the retailers sell such items when they have less visibility than the issues which sit on the racks for 6 months. Space at the counter cycles much more quickly than the racks.

    >I’ve seen ‘collectors edition’ versions of video games launched at the same time as the regular version but dont know enough about it to comment.

    You get something for the extra money in such cases, as you would with a “collector’s edition” of a DVD; it could be some tchotchke like a t-shirt or statue or ephemera like avatars, costumes and other customizable options.

  10. Question for Brian – Do you think we will ever see incentive variants for collections?

  11. @Joseph: I… fail to see how jacking up the price on a variant is “gouging”, any more than feeling like a customer is getting gouged by paying $3.99 for “A vs X”, for example. If a customer wants to spend $20 on a variant comic, then that comic is worth $20 to him/her…”

    To me, variants feel like a sucker’s con — not unlike the Facebook IPO, where everybody in the food chain seemed to know that the stock was overvalued and gambled accordingly, except for the rube individual investors at the bottom of the pyramid. The publishers and retailers know that, odds are, that “rare,” “collectible” variant won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on just a few months down the line.

  12. The Facebook IPO is a good example, but I feel it makes my point. People who bought into that in the hopes of getting rich were ignorant at best; you know what they say about a fool and his money, and the same applies to people who buy “variant comic x” in the hopes of selling it later at a profit. Regardless, I don’t think anyone that goes into a comic shop to buy “Variant comic X” is a rube; if they know enough about comics to buy them at a specialty store they should certainly know what they’re getting into if they decide to buy a variant. Now, if there are actually merchants out there who push these on clueless kids/parents then they would deserve every bit of scorn and derision Brian hoists upon them.

  13. Variant covers are one of the reasons I more often wait for the trade. I have a slight interest in buying the cover I like better, which might not be available (my retailer doesn’t mark them up, or if they do, only some and I don’t notice. …), and I have a slight interest in owning them all. So if I get the trade, one of the advantages is I get all the covers, plus maybe other “extras.” So, far from motivating me to buy more copies or bid up the prettiest cover, I detach myself and wait for the dust to clear.

    This results in fewer periodical purchases on my part, without the guarantee I’ll still be interested in the book by the time the trade comes out. Probably saves me money, but isn’t doing anyone else in this food chain a bit of good.

    Obviously, others’ mileage is varying, ’cause the damned things are still being produced.

  14. “many of the largest retailers have indicated that they’ll cut their orders by half or more if there are not 50/50 variant covers”

    I think that’s part of the key. It’s those “largest retailers” who get the most out of the variants (since they’re probably eligible to order even the 1:200 variants with their normal order, or a nominal bump, whereas an average sized store would have to at least double or triple their order to get that variant (which they obviously can’t afford to risk). To the large retailer it really is free money. The economy works for them (especially on top of the other advantages they already have, including higher discounts).

    I wonder if those large retailers don’t have an out-of-proportion influence on the industry, since I suspect they can get a representative from the publishers and Diamond on the phone a lot quicker than a small store owner. It would be interesting if detailed statistics were available on such things as how many stores ever order 200+ copies of anything, and how much of the total market they represent.

  15. And seconding what BrianMc said about variant covers being another reason to wait for the collection. I was thinking about getting the SANDMAN DREAM HUNTERS mini-series a few years back, but with variant covers including Joe Kubert, Mike Mignola and P. Craig Russell it made more sense to wait for the collection. And of course, as such things go, I actually haven’t gotten around to picking up that collection in over two years since it came out, since I know it’ll be available (and I can borrow it from the public library). And broken of the habit, I already know SANDMAN ZERO (which I’m sure will have variant covers) is going to be a “buy it eventually” book for me.

  16. I guess I’m confused on something– I have a really feeble understanding of all these things, because I just don’t have a head for business, but I guess I always found the ceiling argument a little persuasive when it was explained to me, or at least I could kinda get my head around it, I could kinda grasp it, though I always found it disconcerting in that the whole scheme seemed to rely upon Some Sucker, whose life I felt bad about.

    Here’s the part where I’m confused by your argument: “What do these sales charts show? That in almost every single circumstance a comic goes from having a 1:10 variant, to not having one, orders immediately drop by around 8% — almost exactly what the 1:10 variant adds to sales in the first place.”

    So, say you have your orders on #1 that are indeed inflated, and then #2 it drops by 8% because the variant’s not there. The bit I don’t get: it’s going to drop ANYWAYS because of the inherent drop between 1 and 2, the inherent trend lines on serial comics sales charts. So if you inflate 1 then don’t you inherently inflate 2, 3, 4, as well…? (Especially if those have variants too which is usually the case, right?) Which for a 3-5 issue limited series of the kind offered by a small publisher, may be the difference between being able to publish the series or not…?

    Or are you saying it drops 8% from where it have been anyways– i.e. #1 inflated, #2 drops (8% + the normal #2 drop)? Is the drop more severe because of the lack of the variant, or is it to any degree mitigated by the variant on #1?

    (Edited: oh and I think part of the argument was that retailers who lacked financial resources and wanted to order X copies of a small publisher’s work but could only afford X-12 could use the variant to get their way up to the X where X=the demand in their store line you’re talking about…? I think that was part of the argument as explained to me, but… this was more than a year ago, and I was probably half-listening because I was thinking about sexiness at the time…)

    (This is setting aside that the whole point is to get to the trade, or at least that used to be the case pre-digital– I don’t know how anyone buys anything anymore; travellers checks?– but yeah: I don’t know if more shelf copies on a #1 = promotion for the trade or how that all works…?)

    (Or maybe that was part of the point because if a small-publisher has to grab eyeballs away from the bigger publishers, having shelf copies > demand is important because…? This is exactly what it’s like when I try to explain a joke I heard someone else tell, in case you were wondering… “Apparently the bartender wanted to have sex with the duck– probably because his childhood had gone wrong”)

    The ceiling argument just has an appeal– if a publisher can get more copies of #1 on limited shelf space, it seems logical that they can possibly turn over more readers to #2, in a math-y 5% of X will like Y so just increase X kind of way– provided the Dumb Sucker funding everything doesn’t get hit by a car. I mean, I don’t get how it holds up though when EVERY thing has a variant, or certainly not with your American Vampire 22 example, for most Marvel/DC I don’t really get it (except maybe with special “Event” comics, but…), and that’s where I throw my hands up in the air, but…

    I find it all very confusing.

  17. Oh but this was an enjoyable read on a topic I do actually find interesting if mystifying, so thank you for that. Always forgetting with the thank-you’s.

  18. @JohnK:

    Clearly they have the product to sell in addition to the variant, so I don’t think it’s even remotely fair to cover that in the cost of the variant itself.

    @Eric Rupe:

    Jesus, don’t give them IDEAS!


    No, I mean, that if you look at a long-running title, where there’s long-term stability on it, and see that #51 has a variant, and goes up +8%, and #52 doesn’t and so it drops by 8% then #53 does and up it goes by 8%, I think you can begin to detect the pattern — the Beat’s charts on Marvel monthly sales will show 1-2 examples of this each month.

    You’re not going to read anything from issues #1-3, because there’s a separate market mechanism at work on those earliest numbers. Buy, no, I don’t think there’s any compelling evidence that books with “lots” of early variants end up performing any better in the long-run… because market performance is almost always ACTUALLY dictated by how much the audience likes the work in question (which is slightly different than “good” or “bad”)

    RE: “grabbing eyeballs” for small press. When 40% of the material coming from the “big 5” has at least one variant, then that would seem, to me, like pissing into a waterfall.


  19. Brian, how do you handle older variant covers that come in to the store via collection purchases?

  20. Brian, I don’t know that we’ve ever had that happen, frankly.

    We buy all incoming comics at 5 cents a book, regardless of what it is… but we haven’t bought any books that way in like 5 years or something, man.

    Insofar as pricing goes, I price 99.99% of bagged and tagged back issues at 25 cents above (current) cover price. But the overwhelming majority of purchases (90%+, I’d say), never even get bagged and boarded — they go straight to the 25 cent box.


  21. Brian, I really admire you for not giving up on this topic and writing something with such a non-compromising stance. The whole thing used to rile me up so much and now I just have managed to block out the lunacy.

    For so long DC held the high ground but, with Levitz gone, they along with everyone else just sank into the practice completely. I love that YOU haven’t and never will. Thank you for speaking out and backing up your argument about why it is so harmful to a very fragile market.

  22. I know this is a bit late, Brian, but I just wanted to say thanks for writing such a strong piece on this subject. I agree wholeheartedly with you that the whole variant cover thing is nothing but a blatant cash grab, and I still don’t understand why ANYONE is dumb enough to be suckered in by it.

    There’s one other thing about this practice that you didn’t mention, that I think is a real problem: All those extra non-variants purchased just to make the cutoff often end up going in the cheapie boxes for much less then cover price. As a consumer, if I know there’s a good chance I’ll be able to buy Whatever Comics #10 next month for a third of the cover price, well, why would I buy Whaterver Comics #10 for full price now? I wonder how many customers have caught on that they can very easily buy most recent comics for less then cover price within in a short period of time (heck, sometimes even withing weeks) and are just waiting that much longer. The whole practice is just foolish to me, from top to bottom.

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