Many people have already heard about this... but to some this is "new" news. Here is an article that recently came out from Bleeding Cool regarding Marvel's reaction to seeing signature windows in the hands of "fans" at the Marvel booth at C2E2, this weekend. If you haven't read it yet... please do... then come back here... I'll wait. :)
You read it? Good. Now let's talk about what is happening, where its heading, and how we can fix it.
Well here is my perception of what is happening. In the last five years, conventions have boomed. Every major city has multiple pop culture conventions that occur every year. Many not-so-major cities and towns also have conventions now. In fact, every weekend this year you can find at least one (usually more) conventions happening somewhere in the US. Now, you may be wondering "are you talking about comic book conventions?". Well, I use the term convention instead of "comic con" or "comic book convention" because these events aren't really about comic books. They aren't about collecting comic books, buying comic books, or selling comic books. Conventions have become about pop-culture and conventions have become big business. I am only going to talk about one facet of this phenomenon; the business of signed and slabbed comic books.
So, to be fair let's start at the beginning. Back in the 1980's a comic book convention was where you could go and meet a few of your favorite comic book writers and artists. Fans would take their favorite books, meet their favorite artists, get their autographs on the books... and cherish them forever and ever. Occasionally looking at that signature and remembering that particular moment in time... like a favorite photograph.
Then the 90's happened. Comic books were crap. The art was crap. The stories were crap. The market was flooded with variant covers to try to bring back lost fans. But their base was gone. Those kids from the 80's were now in college, dating, starting their careers, getting married... comics went by the wayside.
Then in the 2000's comics started coming back. You had Dark Horse picking up steam. You had Image with their ever so popular Walking Dead, you had Jim Lee and Jimmy Palmiotti coming on the scene. Amazing artwork! Brave storytelling! Comics became interesting and fun. Some people remembered the 80's and wanted to buy back their collections they had lost over the years. Including the signed books. So comic book sales on eBay started to drive the cost up as Gen X'er's (now with careers and money) were willing to pay more and more for that-one-comic. They also started paying other people to take their comic books to conventions and get them signed. Some resourceful entrepreneurs jumped on this and started side gigs doing just that.
Then, in 2008, Iron Man is released in theaters. OMG. Suddenly our fandom has just hit the mainstream! Suddenly its cool again to be a 30-something and talk openly about your comic book collection of yore. So even more people started to rebuild their collections. And in so doing realized something... they said "hey some of these comics go for quite a bit of money on eBay". At that same time conventions started popping up all over. So now everyone thought this could be their side gig too!
Before you know it, everyone is buying copies of Arrow #1, Photo Variant (for $3)... then getting it signed by Stephen Amell ($40), witnessed and graded by CGC ($30), getting it mailed back with that coveted 9.8 grade and then "flipping" it on eBay for $300. YES! This was better than the stock market... AND MORE FUN!
But why Arrow #1? It wasn't a key issue. Green Arrow first appeared in More Fun Comics #73. His first solo comic was a 4 issue mini-series Green Arrow #1. His most iconic cover was in Green Lantern #76 (art by Neal Adams). So why would a modern comic, a variant cover, signed by an actor playing him in a CW teen super hero soap opera sell for $300? Well... I think the Millennials (children of Gen X er's) were probably encouraged by their parents... as their parents thought "hey they are into comics just like me! And look how much I pay for old comics! $300? Must be valuable!".
And thus we all start on the slippery slope.
Convention runners start thinking "I can do so many conventions and never lose money!"
Comic-preneurs think "I just need to pay attention to movies and TV and I can make a ton of money getting comics signed by anyone!"
Retailers think "I can charge a nominal fee and I get to travel the world getting books signed by anyone and I'll be rich!"
However, over the last two years we have seen:
-Conventions going belly up... yet more keep popping up thinking they can do better
-Autograph prices going up
-More and more retailers selling signed and slabbed comics online... flooding the market
Where Is This Heading?
Conventions are growing too big too fast. You have Wizard World on the verge of bankruptcy and taking out loans. You have conventions merging (ReedPoP, AwesomeCon, Emerald City, Rose City, etc). You have just as many disappearing as new ones appearing (or maybe even fewer by now).
You have signed and slabbed comics dropping in price (but artists continue to increase their autograph fee's... mistakenly thinking that their autograph still increases the sale price of a book by $500). Remember that Arrow #1 I sold in 2013 for $300? It last sold on eBay for $93 on March 23, 2017. Consider that alongside increased autograph fee's, increased grading fee's, increased witnessing fee's. Yeah.
So is anyone making money on this right now? Yeah... the people you are paying for autographs are making money. The retailers you are paying a service fee for getting signatures for you are making money. AAAANNNDDD... that's it. Seriously. That's it. Those are the only people making money. What? You still had dreams of going to conventions, getting books signed, and getting rich? You are on the wrong side of that equation, my friend.
Now, what does all this have to do with the Bleeding Cool article above? What Marvel was trying to do was to get the retailers and comic-preneurs out of the fan line. But what they didn't do was make it clear at the beginning... this is a fan line only. The retailer line is somewhere else. Probably because they didn't have a "retailer only" line.
Understanding the problem is the first step toward fixing it. :)
How We Can Fix This
FANS - Get autographs because you are a fan, not because you are an "investor" or a "flipper" or a "comic-preneur". Like I said... you won't get rich. So, if you don't read the comic, if you don't watch the show, if you have no idea who this person is... then don't take up space in the line to get their autograph. All you are doing is making the lines longer, making fans frustrated, and flooding the market making your signed item less valuable. Instead, be a fan and embrace it. Get the autographs YOU want... not what you think OTHER people will buy.
CONVENTIONS - You need to partner with the publishers and artists before the convention. You need to ask them "who wants to only sign for fans?" and "who will sign for fans and for retailers?". Then you need setup specific times for retailers to get signings. That way they don't take up space in the lines! No worrying about capping lines due to too many retailers and not enough fans in the line. You just need to separate the two: retailers and fans. Then if you find any retailers in the "fan line" - you kick them out of the convention. No more admittance for rest of weekend. No table. Enforce this a couple of times... then this problem will go away. Even the threat of this will be a deterrent. But I am 99% sure this is only happening because there is no "retailer" line. Solve that problem.
ARTISTS - Stop raising your prices! Your autograph no longer sells for $500 on eBay. Get over it... that was so 5 years ago. The market is flooded. Most of the people you meet are actual fans and not retailers nor comic-preneurs. And the retailers will stop sneaking in your lines once the conventions give them their own opportunities to get signatures at retailer only lines or private room signings.
Till next time.