Atomic Avenue, an online site where comic collectors can buy and sell their comics, is going public next week. Personally, Peter and I think it’s going to transform the comic book industry. But first some background:
The problem with the business of comics is that, once you get beyond the most casual level, it’s restricted to the cognescenti, or as the rest of the world might describe them, obsessive geeks. Certainly, it’s this that turned me from comics to literature, when I, too, could have been arguing with my English teachers that The Watchmen was a suitable subject for an 11th-grade book report.
My realization that I didn’t belong among the ranks of comic book fans came many years earlier, when I thought of turning some of my comics into cash. Certainly, news reports about the annual (local to me) San Diego Comic-Con led me to believe comics, particularly old ones, are more valuable than they are new. I called a comic book store in Oceanside and described my comics. I’d never heard of bags and boards, and I wasn’t wise enough to know recent back issues are simply unsold inventory. The owner (generously, I think) offered me 1/2 cent per comic. I cut up my old comics and turned them into paper dolls and collages.
Years later, the movie Batman came out, with great hype. I remembered the Batman comics I used to read, so I figured I’d catch up on his new stories, which were reportedly darker and deeper in tone. I walked into a comic book store in Berkeley. They had no current Batman comics for sale: those had sold out almost as soon as they came in. But I could get a recent issue from a few months before for $10. I settled for a paperback book that reprinted several of the “Dark Knight” issues, but I didn’t go back to comic book stores after that. I didn’t want to put the effort and/or money it required to get the comic world’s “best-sellers” when I could buy science-fiction and fantasy books much more easily, and for less.
When I met Peter, I learned more about the buying and selling of comic books, particularly since we tried to thin his then already-formidable collection of comic books by selling them at local comic shows. There’d always be some newly-hyped title that everyone, but everyone, had to have, and which would trade hands for much more than it should. I still remember buyers fighting with each other to pay us $20 for our last copy of Superman #75 (the death of Superman issue) in a black wrapper which made it unreadable. The rest of the show would be a dull slog waiting for the buyer who wanted a back issue which hadn’t gotten a blurb in Wizard Magazine, and which we also happened to have. More often than not, their wish list didn’t match our collection.
You’d think online auctions like eBay would have changed all that for the better, but the game’s just the same, just on a larger scale. The seller holding the last issue of 52 (a hot series which just concluded) can enjoy multiple bidders and get a premium price. But an individual issue of a comic off the comic world’s collective radar, i.e. Care Bears #2, isn’t worth selling, and probably won’t sell at a price high enough to cover the cost of a listing fee and commission. Some sellers manage this by selling lots, but that doesn’t do any good to the buyer who only needs, say, Care Bears #2, to fill out her collection, or the seller who just has an odd issue of a series. On the other hand, knowing that there is a market for the lesser-known comics, really large comic retailers will have an issue or two in stock, but they have to sell them at a premium price to cover the cost of procurement, storage (which may possibly be years), and retrieval.
And that’s where Atomic Avenue comes in. There’s no listing fee, or time limit, and the commission is lower than on auctions. It lets the seller and the buyer deal with each other directly, so the overheads (and risks) a retailer faces don’t factor into the cost. And the price is fixed, so the buyer doesn’t have to wait out an auction, or overbid for a comic.
Atomic Avenue’s been in a beta testing period for a few months now, and it’s working just as we expected. Buyers are getting those “long tail” comics which are available, sometimes from 2 or 3 sellers already, at a competitive price. When we go public, there’ll be more sellers competing price-wise for buyers, but also more buyers driving up the prices of sleeper comics no one noticed except for their hardcore fans. And as for the rest of us, we’ll have fair access to a marketplace which used to only belong to those willing to dedicate their all to it.
Atomic Avenue will be public on March 2: I look forward to seeing it take off.