I don’t “get” HPB and their pricing on comics. They are a used-books store, firstly. Their very premise is “everything is half-off the publisher’s list price” (printed cover price in most cases). Meaning that reasonable expectation is that you walk in, and everything is half-off. Not “pull a random book that’s appealing and discover it’s full price or 150% cover price or 200% cover price.”
Because they are a generalized books store, and have numerous “sections,” they are not a subject-speciality store. You want historical reference? They have it–but they’re not a “Historical Reference” shop. Books on pets/animals? Section for that, too–but they’re not an “Animals books” shop. Religious texts? Sure, they have a section for those, too–but they’re not a “Religous books” store. Vinyl records–yeah, they have those as well, but they’re not a “Record Store.” CDs, but even Records and CDs, they’re not a “Music Store.” They have DVDs and Blu-Ray, and I’m sure I’ve even seen VHS…yet they’re not a “Movie Store.” So even though they have comics and graphic novels, they are not a “Comic Shop.”
At least a couple of the HPB locations I’ve been to have had a whole separate section for “Rare,” “First Edition,” “Autographed,” and “Out of Print” books. This works well–this section is a “special” section of the store that provides space for the anomalous pricing…these rare, collectable volumes/editions are outside of the store’s broad, general premise of half-off: this section is where you would expect to find that $100+ signed First Edition of a book from 1892 or such. Or the now-long-out-of-print oversized Marvel Hardcover edition of House of M from 2005 or so.
As such, I find that it is quite reasonable of me to be able to expect that if I’m browsing the general “Graphic Novels/Manga” section of the store (not the Rare/Collectable) section–that everything will be at least half-off. If something is damaged, overly common, donated, or whatever factors lead to it–more than half off is a bonus, and quite acceptable…even though it’s the inverse that drives me batty–finding something less than half-off or even with a price at or above cover price. For me, it only goes one-way: cheaper than half-off = good, less than half-off = bad…and I admit that readily.
Typically, the vast majority of their graphic novels and such are well-organized, with four primary categories: DC stuff, Marvel Stuff, manga, and non-DC/non-Marvel/non-Manga. Within those, they tend to be roughly alphabetical, and generally the same series is clustered together with numbered volumes in a series mostly in numerical order. My core complaint here is when the higher-priced “collectable” editions are mixed in…when I get excited about the Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told thicker volume being present, it’s a huge turnoff to the store in general to be looking for the $9.99 price thinking it’s a $19.99 volume and finding a sticker indicating that HPB is actually asking $29.99 ($10 above cover price!) because it’s marked as “Out of Print.” If it’s out of print and thus rare and they’re not willing to “let it go” at half-off the cover price…it should not be shelved in with the general stock! I’m not shopping at HPB for rare/out of print stuff, and if it’s not half-off cover price, it is functionally not in stock at all even if the store has a copy present, for my purposes of general browsing.
Back to my earlier bit about their not being a comic shop: their pricing on single issues. HPB‘s pricing has been erratic and trending toward the ridiculous, and the other day I would escalate it from “ridiculous” to flat-out absurd! Being curious, I checked to see what the single-issue stock was like…and they had a relatively new-looking sign indicating that all comics are $2.00 unless otherwise marked. I do not fault them for setting a “general” price, or a “minimum” price or such, but there are a number of factors that collectively leave me extremely irked essentially “on principle” with that $2 mark. (Among other things, numerous prose books into the mid 1990s were roughly $4 each, so that at the “half price” they would be $2 as vintage items compared to relatively recent comics; let alone 1990s comics that by and large are hardly worth 25 cents apiece). To me, HPB does not “earn” the “legitimacy” with their comics to be asking “top dollar” for them.
I would strongly argue that most single issues of comics from the late 1980s/early 1990s to the early 2000s (if not at this point as recent as 2005 or so) are functionally 25-cent-bin books. Between digital and collected volumes, the single issues hold very little “value,” after their first couple weeks or life of the story they contain. It typically seems to me (and I could be wrong) that in many cases, it’s the long-time comics folks who are adamant about having “the single issues.” I imagine casual fans are happy just to read the stories, and would be content with collected volumes, perhaps moving to single issues if they’re completely caught up from collected volumes to where the only option is the single issues, because the current story has not yet finished for there to BE another collected volume. As such, once the story is in a collected volume, there’s little demand or collectability to the single issues.
HPB‘s comics are primarily in open bins to be flipped through. Typically their “priced” issues (the “unless otherwise marked” issues) are at least bagged if not bagged and boarded. So those $2 default-priced issues are the ones that likely were not worth protecting and individually pricing, as well as the ones that are more prone to damage from anyone/everyone “flipping through” the bins, bending covers, ripping/tearing, etc. and damage as sturdy bag/board issues get pushed back in, yanking a cover off, or causing the “loose” issue to be folded under, its bottom folded and the whole thing pulled downward…or tape from the protected issues sticking to a loose cover, etc. Someone simply browsing is more likely to pull a “loose” issue out and flip through it than to attempt to take an issue out from a bag or bag and board (especially if there are signs requesting one not do that).
Aside from being loose and more prone to browsing-damage…these “single issues” are not a curated collection. HPB has some dividers indicating letters of the alphabet, and that’s about the extent of the organization of the issues. The “A” section might start with several issues of Avengers followed by a couple Mighty Avengers and Dark Avengers (“M” section and “D section mixed here with “A”) before getting to an issue of Action Comics Weekly and then some issues of Angel: After the Fall and then an issue of Avengelyne before getting to a bunch of scattered issues of Clone Saga-era Amazing Spider-Man and then 4 out of 5 issues of Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows and so on. There might be 50 scattered issues of Amazing Spider-Man, but they range from #372 to #595, and are in no discernable order. There’s no telling if there are even any instances, say, of two consecutively-numbered issues…unless one personally goes through all the bins (not even just this “A” section) to pull the issues and then sort by number.
One might be able to–at a glance–see that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of late silver-age or even bronze-age Superman comics (spanning Superman, Action Comics, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, The New Adventures of Superboy, Supergirl, The Daring New Adventures of Supergirl, Adventure Comics Featuring Supergirl, etc). These will be “priced” issues, ranging perhaps $1.75 to $25 or $30 or $35+. And yet… they’re all intermingled, out of order, and so on. Absolutely maddening to even consider seeking one or two specific issues in the mess. And asking even $2/issue let alone the higher collectable prices…but at best you can find most of a given series scattered within a mess of comics whose series titles all begin with the same single letter.
At 25 cents or even 50 cents…sure, throw the stuff in loose and let the customer sort it out. You’re not making any significant money of a couple single issues here and there, no need to go to the effort of clear, detailed sorting. I, for one, have no problem with just flipping through several bins of stuff looking for something that is (to me) an unexpected treasure, when I’m “only” out 25 to 50 cents per issue. My effort is made up for by the insignificant price. But once you’re getting to $1 an issue or $2 an issue that’s a much higher, significant bit of money off single issues (and I’ve not seen any HPB location use any “middle-tier” pricing like 75 cents (from the 25 to 50 cents) nor $1.25, $1.50, or $1.75 between $1 and $2!) If I’m paying $1 or $2 per issue, I’m a lot more “serious” about the issues and as such expect the seller (HPB) to take it seriously as well. Have everything in order by series and number within the series. If you think you know enough about comics to know which ones are truly “key” issues worth having a higher price, know as well which version of series go in what order, and which number comes before another number.
Perhaps I overthink it, but…respect the customer. Respect the fact that someone who doesn’t know anything about comics doesn’t care about this particular issue over that particular issue, and thus will have zero interest in laying out $25 when there are sixteen other issues with Superman on the cover for $2 apiece, any one of which works as “a Superman comic for the kiddo.” Meanwhile, anyone who is willing or capable of laying out $25 for a single (not particularly great condition) issue does actually know at least a little bit about comics and that the used-books store is not a comic shop nor is this customer at a convention or other comics specialty location.
Additionally, one should know enough to differentiate between printings (at the height of the Death of Superman, the newsstand edition of Superman #75 went for around $10. Past 2010, the fourth printing of this issue–that probably was never “worth” more than about double cover price (or $2.50) certainly is not a $10 issue. In 2016, one should realize that those ridiculous, astronomical prices of certain issues in the 1990s–be it one of the Deathmate issues or the original Gen13 #1 or whatever–were already inflated and inaccurate, more a sales gimmicky thing of Wizard Magazine than much else. Maybe Gen13 #1 for one month in an issue of Wizard was listed as “$40.00,” but 20+ years later, I don’t know (of) anyone who would pay $10 for the single issue (probably not even that for a collected volume of the first 4 or so issues–the first story)!
Finally and perhaps most shocking to me recently…”clearance” comics were seen priced at $1 (they were 25 cents or 50 cents as recently as six months ago)…but $1 by tear-away stickers directly on the covers of the comics themselves. Essentially, the comics were being defaced to mark them as “clearance” items…and at $1 apiece. I could sort of see at 25 cents apiece or 50 cents apiece, marking them physically, indicating they’re not the “$2 unless otherwise marked” comics not otherwise marked. But putting stickers on them that are designed to tear apart and not remove simply or cleanly is flat-out insulting.
If things were priced consistently and clearly I would also have less problem…but all of the above taken into consideration, in short, sometimes it looks to me like it’s just someone at HPB looking at an issue or a graphic novel and thinking “hey, I think that was something I “heard” was valuable…better price that higher to not lose out!”
I posted recently about a paperback edition of The Irredeemable Ant-Man that I found, priced as expected at half-off the cover price. And yet, by the same apparent “logic” that seems to “mandate” something like Batman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told or a hardcover of Avengers Forever be priced at 150-200% above cover price, the Ant-Man book should have been $10-$20, but it wasn’t. Because who gives a darn about The Irreedeemable Ant-Man compared to Batman or The Avengers?
Filed under: 2016 Non-Review posts, 2016 posts | Tagged: book pricing, comic books, comics, Half-Price Books, HPB, HPBHaul, pricing, used books | Leave a comment »