If you spend much time on the Internet reading about comics—and I'm assuming you do, unless you happen to be a personal friend of mine checking out this site to see if I wrote anything about you—then you've probably heard about Marvel's...weird move to accept returns of certain DC Comics in exchange for a particular variant cover.
The first place I saw anything on it was at Blog@, although The Beat and Robot 6 are also on top of it (the latter has one of the biggest, if not the biggest comments threads I've ever noticed on one of their posts before—111 at the time of this writing). I assume a lot of other smart people will have something to say about it tomorrow—I'm looking forward to someone at Marvel explaining what, exactly, is up, and some of the retailers who are also bloggers to explain whether or not this makes any damn sense to them.
It doesn't make any sense to me.
Variant covers in general don't make any sense to me. I see them at my local shop from time to time, the prices jacked up from cover price to some astronomical sum to presumably reflect its rarity and the amount of other books my shop must have ordered to "earn" the variant from the publisher. Occasionally I'll see an extremely expensive one, in a stand next to the cash register. Like, I think I recently saw a black and white, pencil variant of an issue of Blackest Night with $70+ price tag on it.
I don't understand why these things exist, nor can I imagine who buys them. Someone must buy them, because they do exist, and those someones must buy them because they think they will be worth money some day.
Those someones are all dumb and really ought to stop their foolish behavior immediately. Are they going to make that $70+ investment back some day? How? By selling the comic to some other dumb or dumber chump? It's just so horribly sad and depressing and—seriously now—ruinous to the direct market and the comic book industry that serves it.
This weird Marvel scheme seems especially so, as far as I can make sense of it. Marvel wants retailers to mail them 50 covers from 50 DC back issues. Specifically, Adventure Comics #4, Booster Gold #26, Doom Patrol #4, Justice League of America #39, Outsiders #24 and REBELS #10, each of which had their sales ridiculously inflated by DC's buy-a-comic-get-a-plastic-ring promotion. In exchange, the retailer will receive an "extremely rare" Siege #3 Deadpool variant.
I don't know how much it costs a store to buy on copy of any of those DC titles, but I know the cover price for them all was $3.99. Even if a store has unsold quantities lying around, say they put them in a dollar bin, or a fifty-cent bin or, hell, maybe the store is so awesome it has a quarter-bin. They could make $50 (or $25, or $12.50) off 'em by selling them at ridiculously cheap prices.
But if they just trash the covers in exchange for a single issue of Siege, then they have to sell it at between $12.50 and $50 to make what they would have by sticking those 50 issues in those hypothetical bins or, more likely, they'll have to charge far more if they want to make up what they spent on the books and/or equal what they could conceivably make by selling those books at cover price.
So, would stores be looking to sell that Siege variant for as much as $200? Is that feasible? Is there some asshole out there with $200 to burn on the third issue of some dumb fucking comic book series because this hypothetical dumb asshole thinks it will be worth some money some day—with "some money" defined as far more than $200?
Is this really what comics is like in the year 2010? Still? Really?
If so, that is horrible.
As far as I can understand it, Marvel is actively encouraging insane speculation on their products, even more so than they usually do by publishing variants (a depressing business tactic that DC and, to a lesser extent, Dynamite, Boom and most of the smaller companies who are players in the direct market also engage in to varying degrees), and consumer spending habits that don't benefit any players (except, perhaps, for some dumb asshole who unloads his variant on some other dumb asshole).
If one has $200 to spend on comics, aren't they better off, say, buying ten Marvel trades and, if all goes well, finding some new series or character or creator they liked so much they want to follow that series or character or creator in to other, future books?
So, serious question—what is Marvel? It's a comic book publisher, but what exactly is it publishing? Is it publishing stories? Or is it publishing collectibles?
Those are two very different things, and you can't effectively sell the same product to both markets simultaneously without eroding one of those markets.
Well, you can...but not for very long.