Friday, September 5, 2014

Sales Tales

Doug: I thought I'd update everyone on my experiences selling my comic book collection, as it's been a few weeks since I updated the previous thread. If you're so inclined, you can click here to see my current auctions. In today's comments section, feel free to chime in on your own buying and selling experiences. I know we have several readers who like to frequent flea markets, as well as some who don't mind shopping on Amazon's affiliated merchant sites. Your input concerning buying second-hand material could prove invaluable to readers thinking about trying the not-new route for their purchases. Additionally, I'll be interested to see what everyone feels about my selling practices. After all, we are among friends, so I anticipate a heartfelt conversation that might include both adoration and criticism. Well, maybe that's a bit over-the-top...

Doug: Maybe I'll use my standard book review formula and frame this with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Let's:

THE GOOD: I have gotten much better at packaging books, both larger lots as well as single books or small lots that might go into an envelope. Let me give you some details --
  • Do you know what makes great packing material for the USPS Medium Flat-Rate box? A four-cup cardboard carrier, like you get through the drive-up window at your favorite fast food restaurant. I'm serious -- that baby fits snugly right into the bottom of the box, giving nice, sturdy filler material for a lot of 10 books (or more). I try to use a magazine-sized bag and insert several books into that (so maybe the customer will find 2-3 of those, depending how many books they purchased). I'll then stack the bags and wrap them in a section from our local newspaper. Crumpled up newspapers then fill out the top of the box, followed by a closed shake to detect any inside motion. If it's snug, it's taping time!
  • Do you know what makes great packing material for the USPS Flat-Rate envelope? All the corrugated cardboard that comes in a carton of furniture purchased from IKEA, that's what! There is so much 2- and 3-ply thick cardboard, that the seller is only an exacto-knife away from really stiffening an envelope. I'll admit to giving expensive books a little more care than something that sold for $10 or less. 
  • For the Megos I sold, I shipped them in a USPS Flat-Rate Small box. I used a foam bed pad as packing, cutting a piece large enough that would wrap around the figure. I then stuffed all that into a quart-size ziplock bag (it did not fit completely in the bag, but still had a snug form to it) and then into the box. Some taping around the edges, and it was almost the perfect container.
  • Everyone loves a buyer who pays right away, and I try to ship same-day if at all possible. I don't think I've delayed any shipment past 24 hours, unless the transaction was completed on a Saturday evening. I also love buyers who leave me positive feedback; I always leave positive feedback right after I print the shipping label.
  • The practice of writing details for a prospective buyer has forced me to take a hard look at the conditions of my books and their "guide value". Let me be honest in saying that I have not upgraded a book for a listing since I started this. I have sincerely tried to paint a picture such that I would feel like I was being treated well if I was the buyer. And that brings me to our next stop --
THE BAD: The bad is the whole mystique surrounding the price guide.
  •  Here's my standard operating procedure for listing a book --
    • Look up the price in the latest Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, based on my original grade, and record that price on a spreadsheet.
    • Take the book out of the bag and scan the covers (and also the splash page if it's a Silver Age book; just the front cover once well into the Bronze Age). After scanning, I go through the book's interiors, checking for the Marvel Value Stamp, any coupons that were clipped or filled out (yes, 10-year old me has been found "guilty!" of that on a few occasions), trying to catch the covers in the light to look for wrinkles, dents or impact marks, etc. Then I revise the condition and the price.
    • When I do the listing, I will create a "Buy It Now" price that is around 80% of what I have determined the book is "worth". Then I start the listing at about half of that. And...
    • ...this brings me to the real "bad" here. Buyers sometimes won't even bid on what should be considered a great deal, particularly on a high grade book. I have had a few sales where someone jumped on the Buy It Now only several minutes after the listing went live. But I have had some nice books offered for really swell prices that went all the way through eBay's 3x listings and did not sell. Let me be blunt -- that ticks me off. I am not going to give my collection away. Period.
    • And don't even get me going on buyers who complain about paying shipping costs. I have begun to split costs with buyers if I have to use a box instead of an envelope. But c'mon... what do you ever buy mail-order and not pay S&H on? It seems everyone thinks they can get something for nothing.
  • So what exactly is the purpose of the price guide? If no one is paying those prices, what is it a guide for? Who sets those prices? And are they only to create some formula such that dealers can make low-ball offers to dudes like myself (remember, that is the route I first tested when deciding to sell).
  • One more thing here, somewhat related to the guide -- eBay's seller fees. I use their standard form for listings, and don't add any bells or whistles. I don't use reserve prices (my wife about puked when I told her that I started my first 20 issues of the Avengers at $1 with no reserve). That being said, the fees are right around 10% of the final selling price. So my first month's charges were around $430. Ouch. But then, it is a nice way to sell. I don't leave my house until I ship. The buyers come to me.
THE UGLY: Two things stand out --
  • Buyers who don't pay. I'm currently dealing with eBay to get a winning bid canceled due to a buyer not paying. He has never communicated with me, in spite of being invoiced three times and contacted by me two other times. The thing is, he had 100% positive feedback. However, when I looked at the actual feedback comments, there were 3-4 negative comments, each stating a situation similar to what I am dealing with. Not sure how he has that A+ rating. I think there's still another week or so until his 30-days-to-pay expires. The auction in question was my Mego Spider-Man, so I know I'll have no trouble selling it.
  • Placing my books, and my reputation, in the hands of a third party. I have faith in the USPS, but hey -- every now and then accidents happen. All of my feedback has been positive, and many have commented on the packaging. But when I shipped Avengers #2 it did not arrive as it had left my hands. That's a helpless feeling!

Doug: So there you have it -- some thoughts on my odyssey. I think my gross sales are now up around $4800, and I'm really not even close to making a dent in this whole thing. I've listed the first 200 issues of the Avengers, and have sold approximately 130 of those. I've sold Fantastic Four #s 48, 49, 50, and 52 (a poor copy that went for $26; I'd paid $5 for it several years ago), along with Amazing Spider-Man #s 39 and 40. I've also sold all the Sin City books that I had to one buyer. So there is plenty to go! And it's a tedious process. But when I think that I've already made past what I was offered for the whole thing, I wouldn't change this. Even if it takes me a year...


Unknown said...

ebay is the epitome of feast or famine. I sell lots of typically 5-6 issues and I've had lots go for 2 or 3x what I originally graded them out to sell for and then I've had lots that I've pretty much donated. I've still continued listing and trying out different mixes to find just that right formula and this is what I've found:
1) Starting auctions off at more than $1 deter ppl no matter the lot.
2) Mixing publishers doesnt seem to attract as many buyers. Stick to an all DC or all Marvel let whenever u can.
3) Silver age comics sell the best, hands down.
4) Silver Age X-Men and Spidey really can pull the value of your lot up as a whole in the eyes of the buyer.
5) ADVERTISE! I've found that advertising within the comic community on twitter and pinterest to b REALLY beneficial.

Doug said...

Thanks, Jeff!

I understand what you say about starting auctions at $1. However, with the advent of high-speed Internet (as opposed to when I first started buying on eBay myself many years ago), buyers can afford to lay low until the very end before they get into the competition. This just scares me, because as you said above -- I don't want to make "donations", I want to get a bit for my books.

Saying that, I fully understand that material from the past 20 years will most likely be considered charity by the time it's all said and done.


david_b said...

I've bought and sold on eBay for nearly 20yrs now, I can recall perhaps 3-4 shipping issues at best. Still the best way to go.

Price Guide..? Throw it out the window. It's quaint, but that's really all it is. It's only worth what someone's willing to pay for it, or willing to compete with another buyer for.. Period.

I had two competing buyers drive a minty Major Matt Mason figure from $40 to $300..., else it may have only sold for $50. It's all down to demand.

Doug, I understand your reasons for selling; I'm just glad I'm not in a position where I have to reduce. I'll always cherish my floppies. My collection is small compared to most, but it's got some true whoppers in it.

Doug said...

David, I agree with you on the price guide. A huge part of eBay selling (or buying, as you alluded to) is the fact of who happens by your auctions while they are listed. Of course the right buyer makes all the difference.

I was shocked that the copy of FF #52 (1st Black Panther) went for $26. The cover was a mess. The Panther had at some point been cut out of the cover, and then affixed to a piece of white paper and taped back into the cover. Additionally, there was a panel cut out and missing from an interior page. What I couldn't figure, though, is why - there wasn't a coupon on the other side. But, the right person wanted it.


Martinex1 said...

I agree with Jeff on the less than $1 / No Reserve approach. I think people filter out looking at anything with a starting bid. So if it is a lower value item the population looking at it is cut significantly. I think people like to bid and they don't like to start "high" - they think they can get a bargain but then bid it up way past its value. Weird. I've seen some nice comics with a start bid of like $5 and nobody starts. Really baffling. On another note - unfortunately I may be one of those ebay buyers who don't leave feedback to sellers. I always pay right away - most times within minutes. I bid on it and wanted it so I don't like to keep anybody waiting on the transaction. But when I get the package I honestly don't think about getting back on line and leaving comments. I have to get better at that - poor manners. I have never had a bad or damaged package or been disappointed on anything I bought on ebay - so a universal thanks and 5 stars to everybody I have ever bought from (whoever you are)!

Martinex1 said...

One more note - I think the movies have definitely driven up the values on ebay to some ridiculous levels. That was obvious with Guardians of the Galaxy. But what I have seen is that even the rumor of a movie affects bidding tremendously. I bet that affected the Black Panther buy. People speculating on value. So get out your Ant Man, Dr. Strange, etc and time your sales to announcements.

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences so far, Doug. I hope selling off the rest of your collection works out well, and doesn't take a whole year.

I've only been a buy on eBay, but so far I've had mainly positive experiences.
And Martinex, like you, when I win something I pay immediately. However, I always, always leave feedback, because apparently that's really important to eBay sellers. If possible, you really should go back and leave (especially) ratings and reviews - even if it's only a polite "thank you."

Doug said...

RE: Feedback

I need to get better about reading feedback for other people, particularly when I'm a buyer. You really can find out about people's shady history in commerce if you check that stuff out.


Doug said...

Back to what Jeff said above about lots --

As I go through, I think I will do mixed lots for some of the Silver and Bronze books that didn't sell previously.

One book I was shocked that did not sell was a low-grade copy of Spectacular Spider-Man #2 magazine. The Green Goblin story is one of the best, for my money.


Karen Williams said...

My biggest question about selling comics on eBay is about shipping. Unfortunately, I don't have a bunch of key Silver Age comics, so I don't expect to make much money from these sales. What I don't want to do is undercharge on shipping, so I end up loosing money when I sell comics. But I'm also concerned that I won't sell anything if my shipping costs are too high.

Those of you who are selling on eBay, how do you package your comics for shipping and how do you decide how much to charge?

Doug said...

Karen --

I just use the postal service's free mailers -- boxes and envelopes. I state exactly what the S&H will be in the auction. The envelope costs $5.05 and the medium box costs $11.30 (I think). For the boxes, I generally charge the buyer $8, so yes -- I do eat a bit of that cost.

Also, the USPS insures packages up to a shipped value of $50. If an auction ends at a higher value than that, I pick up the cost of the additional insurance.

Those are the little things that are a pain and take money out of my pocket, but I think buyers appreciate it. Again, the folks who irritate me are the ones who expect me to pay for everything. No way...


Karen said...

When my partner told me he was going off on this odyssey, I was both excited and a little worried for him. But I am glad that it's turned out well for him, for the most part.

I sold a lot of comics on eBay about ten years ago, and generally the experience went well, although I probably didn't make as much money as I would have hoped to. I was a very cautious grader and always erred on the side of grading low rather than high- reasoning that I would get fewer complaints, but perhaps it kept the bids from going higher. Who knows.

I feel for Doug's problems with the post office mangling books. It's frustrating when you do your best to package them and they get rolled or bent. Once they are out of your hands, you just have no control over it. With really valuable issues, I would often send them in a priority shipping box -although I am not sure those boxes even exist any more!

Now that Doug has had success with selling his books, it's encouraging me to do the same. But I have no idea when I'd have the time. That's always a problem. But I'm enjoying hearing his on-going adventure all the same.

Doug said...

Time is a huge issue, Karen! I've figured out that I want 5-day auctions to go live on Monday nights (I generally write the form ahead of time and schedule it out) so that they end on the weekend.

But last Sunday was a marathon of scanning, listing, etc. I bet I put in around 3 1/2-4 hours on eBaying. I really don't want to commit that kind of time, but hey... That is why I said in the post that this may take a year.


david_b said...

Great comments.., YES time is the worst aspect of doing this work. At one point I was scanning and trying to sell some $5 comics, and reflecting of all the time I was spending.

I just gave it up.., wasn't worth it when it came to mid- to post-Bronze books.

Actually for shipping, I've gone to free domestic shipping (continental US only..). As odd as it may sound, I still only spend a few bucks on shipping out of pocket, but my stuff sells quicker with the **FREE SHIPPING** in the title. For assured sales, I take a few bucks out of pocket and it's worked great. I ship under the cheaper 'book-rate' if I'm selling bound-books. Current USPS regs state that you cannot use 'book-rate' if there's advertisements, or an abundance of pictures over text (which doesn't make sense for coffee table books..). I've had a couple of postal employees query me on it, when I show up to the post office with my book already wrapped, ready-to-ship.

NOTE: I do note for all non-continental shipping, I quote actual shipping after the auction is over, so I don't get a bunch of non-US folk asking what shipping is while the auction's going on. Then after the auction's over, I pack the item and go to the post office in my building (first floor...). Very convenient.

Now for Doug's volume of sales, I can see where the free shipping gimmick wouldn't work out as well; again, you do increase attention and assure more people looking at your auction. So it's a trade-off.

For me selling less than a dozen items per month, I come out pretty well.

Gary said...

I was an active ebayer about 10 years ago. Both buying and selling. Now when I sell an item I do it through I either sell to them direct or put it on their site as a consignment.

Joan said...

As a compulsive Spanish e-buyer of Marvel and DC comics, I must say that a clear explanation of shipping costs is crucial for bidding for an issue or lot, as distance means an (sometimes very high) extra-cost for me.
With regard to issues conditions, I think that high-quality pictures are more helpful than grading. If potential buyers do not have previous experience with the seller, pictures are better than words.
Doug, I wish you’ll be lucky with your sales (and I hope you’ll be willing to ship to Spain if I were interested in any issue!)

Redartz said...

Wish you all the best with your auctions,Doug! I echo many of the comm enters above regarding ebay experience.
I fully understand your reticence about low starting prices; oddly though most of my more successful ones started out as such. If I start at 99 cents, it seems within an hour or two the bidding is already underway. If I open at, say, 4.99, the action is noticeably slower.

For shipping, I too make use of the USPS Priority Mail packaging. The price seems to work out for the best, what with the included insurance and tracking. The bubble envelopes they offer are particularly useful for shipping comics, when one adds a couple sheets of cardboard for firmness. And of course, I always not e "Do Not Fold" in bright red letters on the package. Whether anyone pays attention is another matter...

As for buyers, most have been great. Only my last auction ( right before all our moving preparations) became problematic. Like your story, several weeks went by with no contact from the buyer despite numerous attempts from me. Had to contact ebay to cancel the sale; I plan to relist whenever I find the box among all our moving stuff!

Redartz said...

Doug- you mentioned flea markets earlier. For anyone looking to pick up some back issues, these can be a cheap alternative to auctions and conventions. Especially if you are looking for "reader copies"; pristine books are tougher to find. You will find some dealers with long boxes full of comics priced via Oversrtreet ( or even higher, if a movie tie- in seems likely). You may also find folks with a box or two of old goodies, or old junk, priced at next- to- nothing. Flea markets and yard sales are a treasure hunt, which is all part of the fun...

Dr. Oyola said...

Too bad I missed this topic yesterday. I was at all-day teacher meeting and when I got home I plopped on the couch and vegged the rest of the evening.

I love the pics of the packing process. You know I love this kind of stuff.

Anyway, I fear I may be one of the shipping & handling whiners Doug complains about. For me it is two things, 1) I feel cheated to pay more than I know what shipping costs no matter what the total and 2) to me the cost of shipping is part of the cost of the book. So if a book is $2 and the shipping is $3, well that is a $5 book as far as I am concerned (as I have said before I refuse to pay more than $5 for any book - it is just a comic after all - with a few exceptions). That said, I am rarely selling or looking for valuable stuff. It is not like I am expecting to find Avengers #4 for $5! ;)

When I sell (and I am getting near the end of what I have for sale), I use a Staples 9x12" mailer with a cut out flat rate envelope inside for sturdinesss for up to four issues (with a bag and board for one or more issues). Usually comes to somewhere between $1.82 and $2.66

For more than that I use the priority flat rate envelope - but sometimes use Media Mail, which for larger lots is VERY cheap - just slow as heck.

I have never sold high ticket comic items (sold a few Magic cards a few years back worth a couple hundred dollars though) and for items like that I would just eat the cost of shipping. It is psychological! You are bound to get more bidders and what does a couple bucks for shipping mean when you are getting $75, $100 or $200 or more for a single or pair of comics?

Funny, I always set the Buy-It-Now price to just OVER what I think I'd get for it. The privilege of the Buy-It-Now should cost the buyer a little something.

I list some lots repeatedly! I have some I have been posting all summer! We are talking 14 or 15 times! It is strange, but all of a sudden, they will sell in big groups. I just had a guy buy 6 of my lots at once.

For small cheap lots that don't sell, my new thing is putting them in a random "grabbag" lot after 8 or 9 weeks and selling them VERY cheap. So far it is working (I have one going up on Sunday).

Doug, I personally think that you have the schedule of listing backwards. It is best to have auctions end on Sunday or Monday (Tuesday the latest). People tend to have plans or go out on Friday or Saturday, and I find most bidding happens in the last few hours. I do 7-day auctions.

I miss flea markets as a place to find comics. My last few experiences with them have been negative. Poor choice and/or over-priced.

I use Midtown Comics website to buy back issues. They have great prices and I can get around shipping fees by doing in-store pick-up. They have a HUGE warehouse full of old stuff that is not available in the store, but they ship to the store weekly for buyers - so I pick them on a Thursday with my normal pull list. I also have an account with a wishlist, so when they buy a new collection with an issue I am looking for and it becomes available I get an email alert. The only problem is that the employees often get first pick and thus sometimes good stuff never even gets listed.

Anyway, I am sure to have more thoughts. . . but this is all for now.

Doug said...

Here's an update within the update!

I had a great weekend, actually selling everything I had live on eBay (first time the queue was empty since I started!). One buyer actually bought everything I had -- 86 books total for over $330. He got some great deals, and I am sending him two medium-sized USPS boxes. Win/Win.

Monday evening starting at 7:30 CT here in the States you can see my next batch of 17 offerings. I'm into the 200s of the Avengers, and will list the first 10 Annuals. Taking the advice of several of our readers, I decided to take a leap of faith and start every auction at $1 and run them for seven days. Now you know what that means, right? If you jokers have led me down a bad path, I fully expect you to jump in a week from Monday and bid those suckers up to where they should be!!!

Hope everyone had a great weekend -- Superman, Superboy, and the Legion tomorrow!


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