Comic investing tips #5: CGC census data: a guide on how to use it

After a heated discussion in the G+ group, I realise there are still many misconceptions on how to properly use data. In this case, it is the CGC census data. So, I decided to share my experience on how to use it properly such that you have a better sense of the supply situation for any book. Keep in mind though, supply is only half the equation for any comic book pricing. Demand is equally important but how to analyse it is a topic for another day.

What is CGC census data

The information pulled from the census is a snapshot in time. It tells you, at that very moment, how many copies of graded books are there and in what conditions. Since it is a snapshot, the context of what comes before it is important if you want to gleam useful information from the data. You simply cannot just use the data without some context or it will lead you to wrong destinations and conclusions.

Common mistakes

#1: Using census data to gauge scarcity without context

The number one mistake, made usually be a beginner, is to look at the data and state that a book is rare because it has so few numbers on the census. This is totally wrong. Most books, by default, have low census numbers because there is no incentives for people to grade their books. If a book is worth $10, will you spend $40-$60 grading it? Probably not unless it is really high grade for older books and you want to preserve them using the CGC casing.

Also, be beware that when census number is low, it tends to be bias toward high grade copies because only such books have incentives to be graded i.e. for preservation. No sane person will submit a mid or low grade book if it is not valuable and there is no reason to preserve such a book.

#2: Using surrounding non key issues to estimate the rarity for key issues

This was the object of discussion in the G+ debate I mentioned earlier. In the member’s defense that a book like Hawkman #4 is not rare in 8.0 grade, he cited surrounding issues’s data such as Hawkman #3 and #5 to¬† show that the ratio of 8.0 and above books to total books submission is high, i.e. if you submit a Hawkman #3 and #5, there will be a high chance it is 8.0 and above.

Since there is no reason to believe why Hawkman #4 should be different from these issues, he concluded that the current low ratio for #4 is because all the high grade copies have not been submitted. I nearly choked at his conclusion LOL.

The reason why the ratio is different for Hawkman #4 compared to #3 or #5 is due to disincentives for low grade submission. If a book has very little reason to be graded, it wouldn’t be. For silver age titles, only high grade copies tend to be graded either due to preservation needs or they might be worth something.

In contrast, low grades will not be graded as there is little incentive to do since they are not worth much and not worth preserving. As a result, for non keys, the census is heavily bias towards bigger ratios of high grade book to total book submitted. This explains why we are seeing higher ratios for Hawkman #3 and #5. It is definitely NOT BECAUSE of the fact that non high grade copies of #4 is not being submitted lol.

As an example to show this hypothesis, I can simply pull out any key books in silver age and compare against surrounding non keys. I can assure you that the same pattern will be observed, ie. the ratio will be higher for non keys than keys. Let’s look at one example: X-Men #4

  • #4: 1289 copies, 227 in 8.0 and above, ratio = 17.7%
  • #5: 665 copies, 144 in 8.0 and above, ratio = 21.6%
  • #6: 747 copies, 242 in 8.0 and above, ratio = 32.4%

This pattern is exactly what you will see in any silver age books.

  • In this case, because #5 is the second appearance of Scarlet Witch, it is still worth something, hence creating incentive to submit lower grade copies and pull the ratio down to 21.6%.
  • For #6 which is really a non key, you can see it is really high compared to #4.
  • For #4, the ratio is lower than #5 and #6. Is it because high grade copies of #4 has not been submitted? NO of course! It is because there is no incentive to submit lower grade copies of #6 and/or #5 thus skewing its ratio towards the high end.

For Hawkman #3 and #5, they are not so well collected (relative to X Men) and are non keys. Hence their ratios are higher than the X-Men data as only the highest grade copies are likely be submitted. If you used this information to estimate the rarity of a key like Hawkman #4, you couldn’t be more wrong.

#3: Mistaken low growth for no growth

When collectors say a book is rare, it does not mean that there is no high grade book in the wild. There will be always be some collection that has not been submitted yet. However, the key is that there will NOT BE A FLOOD.

This is an important point as some will always use personal examples to say they have seen 1 high grade copy somewhere and hence it is not rare. As I said, low growth does not mean NO growth.

How to use census data correctly

So, to use the census data correctly, you need to avoid the mistake above and use context in their information gathering.

#1: Use growth in census after events to gauge rarity

When you want to gauge rarity, monitor the submission rate and census data across a period of time after there has been a news event or when prices start to spike upwards. These events tend to create huge incentives for folks to submit their books and will let you see if a book is really rare in high grades or is it because there was no incentive in the period before the news.

Aquaman 11This is why Aquaman #11 is considered rare. Mera has been confirmed to be a key player in not only the Aquaman movies but as the second female Justice League member behind Wonder Woman.

Yup, it is not Zatanna, not Vixen, not Black Canary but Mera. Understandably, prices of #11 have started to spike and a CGC 6.0 is easily a $300 to $400 dollar book (I hope you guys have been buying when I told you to do so way back in 2014 in my Aquaman key issues article. At that time, a low grade VG is only $30 LOL).

With such strong incentives, we should see a flood of submission. Nope, didn’t happen. As it stands, there is still only 50 copies being submitted. Further more, 90% of all listings on Ebay is for VG and below. This is true scarcity and I predict 2 years from now, total graded copies might be under 400.

Check Ebay listings

#2: Look out for low ratio books

If a book has been submitted beyond a certain healthy number and still has low census data on high grade copies, they might be reasons that cause high grade copies of this issue to be rare. Solar #10 is a great example. It is not an absolutely rare book but 9.8s are hard to come by, thus making its prices high when compared to other Valiant 9.8s. Similar for Spider Man #301. It is not a rare book except in 9.8 conditions.

If you have time, you might want to play around with the data and look for issues that are well collected to see if high grade copies are hard to come by. If they are and prices are still affordable, they will make a great investment. An example? X Force #1 LOL.

$_1Yes, it has a 2.5 million print run but if you look at census data, it currently only has a 10% ratio. Out of 278 copies submitted, only 27 are 9.8s. This has to be shocking right? Since X Force #1 is not exactly a very valuable book, folks who are submitting should think they have a chance at a 9.8. Why would they spend $40 and submit since a NM raw copy is only a dollar bin book? Given this incentive of submitting only 9.8 candidates, the fact that only 10% has hit 9.8 means it is probably harder than one think.

In contrast, let’s look at X Force #2, which actually spiked for a while last year. As a result of this spike, there was lots of incentives (This is an example of point #1 I made earlier) to submit this book for grading. The data so far? Out of 1842 submissions, there was 1054 9.8s, thus achieving a ratio of 57%. Now, this is more in line with most copper age books, instead of the 10% that X Force #1 has.

Of course, 10% of 2.5 million is still 250k but I suspect the actual ratio is lower. Why? Because the incentive to submit anything less than 9.8 is not here yet. If the 9.4-9.6 candidates start to be submitted, I think the ratio of 9.8 to total will be less than 10%. Anyway, this is very speculative although I am still trying to buy a copy of X Force #1 in 9.8, just for kicks haha.

Check Ebay listings (I assure you there will be none LOL)


Data is only useful if you used it correctly. Hopefully, sharing what I know will let you have a better sense of how to get information from census data to make more informed investment decision.

One thought on “Comic investing tips #5: CGC census data: a guide on how to use it

  1. Hey Aaron, love your blog. Thanks for all the informative posts. Just one question. How to I join your G+ community. I thought I was a member but apparently not.

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