Comic Investing Tip #10: Direct vs Newsstand Comics

This article explores the starting of Marvel’s direct sales program and whether there is any room for comic book speculation.

Currently, the market for newsstand edition of comic books is very active, with sales commanding strong newsstand premium over their direct counterparts. This is because they came scare after the 90s and certainly after 1999.

However, newsstand editions were the norm prior to the 1980s. In the 1970s, direct editions were the scare editions. As such, will there will be a direct edition premium, at least for books in the late 1970s?

First, let understand the history.

History of direct vs newsstand editions for Marvel

Marvel introduced direct editions as early as 1973 but these had similar covers as newsstands.

The first differentiated cover markings came in small numbers in 1976. This is to prevent abuse from direct edition retailers. Why is that such an abuse?

The direct system offers more discount relative to newsstand copies, on the condition that they cannot be returned. Unfortunately, there was no way to tell a direct and newsstand comic apart before 1976. This lead to retailers often returning their direct editions, after buying them for a substantial discount.

Hence, to combat such abuses, differentiated covers were introduced in 1976, but only in a small number of titles. This was expanded in 1977 and 1978 until it became a company wide program in June 1979.

How to tell direct vs newsstand editions

The differentiated covers used by Marvel undergo a few changes.

All direct editions have diamond price symbol, instead of the rectangular ones. These diamond markings were the only way to differentiate early direct editions from late 1976 to early 1977.

Here is an example for Eternals #8 (a key issue I covered here). Notice the diamond pricing difference?

A lot of Ebay sellers do not know such differences. In fact, I found a funny example of a seller labeling a direct edition as a newsstand edition.

On the other hand, there are also some smart sellers who are starting to sell these at a premium, as seen below

From mid 1977, a blank UPC box was introduced in Direct Editions. This was done via a request from Whitman because their staff was wrongly scanning the individual comics barcodes as the prices for the 3 packs. By eliminating the barcode from the comic, Whitman staff will then correctly scan the 3 pack’s barcode.

These changes were made for all direct editions, and not just for Whitman. There were no special editions made for them so calling them Whitman editions are not correct. However, a lot of ebay sellers are doing that.

This is in contrast to DC, who really made Whitman exclusive markings on their covers for Whitman.

Below is an example of the blank UPC box. Notice the diamond price symbol as well?

From 1979, the black UPC box was replaced by the normal barcode but with a strike through.

This is, by far, the most common direct edition comics in the late 1970s. Below is how the 2 editions look.

To see how common these direct editions with strike through are, I did a count with Marvel Two-In-One #54. Out of 18 listings:

  • 6 were direct editions, which is 33% of listings.
  • Most were at least in VF condition. One was a 9.6.
  • No price premium for the direct vs newsstand editions.

Limited Direct editions vs limited newsstand editions

Although we have established that direct editions for comics were not the norm in the late 1970s, do they have the same scarcity premiums as newsstand editions in the 90s and later?

The answer is no and that is because of 2 important differences.

The first difference is that direct editions are not returnable while newsstand editions are. This itself has an impact on the number of surviving copies.

Lets’ do some simple math here. Assuming that direct edition in 1978 is 10% of all copies. We also assume that in 1993, 10% of all copies are newsstands. Finally, we assume total copies printed in both years is 100,000.

Below is how the numbers look like

Direct Editions in 1978Newsstand Editions in 1993
Total copies produced10,00010,000
Percentage returns0%30%
Remaining copies10,0007,000

Assuming similar production ratios and a conservative return rate, we will have more surviving copies of direct editions from 1978 than newsstand editions from 1993.

The 2nd important difference is condition. Most newsstand comic issues are not well taken care, leading to scarcity in high grades.

Direct edition comics however are mostly backed and boarded, or at least kept in better conditions than magazine racks. As such, you will have more copies surviving that are in better shape.

Due to these 2 factors, newsstand editions from 90s and later will always be harder to come by than direct editions from late 1970s.

Having said that, I expect some kind of price premium to develop over time, esp for the earlier bronze age books before a company wide policy was introduced.

Direct edition comics to speculate on

Below is what I think are good Marvel direct editions to hoard, just in case the market suddenly places a premium on them.

All these issues contain first appearances and should have a higher chance of taking off.

Eternals series: The first direct editions of the Eternals started with Eternals #8, at least according to my research. If any of the readers find an earlier direct edition of Eternals, please let me know. Since we all know a movie is coming, hoarding direct editions of Eternals is not a bad idea.

I did a count for Eternals #13 to see the ratio of direct vs newsstand for this book. Here are the results out of 92 listings

  • 5 listings were for direct editions. That is about 5% of all listings
  • 0 copies above 9.0. Most are in VF and below
  • No significant difference in prices, especially for sellers who did not use Whitman or any other special descriptive terms in their listings.

Compare these with the Marvel Two-In-One #54’s result. It is obvious direct editions that were introduced before Marvel’s company wide policy are harder to come by.

Invaders series: The direct edition for Invaders starts from #13, which is disappointing as I was hoping for a direct edition of #12. There are a couple of first appearances in this run, although none is as signficant as Baron Blood, Spitfire and Union Jack.

However, do note that not every single issue after #12 contains a direct edition. As mentioned, direct edition did not become a company wide policy until June 1979.

The above issues contain the first appearances of the Crusaders, Warrior Woman and the Destroyer respectively.

Conclusions

There are more direct editions of late Bronze age books to speculate on but these will be for a later post.

In the meanwhile, keep an eye out for those diamond shape price labels if you are buying late bronze age books.

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