In today’s market, there is a common understanding that DC silver age keys has less supply than Marvel. However, there hasn’t been a strong reason being put forth to explain this. Initially, I though it was down to print runs but I don’t think that can be the complete reason. I briefly hinted about this in my write up on undervalued Green Lantern issue but I will explain fully here.
Let’s take the 2 books in the previous article to show why print run can’t explain the difference in secondary market availability.
- Avengers #57: 276k
- Green Lantern #59: 217k
The difference between the two issue is around 27%. If print run is the only reason for the difference in availability, we should only see a 27% difference in Ebay listings between the two books. However this is not the case. The avenger Ebay listing for Green Lantern #59 is less than 15. Avengers #57? More than 50 listings. This is beyond 27% difference. We are talking about 280% difference in secondary market availability!
So, it is clear that the initial print run is not the answer. Then what is? I believe it is the combination of the sell through rate at the time when the issues are released and the way the newsstand distribution works.
In the late 1960s, almost all comics were distributed via newsstands. The thing about newsstands is that unsold copies were eventually be destroyed like all newspapers and magazines. This means the eventual available copies might be very different;y from the initial print run, depending on how well the particular comic title is selling.
Marvel vs DC sales in 1960 and 1970s
The table above shows Marvel vs DC sales: blue is Marvel while green is DC. If we look from 1967 onwards, we can see Marvel surpassing DC in terms of sales. In 1968, we can talking about 3 million difference in sales, or 33%. In other words, for every 100 copies of Marvel comic that got sold, only 67 copies of DC books were sold.
Assuming if every copy of the Avengers #57 276k is sold out, only 145k of the Green Lanterns were sold. In other words, the difference in GL #59 and Avengers #57’s available issues in the secondary market is around 89%, despite their initial 27% print run difference.
Now 89% difference is at least getting nearer to the 280% difference we see in Ebay listings, rather than the 27% number from the print run alone. However, there is still a gap, which can be further explained via the Power Law effect i.e. 20% of the titles will command 80% of the sales.
In DC’s case, the top selling titles were all Superman, Batman and JLA related and they make up the bulk of the sales (see data below). So titles like Green Lantern, Aquaman etc are actually below the average in terms of sales which means the number of copies destroyed were higher than the 33% average that we compute earlier.
In Marvel’s case, Avengers were actually one of their top 10 selling titles and so its destroyed rate is actually lower than the average.
Putting the two together, it will mean that that for every 100 Avengers #57 that got sold, much less than 67 copies of Green Lantern are sold. If we assume that only 33 copies got sold, the difference between Avengers #57 and GL #59 is about as large as 280% which is exactly what the Ebay listing is showing us.
Of course, the example is artificial but I hope it brings the point across of why silver age DC comics are rarer, especially for non top selling titles. In essential, they sell much less, which means more copies were destroyed thus leading to less issues available in today’s secondary market.