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Comics & Games Retailer

Online Auctions - Part Two

By Oliver Chin

Delving deeper into selling online, people can engage in many forms of auctions:
Reserve: bids must equal or surpass a minimum price set by the seller.
Dutch: 2 or more of the same item is for sale; bidders submit both a quantity and a price.
Barter: seller and bidder trade items of agreed upon and equivalent value.
Proxy: bidders submit their maximum bid; the web site (as a proxy) automatically bids higher on their behalf to counter the bids of other bidders.
Private: seller and bidders' identities are secret; the identities of the seller and the winning bidder are revealed at the end.

However, rather than explaining each type in turn, I'd rather share some varied examples of retailers' success.

Collections

For the souls who want everything (and I mean everything) associated with a particular comics character, series, or creator, you can try to satisfy your desires by searching for what others have collected and willing to part with for the right price.

A case in point is www.thespidermancollection.com, which states that it is the "largest collection of Spider-Man memorabilia for sale" and that it is valued at over $200,000 by Butterfield & Butterfield (a traditional auction house that was recently bought by eBay). This entire lot (no separate individual items) was sold on eBay on October 20, 2000.

Consignment

Selling on behalf of others for a commission remains as lucrative as ever. Nadia Mannarino runs All Star Auctions (http://allstarauc.com) which sells collectibles and comic-related art through its catalog. These range from comics from books and newspapers to toys and movie posters.

The company also acts as an agent for artists such as Frank Frazetta, Carmine Infantino, Mort Drucker, Joe Simon, Jim Steranko.

Having sold through regular houses like Christies, All Star combined internet auctions with conventions into a "Simul-con." Starting in 1999, they hosted an online auction during the San Diego Comic Con. Conventioneers could view products at the company's booth and bid on them against eBay members worldwide.

Retail

Barry Short from 21st Century Comics (Fullerton, CA; 714-992-6649). I thought it was best to use his response verbatim to do his experience justice. He wonderfully illustrates how an active retailer can generate positive results.

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"I don't know that what I'm doing is particularly innovative, but I've had good success with eBay in several different ways.

"Initially, I found it a good way to recoup my investment in leftover items. Not necessarily single comics - it's not really cost effective there. But extra boxes of trading cards, leftover t-shirts, statues, general merchandise - I've been able to sell all of those, almost always at least reclaiming my costs, often getting retail or close to it. This means fewer losses due to unsold merchandise - always a good thing!

"I've also used eBay extensively to sell unusual collectible items, where having a larger pool of buyers than I have in my store has resulted in significantly higher selling prices. Things like old toys, movie memorabilia, high grade key issues of various comics - all have sold for me at well above what I would expect to sell them for in my store. For instance, a while back I sold a VT-1 SuperOstrich - a big transformable Valkyrie from the Macross motion picture, mint in a very fine box. I'd been selling these here at 21st Century Comics for around $250-300, but I'd sold two recently and knew it would take a while at least to sell another. So, I put it on eBay, started it at $150, and sat back and watched as the bids came in - until it finally closed at $960.00! I would NEVER have sold it for that much in the store - and most people would have thought I was insane if I'd ever asked that much.

"A sale like that is of course the exception, not the rule. The biggest
adjustment to selling on eBay is that you have to be willing to accept low prices on some items. Understand that you may well sell that item for the minimum bid, and decide what your minimum is, based on that knowledge. Sometimes you'll be disappointed, sometimes you'll get a thrill.

"One other way that I've received some good value from eBay is in providing me with a way to sell items that I don't normally carry in my store. From time to time I get merchandise, such as when buying a collection, that's outside my normal inventory parameters. Most of it goes on eBay in one form or another - and I often get very good return. Recently I sold a bunch of Dragon Magazines that way - we don't carry RPGs, but these had been in a comic collection I'd purchased. They were relatively early issues, mostly in really nice shape, and sold for an average of close to $20 each - in fact, they ended up covering the cost of the collection. Pretty amazing, as we hardly even took them into consideration when buying the collection. (Shira Levine probably remembers my amazement at the prices on the Dragons - I had them up for auction during the San Diego Con, and kept going back to check the progress!)"

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Short's experiences are very instructive, since only by experimentation can retailers gain the necessary confidence to make auctions a meaningful part of their business.
Be flexible, pragmatic, and opportunistic to roll with the unpredictable ebbs and flows.
Be pleasantly surprised with high sales but not devastated with low ones.
Be dedicated to maximize the return on sunk costs

So let the last word on auctions be "action." You need to take it, and engage your customers wherever they are to give them whatever they want, whenever they desire it.
Don't be afraid to meet them online, and on their terms. The conjoining of interests is what retailing is all about.

Magazines

Comics Buyer's Guide is the USA's longest running magazine about comic books. Every month it features new comic reviews, nostalgic retroviews, interviews and a price guide. Oliver Chin reviews anime, manga, movies, videos, graphic novels, comics, and books.

Comics & Games Retailer provides news to comic and games retailers about practical how-to tips on selling comics and keeping up with industry and market trends. Monthly issues include Oliver Chin's column "Going Global" and other articles that give a national overview of the market.