Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A few thoughts on the Action Comics #1 eBay sale

A few days ago, I was flipping through some issues of DC's 1989 Star Trek series when I came across an ad for the Overstreet comic book price guide.  The ad made the bold claim that pristine copies of Superman #s 1-4, if they existed, could fetch $50,000 on the open market.  I thought to myself that if I could go back to my eight-year-old self in '89, I'd probably give him the 50 grand to invest in those copies (I'd also probably go and see UHF in theaters while I was there).  In light of the recent Action Comics eBay auction, it'd be money extremely well spent, as a beautiful copy of Action Comics #1 (probably the nicest copy in existence) just sold for a staggering $3.2 million plus.

To be fair, this wasn't just any comic, and it wasn't just any copy of this particular comic.  This is as close to the Holy Grail as you can get in this industry, and as we approach 80 years since its release, it's not like we're finding a whole lot more of these, or ones in better condition.  Still, the price tag on this comic - and the escalation of prices on similar Golden Age comics as a result - is fairly astounding.  Good for the multimillionaire or corporation that was able to add this to his/her/its collection.

As you might expect for an item expected to fetch seven figures, eBay rolled out the red carpet and advertised this auction like few others before it, including creating a comic book-themed introductory page with the pertinent information and an embedded video with interviews and even a soundtrack.

What I found a bit off-putting about this auction, to grumble just a bit, was the sense I got that the retailer selling it felt that he was somehow doing the world a favor by auctioning off this comic book treasure to the highest bidder.  He spoke of the book with awe and reverence one might expect from someone who enjoyed comics, but put on the airs of someone who was donating a lost DiVinci piece to the Louvre while doing so.  This is, of course, his right to do so and my reaction doesn't affect the nature of this one way or the other, but in some ways I would have appreciated it if we could have done away with the pretense and called, to turn a phrase, a spade a spade.

The video embedded at the top of this post is from the auction.  In it, the retailer discusses that a portion of the proceeds from this sale will go to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, a worthy cause and certainly appropriate given the subject matter.  The fine print reveals that the portion is an entire one percent.  Naturally, the retailer didn't have to give a dime to this foundation.  But consider that eBay itself, just for lending the auction some server space, is going to get around 10 percent of the final value, a nice payday for those in charge.

My biggest gripe, because I suppose that's all these are, would stem from when the retailer mentions that he'd love it if a museum would be the highest bidder, giving the public an opportunity to share in this treasure.  A statement like that seems to be a bit disingenuous, because as incredible as this book may be, there's not a museum in the world that will pay over three million dollars for a comic, and more importantly, if he really wanted the book to land in a museum, he could have contacted one and sold it for a fair price.  Of course, he didn't really want the book to go to a museum; he wanted it to go to the highest bidder.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to sell something of this value with the intention of getting as much as you can for it.  But have the guts to come out and say it rather than putting on a false veneer of altruism.

Others seemed to jump on this gravy train soon afterwards, as eBay's "similar items" produced much more than I had expected for a book that has been out of circulation for 75 years.  Just looking at the thumbnails for most of the featured items reveals that many of these are obvious reprints of Action Comics #1 from the last 25 years, a few of which I own.  And yet there are price tags of over a hundred bucks on a few of these.  Get it while you can, I guess.

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