How Amazon funds my comic book addictions

I have the sneaking suspicion that this post will possibly get me labeled as some kind of speculator, even though it really has nothing to do with advice on buying hot comics or how to advice on selling comics on ebay. (if, of course, anybody actually reads it, lol)  Back in October, I came across an interview on the site Bleeding Cool (a comics medium-dedicated website) and in this interview a guy was being asked about a side business that he had going which involved his selling of graphic novels (GNs) on Amazon.com.  Basically, by selectively buying Trade Paperbacks (TPBs) and Hardcovers (HCs) whenever he sees them at his local retailers for a decent discount off the cover price and then listing them for sale on amazon at a competative price for a faster sale, he is able to supposedly make atidy sum on the side; according to the interview, he makes give or take $1000/month after amazon takes its commissions.

The key here is that he spends a lot of time on research checking Amazon for GNs that are currently out of stock and being sold by private sellers on amazon for a higher price than the original suggested retail amount.  Thhis is his guide for knowing what to buy.  An interesting point of the article was that he was taking pains to explain how what he was doing was not technically ‘speculating‘ on comic books and how it was actually the opposite of comic speculating.  His argument was that with traditional comic book speculating, you are buying a book at or near cover price in the hopes that down the road it will rise dramatically in value and be an easy-and profitable sell; In contrast, the selling of GNs on Amazon is based on not touching the book until you see there is a demand for it and a scarcity of supply that has raised the price on this specific marketplace. (ie Amazon)  Then and only then should you seek it out to buy and list on the site at a competative price for that beforementioned faster sale.

Now this interview got me to thinking about how this is a pretty straight forward concept that should be pretty easy to put into practice and how this kind of retailing is relatively untapped to a large extent in local markets compared to the high numbers of people who are regularly buying new comics and listing them for sale on sites such as Ebay, etc.  [An aside: People list single comic issues on amazon but I don’t get the feeling that it is a huge market for them comparatively – probably in part because you are charged shipping on each item in an order automatically without much leeway for the seller to offer a discount for shipping multiple items to the buyer without getting in touch and making some arrangement outside of the site.]

So, I decided that maybe I could try this system out and see if I could make some extra cash on the side to pay for my own comicbook hobby/habit.  I was not about to fool myself into believing that I would be able to make any more than that from doing this because of the whole concept of supply and demand, ie: if it is selling for a high price on amazon then it probably won’t be very easy for me to find at my local retailers. But whatever, I would try my hand at it and see how it goes.  The first few books to search for were ones mentioned by the guy in the interview and from there I would just have to browse through amazon listings myself for more books to consider.  Lucky for me, the guy in question, Ryan Carstensen – who also goes by the name of Ryan Lee on his comics industry podcast, Chronic Insomnia, also has a recurring segment on his podcast dedicated to trade-flipping called ‘market spotlight’. This has been a very helpful resource and served as a springboard for finding other in demand trades on amazon.

From the way I am talking here, it is obvious that I tried my hand at this. What I can say at this point is that I have had some minor success trying my hand at this to the point where I will keep buying the occasional book and listing it on Amazon.ca in hopes that I get me a quick sale.

Did you notice that I just said Amazon.ca instead of Amazon.com?

Yeah, about that…

My original intention was to set up a free sellers account on Amazon.com and start listing the first few books that I had found at cover price or better in my local area. Well, that was the plan at least.  It turns out that as a Canadian I cannot set up a sellers account on Amazon.com unless I have both a US credit card and a US address (and not just a PO Box in the US either); you can set up on the US site from almost any other country in the world – except from Canada!  The cynic in me says that it has something to do with Amazon’s parent company having an arrangement with the Canadian Government to allow Amazon warehouses in the country as not being a foreign company if they have the Canadian subsidiary. (This is funny, since the last time I ordered from amazon.com, they sent my order from a warehouse in Toronto, hmmm, kind of blurs the company line, don’t it?)

Anyway, what this meant for me was that I would be selling my wares to a much smaller potential market.  Seriously, it is disturbing how many people in Canada, known commonly as ‘Canadians’,  are not even really aware that there is a Canadian Amazon site.  So there is that disappointment to deal with.

As well there are some other frustrating differences between the two sites, the .com and the .ca:

The Canadian site has quite a number of GNs missing from its listings; more than one of the books that Ryan had mentioned to keep an eye on are not even listed on the .ca site and of course if you want to create a listing for them you have to become a Pro-seller which (you guessed it) will cost you a monthly fee for the privilege.  Likely the only way you will cover the $25 monthly fee is if you are a high volume seller since the pro seller status also lets you wave the $1.50 per item fee that is charged to a seller for any sale of a book on the site. As for single comic book issues – forget it: there are almost no single issues listed and unless you do it yourself as a pro-seller there won’t be.

In addition to the per item fee, Amazon also takes 15% from the sale of a book as a commission. That isn’t too bad for the service that they provide – it could be cheaper but I can live with it. What really sucks is the failure of amazon to comprehend the actual costs of shipping parcels (such as books) in Canada.  The standard amount that amazon.ca charges a customer for a shipment is $6.49.  This would be fine if Canada’s postal rates were more in line with the US but they are not.  Instead, to ship a single thin GN is closer to $8.00 here, and to ship anything bigger, such as a thick DC Showcase Presents book is going to run you closer to $12 or more – and that is if you use a free Venture One membership to get a discount at Canada Post.  Regardless, Amazon.ca will still only pay you that same $6.49.  So yeah, that kinda sucks.

Despite having to account for the extra uncovered shipping costs in my pricing, I have still been able to sell some books on there. At this point I have been averaging around $100 a month in profit from my GN sales – easily enough to cover my monthly comic book purchases. I have made ten sales since mid October, when I first started listing books on there.  In the last year I have made the switch from buying single comic issues to waiting for the trade and now when I am browsing the tables at a comic con or a local comic shop (LCS) I have two reasons to be checking out the selection of discount graphic novels on hand.  It has actually become something of a game for me to seartch out in demand GNs on Amazon to see what has gone up in price and maybe worth trying to find locally to list.

As something of an aside, I should just mention that I have considered the idea of selling comics on ebay but have passed on it because of the heavy competition and the concern that I have about adequately grading my books for those who might be particularly picky about condition of the comics they buy online or otherwise.  On Amazon, there is a basic degree of description that is expected for trades – potential customers want to know what kind of condition your GNs are in before committing to a purchase, but they are not going to be as picky as comic buyers on ebay will be. They just want their GNs to be in decent shape.

At this point I am even toying with the idea of becoming a pro seller for a month and during that time listing all the books that I have that dont have alisting yet and as many of my single issues as possible and then going back to free seller status. I figure with the lack of the $1.50 sales fee as a pro seller it would only cost me about $20 for the month.  I have also just finished listing a bounty of books that I bought over the last couple of days during the Boxing Week sales that are in abundance up here. (do you have the same Boxing Day sales tradition in the US? I kind of assumed that you did, but I’m not sure… )  Some of the gems included brand new copies of Showcase Presents Sgt. Rock volumes 1 and 2, The Flash: Terminal Velocity and The Flash: Dead Heat trades, as well as the Marvel Essentials: Tomb of Dracula vols. 1 and 4.  Try looking those books up on Amazon.ca and see what they are going for right now, while keeping in mind that I got them all at US cover price with at least a 20% discount off each one. There is where some of my comic hobby funding will come from in the near future…

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16 Responses to How Amazon funds my comic book addictions

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  3. dreamscaper says:

    Huh? Wha? Ehh, oh well, at least this is fresh content/fodder for the blog…

  4. Ryan Lee says:

    This is all completely fascinating to me, since it’s rare and exciting to see anybody else interested in The Game. Sorry to hear about the Amazon.ca situation, although it’s possible that it could sometimes work in your favor. If you’ve got a base of loyal Amazon.ca users, and the particular book you have lists higher on that site, you’ve got an opportunity that I wouldn’t even have considered. On the whole, though, it’s better to have a wider audience, and Amazon.com surely has that.

    Not only do we not have Boxing Day sales in America, 99.4% of the population would look at you funny if you mentioned it. It just doesn’t exist here.

    Any way….congratulations on your success! Comics are not a cheap hobby any more (I don’t need to tell you this) and if this helps keep you in the hobby without growing broke, that’s outstanding.

    Send me an email address to the show (thechroniccrew@gmail.com) and I’ll send you some stuff that will help your book searches.

    Cheers!

    Ryan Lee

  5. dreamscaper says:

    Hey Ryan, thanks for the visit and the comment – especially since you are the primary reason that I am in ‘the Game’!

    Your comment about a loyal customer base is crazy in its timing, because just tonight, I was going through the list of recent customers of mine on amazon.ca who had bought books/GNs from me that were related to other GNs that I have either just added to my listings or that were hanging around and therefore reduced prices on, and sent out messages letting them know about the new additions and price drops in case there was something in my listings that they might be intertested in. Funny that.

    I am also trying to benefit from the fact that less competition per book in many cases means that a amazon.ca price on a book will be higher than the price for the same book on amazon.com. Even when the price is similar or slightly higher than the US amazon price, I can hope to benefit from my ability to offer free upgrades to expedited parcel service because of my Venture One membership, as well as the fact that the shipping for someone in Canada might be less for an order placed through the .ca site compared to ordering from the US.

    But enough rambling about Amazon.ka-ka…

    Again, thanks for taking the time to share your feedback here. It really is nice to be able to tell myself (but maybe not my LCS people) that my sideline keeps me on an even keel with regards to the costs of my comic hobby addiction. (or, CHA, for short) I will be sure to message you with the appropriate email addie (one that I actually check regularly) and as well will let you know about some books I have come across in my travels that you might get a chuckle out of hearing about…

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