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Observation about late-1980's Marvel Newsstand Editions Options
Thundercron
Posted: Saturday, June 08, 2013 2:31:26 PM

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First off-this is not a thread about getting newsstand editions accepted into the database.

There.

NOW. I picked up a large run of Power Pack issues (so sad to see how far downhill that book went in the last ten issues or so). Many of them were newsstand editions. Now, back in issue #25, there was an announcement made that the book would only be available through direct markets starting with #26. I remember being bummed about this back in the day, because I bought my new issues from the newsstands, and saved my trips to the comic store for back issues. Sometime later, in issue #39, a "new format" was announced--no ads, heavier paper stock, etc. Similar to the formats of Dr. Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and Punisher War Journal. Although I couldn't find a newsstand edition of #39 by glancing at ebay, I did find that newsstand editions were now available with #40. Several of the copies I just got were newsstand editions. None of these carry the Curtis symbol (Marvel's primary newsstand distributor).

Outcast (newsstand edition expert on these boards) once commented that it seemed to him that Marvel was using a company other than Curtis to distribute some of their books on the newsstand. But here's my big question/observation: The circulation reports from these issues make no sense in terms of what we know about how these books were distributed. I'm talking about the "Returns from Newsagents", specifically. Here, let me break it down for you:

Power Pack #37: Returns from News Agents (Average copies of each issue during preceding 12 months): 3,833. Returns from News Agents (Single issue nearest to filing date): 8,490.

Question: How can there be ANY returns from news agents when it's a direct sales-only comic?

Power Pack #46: Returns from News Agents (Average copies of each issue during preceding 12 months): 3,200. Returns from News Agents (Single issue nearest to filing date): None.

Question: How can there be NO returns from news agents? Was every newsstand copy a complete sell-thru? Eh, maybe it was just that one single issue.

Power Pack #56: Returns from News Agents (Average copies of each issue during preceding 12 months): None. Returns from News Agents (Single issue nearest to filing date): None.

Question: Again, how can there by NO returns from ANY issues from newsstand distribution? Was the book really a complete sell-out, time after time? Look, Power Pack was once considered Marvel's darling, and Jim Shooter once called the book Marvel's secret weapon in terms of a quality comic that no one knows about. But in no way was it ever a big seller.

So anybody have any theories? Apparently, these were produced in an alternate world where Direct Edition comics were allowed to be returned to the distributor, and newsstand editions were not returned for credit.

I'm speculating that it may have something to do with these not being distributed by Curtis. Maybe the company that handled these didn't accept returns? But that doesn't explain how the earlier, direct sales-only issues were marked as having returns.

comicscastle
Posted: Saturday, June 08, 2013 3:03:52 PM

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Was that during the time that Marvel distributed their own books? If so their distribution may not have included returns. It would also explain why Curtis wasn't used. It would also help to explain why their attempt to self distribute didn't work.



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Thundercron
Posted: Saturday, June 08, 2013 3:12:58 PM

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comicscastle wrote:
Was that during the time that Marvel distributed their own books? If so their distribution may not have included returns. It would also explain why Curtis wasn't used. It would also help to explain why their attempt to self distribute didn't work.


Marvel's self-distribution was in the middle to later 1990's, so that doesn't fit.

Maybe the company that was being used (not Curtis) only distributed to things like books stores? Places like that would be more inclined to have a back issue stock (I remember book stores back then were more likely to have comic back issues than they are today), and they would have more of a need for a barcode UPC box for their scanners.
Thundercron
Posted: Saturday, June 08, 2013 3:31:19 PM

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All right. I think I figured this out.

I think the later issues (after #39) are all direct editions. A quick look at Mile High's database shows that some of these have barcodes in the UPC box, whereas others have a Spidey face (like a regular direct edition). There are no issues that have two different versions of UPC box (both barcode and Spidey face) that I can find.....except for a copy of #40 on ebay with a UPC barcode box (all other copies have no box at all). That's the only mystery issue, at this point.

So if these were all direct editions, that would explain why there were no returns. Perhaps they were experimenting with how they could do a barcode at the time. I don't know.

Still doesn't explain why the circulation report from #37 reflects returns, when it was supposed to be a direct book.
comicscastle
Posted: Saturday, June 08, 2013 5:18:10 PM

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Thundercron wrote:
All right. I think I figured this out.

I think the later issues (after #39) are all direct editions. A quick look at Mile High's database shows that some of these have barcodes in the UPC box, whereas others have a Spidey face (like a regular direct edition). There are no issues that have two different versions of UPC box (both barcode and Spidey face) that I can find.....except for a copy of #40 on ebay with a UPC barcode box (all other copies have no box at all). That's the only mystery issue, at this point.

So if these were all direct editions, that would explain why there were no returns. Perhaps they were experimenting with how they could do a barcode at the time. I don't know.

Still doesn't explain why the circulation report from #37 reflects returns, when it was supposed to be a direct book.
Did the story crossover with another comic? If so they might have released that one issue to newsstands for that reason.



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Thundercron
Posted: Saturday, June 08, 2013 5:51:48 PM

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comicscastle wrote:
Thundercron wrote:
All right. I think I figured this out.

I think the later issues (after #39) are all direct editions. A quick look at Mile High's database shows that some of these have barcodes in the UPC box, whereas others have a Spidey face (like a regular direct edition). There are no issues that have two different versions of UPC box (both barcode and Spidey face) that I can find.....except for a copy of #40 on ebay with a UPC barcode box (all other copies have no box at all). That's the only mystery issue, at this point.

So if these were all direct editions, that would explain why there were no returns. Perhaps they were experimenting with how they could do a barcode at the time. I don't know.

Still doesn't explain why the circulation report from #37 reflects returns, when it was supposed to be a direct book.
Did the story crossover with another comic? If so they might have released that one issue to newsstands for that reason.


Good point! That issue #40 did feature the New Mutants, and the story involved plotlines that led to fruition in the X-Terminators limited series, which was published to tie directly into the big Inferno crossover.
outcast
Posted: Sunday, June 09, 2013 12:03:34 PM
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@ Thundercron:

This is an interesting analysis of data in the publisher's statements. Kudos. And thanks for remembering my identification, months ago, of Marvel comics with newsstand-style barcodes, but without Curtis markings.

You floated an idea that this alternative distributor may have served bookstores, and not newsstands per se. I don't think I have said so publicly, but I have been operating on that assumption for some weeks now. The reason I haven't said so publicly is that I have not yet discovered any evidence supporting that assumption, except for the basic points that comics were known to have been distributed to bookstores, and that comics in bookstores were not marked as direct-sales copies; what I need now is some evidence (even if merely a collector's recollection) that titles in this middle tier of newsstand comics (e.g., Power Pack, Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme, The 'Nam) were seen in bookstores during the appropriate timeframe (late '80s–early 90's).

I'm not persuaded that all issues after #39 are direct editions. There are just too many examples of direct-only comics published between 1980 (publication of Superboy Spectacular #1, the first direct-only comic book) and 1993 (when direct-edition Marvels and DCs began bearing barcodes) without any of the usual newsstand trappings (barcode, Curtis symbol, color banding to indicate off-sale week) for me to be believe that Marvel was barcoding direct-only comics before 1993. I still like the notion of a third distribution channel.

Having said that, it does seem clear, with titles distributed via this third channel, that Marvel was not as meticulous about publishing two versions (barcoded and Spidey-head) of each issue as they were with Curtis-distributed titles. I think I pointed out earlier that I collected Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme as it was published, and bought each issue at a comics shop. In spite of this, many issues in my collection do have newsstand-style barcodes, and for those issues, I have never found a cover scan on the Internet of a Spidey-head variant. Perhaps the third-channel distributor was less concerned than Curtis was about comics shops returning comics through non-direct channels. Perhaps, with sales booming, comics-shop owners no longer needed the financial edge that returning direct-sales channel comics might have provided.

The facts you have cited regarding news agent returns are puzzling. I have never been able to figure out which issue those "single-issue" sales and return numbers pertain to. Over the years, though, I have seen a number of items stating that final sales numbers of newsstand-distributed comics did not come in until months after a particular issue went on sale. How many months? I don't remember ever seeing a specific number.

I do know, however, that Publisher's Statements are routinely filed on Oct. 1. The statement in PP #37, dated May 1988 (on sale probably Jan. 1988 in comics shops), would have been filed Oct. 1, 1987 (the published statement itself ought to be dated; if I am wrong, please let me know). That still puts filing of the statement more than one year after cover date of the last issue (#25) before Power Pack went direct-only. That's more months than I would have guessed necessary to get final figures, but let's assume (for this discussion) that it took 15 months after cover date for the newsstand distributor to provide final sales figures to publishers. In that case, the Statement might have covered #s 13–24 for the 12-month average figures, and #24 for the single-issue figures.

Power Pack #46, dated May 1989, would have carried the Publisher's Statement dated Oct. 1, 1988. Using the same assumption as in the preceding paragraph, this statement would have covered #s 25–30 (Power Pack went bi-monthly about the time it went direct-only) for the 12-month average figures, and #30 for the single-issue figures. It wouldn't have been unreasonable for Marvel to include only #25 in the news agent sales and returns (averaging in issues not distributed via news agents would have skewed the figures), so the 12-month averages might have been for #25, and the single-issue figures might have been for #30.

Power Pack #56, dated June 1990, would have carried the Statement dated Oct. 1, 1989. Using the same assumptions, this statement would have covered #s 31–38 (reflecting an every-six-weeks publication frequency). Every issue in this time period was published direct-only; zero news agent sales and zero news agent returns are therefore expected and reasonable.

Admittedly, all this depends on a rather extreme assumption of the time periods covered by Publisher's Statements, and if that is proven incorrect, my tentative conclusions here would have no merit. Personally, I prefer to take this as evidence that the single issues referred to in Marvel's Publisher's Statements were much older than previously suspected.
outcast
Posted: Thursday, June 13, 2013 9:19:45 PM
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Regarding the question (see preceding post) about the number of months after an issue's cover date that that issue might be included in the circulation figures of an Oct. 1 Publisher's Statement:

I think there might be a way to pin down that number with some precision. Publishers' Statements do not appear in every issue of any series; some issue of any long-running series had to have been the first issue of that series to include a Statement (obviously!). If one could put together information about enough Marvel series that began publication at about the time under discussion (I'm not sure that comparisons to Statements many years earlier or later would be valid), one might eventually discover the shortest time period from publication of a series' first issue to publication of any series' first Publisher's Statement. The plausibility of the 15-month hypothesis that I presented in my previous post could then be tested.

I know that the ComiChron site is collecting this data, but the last time I looked, the site publishes nitty-gritty data for only a few major titles. Does anyone know any tricks for pushing past the obvious at that site, and seeing Publishers' Statements data for a large number of titles?
HeroComics
Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013 2:26:16 PM

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At the time in question, I was working for Capital City Distribution, and we would routinely receive some of our re-orders from Sparta bearing the UPC code, even though we were a direct only distributor.

It was explained to me at the time that overruns were common, and we should expect even a percentage of our regular orders to have some UPC books, if we had reordered the books prior to the original distribution day.

Remember: we had 3 weeks lead time over newsstands. A fine example of this was Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. I suspect that is similar to what happened here.

Heavy reorders of non-returnable books would take priority over returnable, and since we did not have the ability to return on any level, we just distributed them as regular books. Some savvy comic stores that also carried comics and magazines from Charles Levy, were able to return some, but we had no way to be sure if we would get any UPC books, so we were not an accurate source for stores like that, along with them costing more from us as well.


I also know that publishers statements, do not accurately reflect the total print run, because when compared to the actual paid statement from the printer, it can vary.

outcast and Thundercron:

Most of what you say here is true, at least as I see it. The only way to get an accurate print run on a comic from this time period is to compare printed\paid accounting from Sparta, with the invoices from the publisher. Unfortunately, reprints, second printings, returns, Whitman books can skew these numbers as well.
outcast
Posted: Sunday, June 16, 2013 3:20:01 PM
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@ HeroComics:

I appreciate the real-world observations that you contributed to the discussion. Thank you!

It is interesting to get confirmation that some newsstand-style comics went through the direct-sales channel, but not completely surprising. My LCS owner (in business since early 1980s) has told me that he remembers receiving newsstand-style comics in his deliveries of new comics.

Really, though, the issue that Thundercron and I were discussing is a little different from the one that you addressed. It's not your fault; Thundercron and I have been sharing information and opinions on the topic for so long that we talk in a sort of shorthand. Someone new coming to the discussion is bound to miss some of the things we now take for granted. Let me try to catch you up.

It is well known that, since around 1979, comics publishers have been producing comics in at least two versions, a traditional newsstand version, and a direct-sales version. It is pretty easy for an interested collector to learn to distinguish the two versions. Crisis on Infinite Earths is a title that was distributed in both versions.

It is also well known that, since 1980, comics publishers have been producing some titles exclusively for the direct-sales distribution channel. Such comics do not exist in newsstand versions at all; the notion that any direct-sales distributor received newsstand-style copies of such comics would appear to be an impossibility.

There appears to have been a third distribution channel that arose in the late 1980s and lasted into the 1990s; this channel carried some Marvel titles that had been direct-only for some months prior to re-appearance of newsstand-style markings (e.g., Power Pack, The 'Nam), and some new titles (e.g., Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme). Comics in this category, though some copies do carry newsstand-style UPC barcodes, are distinguishable from traditional newsstand comics, as follows: The Curtis Circulation Company (CCC) symbol does not appear, nor does the color banding on each issue's top edge. The 5-digit number in the left block of the barcode is different for these comics than for titles distributed by Curtis. Thundercron has suggested that the third distribution channel might have been to bookstore chains that proliferated during that time, including B. Daltons and Waldenbooks. I think he is probably correct, and I believe that bookstores carried both traditional newsstand comics and third-channel comics, but not direct-only comics.

What continues to be baffling about such third-channel titles is that there are some issues that appear to exist exclusively with newsstand-style barcodes (copies with direct-sales markings are not known to exist). There are comics in my collection that I know I bought at direct-sales shops that have third-channel characteristics, and I have never seen a copy of such an issue with direct-sales markings, nor even a cover scan on the Internet.

Thundercron's question in this thread concerns a title (Power Pack) known to have been distributed first (#s 1–25) to newsstands and to direct-sales comics shops, and later (#s 26–39) to direct-sales shops only. From #40, issues in this series have markings characteristic of the third channel and (for some issues), of the direct-sales channel. Thundercron's question concerns apparently unreasonable Publisher's Statement numbers for returns reported during the title's direct-only period, and during the later third-channel markings period.

I hope this helps.
Thundercron
Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013 12:17:03 AM

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I just sold a full run of Stalkers, an Epic Comics title from 1990. I couldn't help but notice the UPC box (I'm always gonna notice this stuff now!). I double checked Mile High's database, and a few ebay listings. Looks like another instance of several of the issues only being printed with newsstand-style UPC boxes, with no copies found of the traditional direct edition UPC boxes (except for #1). Were Epic Comics ever offered on the newsstand?

Of course, Mile High is trying to sell the newsstand editions seperate from the directs, even though the scans show they are the exact same books.
outcast
Posted: Monday, June 17, 2013 6:29:40 AM
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Yes! Some Epic Comics were distributed via the newsstand channel.

Initially, beginning ca. 1982, Epic Comics were direct-only comics printed on Baxter paper. Then, ca. 1985, the Epic line was revised, with some titles printed on newsprint. Newsstand distribution was introduced at this time. Titles with newsstand distribution included Dreadstar and Company, Elfquest, and Groo the Wanderer.

Mile High's attempts to sell as newsstand "variants," comics that apparently exist ONLY with newsstand markings is regrettable, IMO. It's one reason I try to share the facts (as I understand them) about newsstand comics on this site.
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