Sales To Astonish #16 - December 2023 & Year End Review

December 2023

At the risk of it sounding a little like a repeat of last year (has anyone been reading these reports that long? 😂), December is always an odd time for an online retailer. There clearly comes a point where whatever postal or shipping service you use cannot get the gift someone needs
ahead of the festive day so there always tends to be a bit of a drop off around 20/21st December and as predicted on 21st December I had another day with 0 sales.
However, this year I had the benefit of stock in three retail outlets which hopefully would mean people visiting them had the opportunity to buy something in person right up to Christmas Eve and mitigate against the online drop off - this was evidenced by a sale of a Dungeons & Dragons Ravenloft boxed set in Vintage Guru for £75 on the same day where internet orders disappeared.
Although there was a slight drop off in sales as anticipated, generally the first couple of weeks in December were busy online.  Whilst this might be due to seasonal fluctuations, December did see an increase in overall traffic to the website which was really pleasing. The more visitors, the greater the chance that someone will find something of interest to read or fill a gap in their collection. In a year where Comicana Direct closed their site, it appears there are precious few dedicated back issue comic websites in the UK (30th Century Comics, Silveracre and Luckytargetcomics are those that immediately spring to mind) so I’m pleased that I have reached the end of another year with website traffic on the increase.
On Sunday 17th December I attended the Comic Con does Christmas show run by Striking Events at Northampton. Whilst I had already decided to ‘retire’ from Cons & Fairs, this one is only 20 mins down the road, I’d done well there previously in the year so it seemed like a no-brainer. I took boxes of £1 comics, comic sets and was offering graphic novels at 3 for £20. The doors opened and people dribbled in - a far cry from the hordes that attended in March & August. By midday it was apparent that people were probably Christmas shopping elsewhere and the gruellingly slow hours between 12-4 are some that I will never get back. Thankfully I didn’t make a loss!! My lasting memory of the day will be of the two forlorn Reindeer cooped up outside the sports centre looking as bored as I had been 😂😂
On Boxing Day I ran a 24 hour flash sale to people who subscribe to the weekly email newsletter. To say I was staggered by the response would be an understatement and to put things into perspective I took more money on Boxing Day than I did in the entire month of April 2023. It took me over three days to package everything up and get the comics, graphic novels and roleplaying games out to new homes
There was time for one last release at the end of December and most of the Venom issues from a collection of 90’s mini series sold within the day. I think these have been slightly overlooked in preference to the hype of the last 2 years over the Donny Cates run on the character but I have no doubt that if I got replacement issues back in stock they would sell again. And again
New Years Eve was quiet and I watched The Killer on Netflix. Based on an Archaia comic (reprinted from the French? original) it was a real slow burn. In fact it never really ignited and seemed like a bit of a vanity project for Fassbender. I really enjoyed the comic and the follow which weren’t full of action but were expertly paced, up so perhaps this was one of those times when the story is best left in the medium it originated in.

2023 - Year In Review

To start the Year in Review I’ll start with looking at sales by product type and then touch upon some general themes at the end.
Marvel Comics
2023 for me has undoubtedly been all about Marvel with back issue sales accounting for around 60% of the the years sales. I’ve been staggered by the continued demand for Marvel back issues, especially titles from the late 80’s and early 90’s that I can remember hitting the shelves. Many of these issues, especially the likes of X-Men and Spiderman had print runs into the hundreds of thousands every month so you would think that there is an abundance of copies out there. Yet every time I get copies of X-Men #1, Spider-man #1 and even X-Force #1 they sell. Fast. It’s also worth noting that some of the second tier titles from that era such as Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme. Quasar and Spirits of Vengeance are incredibly popular as are the foil and gimmick covers that proliferated that time. Bronze Age Marvels always sell well too when I can get them in stock but more recent back issues from the last decade are slow movers unless the are key issues or people are looking to fill gaps. It’s certainly been touched on by many over the last few years but I do think that the number of series Marvel characters have is sometimes off putting to someone returning to or entering the hobby. Avengers - eight series and counting, Amazing Spider-Man - six so far and Ghost Rider has a ghastly ten series that I am aware of and it could very well be eleven by the time of writing! Others would contests that having a series like Action Comics which has kept its sequential numbering to over 1000 issues makes it equally as difficult. I don’t have an answer but using an App like CLZ or the Fandom sites to check which series an issue is from all help keep collectors on track
DC Comics
Basically it’s Batman. All ages and all titles, generally anything Batman related sells. This also covers titles like Harley Quinn, Nightwing and The Joker. Flash back issues sell sporadically, Wally West issues appear more in demand after than Barry Allen ones. DC imprints like Vertigo have a fanbase but only really for top tier titles like Sandman and Hellblazer. Whilst the Black Label (every time I write that I have the Carling jingle in my head!) imprint puts out some excellent material there’s no real back issues market for their titles at present.
The one interesting point of note I have learned from selling DC back issues this year is you shouldn’t just sell what you like personally. I am not a Superman fan. Period. I don’t see the appeal in a seemingly indestructible hero but plenty of other people do and this year when I have had Superman back issues in stock from 80’s to 00’s they have gone pretty much the same day as they were dropped into the store.
Image & Dark Horse
Aside from Spawn, Saga and The Walking Dead, there doesn’t appear to be much of a back issue market for Image comics. That’s a shame as over their 25+ years they have published some fantastic comics (and some not so great ones 😂). Granted it’s probably just as cheap in some instances to pick up titles or story arcs in trade as it is in single issue format. If I had a larger inventory of Image comics I would probably look at doing some kind of reader bundles by genre as an introduction to their titles.
Similarly some Dark Horse titles sell ok - Hellboy, Conan and Star Wars (although I don’t feel that there is as much demand for their Star Wars back issues here in the UK as there is in the States), but everything else just sits gathering dust. With the exception of Dark Horse Presents. I’ve often felt this was a hugely overlooked title which features great stories, art and first appearances.
Over the past 12 months I’ve sold most of my inventory of what I still consider to be the best comic anthology title out there.
Indies sell sporadically at best. Titles like American Flagg and Rocketeer always move when I have them in stock. Some BOOM and IDW titles like Something Is Killing The Children and TMNT sell depending on the issue number but titles from other publishers like Dynamite, Titan and Vault comics only sell when they are marked down. Manga sells occasionally. Valiant is dead - and their titles don’t even sell at £1 a comic.
Roleplaying Games & Magazines
Since I started The Unreality Store I have found there is a steady market for vintage RPG’s and magazines. I often think I could sell more if I could source it at a reasonable price but unlike comic collections, collections of RPGs tend to come up for sale rarely.
Dungeons and Dragons is the mainstay of RPG sales and 1st Edition rule books and 2nd edition campaign settings, modules and supplements always sell well.
I used to sell a lot of White Dwarf magazines on eBay years back and it was always #1-100 which seemed to be in most demand largely because of their roleplaying content. Nowadays these issues continue to prove popular but #101-200 sell well too, albeit at a slightly lesser price point.
I don’t sell too many books and those I do tend to be fantasy related and in particular TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons related novels. There seems to be a small but dedicated following for these especially the Forgotten Realms Harpers series and also the long running R.A Salvatore Drizzt books.
Sales Outlets
As regular readers of the column will know I have pivoted slightly away from being a solely online business to having stock in three retail outlets - Vintage Guru in Northampton, The Antiques Cellar in Brackley and The Antiques Centre in Kibworth.
I sell a mixture of items across these venues, many of which I wouldn’t offer online either because they are too large to post or I don’t have enough of said items to create a collection page. So if you visited these outlets you would see comics, graphic novels and roleplaying magazines but also manga, TV and Film magazines, the occasional toy here and there, Roleplaying miniature boxed sets, crime novels and even audio books and WW2 books at Kibworth, The brief list below will give you an appreciation of the type of things that have sold in 2023
Ravenloft boxed set @£75
Space Crusade boxed set @ £100.
Judge Dredd Slaughter Margin @ £25
Complete Game of Thrones DVD set @£40
Marvel UK - The Superheroes #1-50 @£40
2023 was a challenging year. It would be remiss of me to ignore the fact that for most of the year the majority of people in the UK were dealing with (and still are) a cost of living crisis. When you run a business that is selling a luxury or non-essential item it becomes clear that sales become far more difficult to achieve when people are trying to heat their homes, put petrol in their car and food on their table - all costs which increased significantly over the year. I did some admin over the Christmas period and it was apparent that there were a number of people who used to order regularly in 2022 that have stopped or reduced the frequency of orders. This may not all be in part to the cost of living crisis - I may not have the stock they are looking for, they may have stopped collecting or perhaps found cheaper alternatives on eBay or elsewhere, but I cannot ignore the fact that disposable income in 2023 was reduced. In general terms for The Unreality Store 2023 saw a 20% decrease in the amount of orders placed in comparison to 2022. However, this was in some way offset by the average order value increasing so I actually finished 2023 in much the same financial position as 2022. Website traffic also increased significantly so whilst 2023 was a year full of highs and some very deep lows, I was glad to finish it in the position I did.
In closing I would just like to finish by thanking everyone who has ordered, liked, commented, supported, recommended, reviewed, endorsed and been part of The Unreality Store in the past year. I genuinely could not have done it without you and hope that you’ll stay with me on this journey into 2024 and beyond.
Excelsior!! As Stan would say 😎