Thursday, January 19, 2012

Buying Comics Online: A Guide

I'm a shopaholic. Really, I am. It's one of the many vices I've succumbed to over the years. I wish it was just comic books that I feverishly spend time poring through and then irresponsibly buying, but that would be ignoring all those trips to outlets and malls for the snazziest of men's wear. Indeed, to claim I only spend money on comics would require me to ignore the shelves lined with action figures that dot my apartment. Having said that, shopping for comics is my biggest bad habit.

I can spend hours on my favorite online retailers and entire days rummaging through bins and boxes of books at cons and in stores. I consider myself something of an expert on the topic of shopping for comics and due to this fact I've decided to compile my knowledge, as well as a handful of links, for your reading enjoyment. Hopefully you'll find this useful the next time you find yourself with some extra cash to spend.
For the most part I do all of my graphic novel/collected edition shopping from five sites. Amazon,, Cheap Graphic, Thwipster, and In Stock Trades. To say these are the only sites selling deeply discounted comic collections would be a massive lie but I do feel you can use these five for the bulk of your buying needs. Each site fits it's own niche...

Thwipster: Offers daily deals on trades, hardcovers and OGN's that often undercut some of the other buying avenues like Amazon. However, it's completely random and if you don't check it daily (or even more) some good deals will pass you by. Of course you can sign up for their newsletter which will keep you abreast of the items for sale. While they offer good discounts I have noticed that some of their sales merely match similar finds on other sites. Also, they do charge a shipping fee.

Amazon: Obviously this is the one-stop-shop for everything. It's also the most convenient place to search for cheap trades and hardcovers. It used to be that Amazon undersold everyone in the game by offering discounts as deep as 30-60% off the regular price from the day of the book's release. That is no longer the case. For whatever reason their initial discounts are usually about what you find on most sites that sell comics. The draws of Amazon for me are the free shipping on orders over $25 and the multitude of seller options.

In Stock Trades: Usually underselling Amazon thanks to their abundance of sales the only real draw-back to In Stock Trades is that... well, the books you want might not actually be in stock. They offer free shipping on orders that exceed $50, as well as a clearance section, and a monthly deal.

Cheap Graphic Novels: This site undersells a lot of stores on oversized collections like omnibus and absolute editions. They offer a decent price on shipping and they usually run a sale of some sort, though that seems to be rather sporadic. Around Christmas they ran a sale on oversized collections that had fantastic deals. The drawback here is shipping as well and lack of availability of some books. If you're just wanting to find some good, used books this is the place to go. However, since it's a seller-run site you're at the whims of the individual shop owners. I'll go more into the positive aspects of Abe further along in this column. It takes some practice but once you know what to look for the positives of the site far outweigh the negatives. And come on, you can get collected editions for as low as a buck (plus shipping). What's not to like?
As I said, these aren't the only stores to shop at online and if you have any others you'd like to suggest I'd be thrilled to test 'em out.

Since it's the internet you don't have to worry about picking one particular store. You can mix and match, buy some stuff from one place, and something else from another. You can also compare pricing like a fiend which, if you are bound by a self-imposed budget like I am, means you'll be able to buy more for less. In the interest of time I'm going to break this down in the easiest way I can think of. Buying USED and buying NEW.

If you only want brand new, never-touched-by-a-human-hand books then you'll want to start by checking Amazon. Check their price against the other sellers options. Some times you'll find a cheaper seller option but always keep in mind Amazon is the only one giving away that free shipping on orders over $25. Check and next. On the off chance what you're looking for is available on Thwipster swing by there. Compare, contrast, purchase.

Always keep shipping in mind though. If you're placing a large order your best bets are going to be Instocktrades or Amazon. CGN is a good stop for, say, that omnibus of Devil Dinosaur you've been wanting for months. If you decide to purchase multiple books from sellers on Amazon try to make the purchases from the same seller. They'll group your items into a single order and save you a few bucks on shipping usually.

If you're like me, the older you get, the more tight fisted with money you're becoming. Due to this fact I tend to only shell out big bucks for oversized collections and hardcovers. Everything else I'm more than willing to wait to buy used. We're now down to two avenues. Amazon and They're nearly neck-and-neck but I have to give Abe the edge over Amazon. For the most part the cheapest used books on Amazon will be matchable to those on Abe. However, more often than not you can undercut the cheapest on Amazon with Abe. Hopefully that makes sense.

When it comes to these two I totally understand if you want to quit comparing price between the two sites, so if that's the case, go Abe.

When shopping for used books remember to check and double check the condition of the book. The seller must list the condition the book is in from Acceptable to New. I've found anything over Good works well. Fine and Very Fine are usually too dinged up for my tastes but it'll depend on what you want the book for. If you just want to own a collection of some comics you enjoy and you don't care if there's a sticker on the front page or a corner ripped off the cover then anything over "Acceptable" is golden. I recently bought a book off of Abe in Acceptable condition and found the first six pages hanging by a thread, with the rest of the book in "okay" condition.

You'll notice the best prices on used books tend to be ex-library editions. This means if the book is a hardcover it'll come with a clear, plastic sleeve over the actual dust jacket, and the dust jacket will contain a couple of stickers that are easily removed. If a used ex-library edition hardcover is in Good condition, in my experience, it's a great deal. The sleeve is easy to take off the book and the dust jacket will essentially be untouched giving it the appearance of a new book. If given the option between a hardcover and a paperback of the same book around the same price in the same condition... always take the hardcover. Not just because I prefer the hardcover format but it seems that stickers are easier to remove and if it's an ex-library edition that clear plastic sleeve leaves the cover looking beautiful. If you go the paperback route you'll  usually get the book cheaper but end up with a book that actually looks used. That's the trade-off.

Again, try and group your purchases from the same sellers if possible to save money on shipping. If you buy a book off Abebooks and it shows up looking mangled beyond recognition you might be able to return it. However, if you simply aren't pleased with the appearance of a book? You're probably screwed, as sellers aren't too keen on accepting returns. The only other thing to keep in mind when buying used is that the older the book the cheaper it should be. The only time this doesn't hold up is for out-of-print editions. As an example, I recently purchased the first three volumes of 52 off Abebooks at a measly $3-$5 a piece. The fourth volume was selling for around $32 dollars in good condition due to the fact that it's no longer in print and availability is limited.

I hope this was of some use.You don't always have to shell out top-dollar for those collected editions you covet, and with the whole internet at your disposal you should never pay full price for a book. Ever.

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