Wednesday, July 26, 2006

USPS to comics industry: "Eat our dust, amateurs!"

So I ran my little hooves over to the Post Office on my lunch hour and picked myself up a sheet of these:

DC Superhero Stamps

They're beautifully-done, gorgeously-designed, with nice if brief text on the back of each stamp about each hero and their comic. You can argue about missing characters (I woulda liked to see an Atom or Robin one), but if these prove successful, you can bet you'll see more in the series.

Still, if you're a comics collector venturing into the world of stamps for the first time, don't make the mistake of buying multiple and excess sets for eventual resale value. The same rules of supply and demand apply here as they do to last month's DC Comics: there's a slim chance to none that these will increase in value. So buy a set for yourself or gifts, get one framed, buy a stack to put your fave heroes on all your fan mail and your Con Ed bill, but don't count on these being more than eBay standard stock items after a few years. There's just too many people who will be buying and saving them for the value to increase massively.

But in a way, you gotta hand it to the USPS for their chutzpah and sheer canniness in understanding the collector market, haven't you? And I'm not just talking about these superhero stamps, but in fact all "commemorative stamps" (those celebrating and picturing a person, event, theme or object rather than the plain small flag or George Washington stamps you often get in rolls or out of a machine). Fans can point to the comic industry's alternate cover boom of the eighties as a shrewd and cynical (but all-too-often successful) way to get collectors to buy more copies, but no one in the comics industry has ever come even close to the United States Postal Service in depending on a huge percentage of the collectors' market for their income. In fact, they make the producers of chrominum holograph comics look like rank amateur pikers.

The main purpose behind the USPS creating commemorative stamps? Not for you to use. In fact, they depend a very large percentage on you buying many of them not to use. If you use a stamp, the USPS must provide a service—to get your letter from one place to the other. If you instead hoard a stamp, that labor cost is pure profit for them. Do you think the USPS promotes stamp collecting because it's fun and educational? (Well, as a little stuffed bull who used to collect stamps, it definitely is. But that's like saying McDonald's offers salads because they care about your health.)

Commemoratives appeal to collectors who will save them and never cash in their actual value by sticking them on a letter. In other words, the profitability of commemorative stamp issues is based on the USPS planning that we won't use them. Which makes me wonder: how can the comics world capitalize on this idea? How can our favorite industry invent an innovation that makes things worth more if you don't use them for their intended purpose?

Oh wait. We already have that:

CGC-Graded Comic

Still, there's one big difference between "investing" in comics and "investing" in United States postage stamps: Remember all those copies of Deathmate: Red you bought? Hoping to make a resale killing in the future when this can't-miss collectible goes up in value? In the words of Oscar Madison: "Now it's garbage."

But any US postage stamp—as long as it's kept fresh and mint—is always worth face value. If nothing else, you can stick 'em on a letter and mail 'em out.

Just try to do that with all your backup copies of Ghost Rider, Volume 2, #2.

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