By Benjamin Nobel, January 18, 2016
Two recent occurrences reveal to comic book collectors the fact that newsstand edition copies of Spawn #1 are a low distribution rarity worth seeking for our collections:
- In 2013, an industry insider revealed that 99% of comic books distributed by Image Comics were direct sales copies, with just 1% of the distribution being the newsstand edition copies (those with UPC codes on the covers to distinguish them as returnable for a refund whereas direct sold copies were non-returnable — see Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference for more about the history of the newsstand distribution channel).
- Also in 2013, it was revealed that Angela (who first appeared in Spawn #9) was moving over to the Marvel Universe. This led to a sudden surge of collector interest in Spawn #9, and collectors bombarded CGC with well over 1,000 grading submissions. About 2% of those submissions would come back with a “Newsstand Edition” variant label, on account of the fact that there is a manufacturing difference that causes CGC to treat newsstand copies as a unique variant (see my post on Spawn #9 Newsstand Edition for more details).
Putting #1 and #2 together, clearly these newsstand edition copies of Spawn comics are a low distribution rarity compared to their direct edition counterparts. But why doesn’t CGC make a “newsstand edition” distinction for Spawn #1 the way they do with Spawn #9? My best answer based on studying the treatment by CGC across a variety of newsstand edition examples, is that CGC will only make the distinction when there is either a manufacturing difference that goes beyond the UPC code itself, or when there is a difference in the cover price. For Spawn #1, neither of these criteria are met, i.e. the manufacturing of newsstand edition copies and direct sold copies are the same (same quality paper, centerfold poster included in both versions, etc.), and the cover price is the same. So for this reason, CGC lumps both editions together on the census and for all these years the rarity data has been “buried” and invisible to collectors. But going back to points #1 and #2 from earlier, this rarity is buried no longer, because (1) an industry insider has revealed the fact about the extreme newsstand distribution rarity to collectors, and (2) with the surge of interest in Spawn #9 there is now a large sample size of cold hard CGC census data to corroborate the newsstand edition rarity (the CGC census data for Spawn #9 showing that 98% of all copies graded have been the direct edition).
For collectors of Spawn #1, this means we can look at the CGC census numbers and do some math to figure out what the numbers would look like if CGC did treat newsstand edition copies of issue #1 as a variant, assuming it followed the rarity demonstrated by the CGC census data for Spawn #9 of 98% direct sales to 2% newsstand. Let’s do that math now. Here’s the CGC census data for Spawn #1 at the time of this writing, showing 4,802 graded copies in total:
Now, if we apply the same 2% ratio that we find in the Spawn #9 CGC census data, to that 4,802 grand total for Spawn #1, we can extrapolate that there are about 96 newsstand edition copies of Spawn #1 (leaving about 4,706 direct edition copies). This estimate of less than 100 CGC graded newsstand edition copies of Spawn #1 should strike us as remarkable: by contrast for example, there are 463 graded copies of the Spawn #1 Black & White Variant (1997), which is extremely highly valued by collectors… but our math demonstrates it is almost 5x as prevalent as newsstand edition copies of Spawn #1. Yet, despite the clear comparable rarity of newsstand edition copies of Spawn #1 — and true to the theme of this blog — as of this writing one can acquire a high grade copy of the newsstand edition of Spawn #1 with a $25 budget! Here is a recently sold copy on eBay:
This copy, as you can see by the title, could be found by searching “spawn 1 newsstand” but not all sellers actually realize there is a difference… Therefore, a great deal can probably be found on eBay by scouring the listings for copies that clearly picture the newsstand edition (with the UPC code in the bottom left corner) but where the seller doesn’t realize there is any difference and does not title their listing with “newsstand” or “UPC” or similar keywords. Also worth mentioning is that MyComicShop has already caught on to the newsstand desirability and they break out newsstand copies of Spawn #1 as “#1N”:
A final rarity distinction that we should also keep in mind: On top of the distribution rarity, there is also the consideration of rarity in high grade. Newsstand buyers in general actually read the copies they purchased. Furthermore, the staff of newsstands were not trained to handle comics with care (to them they were just like the magazines next to them on the rack), and for that reason newsstand comic books were likely to sustain damage the moment they were racked. Newsstand comic books in VF/NM and higher grade are tough to find out there, and the top grades of 9.6 and 9.8 are extremely difficult to find. To illustrate this, we’ll go back to our CGC census data for Spawn #9. Although the overall newsstand rarity is 2% based on the grand total graded copies, what if we look at the numbers for just 9.8 graded copies? At the time of this writing, there are 827 direct edition copies of Spawn #9 in 9.8 grade, versus 7 newsstand edition copies, for a grand total of 834 copies of Spawn #9 that have been deemed by CGC to be a 9.8. Dividing 7 into 834, we find that the newsstand copies represent just eight tenths of one percent of the total. Taking this ratio back over to Spawn #1 where there are a total of 2550 9.8’s at the time of this writing on census, we can extrapolate out to a probable 21 newsstand edition copies of Spawn #1 within that 9.8 tier. Comparing again to the Black & White edition, there are 82 copies in 9.8 on census at the time of this writing, so once again the extreme rarity of newsstand edition copies of Spawn #1 is evident by contrast.
These incredibly low numbers for the newsstand edition copies — both the actual CGC census numbers for Spawn #9 where such copies are tracked separately as a variant and the extrapolated numbers for Spawn #1 where CGC lumps both editions together, forcing us to break out our calculators and make estimates — all trace back to the 1% distribution rarity revealed to collectors in 2013. If Spawn #1 broke the million copy mark for total sales as is widely believed, at a million total copies that implies 10,000 newsstand edition copies based on 1% distribution rarity. This is the same print run neighborhood that has gotten collectors so excited about the “gold UPC” and “platinum” variants of Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man (1990).
Most of these newsstand edition copies were presumably purchased by readers who were unconcerned about their copies surviving in high grade decades later. The end result is a low distribution edition of Spawn #1 that is fully distinguishable from other copies (only the low distribution copies have the UPC code on the cover — so seek out that UPC!), where the rarity has gone unnoticed by collectors all these years, with the key information and circumstances only arising for us to take full notice in 2013, over 20 years after the comic was first published! This under-the-radar phenomenon allows collectors today to find high grade copies at values that are a relative steal compared to the more prevalent Black & White edition.