Jesse James writes for Bleeding Cool. We tried to stop him but he threatened us with a lawsuit.
When I started collecting comics, choices were easy. I walked into the Friendly Neighborhood Comic Book Store and threw down my 60 cents for my new issue of Avengers. It was that simple, I didn't have the store owner say, "Did you want the Variant, Exclusive, or 50/50 cover. Or how about a sealed poly bag, or a did you know there is a SDCC con-exclusive I can get you."
Nowadays you have to decide on the cover before you even start to think about the story line or who did the art work inside the book. Guess what? Variant covers are probably one of the greatest things to happen in the comic book world. Giving the fans options on how to spend their hard-earned money is a good thing. In fact its marketing at its finest.
A store now has a chance to increase its margins/profits and give the customer something special to take home. As most of you know there isn't much of a profit margin selling a $2.99 or $3.99 book, let alone finding a store that doesn't actually give a discount to their box holders. This is giving stores a new light at the end of the tunnel. Some retailers are now doing their own exclusive covers with publishers–and have been very successful in bringing in some most needed extra income as well; to expand, pay off debt or buy more inventory.
There isn't a major publisher who doesn't offer variants, and you would have to wonder about a publisher who wasn't doing it.Variant covers have helped boost sales for the publishers too, as well as allowing them to create more jobs for the many creators out there who can use the work. Publishers can now also provide great incentives for comic shops, designed to inspire the stores to buy more copies. Frequently, the retailers will often receive an additional bonus variant cover to offset some of the higher expense in increasing orders. For example, Image's Walking Dead #100 would have never hit the numbers it got with just one cover. If the publishers can continue to offer more paid work to creators, increase their own visibility, andsell more comics, its a win/win situation all around.
Want to go to a Retailers Summit in NYCC this year? Sure, why not? Diamond has done a great job of awarding you with (yes, that's right: Retailer Exclusives). The Diamond juggernaut has really made sure that Previewsis more informative about all variants available to you and your customer. Throw a party for a new issue launch and you get your own exclusive comic with your companies name inside. Yes, again more ways to buy more comics for your store and get the fans more involved in buying more comics from you. Win/win.
Been to a convention lately? Make the con even more special: take home a convention exclusive comic cover. I cant imagine a con without exclusive variants to hunt down. Yes, the cons are attracting more collectors who are hungry for that J Scott Campbell cover, et al. Fans at home are stalking the internet the second the doors open at the con for exclusive goodies to buy from a distance if they can't attend the con. Variants have transformed comic con fun and added even more excitement to the collectors' enjoyment. This is good for everybody from the Publisher, to retailer to consumer.The conventions are garnering wider recognition as well, and money in the retailers' or artists' pockets makes for smiles all around. Investors are also hitting these cons and spending a lot of more money in recent years, on con exclusives and variants as investments with potentially great returns. This has made the competition fierce, but has also been a boon to publishers. Imagine SDCC or NYCC with no variants. Yeah right, as we said, unthinkable.
Digital publishing has become a concern for some of the retailers. The digital realm is not all gloomy, however; for instance, if you joined Image/Walking Dead's digital page during SDCC you got a variant Comixology Walking Dead #100 exclusive. Stores can now have something for that digitally-driven fan who might not buy a variant exclusive cover on a paper comic, unless the product can be sold as a must-have and limited special. Again keeping the customers buying comics from the retailer and putting money in the pockets of the creators.
Webpages and Blogs are giving something else to talk about as they inform the consumer about events and products they might not have heard about. In some cases–Bleeding Cool as a example–its often the biggest story of the day. Breaking news of upcoming products,adds excitement to the daily grind of everyday life. The news sources also allow the consumer to plan a budget it for that special thing that sets their collecting hearts aflutter months ahead. In fact, it has helped out retailers who might have missed it on their order sheets and can now place orders before its to late. This keeps these pages on their toes and and also helps out the publishers to sell more books.
Comic book fans are very aggressive and I have always said, "A true fan will go anywhere and everywhere to complete their collection." Now fans are buying more and more to complete their comic collection; including seeking complete sets of variant covers. Comics such as Lady Mechanika continue to sell out of their covers no matter how many they put out. This has kept this title in the limelight as issue #4 will one day hit the stands. I am sure that without the variants it would have just faded away into the mists of legendary unfinished comic book masterpieces. Titles like Crossed from Avatar and many titles from IDW continue to sell out each cover option as soon as they hit the stands every week. Good luck finding a Chew variant.
Now, not every Variant is a winner, however not every comic that comes out is a winner either. The true winners though are the fans. In the end they have choices and that is always a great thing. Whether they buy variants or don't, its theirs and no one else's. When I was ready to open my store many other owners told me not to buy what you like, buy what the customers are asking for. When it comes to variants, they are speaking out loud and clear–very demanding at times–for variant covers every week.
So next time you're in your favorite LCS, or at a con, keep in mind its your hard earned money; buy what you want and what you like. If it's a variant and the price is what your willing to pay, by all means, grab it. Variants are not going away. Neither are you the fan, or the legions of creators who cant wait to sign that exclusive cover you!