Nerd Rising

David Arnold is afraid the bubble is about to burst.

It happened in the ‘70s and again in the ‘90s. The market got hot and everybody wanted in. To keep up with rising demand, companies beefed up their supply, to the detriment of their products’ quality. Because the quality of the product declined, so did the demand, eventually creating deflation.

Not even the “Death of Superman” could save the comic book industry.

But now comic books — thanks in large part to a series of high-grossing superhero films — are booming again, and Arnold, a lifelong lover of comic books and now, an online retailer, can’t help but feel a little anxious about its surge. Especially because, as a reader, the overload of movies and reboots has become overwhelming.

“There’s a lot of dead weight in the marketplace right now,” says Arnold. “There’s a lot of books that don’t need to be there, and I think a culling is good.”

Arnold started his business, DNA Comics and Grading, two years ago. Overworked and unhappy with teaching, at the age of 36, Arnold looked at the stack of comic books and toys he had acquired over the years, items he jokingly referred to as his “retirement fund,” and decided to cash in.

“Little did i know how much stress running your own business is,” Arnold muses. “I think I traded in six in one, for half a dozen in the other sometimes.”

And as plush as it may seem to stay at home, throw a bunch of comic books online and watch the money rain in, as Arnold found out, it’s really not that simple.

Unlike a regular storefront, where business-owners can refuse customers service per their discretion, eBay has built in a lot of protections for the buyer that Arnold feels punishes the seller.

For example, if a package is delivered but a customer claims he did not receive it, Arnold is obligated to refund the cost back to the customer — even if the tracking says the package was delivered.

And if he doesn’t? His seller’s rating is at stake.

This is one of the biggest differences between selling online and selling through a brick-and-mortar storefront. When shopping online, customers don’t only search for the best prices but for the best seller ratings. As a customer, Arnold acknowledges that if he sees a seller rating of 90% or less, he typically will not order from them.

And unlike a traditional storefront, online storefronts are all the same distance — just a few click — away from the customer.

“It’s frustrating being a seller sometimes because you feel like the whole system is set up for the buyer, and as a buyer you feel really comfortable,” says Arnold. “You feel good because you know if you’ve got any problems, you can complain and the seller basically has to bend over backwards to do what you want in order to get positive feedback.”

This is called “feedback extortion” by those in the eBay community, and there’s not much a seller can do about it.

Another challenge in selling online is keeping on top of inventory. Because most of his items don’t command a huge ticket price, Arnold has to be very careful to dedicate time each day to update his listings so he can continue to push out his inventory and make a profit.

When it comes to selecting inventory, comic book retailers also have to be great speculators.

One interesting thing about comic books is that they can sell when the rest of the economy is doing poorly. During hard times, Arnold typically sees a spike in collectibles sales — that is, old comics with great historic or sentimental value, like the first appearance of a popular character, or even more notable — a death.

It may be that hard times cause people to reminisce on the good ol’ days, which they try to reclaim through memorabilia. Or it could be a touch of escapism — the same thing that typically drives audiences to the cinema during economic downturns.

But the profit margin on these old books can be tremendous. Considering that a new comic book retails at three dollars — and used ones can be rummaged for at no more than a buck — a $50 resell is a tremendous profit margin.

But now that the economy is in recovery, the comic book industry is sill riding high on a wave of comic book-inspired movies.

This means that many sellers forecast which books to stock based on which movies will be coming out in theaters.

“It’s become much more of a widespread phenomenon for people to hunt for old issues because it’s a character from a movie or something like that,” notes Arnold.

“The first Rocket Raccoon was a five dollar book ten years ago … but (right) before the movie came out it was a $5,000 book. And now it’s cooled back down to $300-500 for a nice copy.”

Arnold hopes to open his own storefront soon. Not only is a storefront helpful in pushing out inventory, but as an online seller, Arnold, an “old guard nerd,” can’t take advantage of what so many comic book fans really go shopping for: community.

“Inevitably, the other thing about comics is that you always get one person that comes in and [is like] ‘I haven’t read comics in five years, what’s cool, what should I get into?’ and you don’t go into best buy and go ‘I haven’t watched a move in five years, what movie should I buy?’” says Arnold.

With decades of avid reading under his belt, Arnold has the clear advantage over some pubescent part-timer behind the counter.

“It’s a different marketplace, and the customers are weird because they wanna hang out, they don’t wanna just buy things and leave. They want to socialize. Nerds are very passionate about their nerdliness.”