The Complete Guide to Haggling at a Comic Con

Haggling is like a game of Texas Hold’em. It’s less about the cards and more about out-playing the player.

In my world, I use these skills to get the best deals on vintage comic books and collectibles at comic conventions, garage sales, etc. But it’s important not to overstep your boundaries and to err on the side of being a polite and respectful person. Remember, sellers have the right to sell any merchandise as they please. Even if their prices are insultingly high. I’m by no means perfect but I’ve experienced both getting great bargains and overpaying that I can probably help others with the Dos and Don’ts.

Keep in mind that the target audience are for comic collectors but these skills can be used for anything. Some of the tips are obvious but these are things easily overlooked, especially when you’re in the middle of a haggling session.

Let me first give a brief example on how haggling typically goes.

Make an offer (a basic scenario)

Let’s take an example. Say market price for a 9.0 New Mutants #98 is $80. The dealer’s asking price is $100. But you’re trying to get a deal. So in your mind you’d ideally pay $70. So to get to that price I’d offer $60. A few things can happen. They’ll flat out say no (hopefully nicely), say yes (#winning!) or counter offer. If they say no, respect that response but don’t give up. Offer a bit more, $65. If they say no again ask them how low they are willing to go. They might say something like $85. At this point you can counter offer 2 ways. Your last offer was $65. Tell them $70 is how high you can reasonable go for this book and accept the final response. Or you can use a common phrase, “Meet me halfway” at $75. This phrase is a little bit psychological because the perception is that both parties have won.

The important thing here is that no matter how this session goes, you never go over your market price. At most, agree at market price. Saves on shipping and handling and you actually get to see the book. This is probably how most of your haggling sessions will go. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some. Hopefully the below advice gives you an edge.

Tips and Tricks

Do your homework (pricing comic books)

Obvious, right? Knowing how much your comic books are worth is the single most important tip I can give. However it’s easier said than done. Unless you’re a savant, thousands of thousands of books of different grades and prices with different prices from different sources that change every day is a near impossible task. But if you want the best deal, you have no choice. There are a few strategies I’ve used in the past to store comic book prices.

  • On your phone – I’ve tried this and it’s hard. Your phone is small and it’s hard to search for prices ON THE SPOT for every book.  And organizing a list of books of different grades and prices takes a lot of work. But if you chose this route there are some tips I’ve found useful. Use the apps Google Keep or Evernote. The nice thing about this is that I can create my list on a normal computer and it’s automatically synced on any device I use. One caveat though, you’ll need decent cell reception.
  • In a notebook or binder – In my opinion, it’s easier to shift through physical pages than it is to shift through virtual notepads on your phone. Ideally you would utilize a spreadsheet style format as you can input different comic books and grades. One con of this strategy is that you have to carry a notebook. But if you carry a backpack, it’s not a big deal. The other issue with this strategy is that updating your list could be tedious. At the event, you can pencil in your purchases. But you’ll need to go back home, update your list on a computer and reprint the pages for your next event.
  • Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide – The book is not that big and it’s not unreasonable to carry it with you if you’re a serious buyer. The problem with this strategy has more to do with the actual prices in the Overstreet guide. With the age of Ebay, online forums, Instagram, etc, you’ll notice that many books in this guide are not accurate to the market. And most comic dealers won’t abide by these prices unless they are higher than market ;). The Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics is curated by DEALERS who decide how much certain books are what they should be selling them for, and not what buyers want to buy them for.
  • Ebay on your phone – Admittedly I rely on this strategy more than I’d like. It’s because I fall prey to this by not fully applying my most important tip and not doing all my homework. Sometimes I’ll run across a book that’s not on my list. The only way I could find market prices is through Ebay, sorted by sold auctions in the last month. Also, dealers know you’re looking at Ebay when you pull out your phone. Don’t feel you need to hide it. They do the same thing when they don’t know the market price of a book! It’s all part of the game.

Also check out our article on How to Buy Comics at Comic Con on implementing some of these strategies.

Be friendly and polite

I’ve come across both buyers and dealers being rude to each other. If a dealer is rude to me, they don’t deserve my business quite frankly. And not only do I never come back, I don’t even give them the benefit of the doubt of checking their prices again. I have complete control of where I buy. They don’t have control on who buys from them. Don’t reward their behavior.

But what I actually wanted to talk about is for the buyer to be friendly and polite. Ask them how their day is going. Crack a joke. Become friends. When you’re finally ready to make an offer, trust me, being nice can go a long way. This seems to be one of those obvious tips but I was once a comic dealer once at Sac Comic Con. I noticed most buyers come and go. No small talk, nothing. As a dealer, it’s just business. But if I feel like you’re a friend, I’d be more willing to flex on prices. And when you form relationships with them, they’ll remember you and treat you the same way at other shows. Best thing about this strategy is there is no down side. This advice is not just to game and fake your way to better prices, but to actually be a better person. If it gets you a great deal, that’s a plus!

Know the grade

Sometimes books aren’t graded properly by dealers. Sometimes in error and sometimes conscientiously. You have to become good at grading books on the spot. There’s no way around this. Overstreet Guide to Grading Comics is the one I’ve used to study. Have the dealer take the comic book out of the bag and expect it closely. Make sure there are no rips or missing pieces on the inside pages. Remember though, always ask the dealer to take it out of the bag. Never take it upon yourself to do it. When I was a dealer I was very surprised by how many people just took a book out without asking! Potentially damaging the book! Don’t put yourself in that awkward position. Have the dealers handle their merchandise.

Observe others

The best way to see if a comic dealer is willing to flex in pricing is to observe what other buyers are offering and where they are settling at. It could give you a good gauge on where to start your price and how flexible the dealers are. It may involve a little bit of friendly eavesdropping.

Double team

Going with a friend to a comic con can also be helpful. Instead of going solo and offering $60 for that New Mutants #98, double team with a buddy. If there’s a New Mutants #98 ($100) and a Batman Adventures #12 ($100), offer starting at $120. I found this a sound strategy and I can normally get a higher percentage discount than going solo. I found dealers focus less on percentage when the price of the offer is higher in value. Dealers want to move inventory!

Multiple Items

Similar to double teaming, bundling up several books can have the same effect. Basically offering a higher dollar value can give you a better discount rate

Phrase your opening offer

When I make an offer I like to use the phrase “Can you help me out with the price on”. I think it’s a lot nicer than, “Will you take $80”. The former has the perception of making the dealer feel nice to help someone out. The latter has the perception of making the dealer feel like they’re settling for $80. Like all my advice, your mileage may vary.

Don’t be a fish

Lot’s of dealers will have their prices above market at comic conventions. It’s because they have to make up for the investment they paid for getting in the show. So one thing they will do is fish. This is a common term to prey on those unaware. Say the Deadpool trailer just came out and there’s high demand for New Mutants #98. Market price is $80 but they’re asking $150! Here’s thing thing, someone will buy it. It’s because some people didn’t do their homework and fall prey into the hype. As a buyer, don’t be a fish, do your homework.

Know your venue

Where are you? Are you in some rinky dink local comic con or San Diego Comic Con? Haggling seems to be better at the smaller shows. At big shows there’s a lot of foot traffic. That means a lot of fish. Dealers are rarely going to make a deal on the first few days of a big show. If you attend multiple days, it might be best to wait on the last day for those big items. But you run the risk of some fish over paying for it. But hey, that’s the game.

Ebay is your friend

Ebay is a great way to keep up to date with current market prices. It literally tells you what someone paid for a book exactly when it happens. You can graph the trends of a book if you pleased. I think New Mutants #98 was around $80 3 years ago. Now it’s over $200 for for 9.0! I use it liberally during shows because I can.

Ebay is your enemy

Dealers know Ebay exists. Hell, I’m sure 99% of them sell on Ebay. But they don’t like to admit that their prices are higher than Ebay. Stay on their good side and don’t use it as a bargaining chip. Every time I heard someone bring up Ebay, dealers always respond with the true fact that you can’t actually hold or see the item your buying. Just use Ebay as a personal tool to gauge market and not to over pay.

Walk Away

Sometimes it’s just not going to happen. Either the dealer is just too tight on their prices, not in a bargaining mood or whatever. If you observe you and others aren’t able to haggle at all, move along and don’t waste your energy.

Shop Around

This is generally a good strategy but there’s one con. The next time you get around to this booth, the item you were considering is gone. You’ll have to either shop around or haggle and make the purchase at first sight. Though you run the risk of seeing it for cheaper elsewhere. But as long as you didn’t pay over market, don’t sweat it. If you did, well, lesson learned.

Pay Cash

Dealers prefer cash instead of having to deal with credit card fees. They’re also more willing to bar if you’re paying cash.

Pay attention to quality (too good to be true)

Sometimes you’ll see a book for $10 when market is is $50. Jackpot! Except that book may have have a tear on the back, missing pages or in a foreign language. I once saw a dealer offer to sell a Star Wars #1 to a kid who didn’t realize it was a second printing for way above market for a second printing. That’s just mean spirited and dishonest. So make sure you inspect and know your merchandise.

Know your variants

As I mentioned above, Star Wars #1 first and second printing look strikingly similar. I’ve done several double takes when seeing a Stars Wars #1 for $5. Realizing shortly it’s not first printing.

Keep a budget

This one’s hard because you go to comic conventions to buy stuff. I like to pull out cash before a show and leave it at that. If you don’t want to be tempted to go to the ATM, leave your cards in the car or hotel room!

Don’t visit too many times

This one is just light advice. Feel free to visit a booth as many times as you want. But dealers can tell when you have your eye on something even if you didn’t inquire about it. So they know you want it bad and probably are less likely be flexible on the price. I find it to be in your advantage to be ‘casually’ interested in something.

Be realistic

Dealers for sure mark up their prices in shows. But not by 100%. I feel if a dealer is willing to let a book go for 50% off, their asking is probably double the market price. This happens with some big dealers in California. But I won’t name them here cause I’m a nice guy. Being realistic requires knowing the market price and making a reasonable offer that isn’t insulting to the dealer.

Beware the dealer charm

Some dealers are blatantly mean and some are too nice. Sometimes that’s just how they are but they could also be playing you. They’ll be nice and say things like, “This is a good price”, “Won’t find this cheaper anywhere else in the show” or “I’ll give you a good deal”. This is completely fine and just the way it is. It’s just important not to fall prey to the dealer’s charm. Stick to your notebook and don’t budge on market price no matter what.

Learn from your mistakes

After a days work of hunting for comics, I like to go on Ebay and make my self feel good about my purchases. Sometimes it backfires and I realize I paid more for something than I should have. But hey, that’s how it goes, just learn from it and move on.

Final Thoughts

That’s about it. For me this is a continuing learning experience. I’ll be updating this post if I observe other things. Feel free to leave comments on whether you agree or disagree. Or if you have any tips of your own, let me know! Happy hunting.

If this is your first time visiting Shortboxed, thanks for stopping by! We want to provide a place online where people new to comics can come and learn about the culture and be introduced to some amazing stories without feeling overwhelmed or intimidated. We’re always adding new content, so please come back soon! You can also follow us on TwitterInstagram,Facebook and Tumblr at @shortboxed.

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