Sourcing, Buying and Selling Vintage Comic Collections
An SBI! Review

A Diversified Net Auction Seller Case Study

Ashley Cotter-Cairns - Net Auction Seller

I'm delighted to tell you about one of my business sites, At the tender age of 2 years, it's my most successful one yet. In the first half of this year, my wife and I had turned over $30,000, leaving us a nice profit to re-invest into the business.

Now for the details…

A Snapshot of

Our SBI! website consists of helpful articles for people who have no idea of the value of their vintage comic books. We publish price guides and how-tos (such as how to grade comic books), with links to eBay for reference (and referral commission), offer free appraisals, and make immediate purchases if the owner wishes to sell.

Our target audience is a person who has found or inherited a collection, spent an evening or two of fruitless research getting hopelessly lost, and then finds our site (think of a superhero flying from behind storm clouds!) and asks for our help with the thankless task.

We monetize in various ways...

  • by reselling comic books we buy from visitors, on eBay or privately.
  • by submitting better items to 'real-world' (offline) auction companies.
  • when people visit eBay through our links and subsequently make a purchase.
  • and, to a limited extent, via AdSense or other contextual ads.

This site works because it has the right balance. Let me explain...

Getting Paid as You Learn

I've been with SBI! since 2005. In my nine plus years, I've explored many niches, bought other SBI! sites as investments (with mixed results), built unique annual website visitors to over three million (total across sites)... but never quite struck the right balance.

Some of those early sites still make money for our family. But their ROI (Return on Investment) is worse than they might have been if I had made better choices in the beginning. When you think about it, there are very few avenues in life where we get paid as we learn.

So when I started, I was fortunate to be at the top of the learning curve. There were and still are some growing pains (every business has them), but I managed to get many things right this time around...

I am really passionate about buying and selling vintage comic books. I believe that's imperative.

I found the balance between running a business I could relate to and one that wasn't so broad or competitive that I could never make a dent in the search engine rankings. (The higher you rank, the easier it is for people to find your website.)

My other SBI! businesses generate mostly passive income, which I can redirect into the comic book business.

My wife and I proactively extended our lines of credit near the start of this venture. Here's why. Many new business owners need to 'bootstrap' – that is, only investing more money into their business when it generates revenue. For me, bootstrapping my way to becoming a net auction seller would have been very difficult, if not impossible.

There's no real 'hack' when it comes to buying comic stock – you either can afford it, or you cannot. I missed my first big collection because of this problem. Another dealer benefitted from my lack of available capital.

It was an important lesson to learn. My wife and I then spent the next month visiting various banks, arranging access to as much credit as we could afford. The decision to be proactive turned out to be a great one, as you will soon see...

An Ever-Evolving Business

Ashley Cotter-Cairns - Net Auction Seller

One year after registering the domain name, the site was averaging about 150 unique visitors per day. More importantly, I had secured my first major collection, shipped across country from Vancouver. It contained lots of great (but low-grade) books, including the first issues of X-Men, Spider-Man, Avengers, Daredevil and Thor.

By this past New Year's, we had spent more than $12,000 purchasing the highlights of another spectacular inherited Marvel Comics lot. The lines of credit we'd established were maxed out! But the books had come to us, not a competitor. Ultimately we would triple our investment in this collection, thanks to a few lucky results with the grading.

Four months later, traffic had grown to 300 unique visitors per day. Panda 4.0 (a Google search algorithm update) was very kind to us. But the gain didn't stop there. Over the next 30 days, traffic leapt tall buildings in a single bound, and is now steady at over 750 unique visitors per day, even during this quieter period of time for collectible industries!

Last month was a red-letter month for us. Day after day, we got more good news:

  • Cash was finally coming in from the highlights of the California collection, including a near-mint copy of Incredible Hulk #181 (first Wolverine appearance), which grossed $10,181 at auction.
  • A dealer who found us through eBay spent five figures bulk-buying most of our stock (which I was dreading the task of breaking down into small eBay lots). Sending dozens of long boxes off with Fedex felt like a huge weight off my shoulders.
  • The Google Panda update gave us a super-heroic traffic boost.
  • Even eBay sales referrals jumped.

Once the dust had settled, we'd turned over more than $30,000, paid off most of the credit lines, cleared almost all the cheaper stock, and were leaner, meaner and had money ready to invest.

We are now ready for the inevitable email or phone call, which is going to result in our buying the next big collection.

Currently we're getting 20-30 requests for appraisals each day. About three quarters are a dead end, a few so-so, and usually a couple per week which are genuinely exciting leads to big collections.

The Future of

This is a fantastic business! The nicest part about it is, you really never, ever know what you're going to get. I consider myself a lucky person, and there's a large element of luck with this niche.

Ashley Cotter-Cairns - Net Auction Seller

The Boomer generation, who are aging at the same time and downsizing as retirement approaches, is going to be a huge source of collections for my business in the coming years. More and more of the leads coming in are from people in their 60s who want to shed excess baggage from their lives.

In this business, it's all about being flexible and quick to act, establishing trust with a person who wants to sell, handling his or her needs just correctly... and then opening the crate to see what treasures the seller has shipped to me. When it's time to sell on eBay, my copywriting skills come in very handy.

It's nice to be able to afford to make my first priority. Far from resting on my laurels, I'm investing more resources into growing the site. There are still plenty of great articles to be written, with profitable keywords yet to be touched. (Brainstorm It!'s keyword research tool helps me find them.)

Next year, I'll be going into partnership. The company will feel like a 'proper' business, with one office here in Quebec, Canada and another in the US. We have lots of plans for new income streams, including e-products and an agency service.

I'm expecting more growing pains, especially since the new-look business will need to generate enough free cash flow to pay two salaries every month.

I'm looking forward to updating you about our progress. Meanwhile, if you find or inherit comic books, or are asked to sell some for a friend or family member, you know who to call!

Ashley Cotter-Cairns