Comic-Con is expensive. There's the cost of the ticket — $245 for the whole event, pretax — then there's the cost of transportation, parking, lodging, and food. And once you're finally inside, there's the countless number of con-exclusive props, artwork, and toys staring you down, begging for you to make a purchase. For a serious geek, it can really add up — to more than $1,000 for five days.
But a lot of collectors have figured out a way to offset their costs and make some extra cash while they're at it: toy flipping — buying the con's hottest items, immediately putting them on Craigslist or eBay, and selling them off before the con is even over.
"You gotta pay off your addiction somehow," Andrew Felin told me. Felin is one of several collectors I met outside the booth for Funko, which makes a popular line of figurines with oversized heads. It turns out, it's easier to find someone in the Funko line who's flipping toys than someone who isn't. Toy resellers, Felin says, are probably "50 percent, maybe more [of the people who] come through here."
Felin's point — that he's just paying off his collecting habit — is something I heard time and again from resellers. Sure, some people were just in it to make a quick buck (or a few hundred, or a few thousand). But a lot of people first and foremost saw it as a way to get them through the con.
"My goal is to earn back what I spend for my ticket, my food, and basically other exclusives that I wanted for myself, so basically it becomes free," said a reseller who goes by Dee D. He flips Funko figurines and Lego, and sees the surcharge he adds on as a reasonable price to be paid for his time. "Sometimes the buyer is like, 'This is only 15 bucks, why are you selling it for 70 bucks?'" Dee D said. "I'm like, 'Dude, were you here at midnight sleeping on the ground?'"
The downside to flipping is that — like many things at Comic-Con — it requires a lot of luck and waiting around. Funko, for example, makes customers first wait to enter a raffle for a wristband that lets you buy stuff. It then makes wristband holders wait in yet another line to actually buy things. Anyone who's really serious about getting what they want will of course want to show up early.
Another flipper, Joseph Aranez, said he marks up items anywhere from 50 to 100 percent. Most items, he says, he's able to sell off within two weeks. His strategy is to only resell toys that he wants, since he knows there's demand. "If I don't know it, I don't buy and sell it," Aranez said. "For me it's kind of risky. Because if I loved it, there's probably 20,000 people who loved it also."
Even when resellers get stuck with items people don't want to pay a premium for, it seems to work out. Several people told me that they've been able to at least break even by selling the item without a markup. "Or I can give it to my little nephew," Aranez added.
But while many flippers said they viewed reselling as a way of subsidizing their collecting habits, most also told me that they sold well beyond that, making a nice profit. Dee D, for instance, said that he made $1,500 last year. David Bezeau, who said he spent around $1,000 at the convention on Thursday, told me that he expected to "at least double my money, after all my shipping and sales costs."
Dylan Najor, who was buying up items at Funko, told me he's putting in $2,000 and expects to come out with $5,000. The second he walked out of the Funko line with two large blue bags packed with toys, an older man approached him and began making a deal. After inspecting the products, the man counted out a series of $100 bills, totaling over $1,000. "I literally just doubled my money," Najor told me. He immediately left to attempt to sneak back into the Funko line and buy some more.
Many booths put a limit on how many items each person can buy. Hasbro, one of the more popular exclusives sellers, stamps each buyer's Comic-Con badge to prevent anyone from breaking the limit. Serious resellers, of course, find a way around. "You start making friends [in line], say 'Hey, what are you buying? What are you buying?'" Aranez said. "I see a mom and a kid, you can give them $40 to buy [an item] for you, give them cash."
Of course, there's an obvious problem with flipping: these resellers are taking away product from people who might otherwise want it. If a fan isn't in the right place at the right time, or isn't able to dedicate hours of their day to waiting for something, they could miss out because someone who didn't want the product in the first place picked it up to put it on eBay.
"I consider it to be a huge issue and morally dubious to put it very kindly," said Ben Ellmann, who was about an hour and a half into his wait in line for a limited edition Mondo poster. "Because you're making buck off of someone's genuine love and affection for something. You're buying it cynically to make buck off of someone's love and passion. It's truly disgusting in my humble opinion."
But it's hard to imagine a way to stop flippers. Everything at Comic-Con is about who can line up first and who's willing to put in the most time to get what they want. So if people really want these toys, someone else is always going to be willing to put in the time to buy it first. Plus, there are people who aren't even at Comic-Con who are willing to pay a premium to get these items, too.
Of the flippers I asked, most said they didn't feel particularly bad about taking items away from collectors, particularly since they were often collectors themselves. "Sometimes I don't even get what I really wanted and have to pay top dollar for it," Dee D said. "That's how the system works. You put effort into getting that line and getting that item."
One way or another, everyone has to pay a premium on these items. For collectors who couldn't buy them on the show floor, it's cash. For flippers, it's time — often a lot of it. But for those who do it well, they can still catch some panels while coasting on what they see as a free ticket to Comic-Con.