Collecting and Selling Magazines for Profit: Adjusting Expectations

by Kevin O'Byrne - Editor, Magazine Collector

I have been running this website since early 2011. In that time, the overwhelming number of enquiries from sellers has shown it's still very much a buyers' market when it comes to magazine collecting. The overriding feeling I get is that a lot of people are hoping the 'standard' collection stored in their loft might actually be worth quite a lot of money, and I feel it's worth dampening expectations just a touch. On the other hand, if magazines is a 'collectable' that interests you, this is a very good time to shop for first editions and truly vintage magazines, without any need to break the piggy bank.

It's no surprise that people are hoping to uncover a goldmine at the end of their loft steps. It some cases they may find some 'gems', in magazine terms, that even now will earn them some useful extra cash, but for the most part it's very much a buyer's market, since magazine collecting is not as yet a mainstream hobby. Later, as magazines become e-Reader-only digital editions, when the folly of chopping down trees and the expense of running tons of paper up and down motorways sees the traditional format consigned to the history books, then I think it will become a collectible much like the vinyl record. If you start out collecting magazines as a hobby, you really can't go wrong. Your investment is made out of the interest you have in the magazines and the pleasure you get from them. If, one day, they actually become in any way valuable, you'll be the envy of family and friends and perhaps your children will benefit from it if they later decide to 'cash in the family's riches'. Building a collection at this point in time is not an expensive thing to do, and there are plenty of sellers out there!

If, on the other hand, you are buying magazines specifically in order to make money, it is best to take a longer term view than to expect quick gains. The only genre of magazine that is currently sure to earn you better than pocket money, if you are lucky enough to have a collection, is the men's/adult genre. There are probably not too many like me who collect magazines irrespective of genre. Most will collect because they have a hobby associated with a particular title or genre of mags. Adult, hobby? Well, you know what I mean. Even then, prices at auction are generally not high and I would doubt dealers are currently selling many advertised at £15-£20, even if they are probably in better condition than those offered privately. But some 'specials' are able to command a tidy sum.

Apart from the men's magazines - notably the 'superior' titles such as Playboy, Penthouse and Mayfair (I term these 'superior' for their paper weight, print/photograpic quality and the editorial quality of their writers), plus the 'vintage' pre-1960s magazines that are just so wonderfully coy - there is no other single genre of magazine guaranteed to sell at auction, although true vintage issues of any type in good condition, older cinema/movie magazines, first editions in general and the more quirky publications do sell. The more well known fashion magazines - Vogue and the like - also seem to sell.

So it is all about curbing expectation if you are tempted to buy lots of magazines in the hope of making a quick killing. It's unlikely to happen... unless you find a first edition of Playboy in there. But take it on as a hobby, perhaps with one eye on it as a longer term possible investment, and then I'd certainly recommend taking a look at what buyers on eBay, eBid and similar auction sites have to offer.

Magazines Are Collectable!

As a collectable, magazines have lagged behind books and many other things, and yet magazines offer interest and a collectability factor that goes beyond many other popular items. Something fascinated me about magazines even before I entered my teens. It has something to do with the way they grab a moment in time and capture it within the pages. And then there are the adverts. They bring back many memories and often a smile as you are reminded of how things were "back then".

People often end up with a collection of magazines because of a hobby, and because that hobby was important to them, the magazines were stored nicely, perhaps even in binders. They remain close to how they were the last time they were read, apart from perhaps some yellowing of the pages. And yet how many people decide it's time to clear out the loft and simply say "this lot has to go". In one hasty move, a lovely collection is trashed, and that is very sad.

There are those of course who will have the same hobby and would love those magazines simply for that reason, but magazines are collectable in their own right. Of course the condition of the magazine is important, and a magazine that is both old and in good condition is likely to appeal to a collector almost irrespective of the subject matter. It doesn't however follow that only old magazines are collectable, though a more recent publication will generally need to be a First Edition to be of interest. As an example going back some years now, a copy of the first issue of Rail Express Magazine (published June 1996) "in good condition" was auctioned privately on eBay in March 2007 for £10.99. Trade sellers will tend to charge a little more.

Finding collectable magazines (that is, vintage or first editions) in good condition at under £10 is still quite common, but that also means there probably isn't a goldmine sitting in your loft... not yet anyway. While some magazines have famously sold for hundreds and even thousands, and first editions of most magazines are worth a few pounds if the condition is good - vintage publications adding to the value - beyond that they are of little value but can be very entertaining all the same.

Prices are, of course, entirely market led. As with the vast majority of collectables, what it's worth is simply down to what anyone is willing to pay at the time. Some people may be willing to pay a good amount for all sorts of obscure reasons - it was published in the month of their birth; it features their grandfather; it pictures the very guitar they now have sitting proudly in their music room... or it might simply be an important piece in the jigsaw that is a collector's personal collection.

Whether you are inspired by the contents and subject matter of certain publications, or see the magazine as a collectable in its own right, it can certainly be a rewarding hobby. And who knows, it could even become a modest investment for the future. Not that we can guarantee that - take it on first as a hobby, second as an investment, that way you can't go wrong.

What makes a collectible magazine?

If you have a magazine to sell and are wondering if it's of value, well, it's all about finding that one buyer who wants exactly what you're selling, and that can demand a heap of patience. I don't believe many just collect any old magazines; it's much more common for people to first be attracted by the subject. If you are passionate about Jaguar cars, you may well be tempted to buy a particular back-issue of a magazine with a feature on 'your' car, and that may lead on to others, building into a precious resource of information all about your particular interest. The motivation is the subject matter, not the magazine in itself. This means that, if you're looking to sell, it's about attracting that possibly one in a thousand person who would be interested in your particular copy.

Ingredients of a collectible magazine
There are certain criteria that will make one magazine more desirable than the next:

  • First editions - I tend to focus on first issues as these are collectible in their own right, irrespective of content or subject matter.
  • Content - this can make an otherwise regular issue stand out to someone. For example, stories about celebrities, those who will stand the test of time and have a cult status; Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson. And events, such as the first manned moon landing, the sinking of the Titanic or the events of 9/11.
  • Vintage - truly vintage magazines are a collectible in their own right, and sometimes purely for their historical context and style for those researching a period. Some may wish to celebrate someone's birthday by giving a magazine published the year they were born.
  • Niche interest - for example, sci-fi magazines aimed at groups such as fans of Star Trek; model car collectors, train enthusiasts, sports fans. These people collect magazines only as a secondary element to their main passion.
  • Historical/information resources - not always related to the age of the magazine, it can be a relatively recent issue (including part works) that provide a resource of information. Again, the magazine is secondary to the main interest.
  • Rarity or obscurity - we have (at time of writing) a first edition of The Mother Earth News from 1970 and the first issue of Home Grown, Europe's first dope magazine! It's impossible to know how many of these may be lying in attics around the world, but just for their 'weirdness' they become collectible.
  • Illustrated works - comic book characters, manga, sci-fi... the visual images in some magazines attract the attention of certain buyers. Some may buy a magazine purely for its cover art.
  • Condition - the condition is very important. Whether someone is a magazine collector or a buyer drawn to a copy because of some other passion, they are less likely to buy if the item is not at least in a fair condition for its age. Badly creased spines, creasing across the cover, or torn inner pages can make a magazine worthless... to all but the most keen of buyer. Notice how, even now, there could still be someone out there who would buy it. It all depends on the strength of other factors.