For years, there have been relatively few ways to sell comics, whether they're dollar bin books or high-end graded collectibles. You can sell them in person or on consignment, you can sell them to or through a comic shop, or you can post them on marketplaces like Facebook or on auction sites like eBay or Heritage. With limited options, it often felt like there was something missing.
That niche has been, if not filled, at least expanded with the relative newcomer to online commerce, WhatNot. What is it, how can you use it, and how can you be successful in selling comics on it? Let's dig in.
What is WhatNot?
First, we'll start with the obvious question: what even is WhatNot?
WhatNot is a kind of hybrid between several platforms, taking some of the best things from each and combining them into a single robust package.
- From eBay, it takes an auction format with optional buy-now sales.
- From Twitch, it takes a livestream format, with the seller streaming to an audience of potentially interested buyers.
- From Instagram, it takes a mobile-friendly app-centric presentation where interested parties gather from anywhere they have their phones and access to the internet.
Getting the idea?
Basically, it's a way for sellers to livestream and chat, geek out, and hype up the items they're selling. They can answer questions and show off specific items in detail while accepting bids or even immediate purchase offers from interested livestream viewers.
One of the biggest benefits of WhatNot is that it weaponizes FOMO. FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out; if you've ever seen a one-of-a-kind item sell for a lot less than it's worth just because no one else had found it for sale, and you wish you had been there, that's missing out. You then start to watch that storefront in case there are other deals, and you may pull the trigger on deals that aren't as good as you could get eventually because what if you miss out and a better deal doesn't come along? That's FOMO.
WhatNot, by presenting all of its sales as livestreams, means that if you want to buy, you have to be there. Sellers, particularly sellers with their own stores, social media followings, or content creation channels, often hype up their WhatNot streams so that as much of their audience as possible gets into them to buy.
WhatNot is primarily angled at a variety of collectible and collectible-adjacent kinds of products. The official categories list includes things like trading cards, sports cards, coins, comics, sneakers, and jewelry. However, it also includes other categories, like books, music, storage units, sports equipment, food and drink, and even pet supplies. All of this speaks to the fact that basically anything (at least, anything that doesn't violate their rules or commerce laws) can find a home through WhatNot.
What Are the Benefits of Selling Through WhatNot?
WhatNot has grown pretty popular in just a short amount of time, so there have to be a few good reasons why, right? So, what are the benefits and the pros of selling through WhatNot?
It's interactive and entertaining. You aren't just a username on a product listing; you're a live person, a fan, a knowledgeable individual, and you get to hang out on a livestream with an audience of people who are also hyped about the kinds of items you're selling.
It's fast. If an audience member has a question or wants clarification of a detail of the item, you can just speak it right then and there, answering the question not just for them but for everyone. You can show off tiny details that make an item special without having to hope that every visitor reads deep enough into the item description to get it. And, the amount of time from introducing an item to selling it is much more on par with live auctions than eBay; you're showing and selling items in a matter of minutes, not days or weeks.
There are a lot of deal-hunters and "whales" around. WhatNot has a reputation as being a great place to get otherwise hard-to-find collectibles, like rare variant comics and key issues with good grades. That means there are quite a few people floating around who are willing to bid, often against one another, and there are even whales willing to meet your immediate purchase prices. You'll often get a surprising amount of interest in items that would languish on eBay for weeks with no attention.
There's safety and protection built in for the seller and the buyer. WhatNot is a lot like eBay in that sales made through their platform are validated. Buyers put money into WhatNot, but sellers aren't paid until an item ships, and there are methods in place to verify the authenticity of items to reduce the chances of scams and fraud. In the event of some kind of issue, WhatNot is generally pretty good at handling them.
What Are the Drawbacks of Selling Through WhatNot?
Of course, not all platforms are perfect, and WhatNot has its share of drawbacks.
The audience is relatively small. Sites like eBay have 600-700 million monthly active users. WhatNot, while growing year over year, still has under ten million monthly active users, including both buyers and sellers. It means that your livestreamed audiences are generally going to be rather small unless you're already popular in your niche and have a strong following. Even then, the barrier to entry – getting people to download an app and put their financial details into it – is pretty high, and there's a significant number of people who are hesitant to do so.
Consequently, some items won't sell for as much as you hope or sell at all. While WhatNot is aimed at collectors and has a majority of its users focused on those niches, it's always possible that something you would be almost guaranteed to sell on eBay won't get a lick of interest on WhatNot.
It's reasonable when you think about it. On eBay, you have people all around the world, all 24 hours of the day, who are able to browse, see your item, and bid on it. On WhatNot, you have to convince those users to sign up and get the app, and they have to be available to watch your livestream and bid. It limits your potential audience quite significantly. The tradeoff, of course, is the immediate sale without any waiting.
You have to be your own hype man. While some people are natural showmen and have the charisma and personality to capture audience attention and engagement on a livestream, a lot of people aren't. You might be a lot more used to the back rooms and the text-based communication formats, or you might have a speech impediment, or you might be ill, or you might have poor lighting or a noisy environment… there are a lot of potential reasons why your livestream might be, shall we say, sub-par.
With all of that said, WhatNot can be a great option for selling comics, especially those middle-of-the-road comics that aren't worth fishing for the highest possible prices but are worth more than the dollar bin.
So, if you're interested in trying to sell on WhatNot, here are our top dozen tips to make it easier for you to be successful.
Tip 1: Pick a Niche
While "Comics" is itself a niche, you generally want to be more specific than that, so you attract people with specific interests. Your niche can vary from stream to stream, but each stream should have a theme.
For example, maybe one stream is Hidden Gems, one is Best X-Men Storylines, one is Comics Adapted Into Movies, and so on. These give viewers a great idea of what you're going to be selling and can attract specific kinds of fans.
Tip 2: Focus on a Cheap Inventory
Chances are very good that your first several streams are going to leave you in the red. Until you familiarize yourself with the platform, build an audience, and hook a few whales, you're probably going to be selling comics for less than you would if you just listed them on eBay.
Don't get discouraged! As you grow, you'll find higher bids and bid wars are more common, and you can take greater risks with more valuable books. Meanwhile, by making sure you get your inventory for as cheap as possible, you lose less and have more margin for error.
Tip 3: Be Consistent with Showtimes
Consistency is key in pretty much any kind of marketing. If you just go live whenever you feel like it, you're never going to build an audience. You don't have to be going live at 8 pm every weekday night or anything crazy, but you should make sure that whatever day and time you pick, you use that day and time consistently.
Pro tip: start small; one weekly stream is plenty, and you can expand from there later if it makes sense to do so.
Tip 4: Hype Your Streams Anywhere and Everywhere
While WhatNot does an okay job of promoting streams that are currently active or are about to be active, they still have a relatively limited audience, and a very small portion of that audience is going to have any idea who you are.
You'll need to take matters into your own hands and market your sales anywhere and everywhere you can. Facebook groups, Reddit discussions, Discord rooms, social groups, flyers in your LCS; anywhere you can get permission to promote your streams, do so.
Tip 5: Don't Focus on Off-Hour Streams
One of the biggest mistakes many newcomers make is trying to pick a timeslot when the Big Sellers aren't currently selling. It makes sense in a way; you don't want to run a premier of your TV show opposite the Superbowl.
The difference is that WhatNot buyers are often flipping between multiple different streams, and the big-name streams attract the biggest whales. If you're live and streaming at the same time, those whales can duck into your stream from time to time as well. It can feel like a struggle, but it can be worth trying.
Tip 6: Practice Your Showmanship
Unfortunately, it's part of the nature of the beast that to sell successfully on WhatNot, you need to be a showman. You need to be able to fluently discuss your items, hype them up, interact with buyers, answer questions, welcome newcomers, and all while keeping your momentum rolling.
It's a lot! There are plenty of professionals who struggle with it. You'll get better with practice, but you need to take the time to learn the basics to get rolling.
Tip 7: Copy Successful Sellers
One of the best tips we can give you is to watch other comics sellers and see what kinds of techniques they use. How do they engage with their audience? How do they discuss their items? How do they keep people's attention?
You don't have to copy them word-for-word, but you can take concepts like timed giveaways, tertiary engagement tricks, and even simple catchphrase greetings into consideration. Adapt them to your own personality and environment.
Tip 8: Create a Great Environment
Speaking of the environment, there's always going to be a technical aspect to streaming that you need to pay attention to, and it may take some financial investment.
Find a good place to stream with an interesting background. Make sure your audio sounds good and doesn't echo. Make sure your lighting is good, especially on your products. If you need to, invest in a more modern device for better video quality. Make sure you have consistent and fast internet so you can stream without interruptions. All of this needs to be there for your streams to go well.
Tip 9: Use Giveaways to Keep People Around
A common technique for keeping visitors around and engaged is giveaways throughout your stream. You might do them once an hour, once every 30 minutes, or at whatever interval you want. Users know they can't win if they aren't there, so they'll need to stick around to have a chance. It's a good way to keep them around and listening and potentially buying.
Pro tip: If someone has bought something already, remind them that they only have to pay shipping once, so future purchases are cheaper!
Tip 10: Get Insured Shipping from WhatNot for High-Value Sales
We've talked about insurance before, but it can be tricky to manage insurance when you're getting your shipping labels from WhatNot instead of from your own systems.
WhatNot offers insured shipping, so set a threshold for a sale value ($500+ is a good benchmark) and request insured shipping on any order over that value.
Tip 11: Ship Your Comics Properly
Packing and shipping comics is an art form, and you absolutely need to do it properly to avoid loss or damage in transit.
Fortunately, we have a whole guide to it here. Check it out!
Tip 12: Don't Be Afraid to Experiment (and Lose)
WhatNot is still relatively new and growing, and there's a lot of room to experiment with techniques, methods, and tricks to try to get more out of the platform and your audiences. You have a lot of freedom to try different things.
The main thing is to just not be afraid to lose on these gambles, at least for a while. If you're consistently losing and you've been streaming weekly for a year, well, maybe it's time to re-evaluate. If you're just starting out, though, go wild and see what sticks. You never know what might capture an audience.