By John Stepek on Friday 1 August 2014
I used to read a lot of comics when I was a teenager.
I wasn’t a serious collector. I didn’t obsess about the condition of the comics. I just wanted to read the stories.
But hunting them down wasn’t always easy. If I wanted to track down an old copy of 2000AD or a back issue of even a pretty mainstream American comic, I’d take the train into Glasgow and go to a little market just off Argyll Street. (This was back in the days when Britain’s biggest comic shop, Forbidden Planet, only had a couple of branches in London).
I’d go into an old bric-a-brac shop there, and rifle through the stack of comics. Sometimes I’d find what I was looking for, which was a great buzz. But a lot of the time I wouldn’t, and I’d head home empty-handed and a train fare lighter.
As I said, I wasn’t that bothered about the collecting side. But as I got older, I did keep an idle eye on prices. Although most of the stuff I had was pretty common and low value, there were a few American comics I’d picked up that had risen in value. At least one was worth over £100.
But any time I thought of selling up, I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, and anyway, I just assumed it would only keep rising in value.
Then the internet came along. More specifically, auction website eBay came along. Suddenly, every middle-aged man with a pile of mouldering Judge Dredd comics in the attic had a clearance outlet.
Once it would have taken their owners more time and effort than it was worth to sell those old hoards of comics.
In effect, eBay liquefied the comic book market. As a result, supply soared, and prices slid – including the prices of the jewels in my own collection, as I realised when I looked at disposing of my comics on eBay myself.
Nowadays, only genuinely rare comics will fetch premium prices, even in this world where money printing is driving up demand for collectibles along with every other physical asset.
Why am I telling you this? Because it’s one of the best first-hand examples I have of what the internet does to business models.
The internet simply makes it easier for us to transact directly with one another. But massive implications spin out from that one simple fact. ‘Frozen supply’ is liberated, driving prices down. Brokers and middle men are hacked out of the loop, removing another layer of cost.
And the end result is a more personalised service – whatever you want, you’ll find someone selling it online.
None of this is new. This process has already upturned the music and book publishing businesses, clothing and food retailers, and even broadcasting.
But we think we’re on the brink of an exciting new phase that takes this disruption further than you might ever have imagined, and to industries that have been barely touched so far.
Take Airbnb. This is a very successful US website that allows you to rent out your home (or a room) to short-term tenants.
It has a similar, listed rival, HomeAway. The sites are hugely popular. More than 10 million people have booked stays through Airbnb since the site launched in 2007, with around six million of those coming in 2013.
More importantly perhaps, the company has 500,000 properties listed, meaning it has added 500,000 potential places to stay to the global market – all without building a single new hotel room.
In short, these companies have liquefied the spare capacity in privately-owned homes across the globe. What does that do to prices? What does that do to the hotel business?
This is just the beginning. This ability that the internet has to bring people together – what we’ve called ‘crowdpower’ – and cut out the big, once-powerful players in the middle, is set to revolutionise all kinds of industries once thought immune.
We’ve covered some of the most exciting areas in this report. 3D printing – which allows you to download designs (or make your own) and print objects in your own home – promises to take us from the era of ‘mass production’, to the era of ‘mass customisation’, changing the nature of the big manufacturers.
You can read about that on page 9 of this free report.
There’s the alternative finance revolution. The banks might be too big to fail, but even unwilling backing from the taxpayer can’t save them from the competition unleashed by peer-to-peer platforms (which put lenders and savers directly in touch with one another) and other new financial technologies.
That’s on page 7.
And – while it might sound far-fetched just now – advances in solar power, battery technology, and ‘intelligent’ power grids mean that we could even see the ‘disintermediation’ of the big utility companies before too long.
We explain what’s happening in this fascinating area on page 10.
This is an incredibly exciting, long-running investment theme. While not all of the smaller stocks in this report will end up being the big names of the future, I believe that several have the potential to do so. And we’ve also got some better-known blue-chip names in there, which are already well on the way to being the dominant players in these new variations on old industries.
Long may the revolution continue. Even if it has made collecting comic books a little less fun.
Now I’ll hand you over to our Editorial Director, Eoin Gleeson, to walk you through this powerful new phenomenon, step-by-step.