Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Dark Knight of the Dark Night

Everything, it seems to me, is all about exchange. As kids we used to swap (a form of exchange or barter) comic books. Those in most demand were usually Superman editions, with Batman a close second. Green Lantern and The Flash were also popular but never quite had the value of the 'big' two.

Batman And Gotham Are Alright Tonight : Makeshift Studios 2013

On one famous occasion, let's call it legendary, I promoted a particular DC Comic, a Superman title which had the superhero battling Lex Luther for supremacy. Luther, however, had managed to get his grubby hands on some
Kryptonite and, for once, had the upper hand - could this be the end for Superman, aka Clark Kent...

I hyped this comic to try and attract as much interest and hence value as possible (hype : a form of advertising or promotion of a product or service). I spread a rumour that the Superman comic, I had in my possession, held the key to the secrets of life and the universe - I sort of mimicked Utopia* before it was ever conceived or shown on television. The hype brought a great deal of interest from other kids in the neighbourhood and at school. This put me in a strong position, I had managed to generate demand while the supply was low forcing my asking price up.

To be frank with you I was always a Dark Knight guy, I always preferred Batman and one of the bidders had a particular edition I was desperate to get my hands on, so I made the deal with Alex. For my DC Superman edition he gave me three Supermans, THE Batman title I wanted, a Green Lantern and The Flash. It was a black ball of a deal, I had become the Gordon Gekko of the Ganja Academy (Grange Academy - my old school).

Now let's consider this, remember also that Superman was top currency for this particular comic book market that we all operated in. So, while Batman wasn't bad and Green Lantern and The Flash were of lesser value per unit, the capture of three Superman titles in one closure was sheer brilliance. If there had been such a thing, I would have been a comic books trader for Goldman Sachs.

What we were actually doing was exchange, and exchange is all about people with products and services to sell interacting with people looking to buy products and services. Once, of course, you have buyers and sellers you have a market which, in turn generates demand and supply. The higher the demand and the lower the supply the greater the price, or the lower the demand and the higher the supply the less value the product or service has.

All things being pretty much equal, sellers look for an edge and this is where the water turns dark. To grab the cut edge of an advantage from competitors sellers employ marketing, which is really all about making people aware of the unique selling point of the unit being sold. Branded goods, slogans - just do it, the power of dreams, - and advertising are all designed to provide an advantage to the said product or service.

What we have is a layering effect, a matrix of economic variables, needs, wants and desires underpinning exchange. Exchange giving rise to buyers and sellers, demand and supply, markets, brands, slogans, advertising. You could add other cut across generators of interest like corporate social responsibility and trends, perhaps even graffadi and/or guerilla marketing, dare I say it : hype?

At the pinnacle of this economic interconnectedness, of course, we find our fascinating friend risk.

The guy who bought the comic book from me for, I have to confess, a grossly overinflated price - helped by hype and rumours - also bought risk. The risk that the comic didn't meet his expectations -  the expectation that great secrets were contained within its pages.  It is a bit like buying a bunch of shares at a certain price in the expectation that the price will go up and you can sell at a profit.  Of course, there is no guarantee that the price will increase, things can go wrong, so you always put yourself at risk.

Risk, in turn, is an amazing concept which drives super-complicated financial vehicles like derivatives and a whole array of gambling models - insurance companies (and presumably reinsurance firms), are really nothing but super sophisticated betting shops!  They work out the odds in their favour and you place your bet.

A few weeks later I caught sight of Alex approaching me. I panicked, tried to escape, but too late he had seen me.

Hi! He called out. I smiled in a sort of feeling-very-guilty kind of rigid grimace.

You were right, he nodded.
The coded messages in that comic book are amazing.
Coded messages? I sounded vague.
The secrets of life and the universe!

I wanted to tell him right there and then I had made the whole thing up to 'cheat' him out of his currency, but I couldn't stop him talking about the comic book, the symbols in the artwork and coded messages in the text.

He had, he told me as he walked off and winked, discovered all the truths he had ever wanted to know.
You have? I frowned and watched him go...
Yes, he called back, and they were all in that comic you sold me!

They were!?

*Utopia is a Channel Four TV series where a group of geeky Graphic comic book collectors come into possession of a particular edition which is supposed to have coded messages in the text.  This leads to the collectors being hunted by a ruthless, sinister gang for the secrets of the comic.

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