May 22, 2008

For The Love of Sitting Around and Flipping Through a Price Guide

Today I walked down to the supermarket and for the hell of it bought the new Tuff Stuff– excuse me, the new Tuff Stuff's Sports Collectors Monthly. And while it was fun to flip through it, scan the ads and learn about cards from the Dark Ages of the hobby (1996 - 2005), I got to the point where I felt like I was deluding myself if I actually believed what was printed in the magazine's price guides. I found myself agreeing with the anonymous commenter on the "Toppstown" post: a conventional price guide has become the string quartet on the Titanic.

I'll admit, that's a dire read on today's hobby, but let's examine the situation. The hobby doesn't need price guides to exist, and yet would be chaotic without them. Beckett and FW Publications (publisher of Tuff Stuff) provide infrastructure for the secondary market. Dealers consult them when setting prices. You want to see a world without the consultation of book prices? Look no further than eBay.

With its low prices and open-source approach to assigning realistic value to cards and memorabilia, it's the new face of the hobby. It's slowly killing independent in-shop dealers. It's taken the bottom out of the value of game-used, relic, auto and other seemingly hard-to-find cards. That Poley Walnuts insert of the squirrel at Yankee Stadium from last year's Topps? Tuff Stuff has it at $40. Here are two eBay auctions: one's at $1.25, the other at $0.99.

I know I'm not the first person to bring this up, but have you really thought about what the hobby will look like in the next five years? I think it's fair to say that both Beckett Publications and FW have enough money to continue publishing their respective fleets, but what will be in those magazines? Or, more appropriately, what will be on their websites? Will there still be price guides? And if yes, will the prices they hold mean anything?

Ebay's not going anywhere. Beckett.com has a large community forum on the site, as does TuffStuff.com. Beckett's got guest columnists, Tuff Stuff's got bloggers...

With realistic pricing coming from a relatively unexpected third party, is original content the infrastructure of the future? Or can the Becketts and the Tuff Stuffs reclaim their relevancy in a traditional role in the hobby? And what about all the dealers who got into the industry only to watch their roles in it disintegrate?

8 comments:

timrooks said...

You can't use the current high bid of open eBay auctions as an indication of market price. Search for completed items on eBay, and you will find that the Poley Walnuts card has generally sold for $10 to $20 (plus shipping) on eBay in the last few weeks. So what's the low value for that card in Beckett? I'd look it up, but I don't buy price guides, since I have zero use for them.

Anonymous said...

From what I've seen in the last 10 or 15 years is that most dealers, at least at flea markets and shows, start at about 50% of Buckett. The stores stay a bit closer.

Patrick W. Schubert said...

Beckett keeps their prices high in the guides to protect their 'dealers' who set the pricing and also to protect their huge cache of stored cards they keep in the Beckett vaults. eBay has prices that are so cheap because a good percentage of collectors do not use it. They strictly buy packs or boxes or they go to shows to buy what they can't pull. Many shops that do not have other ventures in their stores (movies, collectibles, music or video games) DO NOT SURVIVE in our hobby today. The only people who make money in cards today either promote shows, sell cases of boxes on release, crack boxes of new cards, print & sell price guides or those who get lucky and pull high dollar auto cards. let's also not forget the people who own eBay ... nothing like taking 20% of every sale for nothing...

--David said...

I quit using price guides long ago. I once read that price guides 'dismiss' online prices (even Beckett's own marketplace features cards for far less than book) by saying that collectors actually pay MORE than book when filling sets, finding a long-desired card, etc. Bull Hockey. Unless (and until) the price guide publishers wake up to the reality of card prices, they will continue to be irrelevant to most collectors...

Anonymous said...

Basecards, like any colecctable are only worth what someone will pay. Beckett by far is most trusted source.

Anonymous said...

Buckett may be trusted, but I wouldn't call it accurate.

Dave © said...

Personally, I think the price guides are still extremely relevant today and will continue to be relevant well into the future. If nothing else, they provide very good starting points for buyers, sellers and traders.

Baseball card price guides are similar to Blue Book values for cars. Are the price guides the be-all and end-all? Of course not. But they are hardly irrelevant.

Switching gears just slightly...have you ever thought that perhaps prices are lower on eBay because the buyer-risk is built-in subconciously? Tell me that I'm the only one who's ever faced this scenario:

You win a great card on eBay for $0.99. You are psyched 'cause you've been looking for this card for awhile and got a real steal 'cause it's "worth" $15. You pay instantly via Paypal. You get your card five days later. You excitedly open up the package. You are disappointed 'cause the back edging is chipped, the corner is a little softer than it appeared to be in the scan or _____________ (you fill in the blank). You think to yourself, "I can't believe this guy said that the card is in near-mint condition. What is he thinking?" You stew about it for, oh, about 30 seconds before consoling yourself with thoughts that, "Well, at least I only paid three bucks for this card."

Anonymous said...

1987 was my main year for collecting cards. I remember trying everyday in the summer to find 42 cents to buy a pack. I just retrieved my cards from my parents house as they are moving to Florida. I find it very disturbing that I can buy a box of 1987 topps on ebay for less then what they cost in 1987.