November 04, 2013

Average Real Pricing (ARP): The Future of the Price Guide

There's an oft-repeated, widely held misconception amongst vintage card collectors, one that reeks of that “old money vs. new money” elitism. That misconception is that new cards—cards made in the last 10 years—are worthless.

It’s not true, of course. After all, anything can have value if someone is willing to purchase it. The problem is, unlike cards manufactured prior to 1970, new cards are probably not worth as much as collectors are led to believe. Whereas the market and value for older cards is more stable, the value of a new card is dictated not so much by what the market will actually pay, but by an artificial, out-of-touch price: its “book” value.

Since the rise of the nationally consulted price guide in the early 1980s, “book” value has been determined by an aggregate tally of prices reported by a network of sources within the hobby, mostly card shop owners and touring show dealers. The reported prices were accurate and reliable because that’s where collectors bought cards: at hobby shops and at card shows.

But over the last 10 to 15 years, with the rise of online shopping and big-box, one-stop-shopping stores like Walmart and Target—combined with the dwindling number of card shows and hobby shops—the tried-and-true price guide model stopped working.

So why base pricing on reports from people with only half the story? One theory is that it preserves the card-collecting industry. Without a somewhat-inflated baseline, whatever shops and touring dealers remain would flag and fail. Another theory is that this model is still used because it’s convenient. Changing how book prices are determined would undermine more than 30 years of labor of transforming a hobby into a gigantic industry. And while changing the nature of how and from where prices are collected would erode the “wink-wink” dealer advantage and definitely shake things up, nobody wants to see the hobby fail. We just don’t want to be lied to anymore about the true “value” of our cards.

Enter the average real pricing guide, or ARP guide. With monthly prices based on realized prices of new, raw card sales from various Internet auction sites, any card’s ARP will be much more accurate than a traditional price guide’s pie-in-the-sky value.

Let’s look at an example. Topps 2013 Series Two came out in mid-June. And while most collectors don’t expect base cards of a flagship set like Topps—with a total print run probably into the millions of cards—to hold their value long-term, how should we value short-printed cards like the on-checklist variations? Realized prices from September and October were used to find the ARP values of 17 variations (see table below).

Card # & Player
ARP Value
Unregulated ARP Value*
Trad. Price Guide Value Range (Dec.)
1C Bryce Harper Sunglasses SP
10B Adam Jones Sunglasses SP
11C Yu Darvish Sunglasses SP
27C Mike Trout Sunglasses SP
28B Prince Fielder Sunglasses SP
34B Felix Hernandez Sunglasses SP
55B Tim Lincecum Sunglasses SP
110B Justin Upton Sunglasses SP
122C Andrew McCutchen Sunglasses SP
127B Giancarlo Stanton Sunglasses SP
242C Matt Kemp Sunglasses SP
316B Josh Reddick Sunglasses SP
362B Yoenis Cespedes Sunglasses SP
456B Pablo Sandoval Sunglasses SP
595B David Ortiz Speech SP
660B Miguel Cabrera Sunglasses SP
661B Hyun-Jin Ryu Sunglasses SP
*Unregulated ARP contains high and low in range.

The ARP values here aren’t arbitrary, like the traditional book values feel—the ARPs are made up of actual realized prices for raw cards on major Internet auction sites. (It’s important to stress that ARP values are for raw cards only. Graded cards are a different beast, and are not part of these calculations.) To determine each price, an aggregate of realized prices for each card was taken from a given a date range. Next, the highest and lowest prices were removed to avoid skewing the result (See note on Unregulated ARP above*). Whatever was left was factored into the ARP. In those few cases where five or fewer prices went into the price calculations, all prices were factored in. (In the example above, only the Kemp had five or fewer sales.)

One interesting quirk about an ARP value is that the number of individual prices that go into each average is not uniform. For instance, if a Yasiel Puig card is sold 20 times but a Dustin Pedroia is only sold 6 times, shouldn’t all 20 Puig prices be used to find its ARP? It’s a more popular card, after all. I used date cutoffs rather than number of individual prices. These values reflect whatever happened between September 1, 2013, and October 31, 2013.

And about that middle column... While the ARP is the more accurate of the two price values, the Unregulated ARP (UnARP) contains the single highest and single lowest values left out of each ARP range. With these values factored in, the ARP and UnARP form an accurate range of high and low for a given card (it doesn’t matter which is higher or lower). For example, your Felix Hernandez “Sunglasses” short-print variation in 2013 Topps Series 2 is valued between $3.13 ARP and $3.60 UnARP. This is how much you should expect to pay for it, and how much you should expect to get for it should you decide to sell it. Notice how the expected buy and sell price ranges are the same?
“Book” value has long been the starting point for negotiations, or baseline for dealers offering to buy cards. If a card books for $20, a dealer will usually pay 20% to 40% of book to buy, then turn around and charge 60% to 90% of book when selling the card. The dealer has to protect his profit margin in order to stay in business. That’s one of the inherent functions of the book value and a wrinkle in how the hobby currently works.

An ARP value doesn’t have to protect a profit margin. Internet auction sites don’t care who’s buying or who’s selling. You want to buy that Ortiz “Speech” SP? Expect to pay between $17.06 and $17.77 for it. You want to sell the same Ortiz SP? Guess how much you should expect to get. That's right: between $17.06 and $17.77. 

A level field is a new concept, one that won't be embraced by dealers. I expect the traditional price guides will fight ARP at every turn. But here's why you should use it if you buy and sell new, raw sports cards: it's accurate. And as you can see from the table above, "accurate pricing" and "book" value are rarely synonymous.


dogfacedgremlin said...

So my question is, which company is going to jump on the tabulation of this data and charge for it? I know you can easily do this yourself but how many people really want to spend the time unless they are really into a card? Not many I would bet.

View From the Skybox said...

I love the concept, but who would openly put out an ARP guide? A software system designed to do this could bring in big subscription sales.

Derek McKim said...

well done. I totally understand and is in your corner.. I also the RC designation is rather suspect also. back in 80s. traded sets include XRCs and had rookie cards in base set the following yr. such as Bo Jackson, Craig Biggio, Doc Gooden etc..yet someone like 2000 Miguel Cabrera traded or Nomar traded are rookies. seems contradictory. If they make it more uniformed ...would hurt hobby in some way likely. all of sudden your 89 Upper Deck is basically a common not valuable or as collectible.. and some old niche sets like 89 Topps Big Randy Johnson. why not RC? if set released today. it would be considered one. or food issues.. a 78 Kelloggs Eddie Murray is RC in my book..and has more collectibility than some low level set produced by Topps or Panini.