Posted by Administrator On April - 7 - 2011

One obvious outgrowth of eBay’s attempt to shift its marketplace from auction-centric sales to the fixed price “Buy It Now/Best Offer” approach is that it has revealed how little some sellers actually know about the ”real world” value of the items they are trying to sell.  Or it’s revealed that those sellers are in denial about the real value.

In the sports card market, this is partly the fault of Beckett’s price guides (both print and on-line).

Too many folks regard what Beckett has to say as gospel.  That comes from 30+ years of publishing price guides with little, or no, competition.  But, if you monitor bidding and final sale prices on eBay, you can clearly see that Beckett prices can often be a little too “pie in the sky”; especially when those prices relate to short-printed and extremely low print run items.

Why are Beckett’s guide prices often too high when compared to actual sales prices?  Well, consider their bottom line: their advertising support base.  That money is certainly not coming from the consumers or the subscribers.  It’s coming from the card manufacturers and some of the longstanding hobby shops around the country.  Those two groups desperately need to justify those hefty pack/box prices with some hefty potential value, or they’ll have a hefty credibility problem with the customers.  A $200 box of cards at retail had better yield, at a minimum, a perceived $200 in card value on the secondary market.  Beckett helps to fill that void very nicely.

The problem, of course, comes when a hefty perception fails to equal a hefty reality.  And, Beckett can play an unintended role in this even when it fails to price a rare short-printed item.  “No pricing due to scarcity” leaves the door open for some pretty wild swings in the pricing of cards on the Internet.  And, it isn’t always the so-called “weekend warriors” who struggle to understand the marketplace.  Frequently, the professional “brick and mortar” folks use the “scarcity” label to justify some pretty outrageous prices.  Sadly, the “scarcity” label can stick around for years after the introduction of a card set because with millions of prices in the guides, who has the time or staff to completely monitor and update older pricing while trying to keep the “hot” newer issue prices current?  (Computer programs can only do so much.)  Seriously, workload aside, Beckett analysts should have a pricing handle on “scarce” 5, 6, and 7 year old cards by now; even if there’s only been a sale or two on eBay. Yes, I know Beckett can’t completely control how dealers price an item, but, hey, the first thing you see on its website are the words, “Find The Right Value Of Your Cards.”  If the shoe fits… .

I won’t “out” any actual sellers in this blog to make my point, but examples like the one that follows are all too real.

The most glaring OVER-PRICING I’ve seen recently on eBay involves the 1999 SkyBox Super Rave series of cards.  Sure, the series is limited to 25 cards per player, and that’s pretty limited.  And, the serial number of the specific card in question features the player’s jersey number.  But, does that warrant a “Buy It Now” price of $999.99?  Who’s this guy kidding?  Yes, you can “Make an Offer,” but comparable sales prices don’t even justify an offer of 10% of the BIN price.  Heck, the seller probably has a pre-set automatic “decline” of any offer under $500.  There’s not even a thread or sticker autograph to even give this item a little price boost.  At the same time, another guaranteed future HOFer in this same subset is being offered at the way more reasonable opening bid of 99 cents!

What this seller doesn’t get is that the market is overrun with short prints; with and without the bells and whistles, patches, signatures, and so on.  There’s really nothing special about many of these items anymore.  (Maybe in 1999, but not a dozen years later.)  A review of this particular player’s card production numbers indicates he has over 3,500 with embedded memorabilia, and 2,400 of his cards have an autograph on board.  Somehow, the words “scarce” and “rare” just don’t seem to work.  And, the real buying world bears this out.  Despite this player’s popularity among collectors, this “thousand dollar” item wouldn’t even fetch a hundred bucks in an open auction.   To reach the century mark with this guy you need a sticker autograph or a fabulous looking piece of patch, or two.  To get $150, you definitely need the sticker AND the patches.  To get anywhere near $200, that signature had better be “on card.”

Even the idea of a limited print run of 75, 50, 25, or 10 doesn’t really carry much pricing weight these days.  All of those numbers are fairly small and after while they all seem about the same when it comes to pricing.  Especially, when card set after card set comes out with limited print run after limited print run.  Even the 1 of 1’s aren’t that rare when you look at all the varieties of them on the market.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the Internet auction world for yourself.  It’s all there for anyone to see.  You just need to do a little searching.   Pick any popular player and follow the price trends.  You’ll see what I mean.

Remember, when dealers put wildly high prices on stuff like this, it either means they are clueless, looking for a “sucker,” or really don’t want to sell the item unless they can make a mint off of it.  Or, all three.

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