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Marino63's Blog
The Hobby From A Retailer's Perspective
 
entry Nov 22 2006, 06:42 PM
Another area which provokes skepticism of the price guides on my part has to do with what I consider conflicts of interest.

Beckett is generally acknowledged to be THE price guide of record.

Beckett is in the business of professionally grading cards.

Beckett has the capability to influence the values of cards that it grades.

Imagine for a moment that there was only one car dealer who handled all brands of cars. If you wanted to buy a car, you had no choice but to buy from this one dealer. If you wanted to sell a car, same thing. If you wanted to have the condition of your car evaluated, only the one choice.

Now, on the last point, further imagine that an individual decided to set up his own auto condition evaluation business.

Now imagine the single auto dealer putting the word out that only one condtion evaluation service- his- was "correct" and that he was the best at it.

Well, that's pretty much what you have with Beckett today. They grade the cards and report on the prices which, coincidentally, consistently reflect best on Beckett. A comparably graded card from Beckett seems always to sell at a higher price than one from PSA (and other grading companies suffer even more from comparison). Is it because Beckett is actually better than PSA, GAI and all the other grading companies? Or is it because they want to unduly influence the marketplace? How do we know that either is correct or more correct?

Personally, I think the right thing to do would be for Beckett to either get out of the grading business or to stop reporting prices on cards they grade. It is critically important for them to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest if they want to be considered to be impartial arbiters of the hobby.

I've never been a fan of graded cards, but I've had to (belatedly) acknowledge the fact that it has grown almost impossible to sell ungraded single cards anymore because unscrupulous sellers can and will alter cards to cover flaws and people will overgrade their own cards (unintentionally or not, the result is the same), so I recognize that grading does protect both buyer and seller. That admission, though, doesn't mean I have to LIKE it, right?

entry Nov 22 2006, 06:28 PM
Greetings Folkses!

It's been a while since my last entry. If you've ever worked retail, you'll know that most vendors (such as I am) do approximately 40% of our yearly business from the day after Halloween to Christmas Day. I'm right in the middle of what constitutes my "Silly Season".

Anyway, the topic for this particular rant is/are Price Guides.

While I realize that there needs to be some sort of authority by which the relative value of this item or that item can be determined, I think a compelling case can be made that eBay is a far more accurate reflection of the actual value of a sports collectible than is Beckett or Tuff Stuff.

Simply put, the actual value of about 99.5% of all sports collectibles is less- in most cases, far, far less- than what the various price guides show. Beckett and Tuff Stuff are grossly inaccurate reflections of the actual market.

I do applaud Beckett for one thing they do, and that is admitting that, when it comes to ultra-short-print (less than, say, 25 or so) items, they refuse to put an arbitrary value on an item and wait until they have actual, verified market activity on that exact item or one very similar to it before they print a price. In a perfect world, they'd do that on ALL values they list and update them when the market changes. Sadly, we aren't in that perfect world.

I can't tell you how many collectors over the years I've talked to that are disappointed, bitterly disappointed, to find out what their cards are really worth. they carry a card that Beckett shows as being worth $30 into their local card shop, only to be told by the dealer that the dealer would give them $3-$5 for it or that they don't want the card at all. Or they put the same card on eBay and it sells in that same $3-$5 range. So how did Beckett arrive at that $30 figure when the real world selling price is $5? And why does that value never change in the Beckett, even if you report the real value to them?

Well, according to Beckett, the value that they print is what a dealer- somewhere- actually sold the card for. It is supposedly an actual transaction that took place in that amount.

OK...but what about the multiple transactions that took place, verifiable transactions, when the card sold for far less than that?

I've never seen that question asked of Beckett or Tuff Stuff, so I have no idea how (or if) they'd answer it. I suspect that having to verify literally thousands of transactions- maybe even millions- on a monthly basis would tax their staff. Fair enough; I can accept that argument. But would it kill them to overhaul values on a, say, yearly basis to try to more accurate reflect market value?

You'd think so...but they don't. Case in point: when I was working on my set of jersey cards from a particular Pacific release, I was able to get commons and semi-stars pretty much all day long on eBay for 99 cents. I worked on that set for a bit over two years. the Beckett value for those jersey cards was $8 each when I started and $8 each when I finished, this despite the fact that I didn't pay over $3 for ANY common/semistar I bought. Also, during that period, hundreds, if not thousands, of similar cards from that same set were sold for the same prices as I paid for mine. Yet Beckett never adjusted the prices accordingly. Why?

We know that Beckett does monitor eBay sales on low print run cards because they will print eBay sales prices to try to give you an idea of what the same or a similar card is worth.

My guess- and it's only a guess- is that casual collectors would give up the hobby in droves if they knew what the REAL value of their collectibles were. If Beckett and Tuff Stuff were to correct their price guides tomorrow to reflect eBay and Craig's List sales, I'd venture to say that well over 99% of all card prices would be adjusted down, some to the point of being virtually worthless. I can't say that that would be good for the hobby, though it might go a ways towards reining in some of the incredible (and incredibly ridiculous) prices we've seen cards going for lately. But it would be a much more realistic reflection of the market and would put down some of the false hopes collectors, especially the youngest ones, have about what their cards are worth. Dealers frequently get a bad rap when they have to break it to a potential seller that their cards are worthless or nearly worthless, even though the price guides say their cards are worth hundreds of dollars. More accurately, that bad rap should lie squarely on the shoulders of the artificially inflated values put out by those who publish price guides.

Part 2 up soon. Thanks for reading!

entry Sep 13 2006, 11:59 AM
I think that the licensing bodies of the major sports leagues got it right and wrong when they decided to make changes to reduce the amount of product being released.

Obviously, the glut of releases, many of which were virtually indistinguishable from one another, was a negative factor on the hobby. The vast majority of collectors, I'd tend to think, have either elf- or family-imposed spending limits when it comes to what they can spend of trading cards. Nothing wrong with that at all....but I don't think the decisions made by the licensing bodies did much to alleviate that.

What the bodies did, of course, is to reduce the number of licensees. What they SHOULD have done is limit the number of releases and, beyond that, strongly suggested a price structure for product.

Here's what I would have done:

Open the bidding for a license to produce cards of every sport to a maximum of FOUR companies per sport and no less than TWO (sorry, UD- no hockey monopoly for you!). Competition between manufacturers is what will drive innovation, quality and, with luck, future value. If a company has no competition at all, how likely is it to put the focus on meeting their customer's needs? After all, if you're the only company performing a given task and that task is either needed or desired by the public, the public has really no alternative than to accept whatever you give them or do without. If you're a collector, you WANT competition between the manufacturers so as to give you the greatest chance of seeing truly innovative and fresh product.

Now...about that limit on releases and price structure:

Each company would be limited to SIX total releases, including updates (like say Bowman Prospects BB), but NOT including a series 2 release of the base brands, plus TWO hobby-only releases and ONE retail-only release. Note that manufacturers could elect to make any number of their original eight permitted releases to be either hobby- or retail-only. If there are four licensees in a given sport, that means a maximum of 36 different products- a significant reduction form the 90+ in 2005.

I could also be convinced to add a set of retired players (like UD Timeless Teams) by each manufacturer.

Price points have been constantly rising to the point where it wouldn't surprise me if the average price of a pack is around $8-$10, even if you exclude stuff like Exquisite and The Cup (and please- EXCLUDE THEM!). Product at the lower end of the spectrum has virtually no future collecting value- not true in all cases but certainly in many. You have a much higher chance of a quality pull in the super-super-premium category- at $15/pack+- than you do in lower price points (again, not always but very often). So a kid with $50 to spend either buys a box of something that probably has little to no value, but he gets to open 20 or even 30 packs and get far more cards, or he can buy 3 packs of high-priced stuff totalling, what, maybe 9-15 cards? and hope for the big hit. Increasingly, there's nothing between the two extremes.

Here's what I'd do:

Establish a series of price points in which manufacturers are required to produce a product. Those price points would be:

<$1.99 (entry product such as Total or MVP)- preferably 99 cents
$1.99-$2.99 (base brand like UD or Topps)
$2.99-$4.99 (premium brand)
$4.99-$9.99 (super premium)
>$9.99 (luxury brand)

I'd like to see boxes at the lower end of the spectrum have 24-36 packs so as to give collectors in tha trange the maximum pack-popping enjoyment. That shouldn't be a problem with the entry level, even at 36 packs, though you might have to go with 20-24 in the second tier.

Boxes at higher price points could have any number of packs- even only one. It's the job of the manufacturer to convince you that you're getting value from paying $300 dollars for one pack of 5 cards.

So, of the nine total products each manufacturer is permitted, they would be required to fit one in each of these five categories. Chances are that the retail-only release would be at the lower end of the price point scale due to theft concerns, so there would be even more moderately-priced product for collectors who do not have bottomless pockets.

Each manufacturer would still have two hobby-only releases and one regular release that they could price in any category they chose, so you could still see Exquisite, Bowman Sterling, etc. But what you wouldn't see is an overabundance of very high price point product and a dearth of more affordable stuff.

But wait- it could get even better as regards value.

If a manufacturer is relying on the same quantity of premium insert materials- GU stuff, autos, etc.- that he originally had planned to disperse between 20 or 30 brands and now can allocate that same amount over less than ten brands, the chances of getting these inserts should go up. Not only that, but the chances of getting premium inserts- auto'ed patches or whatever- in higher price point product should increase because there is now only, say, three luxury releases instead of six or eight in which to seed them. And there's always the chance that the lowest price point stuff might see better inserts too.

My goal here is to preserve the long-lost 'art' of set collecting as well as to rein in the massive increases in price points we've seen over the past number of years. When a set has 200 cards in it and the packs from which you get 2 or 3 singles cost $15/each, how many peope are going to really try to build that set? Commons would go for $3-$5 each! Insanity! Also, don't focus soley on the well-heeled collectors with bottomless pockets. While they spend a ton of money on product each, there are far more people who can spend $50 on a box than can spend $1500 on a pack. If you want to target the rich folks, that's fine- but don't forget the little guy.

entry Aug 13 2006, 02:55 PM
I'm pretty sure that others have expressed their (probably negative) opinions on a few collecting phenomena and many have done it better than I could hope to. Still, when it's such a detrimental trend- as I believe it is- then there's nothing wrong with adding one more voice to the chorus.

I'm talking about:

EVENT-WORN memorabilia cards being passed off by manufactureres as something special

REDEMPTION CARDS (especially in late season releases)

STICKER AUTOS

EVENT WORN:I bought a box of UD Ice from my friends at Dave and Adams last week. No great pulls but some very nice cards. I did pull a Rookie Threads card of Hannu Toiovinen....but, when I flipped it over, I saw those dreaded words "...worn in an Official Event". Not a game...an "event". Why an event-worn jersey card in such a late season product? Could UD not find a true rookie gamer to cut up? MeiGray Group has TONS of jerseys- they have no trouble getting them. Then what's the problem with Upper Deck?

Simply put...an event worn jersey is a very cheap substitute for the real thing. If they are inserted in any product- and I don't really think they should be- let it be the early season releases and the very lowest-end product (like MVP or Victory). They have no place in mid- to high-end product. If the choice is between pulling fewer memorabilia cards and pulling these event worn cards, I'd rather pull fewer memorabilia cards.

REDEMPTION CARDS: Should not be in the hobby. Period. Manufacturers- if you can't deliver it, don't promise it.

This one is a bit more personal to me. I bought a box of UD's Be A Player hockey last September. I've always loved the product (and a good deal didn't hurt either). Out of 10 autos, I got two redemptions (Lupul and Alfredsson), which I promptly redeemed thru UD's website.

I'm still waiting for the cards.

The website tells me that 'UD is still waiting for the players to return the cards". Assuming that UD got the cards to be signed out to all players at roughly the same time and most of the other players returned them in time for UD to collate them and place them into packs, I'm figuring that Messers. Lupul and Alfredsson have had as much as 18 months to sign and return the cards. What could the holdup be? Did UD buy Fleer's customer service along with their brand names?

If UD insists on a set-in-stone date for you to redeem their cards, then they should also commit to actually redeeming your cards by a set-in-stone date. If for ANY reason UD can't meet that date, you should receive cards roughly equal to what they failed to redeem PLUS a goodie or two to make up for your inconvenience. I'm not asking that UD give me a Howe auto to make up for not giving me an Alfredsson one (though I can hope, can't I?) but manufacturers should either deliver exactly what they promise wihin a reasonable amount of time OR make good by giving you something else.

(Exceptions- I can see why a manufacturer might put a redemption for a card or other collectible that won't fit into a regular pack. No quarrel with that from me)

STICKER AUTOS: This one is purely aesthetic. I just don't like the look of them. Does it take that much more effort to return a stack of actual signed cards than it does to sign a couple sheets of stickers and then pay someone to affix them to each card? Also, the prevalence of sticker sigs in late season releases, as reported elsewhere, is, to me, rather inexcusable. If the season starts in April and the release is in September, there's just no excuse for not being able to obtain authentically signed cards from an athlete (this is made all the worse because it is typical to have the design for signed cards finalized well before regular cards, so they have even more time to obtain the signed cards).

Anyway, I'll get down off my soapbox now. Maybe I can bring a more positive subject to my next entry- I'll certainly at least give it a shot.

entry Aug 10 2006, 10:16 PM
My first attempt at a blog of any sort so please be patient.

A bit about myself. My name is Robert, I'm 43 and live in Alabama. I began collecting cards back in 1970 and collected football, basketball and a bit of hockey on and off for the next 10 years or so until girls and cars- in that order- took over.

I got back into the hobby in 1989, collecting mainly football and basketball then and also trying to finish some of the old sets I had begun in my early collecting days. I also began collecting autographs through the mail then and still manage to send out a batch or two a month even now. I've changed my sport of preference back to hockey over the last few years, though I'll still buy some baseball (mainly to do the TTM thing) and maybe something else that catches my eye.

What I want to do in this blog is to look at the portion of our hobby with which I am directly involved. I have had the great fortune to be a service representative for trading card product for over six years, first with the company that worked WalMart in the '90s, then a year or so with the company that worked Target stores and for the last 2.5 years with the company that works KMart and Toys R Us. I've written several editorials and even an article that were published in major trade publications giving my view of how the retail portion of collecting can live happily (and profitably) alongside hobby stores and, now, auction sites.

I want to make it clear that any opinions I offer here on any subject are MINE and MINE ALONE. I do NOT represent the company I work for here on this blog. I'm speaking as a hobbyist first and as someone whose livelihood comes from the hobby second.

What I'd like to receive from you, the readers, are observations, questions, comments and the like concerning the retail portion of the hobby. If you have any questions about retail product, retail pricing, box information (# packs, #cards per pack) I hope that I am in the unique position to give at least a semi-informed answer to them. I'll also be posting opinions on product I have bought and/or seen in my stores and product I've bought at shops and online as well. I'll also offer opinions on autographs and how I've collected them through the years and I might shamelessly use this space to let you all know what sets I'm working on and ask for possible trades and sales.

I hope that I can spark some good discussions here and I'm grateful to Trading Card Central for affording me this forum to do so.

Thanks and hope to hear from some of you soon.

 
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