Wake Up and Smell the eBay
by Ian Baronofsky
|When eBay initially came
to bear as a force in Classic Gaming, I was resentful. I thought it was
the end of days for my bargain resale hunting. Every time I heard a vendor
mention eBay, I felt as though it was the end for my shopping addiction.
No more scores, no more finds, no more carts cheap. In retrospect, I think
my initial anxiety about the concept of eBay was a bit overblown. I say
the concept, because the day-to-day functioning of the site isnít the
focus here, itís the concept of a worldwide resale marketplace on the
internet. There are actually good points to this explosion of availability
to sell to the highest bidder, and be the highest bidder, from anywhere in
the world. Of course, there are plenty of bad points as well.
eBay can still be a great source for setups and bundles of carts for very reasonable prices. I still regularly pay $3 for a cart I want on the street, which can be pathetic when you notice that the average price for games in an Atari 2600 setup is often $1-$3. And paying $2 for any video game is nothing to cry about. If you want to buy your carts individually on eBay, youíll likely pay more for the specific selection. Of course you do have to pay shipping, which can raise your average price a bit, but $15 shipping added to 40 carts you paid $60 for still gives you an average price under $2 per cart. Remember when you were doing backflips to get your mom to buy you a $30 cart? Seems like a reasonable deal to me, if just to recapture a hint of that excitement.
Some people donít have the time to hunt for 6 hours to find a filthy 2600 setup with 15 common games and a busted power supply. Others have no luck hunting locally- there simply arenít the resources to get stuff. Itís more convenient to buy on the internet, and you can set your own limit as to how much you spend, rather than be potentially ripped off by a fixed price vendor. Giving the masses more options to buy on eBay makes Classic Gaming (among other things) available to a wider audience to enjoy.
As well, I have several friends who donít even bother hunting because they canít compete when shopping against the local career shoppers who are stocking their stores with finds or selling on eBay. I respect this point of view, as adding more new pieces to your classic game collection can get darn near impossible when you reach the 95% complete mark in your collection(s). And Iíve resorted to alot of eBay purchasing myself, because itís much harder to find someone who wants to trade what you want for what you have. Itís easier to sell something that has no value to me, and parlay that into money to spend on anything that Joe eBay happens to be selling.
Thatís another thing I like about eBay. I can turn things I can readily find into things I canít find. I mean, where else could I trade 4 dirty old calculators I bought for $4 into Polaris and Marine Wars? Now the calculator market is pretty weak, so donít get any ideas, but nearly anything of value on eBay (and that includes a lot of readily available crap, some of which might still be sitting in your garage or basement) can be parlayed into money, which can be used to get something you want. Of course there are a lot of things of value that you canít sell, since the market on eBay is pretty saturated for the most common, popular Ďcollectibles.í (Collectible is a dirty work to me.) Donít even bother with comics, Star Wars, baseball cards, Disneyana, Elvis recordings- these markets are SUPERSATURATED, unless you know exactly what youíre doing. If you do, you probably donít need me to tell you this. I could sell a fart in a jar for more than Iíve gotten for some of the crappy Disney, Star Wars, and Elvis stuff Iíve tried to profit from.
Nowadays when Iím out looking for goodies, being cognizant of eBay prices, I know what things are worth on the internet. Now, every time a vendor says- itís worth this much in Ďthe bookí (what book?) or on eBay, I know whether her price is more or less than it fetches in the open eBay market (relatively open.) Without an Ďopení market (I use quotations because eBay could certainly be more open), people can more easily create a synthetic market- and claim that their crap is worth more than you know you can get it for on eBay.
I am reminded of the metal lunch box debacle. This is the story of a market with price fixing created by a lunch box collector in the early eighties. He documented his extensive collection of near mint condition metal lunch boxes complete with price guide. From which market these prices were gleaned is unclear as the prices seemed remarkably arbitrary, not to mention that it made him something like an instant millionaire (in lunch box money equivalents.) Of course, the market for lunch boxes went wild, with every vendor demanding full lunch pail guide price, even for rusted, dinged examples. I still see these price expectations for lunch boxes everywhere I shop. But on eBay, only the mintiest of examples fetch anywhere near a Ďbookí number. Nearly everything else takes pennies on the dollar. What was I driving at? An approximation of actual value is revealed on eBay, as opposed to perceived (and shall I say feared) value by a vendor or price guide writer. (Disclaimer: I used to resent the prices in the Digital Press guide, but have since revered them as the most realistic guide available. Most of the prices are spot-on for a reasonable price one might hope to pay in an educated market.)
If youíre like most collectors, you probably couldnít think of very many nice things to say about how eBay affected our little hobby.
Now, eBay isnít all fun and games- it can be a serious pain in the ass, and being person to person, you are risking your dough. And your time. Iíve had far too many deadbeat bidders waste my time to mention, although I havenít had a seriously bad experience as a buyer yet. And I would consider myself only minimally careful.
If you donít take some time to assess fair market value (which of course can vary ten fold or more), you are by no means an educated buyer. I suggest that a person do at least 10 minutes of research before buying something. More if they plan on spending much cash (letís say over $10) on a single item. In 10 minutes, you can see what the item you want is going for this week, and what it went for in the last month. If the item is so unusual that it doesnít pop up every week, let alone every month, youíre gonna need a lot more patience to get this item. And youíre going to need to make a realistic assessment using all the resources you can muster up to garner a sense of itís rarity and value. The DP guide is a start. Although some things have value on eBay beyond the quoted value, because of notoriety or demand. Many of us look down our noses at the prices some popular and available rarities get. For example, Chase the Chuckwagon is a solid $100 cart, but most often gets far more, even though it could qualify as one of the worst games available. This is simply because it has notoriety beyond itís rarity or value.
Of course you should take your research with a large dose of granulated Caveat Emptor (Ďbuyer beware, when it rains, Iím poor.í) You may notice the occasional eBay psychopath throwing money around like venture capital in Silicon Valley, but remember, a closing price does not a paid price make. If youíre wondering about a recent rash of high prices, feel free to probe a little deeper, as some evil characters take advantage of the largely trust base eBay system to boost prices on others and even their own items. eBay is a fully synthetic market, and every transaction you think youíre seeing go off without a hitch could be a conspiracy to raise prices or increase value, or exact revenge on the cartridge hungry classic gaming community. Beware of bidders with multiple bid retractions or negative feedbacks. If it smells fishy, it probably ainít sushi. Knowing, as a seller, that Iím more likely to have a deadbeat bidder when they won a big-ticket item, I have realized that the more the item sold for, the more likely that the transaction had or will have problems. So look closely, and do a little research if bids are out of control- there may be more to discover about every sale than a seamless transaction.
eBay does cause inflation of prices off of the internet, but I recommend you pay internet prices on the internet, and anything close to eBay type inflation outside of the internet is moronic to pay for. I would almost never pay more than half of an eBay market price for anything off the internet. If I saw a Crazy Climber 2600 (another $100 cart) for $50 at a flea market, Iíd be hurt, pissed, insulted, but I would buy it, especially since I need it (contact me for a nice trade if you have a spare.) But I probably wouldnít pay much more. I recently overheard a guy selling a Top Loading NES to some sad sap in a Wisconsin flea market for $145, citing eBay prices as his resource. Of course, thatís about twice what they fetch on eBay, and a fluke sale for that much does not dictate an expected market price. Although I scoured his booth for a pathetic deal, I think the guy is such a piece of crap for selling at that price, heís not even worth spitting on.
eBay isnít the last word on internet video game buying either. A very small amount of research with any of the widely available search engines might yield a few nice deals from one of the innumerable internet video game dealers on the web. Of course, the more you look, the better youíll know whatís reasonable. I check vendors occasionally to see what new stock they get in, as sometimes theyíll have a palette of a shrinkwrapped title I canít find for the life of me, and I can buy a few for myself, as well as my friends and my tradelist if the price is right.
Finally, eBay signaled a sort of age of innocence for Video Game collecting. I know that many long time collectors got into it when carts were plentiful and cheap, and most of the collection building occurred at that time. Although Iím not as much of an old timer as some of the venerable (and decrepit) DP staffers, 98% of my collection is from street level scores. Nowadays, how much do I get to add to my collection from hunting? About 25%, maybe. The predominance of new stuff to find for me is on eBay, and since I love collecting as much as I love gaming, all I need to do is think of something new to collect to keep this activity going. As well, every week something new or little known pops up on eBay. Although it may just be another of the myriad PAL format clone carts, sometimes itís a newly discovered prototype (maybe twice a year), or a never seen piece of hardware. And most of the sellers arenít interested in stuff on my tradelist- they want cold hard cash. And frankly, I have less and less hesitation to provide it to them.
Is that so horrible? I used to be more of a purist. I used to insist on trades. I tried to be part of the trading elite. I still maintain a massive tradelist. I still trade avidly, and there are some people who wouldnít surrender their best tradebait for any amount of money. Iím saving the best stuff for them. Trading just isnít the only way to feed your game room. Unfortunately, with money as the middleman, there ainít too much you canít find on eBay. And are we so bad for taking advantage of that?
The website for eBay: if you canít figure it out, Iím surprised you could write a check for your DP subscription: www.ebay.com. A reliable reasonably priced video game dealer with an ever changing selection of classic games: www.videogamedepot.com.
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