Tuesday, September 2, 2014

MarketWatch Editorial: This is Reality, Come Back to It. Part 2

Pete writes:

Happy summer space freaks. As promised here is our second round of our “This is Reality” editorial, focusing on four specific trends in the hobby that quite frankly are the reality of the hobby today. This month we’ll cover several topics including the inequity in character values, specifically Boba Fett and Darth Vader. We’ll talk about AFA and it’s true rarity vs. value, amongst several different segments of the hobby, MOC, MISB and some others as well. We’ll wrap up this month with an unplanned, but very important update on something that has become an alarming common trend over the past few years. That being abandoned auctions the new type of evil in collecting. In September we’ll come back to our normal coverage of the hobby with a new update on the general market trends.
Character Value Trends
When it comes to the popularity of certain characters in the Star Wars universe there are a couple different schools of thought and varying opinions on who is truly the most popular character in the Star Wars Universe. Many not too familiar with the universe outside of the movies would say Luke, or maybe even Chewbacca, but seriously who likes those whoolie beasts; Those die hard fans of the hobby are quick to point to Han Solo who has been voted the most popular character on Star Wars dot com several times over the years. All are great answers, but when it comes to vintage collecting there is one who rules supreme over all others, Boba Fett. The character that appeared for less then 2 minutes combined in the original trilogy is by far the most expensive figure per capita in the Vintage Hobby. It doesn’t matter the banner, whether it’s ANH, ESB or ROTJ the figure is by far the most expensive (non-variant) in any line. Let’s look at some of the going rates over the past few years for the Fett man.
Average Price by Banner 2014 – Boba Fett
Star Wars – 21 Back - $5000 - ANH Boba Fett
ESB - $1500+ - ESB Boba Fett
ROTJ - $800+ - ROTJ Boba Fett
Revenge Proof Card- $1500-2500
Droids - $2500 - Droids Boba Fett

The Star Wars banner sticks out against all other banners, especially when you compare to any 12 back figure, a grouping of figures that is consistently seen as the most expensive run in the hobby. Even as we go down the line into the ROTJ realm a figure that is just as common as almost any other figure in the run (that being the re-issue Tatooine scene) goes for infinitely more than the other 6 re-issue figures, in fact you could find the re-issue Chewy, Han, Obi Wan, and Han as a group for less then what it costs to find one clear bubble Boba Fett figure. Going onto Revenge proofs you could literally get all the other ESB bounty hunters for what it costs to get the one Fett proof. A pretty astonishing revelation when you really think about it, and one that from a personal perspective has been hard to swallow over the years.

Moving onto another character and one with not as an extreme of a story is Darth Vader.   By definition the quintessential villain not only in the Galaxy far, far away,  but also considered by many to be one of the greatest theatrical villain in the history of cinema. Thus it’s not as difficult to see why this character would demand such high value amongst his signature items in the classic Kenner line.  He’s the only main villain to appear throughout the original trilogy, so fans of the bad guys really only have 1 choice to focus on vs. the 5-7 good guys that play opposite the Dark Lord. When you compare Vader to Fett it’s hard to imagine someone who had literally an hour+ of screen time in the series comes in 2nd place to someone with less then roughly 2 minutes of screen time. I’m not a clinical psychologist and won’t get into the subtle undertones of why this may be.  

Some of Vader’s key items and they’re prices realized are listed below to give a comparison to Fett and the general grouping of characters out there. You’ll instantly see a premium vs. other staple characters if you follow the market, and this trend has held pretty solid over the past few years, whereas Fett seems to be a little less predictable, but that tends to happen with the most valuable items in any collectibles hobby.

Average Price by Banner 2014 – Darth Vader
Star Wars – 12 Back - $1500+ - ANH Darth Vader
ESB - $600-800 - ESB Darth Vader
ROTJ - $300-500 Clear Bubble - ROTJ Darth Vader
Revenge Proof Card- $800-1000

Over the years I’ve been very vocal that there are a few things that really drive up the price of an item in our hobby, condition being the top reason on an item to item basis.  But when you look at these items based on more tangible aspects the character reigns supreme when it comes to value. It’s important for collectors to know what drives the cost of these items, if nothing else to prepare for what it will take to get the items they want. In addition I think it’s always important to look at the “outliers” the lunatic fringe as my graduate school stats teacher called it.  As there is a point when emotion outweighs logic, and a point where there always be a few individuals (collectors) who will do crazy things and pay insane prices to get the pieces the covet so much.

AFA High Graded Items – Value vs. Rarity and the impact on Price or V + R = P or maybe not…
This next section is more of a post reply, then anything else. As most of you are aware I’m not an advocate of AFA, but I do use the service and am happy that my entire collection has been incased in acrylic over the years. I always reference some of the earlier AFA ads that showcase single MOCs displayed in museum settings. I’ll be the first to say that these suckered me into the fold as I have nice display cabinets at home, but my collection just wouldn’t be as secure or visually impressive, as it is today without the additional protection that AFA offers my vintage collection. Maybe that’s something that is important to you, but I really love the way my collection looks in those little cases.
When it comes to grading I have one opinion, and I’ve always held by it, if you like it great, if you don’t and spend any time slamming the service, or putting any effort into letting others know you think it’s worthless, you have other issues you need to address in life (okay there’s the psychologist coming out). It’s pretty obvious there’s a general bully mentality amongst other collectors around AFA, and because of that there will always be mixed thoughts in the hobby as to it’s validity, value and overall place in the hobby. Regardless of your opinion, you have to admit that it has changed the game in the arena of vintage Star Wars toy collecting. Whether it’s for the better or worse is left up to your opinion, but one thing that has been obvious to all those who collect is that the price index in the hobby has shifted drastically when it comes to “loose” or graded items.  
A big discussion over the last few years has been what does the little number that AFA assigns to an item truly do to the value of an item. Unfortunately there are several answers to that question given the number of variables that affect each individual piece and grade in itself. To get specific and help ground us here’s my own personal opinion on value/price when it comes to graded MOC figures based on what I’ve seen on eBay, chat boards and retail outlets over the year.

AFA 70 and below – Value of items is typically lower than a non-graded item of slightly below average condition.
AFA75 – Value is roughly the cost of a slightly below average condition plus the cost of grading.
AFA 80  - Value starts to increase above just the cost of grading and the value of a non-graded C8 or better figure.
AFA 85 – Value takes a major spike, and so does scarcity (depending on which line you’re looking at), when it comes to an 85 you’re usually looking at the highest grade some specific figures will ever receive, meaning for the specific figure/cardback combination this is typically the top end of the grading scale.
AFA 90 – Here things get crazy and where we get into the lunatic fringe.   A MOC or MISB item getting an AFA 90 is truly a rarity, there are collectors with the full series graded that will never get a 90 on any of the figures.  From a price perspective the prices typically double the average price of the same figure in 85 condition.
Above AFA 90 – It’s hard to actually put a value on items in the 95 or even a 100.   They represent something beyond an outlier when it comes to MOC and MISB items.  For that reason alone I won’t give a percentage increase or even a relative ranking in value as they are something of a legend in the hobby and thus create unpredictable purchase behavior.

That should give a general line of reference for the MOC and MISB items. I hate to use generalities as scarcity, and as previously mentioned character also have a huge impact on final prices. Other factors that affect all auction prices are present as well including reputation of the seller, the day of the week, time of the auction and believe it or not the season as well all have significant impacts on the price.

Moving off of MOC and MISB items for a moment I did want to give a brief thought on loose grading.  Ultimately the one thought that I wanted to ensure I conveyed is that you cannot compare a loose graded item with a packaged graded item although the scales are the same. Rarity truly takes a nose dive here as good condition loose figures can easily pull a 90. For comparative purposes I have a large collection of packaged items and of all 100+ I only have one 90, my AT-ST driver. On the inverse I have a very small loose collection (Just Droids and Ewoks Line) and in that grouping 17or so figures nearly half of them received 90s.   

Switching categories again let’s take a quick pause on Proofs. Much like loose figures proofs are prone to higher values then MOC and MISB items, thus it’s difficult to compare grades and value in the same way as what we see with sealed toys. It’s also difficult to say that it’s comparable to the loose figure scale as it’s truly a different beast.
In closing the impact grades have on value and perceived rarity is real. It’s sometimes inflated and sometimes understated, regardless of which side of the fence you’re on it’s something that can’t be ignored. When it comes to a simple way to look at it’s true impact in value, sorry to disappoint but these aspects are situational, and although I tried to boil this down to generalities, you really have to add in aspects of the character and rarity to get a true read. Overall this was put together to use it as a guide to help boil down some of the core elements, and what value you can assign to different items and eliminate some of the muck that surrounds the topic.
Abandoned Auctions
The true ultra evil in our hobby, beyond U grading, beyond fakes/repros, there is one truly sickening and deprived trend in the Vintage Hobby today…..Abandoned auctions!  You might say, well Pete it’s really not that damaging to the hobby overall, and I would agree to a certain extent. But when I look at this there’s no benefit that comes out of it, only damage unlike all the other evils I’ve listed above.   For example:

AFA – casing is the main reason over 50% of people send in their items to AFA, no harm no fowl, as you can easily uncase the item if you have the muscular dexterity of a 5 year old. Not to mention that every hobby, coins, stamps, paper currency, and comics all have grading companies and regardless of the vast minority of collectors in those hobbies bitch and moan about it, they are the standards, I just wish ours was a bit more consistent.

U Grading – Hard to argue their isn’t damage, but U grading also had a significant impact on the value of loose figures, and in my opinion is still okay for very poor examples of packaged items.

Fakes/Repros – A straight evil in every way trying to devalue legitimate items, lying an cheating collectors that are non the wiser, and creating a recreational hazard to entry for new collectors, there’s nothing good about making or selling these pieces of fake vintage plastic.

Customs – To a well trained collector they’re great, to an shady dealer they’re dangerous.   Something that has a bit of a ying and yang in the vintage community they can cause as much damage as enjoyment.

Ultimately the validity of abandoned auctions being a huge issue in the hobby tugs at a questions that we’ve discussed before on the MW, why do you collect? For some it’s the joy of the hobby, for others it’s reliving memories, and for some it’s about an investment. Regardless of your reasoning, abandoned auctions have adverse effects for all segments of collectors who are actively or planning to sell any part of their collection. This boils down to a few points, mainly belief in the auction selling process, perception in prices and the behavioral effects on buyers and sellers.

The first two points can be summed up fairly quickly.   In the global market there is a general apprehension about eBay, this is elevated by apprehension towards internet purchases, and escalated by the third party nature of auctions in general.   Given that we must understand that a vast majority of buyers don’t particularly like to use eBay as a means to find products. In the case of Vintage Star Wars, this is the main marketplace, as Toy sites and chat boards make up the minority of Vintage toy sales. Hearing about shill bidding and seeing abandoned auctions leads to greater apprehension on customers. Knowing that both happen in rarity is fine for a seasoned collector, but for the rookie out there it creates an additional perceived risk in collecting.  With that in mind we must know that these types of auctions end up having a negative effect on the one thing that keeps our hobby going, new collectors. As without new blood the hobby will dry up, the effects will be significant, and overall devastating regardless of your disposition on selling or keeping  your collection.

The second negative effect on the Hobby is perception in price. One of the barriers to entry in the hobby today is price.  Unlike the late 90s and 2000s where someone could find proof cards for $50-100 and MOC 12 backs for $200 consistently, we now live in a world where prices have increased 5 fold. Thus if someone is keeping tabs on the market, specifically a unique or hard to find item we find that an abandoned auction can create a sense of fear or apprehension regarding collecting overall. There are dozens of examples of this occurring, but one that’s close to the chest for me and rather visible in the hobby happened earlier this summer. As a lot of you know I focus on the ROTJ line, and overall I have a pretty strong handle on the rarity, and true demand of the line which is usually understated by most veteran collectors.  However I was strangely taken back by a particular auction for an ROTJ Tie Fighter. The auction ended in early June and was earmarked by two factors, one it was the first and only ROTJ Tie Fighter to receive an AFA 85 (10 Total Grades) the highest grade ever given to an ROTJ MISB Tie Fighter. But what really caught my eye was the ending auction price $3,802……Yes that’s five periods for WTF, OMG and any other three letter acronym that conveys shock and awe. I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t, what it was, was an abandoned auction driven up by someone in Isreal who then refused to pay for the item. After contacting the buyer on this one, I found out that he eventually sold it for $1500 to someone in the states. A little high in price, but given these aren’t nearly as common as the ESB or Star Wars release, and throwing in the fact that it was the highest graded example I wasn’t completely shocked. But for someone who didn’t follow up or just didn’t have the ability to be nosey like me and contact the buyer directly they would go on thinking that the piece actually sold for that much. And so is the folly of our hobby and our friends at AFA, as they took the auction and listed it on their front page under a section they call the power of grading. Showcasing the piece next to a C6 non graded version that sold for around $300, and saying see, see this is what AFA does for you, silly graders. I reached out to AFA and I believe they eventually pulled the listing off their front page, but it just shows how much people take ending auction prices at face value. Thus this is a damning trend from a price perception point of view as well as behaviorally.
Tie Fighter MISB ROTJ - AFA85 - $3802

Behavioral issues associated with abandoned auctions can be typically summed up by the reactive actions you see from sellers and buyers. Part of this is perception, but there is a reality in the fact that no matter which side of the coin you’re on it will affect your behavior in the sort and sometimes long run. For buyers the challenge is that they believe that something is awry. Let’s say that you were a character focus collector, you’re exhausted all the production pieces available and are looking for icing to put on your cake, let’s say a hardcopy of your character. You wait, a year, maybe two, maybe more, and then you see one come up on eBay. You get excited, about the auction, spend time prepping for the day it ends, set an end price you’re willing to pay. The auctions end nears, and low and behold it shoots up $1000 more then you wanted to pay. Disappointed you move on, but only to find the item relisted a few days later. Asking yourself what happened your first thought shoots to shill bidding, or something crooked with the other bidders or the sellers themselves. Thus you’re guarded about the potential auction and in turn act cautiously about the opportunity to purchase the item. In these cases buyers become more reserved and this can carry on through their collecting years, leading to overpaying, or worse passing on items.  

On the seller side the sting can be even worse. As we all know Evil Bay charges exorbitant fees these days to list on there site. And although there is recourse (to some extent) unless you have a cooperative non paying bidder you can end up eating those fees even if they don’t pay. Thus going forward you may hedge to stay away from auction style listings and opt to do buy it now auctions. Thus raising the price floor of the item to cover the even more exorbitant costs associated with BIN auctions. Now we have reactive behavior that not only affects someone’s ability to sell the item, it also adversely affects the buyers who now have to pay a premium for that item. 

BKCHI a member on Rebelscum had the opportunity to pass along a pair of ESB MISB 6 Packs recently. Both items went for the high prices these tend to drive in the market, however the Yellow 6-Pack which out numbers its Red 6-Pack counterpart by a ratio of about 7-1 was never paid for. In this case we saw the price appreciate to well over the going market rate over the past few years nearing the same price point as the Red version. To this day he’s still trying to part with the item, and from my perspective he’s just a shade high of where he can truly move the piece, but so are most sellers trying to sell as BIN auctions. And I believe this is due in part to where the auction ended as a whole, as the seller is pretty in tune with the market, but seeing an astronomical price tag on the item changes the price horizon for many sellers and makes them try to realize more then what the market bears.

It’s a trend that has risen in frequency and impact over the years. Something that used to be tied to shill bidding is quickly becoming a pandemic in the hobby. The effects of this phenoma in the hobby are reach deeply into the overall health of the hobby. But you can guard yourself against this by a few simple rules, for sellers, limit the geographic scope of where you’ll sell, Spain, The Middle East, Singapore and China tend to be the biggest areas where you risk dealing with non-paying buyers. Limit who can bid on your items, you can do this via the level of feedback they have received as well as the number of auctions they haven’t paid on. From a buyer perspective set auction limits and stick to them, you never know when the item you were watching will come back on the market, if the price seems crazy, it probably is.

What are your thoughts on these topics, post here or at Rebelscum.com forums and let us know.

This sums up the MarketWatch update for the month of August, our first new article to be posted on the SWCA.com. Continue to follow us here or at Wordpress.com.

Wampa Wampa!

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