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The pricing paradox
Two major tasks. Creating a catalog means telling collectors about:
The first task is constant fun but, estimating prices is no fun at all. How can I estimate prices that will be valid for all users?
That sounds kind of depressing, doesn't it?
Nonetheless, if I am doing my job correctly, half my readers should think my prices are too high and half should think them too low. No one should agree with my prices all the time.
As you can imagine, if someone complains about my price estimates, I do not, cannot and will not beat myself up or feel guilty. Disagreement is part of the job description that I've created!
Different hobby segments. The hobby of collecting stocks and bonds consists of many different segments with different participants, different selling customs, even different certificates.
Certificates sell in diverse venues such as flea markets, antique stores, professional dealer inventories, shows, online auctions and live auctions. North American railroad certificates sell in large numbers in the United States, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Switzerland. They sell in lesser numbers in the rest of Europe and in Canada.
Such diversity means that uniform prices cannot possibly exist.
Diversity also causes prices to display huge ranges for nearly identical certificates, even within one segment. In fact, radically different prices co-exist for all collectible certificates, no matter whether they are cheap or expensive, common or scarce.
It should be obvious that no price estimates will ever satisfy all collectors and dealers.
My solution to the dilemma of estimating a single price per certificate is to estimate prices that collectors may expect to pay if they buy:
Collectors will encounter prices that disagree with mine. As long as I am reasonably consistent in my approach, collectors can use my prices with a degree of predictability. They must, however, factor prices for the hobby segments they regularly participate in.
For instance, German collectors may think my prices are low for medium scarcity certificates. In part, this reflects fewer certificates available in Germany. It also reflects the fact that European collectors pay noticeably more for rarity than Americans.
Conversely, people who buy on eBay (US) pay substantially less for rarity. They will think my prices are high for the same certificates. Statistically, eBay prices run about 60% of my estimates for medium-scarcity certificates. For high-rarity certificates, eBay prices may be only 50% of mine. Oddly, at the other end of the rarity scale, collectors frequently pay more for very common certificates on eBay than my prices would suggest. They often pay more than if they bought from live auctions and established professional dealers! Such collectors would think my prices are too high.
Experienced American and non-American dealers routinely price their inventories higher and lower than my estimates. Collectors should buy from dealers they feel comfortable with, regardless of price. I have said repeatedly that buying on the basis of price alone is a very large mistake. Dealers will not and should not agree with all my prices.
Collectors should factor my prices for their hobby segments. The trick to using my catalog is to compare my prices with items that sell in your hobby segment. Make notes of how my prices compare with the dealers and auctions you buy from. If my prices run 10% higher than yours in a specific category, then you have a good conversion factor. Test all price ranges in similar manners.
Maybe your dealer's "list price" is 25% higher than my estimate, but he often gives you 15% discounts. Good. You have a semi-predictable conversion factor.
Beware that supply – or the impression of supply – affects prices dramatically. For instance, a small hoard of 25 certificates sold one at a time on eBay over a half year will have a much greater effect on prices than the same 25 certificates sold in one lot in a live auction.
Desirability also affects prices. You may have noticed that collectors often pay higher prices for certificates from certain areas than equally scarce certificates from elsewhere. For instance certificates from Texas, the Pacific Northwest, and from the Civil War South frequently fetch unpredictably high prices. A few purchases by specialists with large desires can have large effects on prices. However, once their desire are satisfied, temporary high prices may not be equaled for many years.
My price estimates change constantly. I record prices from every source I can find and adjust prices up and down as repetitive sales confirm trends. I give highest credibility to sales that take place between collectors and professional American dealers and auction houses. Those sales affect my prices quickly. On the other hand, eBay sales affect my estimates more slowly because prices from sale to sale are so unpredictable.
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