Is Beckett obsolete? Yes and no …

I made my blog rounds this morning and came across this recent post on Wax Heaven. If you’re reading this piece, then you’ve almost certainly read that blog. If not, check it out at some point today.

On his blog, Mario slams Beckett again, this time harping on the issue of Beckett basically being obsolete. The underlying theme is Beckett’s refusal to change — coupled with it’s seemingly shady practices — will lead to its demise, which is already evident from the throngs of collectors seeking information from outside sources.

This is not the first time I’ve read this opinion, but this is the first time I’m going to respond to those assertions in my own blog. I’m usually not one of those guys trolling other blogs looking for fodder to post on my own, but in this case, I think this is a relevant topic worth writing about. After all, I am in the minority. The magazine may not be the Holy Bible of baseball cards as it once was, but it is still a necessity.

I completely understand the opinion of many collectors that book value means nothing. I mean anyone with a computer can see that a 1985 Topps Mark McGwire rookie does not sell for $25, the price at which it is listed in Beckett.

But what kills me about this argument is that I remember reading IN BECKETT that the prices listed there are to reflect trading levels and are to be used as a guide only. This does not mean that the McGwire rookie is WORTH $25, rather the card should be trading at levels close to $25. And trading does not always involve the movement of cash. And even when it does, they’ve rarely reached actual book value. Hell, as a kid I remember trading with and selling my cards to different shops and they’d always offer me somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of book value.

The advent of eBay has certainly thrown a wrench into the workings of the magazine and made the prices listed within seem like a joke. But fact is we as a hobby cannot turn to eBay for the prices of all of our cards. Why? Because not everything sells on eBay, and this fact alone does not mean a certain card is worthless.

If you’re buying Beckett to tell you what you’re cards are worth — as in actual cash value — then you’re an idiot. That’s a statement that goes without saying. Just like everything else in the world, things are only worth what people are willing to pay for them.

But where I think Beckett becomes necessary is when you’re talking about cards that are not in high demand, like those not-so-rare 1990s inserts you’ve certainly amassed.

Anyone can turn to any of today’s hottest rookies and see a discrepancy between prices actualized on eBay and those printed within Beckett. If you’re entire argument about the price guide’s relevance is based on those volatile cards, then you’re not seeing the whole picture.

I still use Beckett.

Do I buy it every month or two? No. But I use one damn near every day when scouring eBay or making trades with fellow collectors. When buying vintage cards Online I like to know what the guide lists the card at and then bid accordingly, usually using a certain percentage of that value posted.

In trading, I use book value a lot when dealing with cards older than five years. Most of today’s cards are pretty much worth the same and many collectors are not anal about dollars and cents as they used to be. But in terms of the stuff from the 1990s, a guide must be used because those cards are not being moved so often.

As for the other complaints about Beckett as a whole, I understand those and agree to an extent. I don’t watch all the box breaks, but there certainly have been a fair share of shady ones. And I do see a conflict of interest when it comes to grading cards and then offering an auction “Select” service. While the act or intentions themselves may not be evil, they certainly hover in a gray area and can be construed negatively by hobbyists.

Beckett used to be my only source of hobby information (new products, concerns of other hobbyists, etc.), but a litany of solid blogs out there have certainly given me/us more options.

That being said, I still find Beckett as a whole necessary for the hobby. I may be in the minority, but I can’t be the only one who feels that way. Am I?

22 Responses to “Is Beckett obsolete? Yes and no …”

  1. For what it’s worth coming from me, this post was well-thought out, and one of the most accurate blog posts I have ever read about Beckett.

    I do take issue with anyone who talks about a conflict of interest with our grading services and auctions, however, the way you stated it is completely fair.

    For what it’s worth from me again (likely very little), the graders are in an area of the building that most of the rest of the company cannot even get into, for security reasons. They are “on an island,” so to speak.

    The graders do not know who the cards belong to that they are grading — they could be grading cards for me, they could be grading cards we will sell for someone, they could be grading cards for someone they have personal differences with. Beckett Grading Services’ methods ensure that everything will remain on the up and up.

    There is a position in grading called a “verifier,” whose job it is to enter all cards submitted into our computer system, where they are assigned numbers and all personal information is removed from the cards and the bins they are stored in … BEFORE they are ever seen by a grader. (That is a very simplified explanation)

    To my knowledge, there has not been a single former Beckett grading employee say that there are shady practices that go on here. If there was one, you can bet everyone would have heard about it.

    With any company, there are going to be disgruntled former employees, and I am sure we have them as well. If there was anything crooked going on here, that would be the first thing to come out.

    Beckett can’t take the chance of ruining it’s reputation for what would amount to drops in the bucket as far as extra cash flow.

    All we can do is explain the processes that go on here, it’s up to each individual collector to decide for themselves.

  2. You are definitely not in the minority. I look at Beckett magazines exactly the same way you do.

    It is a guide. They even specify that it’s a guide. The section before the guides, whether it’s in the magazine or the big books says explicitly:

    “They (prices) do not reflect the FOR SALE prices of the author, the publisher, the distributors, the advertisers, or any card dealers associated with this guide. No one is obligated in any way to buy, sell, or trade his or her cards based on these prices.”

    Beckett also has one of the most accurate checklist collections in the world, and that’s why I use them.

    I am not going to argue the negatives, because I do see them and can understand why the aggravation. But they really don’t affect me. One bit. They get that hit on Donruss EEE or Topps Triple Threads, or UD whatever, so be it. I don’t really care.

    Maybe the people who gripe the most are the ones who spend the most on those special cards. I am not one of them, and will still continue to buy Beckett for the articles and the guides.

    I’ve already posted about this once before on my humble little blog…it may be time to bring it back up again for kicks!!!

    Sincerely,

    JayBee Anama
    bdj610

  3. I agree – Beckett is one of many resources I use when I am in ‘hobby mode’ so to speak. Yes, I check eBay – eBay can give me a price, but sometimes the seller has crappy feedback, sometimes he won’t shop to Canada, sometimes there is blatantly obvious shill bidding involved. eBay is not the be-all, end-all of my hobby buying and selling, so it doesn’t make much sense for it to be used as the be-all, end-all of my hobby pricing.

    The various resources I use are complimentary parts that make up an entire hobby for me. If one of these resources annoys me enough, or isn’t working out – I’ll get rid of it, or won’t use it very often. To me – Beckett’s guide to prices and their checklists are important enough that they are still on the list. Even if I were to completely abandon the pricing – I would be lost without the checklists, and especially the new database functions / attributes that have been added.

    Also – and I think this is the thing that makes me gnash my teeth the most. Everyone gives one number when they say “Beckett says the card is worth $x.” Whenever I look, there are two values. A majority of the time when I am recording what I have paid for a card, or what I have sold one for (yeah, I keep track of that kind of stuff) it falls somewhere in that range.

    To me – that’s good enough for a ‘guide’. Not a bible, not tablets handed down from on high – a guide.

  4. Tricia (Hamiltonian) you bring up a great point. There are TWO columns, and when used in conjunction they give the collector a range in which the card should be trading hands. For the longest time I misunderstood the meaning of this guide, seeing the high price as being the “mint” price, and the low on for being “not mint.” But that is inaccurate. The two prices are a range in which the card should be trading hands. This further’s my point.

    In respond to Eric from Beckett, I think my blog says it best — it’s about perception.

    You will not be able to convince the masses that there is no shadiness going on. What you can do is tell them what is fact and fiction — which I think is what you did in your response.

    It’s kind of like the public calling the media liberal and biased, even when a reporter and editor can swear until their blue in the face that they are being neutral … it’s ALL about perception.

    That said, I did faily to address the box break portion of Beckett. I’m wondering if collector’s/viewers/visitors of Beckett might feel there was no shadiness going on with the box breaks if the Beckett staff went out and bought those boxes.

    I know in the media we get samples of stuff (music CDs, food, etc.) to review, but it’s always been my personal opinion that one cannot have a true review of a product unless a person/business paid for the product/services, much like the average joe.

    In the future, I’d LOVE to see Beckett go out and buy these boxes from different shops and give reviews that way. As it is now, I’m asuming you get the products for free from the company, just like Mario at Wax Heaven, and other bloggers who have been “sponsored.”

    There may not be any bad purpose in this, but the perception is negative. VERY negative. Negative to the level that collectors who have revered your magazine and company have been walking away and bad mouthing you. Not good.

  5. I too agree that the price guides are just that — price guides. They’re a useful tool when conducting trades, particularly when the trades don’t involve any of these monster hits that so many people seem to be moaning about.

    Beckett doesn’t bill itself as the sole means to an end, yet so many argue as though it were.

  6. Here’s what I don’t get – if it’s just a “guide”, how is it any better of a guide than what you can dream up on your own? Their prices aren’t even close to the true market value of most cards. So if we’re talking about a particular card, what difference does it make if somebody who works for Beckett randomly decided that a card is worth $10 and recorded that in their “guide” or if I randomly decided that a card is worth $5. There is no difference, in my opinion. The only way to really know what a card is worth is to see how much money people are actually paying for the card. I’d like to see a company start a real guide that does base its prices on actual market values. That would be a great business opportunity for someone.

  7. theRedemptionMan Says:

    Here is the best pricing guide ever, as quoted from my local card shop owner “take what you think the card is worth (or beckett high book), divide it by 2, and then subtract $19.00” so far its been pretty acurate.

  8. Based on my 20 years of staring at Beckett prices, one thing is absolutely clear to me: There is a formula to the pricing. Players are broken into tiers and the top players are worth X, the next level is x-1, the third level is x-2 and so on. It’s a pretty systematic, and in someways elementary, process. Pull just about Derek Jeter base card (from a non-super-premium set) and you’re probably staring at one in the $2 high book range. It’s a given.

    So to address Dave’s question about what makes Beckett’s guide different or better, it’s the magazine’s sustained reputation in the hobby. There have been other guides in magazine form, and all of them have trailed Beckett. Why? Because everyone believed they were looking at an inferior product.

    Since the mid 1980s, Beckett has been the price guide. The company did not just stand there one day and claim to be the best, hobbyists saw the product, liked it, and the magazine became the primary trade publication for our hobby.

    It is that experience that had made the magazine an important product in our hobby and the reason why it continues to be better than other guides offered online. There is no way to prove this, but I bet any “homemade” price guide has had its pricing index influenced by the values printed in Beckett.

    As it pertains to Beckett’s guide value versus someone else’s value, that’s a fight to be battled between two collectors. I’m sure there have been many arguments/discussions about what a card is worth — hell, I bet this happens a lot when it comes to prospects being called up. Both are offering a range or guesstimate, but the value ultimately is hashed out between the people involved in the transaction.

    As for the latter part of your comment, Dave, I actually think that a guide based on actualized sold prices could do a lot good and bad for the hobby.

    On the good side, it will show people real sale prices using actual cash values as opposed to trade figures, therefore giving a collector an idea of real “worth.” Then again anyone with an eBay account can see what the cards have been selling for, so the need for such a publication may not be there. Aren’t there online databases already tracking these types of figures? I know I’ve spotted a link for that somewhere.

    On the bad side, I think that such a publication could serve as a reality check for a lot of people and cause some to leave the hobby. Also this type of guide/report puts a huge emphasis on cash value, which makes the hobby less of a hobby and definitely more like the stock market. Is that good or bad? That’s for the individual to decide.

    One can argue that the introduction of price guides ruined the “fun” in the hobby, but fact is that a piece of cardboard picturing Derek Jeter is not the same as a piece of cardboard featuring Omar Vizquel or Yuniesky Betencourt. There may be a couple collectors willing to trade one for another straight up, but majority of collectors realize that all things are not equal, hence the importance of a price guide to help them figure out how far apart the two are.

  9. RedemptionMan, Does that shop sell Beckett? I bet it does …

  10. “On the good side, it will show people real sale prices using actual cash values as opposed to trade figures, therefore giving a collector an idea of real “worth.” Then again anyone with an eBay account can see what the cards have been selling for, so the need for such a publication may not be there.”

    I’m sure it was unintentional, but this is basically the same arguement that could be made for Beckett’s “guide” to not exist.

    “On the bad side, I think that such a publication could serve as a reality check for a lot of people and cause some to leave the hobby. Also this type of guide/report puts a huge emphasis on cash value, which makes the hobby less of a hobby and definitely more like the stock market.”

    Again, Beckett through and through. I’m pretty sure they don’t claim to be a “here are some approximate trade values so you kinda have an idea what you’re trading for” guide. They are a price guide. When you thumb through Beckett and it lists card “X” with a monetary amount in $ next to it, they are assigning a CASH value to the card. They put out a guide that says Charlie traded 3 cards to Mario for 2 cards. How the hell would they know what people are trading anyway? The top trader on the new BMB has made just over 100 trades. There are 1000’s of trades made at card shows, on freedom card board, through private blogs, and on numerous other sites.

    This whole thing is very simple. They accept, and it seems lately, demand ad revenue and free product from the mfgs, and edit their PRICE guide accordingly. They keep the doors open in TX because of advertising $, so how can anyone expect an unbiased review of a product, or realistic pricing?

  11. Dave – the difference between a Beckett value, and the value that I come up with on my own, is that on a transaction to transaction basis – Beckett is a third party. Basically meaning – if I am trying to trade a card, and I assign a value to it, my trading partner isn’t going to accept that as easily as a third party value. Similarly, if I say ‘Selling at 75 % of hi BV’ – there’s a basis rather than me just deciding that because 8 is my lucky number, I want $88 for the card.

    At local shows, all the dealers use Beckett. There are the dealers who are trying to sell mid-90s cards for hi BV, and they are failing miserably, and then there are those who use it as another piece of data when they set their prices, and they do more than well at shows. Like any tool – its all in how you use it. If you are going to look at Hi BV, and nothing else – then its useless (both for using it in the hobby, and for ripping its content). If you are going to use it as part of a bigger picture – then its fine.

  12. It’s funny. Those dealers that are doing well are able to do so bc when they are the one buying, they offer 30-40% of low BV, and price their cards at 60-75% of high BV.

  13. Is ‘buy low, sell high’ somehow no longer a good business plan? Buy a card that is in low demand in one location, go to a location where people want it, and sell it for a profit.

  14. Hi all,

    This may be slightly off topic, but I would appreciate it if everyone started checking out and verifying the claims that people on their sites.

    I was recently quoted by someone who made a mistake and left some of what I said out. Due to this obvious accident the post this person made turned out to be very misleading.

    This person, unintentionally I am sure, claimed that: “Beckett Media’s Eric Janhke wants you to believe the reason their price guides don’t use eBay’s recent sale prices is because there are just so many collectors who do not use the Internet.”

    And then there is a link to some of what I said. In fact, this part was completely left out:

    “As far as ebay prices, we do gather sales data from ebay, but that is not the only source we collect data from. Ebay may very well be the cheapest place to buy cards sometimes, every week there are literally thousands (if not more) of examples of cards being bought below “book value.”

    Having said that, I must repeat that ebay is not the only place to buy cards.”
    ———–

    The link to my entire comment is at the bottom — I just wanted to set the record straight, and remind everyone to verify what others say, you never know when someone could have made a slight error and is misrepresenting something, even if they don’t mean to do it.

    Accidents happen … right? 🙂

    Thanks,

    Eric Jahnke

    http://blogbeckett.wordpress.com/2008/12/18/2008-playoff-prime-cuts/#comments

  15. Charlie, my arguments for and against an actualized price guide can and can’t be used in the same argument as it pertains to Beckett’s product. I think my previous statements said that.

    As for assigning a trade value based in cash, it has to be that way. Are they supposed to use neat little strawberry shortcake symbols? Everything is measured in money. The water, coffee, bread or whatever you consumed today was measured in the form of money when it was assigned a certain value at the store. Money/cash is the excepted form of measurement for all products.

    And lastly, the term price GUIDE says it all. It does not say Price List.

  16. Charlie, I also do not buy the argument that prices within the magazine are tied to any free products. If I am wrong please point to a few examples and I will gladly considering changing my mind on this point …

  17. Eric, I’m not sure why you posted that last comment here. I don’t think I or any of the folks commenting here have misquoted you.

  18. I did not want to call him out, I hoped people would figure it out but since you asked why — the other blog post that you linked to in the first sentence of your post is the one I am referring to in my last comment.

  19. Based on my 20 years of staring at Beckett prices, one thing is absolutely clear to me: There is a formula to the pricing. Players are broken into tiers and the top players are worth X, the next level is x-1, the third level is x-2 and so on. It’s a pretty systematic, and in someways elementary, process. Pull just about Derek Jeter base card (from a non-super-premium set) and you’re probably staring at one in the $2 high book range. It’s a given.

    Just because there is a formula, does not make it any more relevant to a relistic pricing agent.
    Here is a real formula:

    Ebay completed auction listing at that approximate time = what that card is worth at that time

    Besides, ITS FREE, no ads for card companies, and this formula factors in exacly what someone will pay right?

    So to address Dave’s question about what makes Beckett’s guide different or better, it’s the magazine’s sustained reputation in the hobby. There have been other guides in magazine form, and all of them have trailed Beckett. Why? Because everyone believed they were looking at an inferior product.

    Twenty years ago, this was exactly the truth. You know why? No internet. Now that there is an internet, there are millions of other places to talk about the things that Beckett talks about. Most importantly, none of them are paid to do what they do, they arent posting ads from card companies, and all of them have a pretty good sense of ethics (from what I can tell). Beckett was the first, and therefore they had a captive audience, now that other collectors have a voice too, we are getting a real perspective on their magazine.

    Since the mid 1980s, Beckett has been the price guide. The company did not just stand there one day and claim to be the best, hobbyists saw the product, liked it, and the magazine became the primary trade publication for our hobby.

    Again, this is the mid 1980s where the smallest computer was in a millitary warehouse in Cape Canaveral. Do I really need to bring up my short history of Beckett again? Once a free auction marketplace was established in eBay, Beckett’s pricing was irrelevant. Actually, once dealers understood that high book was way off base, that was the beginning. Even when I was young, High Book was crap. Now that we have eBay, we know their pricing hat is the way they price things. They just draw a price out of the bottom.

    It is that experience that had made the magazine an important product in our hobby and the reason why it continues to be better than other guides offered online. There is no way to prove this, but I bet any “homemade” price guide has had its pricing index influenced by the values printed in Beckett.

    This really makes no sense at all. Sorry.

    As it pertains to Beckett’s guide value versus someone else’s value, that’s a fight to be battled between two collectors. I’m sure there have been many arguments/discussions about what a card is worth — hell, I bet this happens a lot when it comes to prospects being called up. Both are offering a range or guesstimate, but the value ultimately is hashed out between the people involved in the transaction.

    This is correct, as long as you are referring to how trades are done. But again, Beckett’s prices should have nothing to do with it. As JB said on the Topps blog, its about whether you want what the other guy has more than how much you want what you already have. Regardless, this is very far off base anyways. Why someone would care about BV when it comes to trades is beyond stupid.

    As for the latter part of your comment, Dave, I actually think that a guide based on actualized sold prices could do a lot good and bad for the hobby.

    Explain again why a guide is even necessary? eBay is free.

    On the good side, it will show people real sale prices using actual cash values as opposed to trade figures, therefore giving a collector an idea of real “worth.” Then again anyone with an eBay account can see what the cards have been selling for, so the need for such a publication may not be there. Aren’t there online databases already tracking these types of figures? I know I’ve spotted a link for that somewhere.

    Yes, this is correct, but it is exactly the reason why Beckett exists. So you support a guide that makes no sense when it comes to actual value, but not one that is based on real date. That makes no sense.

    On the bad side, I think that such a publication could serve as a reality check for a lot of people and cause some to leave the hobby. Also this type of guide/report puts a huge emphasis on cash value, which makes the hobby less of a hobby and definitely more like the stock market. Is that good or bad? That’s for the individual to decide.

    So you are advocating my argument now? This is a reason for my argument, not yours.

    One can argue that the introduction of price guides ruined the “fun” in the hobby, but fact is that a piece of cardboard picturing Derek Jeter is not the same as a piece of cardboard featuring Omar Vizquel or Yuniesky Betencourt. There may be a couple collectors willing to trade one for another straight up, but majority of collectors realize that all things are not equal, hence the importance of a price guide to help them figure out how far apart the two are.

    This is about as far from the truth as you can get. Price guides didnt ruin the hobby. They contribute to a lot of problems because they just dont have any relevance the way they are done. Most people base their value on real money, not a price made up by some disconnected idiot in Texas. But, because of the history, and the unwillingness for positive change, people disregard a TRUE price for a FAKE price. Something is only worth how much someone will pay for it, and again, eBay is free.

  20. A few responses to Adam’s comments:

    **Regarding the price guide/eBay prices: I think I made it pretty clear — eBay prices cannot be seen as the only means of determining the value of a card. I understand the argument for making such a statement, but saying such does not take into account that some cards don’t sell on eBay. Are you
    saying that if a card does NOT sell on eBay then it is worthless?

    **About the difference between Beckett and other price guides: I think you missed my point, Adam. I was saying that Beckett’s guide has always been superior to others. I completely agree that the Internet has given everyone a platform to criticize the magazine, which I enjoy reading.

    **About the free market and Beckett’s relevance: I’m not making the statement that Beckett’s guide is accurate for the CASH VALUE purposes. I’m talking about trading, and the comments are pointed to the portion of the hobby that trades cards and chooses not to dabble in trading at cash value levels. My entire arguement is about the relevance of Beckett’s price guide. The title of my piece ( “… yes and no”) says it all. If Beckett is used as a GUIDE and not the Holy Grail it can be a useful tool.

    As for the statement about pulling prices out of a hat: I think we kind of agree here, although I am saying there is a formula involved. Does every Derek Jeter card trade at equal values? No. But the pricing structure (formula) of Beckett’s guide would have us believeing they should. The important thing to remember is that “value” is ultimately determined between two participants ina deal. The magazine is to be used as a guide. If two traders believe the guide is fair, then they deal at BV levels. If one does and the other doesn;t they use other means, like cash value. And yes, I agree that eBay’s “Completed Auctions” section can ve a VERY useful tool. But like Beckett, it should be used as a guide.

    **As it pertains to my statement that made no sense to Adam: What I’m saying here is that there have been attempts online
    and in print to create a different price guide. My statement says that I think those guides have followed the same type model of Beckett. No real basis for the statement — as I said — but it is my opinion from viewing those products.

    **About my stance on different types of price guides (Beckett/trading VS. cash value): I’m on the fence about a guide that refers to cash-value only. I think it can be a helpful tool, but it also can have drawbacks. I addressed some of this earlier …

    **And the last part of the comment: It is not my argument that price guides ruined the hobby. I’d seen this statement used in other arguments over the years so I wanted to address it here. I think the rest of my statement quoted there speaks for my position on the rest of this matter.

  21. good shit, Newspaperman and all the commentees.

  22. JayBee said:
    It is a guide. They even specify that it’s a guide. The section before the guides, whether it’s in the magazine or the big books says explicitly:

    “They (prices) do not reflect the FOR SALE prices of the author, the publisher, the distributors, the advertisers, or any card dealers associated with this guide. No one is obligated in any way to buy, sell, or trade his or her cards based on these prices.”

    Jaybee: This is a disclaimer that states they are not making any offers to buy or sell. It is to put people on notice that they are not intending to form any type of contract to buy or sell. The above language does not state that the book should be used as a guide and buy/sell/trade values may be different then what is published because it is only a guide. Although i do believe Beckett and other price guides do have that language somewhere.

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