Tuesday, August 25, 2009

2010 Topps Base Wax - When the Price is Right?

I need a break from the Topps Cards That Never Were...

Bad Wax had a recent post about what he’d like to see in 2010 from the sole MLB licensed trading card company, Topps. He broke it down into base or flagship product, then Chrome, blah, blah, blah. No disrespect to Bad Wax, but I’m more of an old school collector, so only the base set interests me.

That being said, the topic of base set wax prices came up, and they ranged from $1.50 for 15 cards up to $2.00 for 10 cards. However, the base cards desired were the old, non-gloss, straight up cardboard versions ala 1952 to 1992 Topps. Sure, a few insert ideas were proposed, but nothing really beyond what I saw back in my day.

This got me thinking again about card prices, and how I’ve harped on how pack prices have gone up exponentially since the change to “fancy” cards in 1993. So, 10 cents to 20 cents per card in 2010? Man, that will not get me back into the hobby, nor would it make a lot of kids want to drop the kind of cash I did back from 84 to 92 (prime Bad Wax Era).

So, I went back to my peak as a kid-collector, 1989. This was the year I busted my tail doing chores, scrapping together 5 bucks here and there, so I could ride my Huffy to the local pharmacy to pick up 11 packs of 89 Topps for just under five bucks. Five bucks back then brought home 165 cards, all with the hopes of a Tony Gwynn, or the immortal José.

Based on their desires, $5 now would bring home 25 to 50 cards. That does not seem like an easy way to build a collection as a kid. True, 5 dollars now is not five 1989 dollars, but inflation hasn’t gone up that much in the past 20 years. I remember when a loaf of bread…

Being statistically inquisitive, I pulled the Cost of Living increase numbers from the Social Security website, and started from 1989. 89 Topps got you 15 cards for 45 cents, or 3 cents a card. Since 1989, inflation has risen 61.4% cumulatively, which would put a 2010 Topps pack at 82 cents compounded (
One must also remember that items seem much more desirable when they are under or at one dollar). Fifteen cards per pack at say 85 cents to round up, would be between 5 and 6 cents per card. Now five 2010 dollars would get you around 90 cards. Now we are talking.

As a kid, there are two aspects of collecting. First, trying to complete a set, and second, collecting your favorite players. To do either of these, one must have many cards, including lots of doubles, so one can trade. Trading would be dang hard to do if all you could get was 25 cards for $5, especially if the set size goes back up to 792 cards.

One can estimate, you need at least double the set size in cards to obtain a set. So, if you need to buy approximately 1600 cards to complete a 792 card set, we’re talking $160 to $320 based on $1.50 to $2 packs of 10. I don’t know many kids that have that kind of scratch lying around, let alone a parent that would dole that money out, when they can buy a complete hobby set for $40 to $50.

Now, if packs were 85 cents for 15, you’re in the ballpark of $80 for a kid to try and hand-collate a set. That’s still a lot of money to a kid, but at least it is somewhat reasonable. I’m sure Grandma gives at least $20 in birthday cards now, given inflation, of course.


MattR said...

That would work for me. I haven't put together a set since 1987 Topps, but I'd do it again if the price were more reasonable.

skoormit said...

You can't add the COL increases together. You have to multiply. It's not 4.0% + 4.7% + 5.4%, etc. Instead, it's 1.04 * 1.047 * 1.054, etc. This makes an enormous difference in the end number. If you multiply the COL increases from '89 to 2009, you end up with 4.31036. In other words, the cost of living in 2009 is 4.3 times what it was in 1989. That's a 330% increase. Cards that used to be 3 cents each should now be about 13 cents each. A Topps blaster gets you 80 cards plus one patch card for $20. Depending on how you value the patch card, that's about 20 cents per card. An Upper Deck Fat Pack has 36 cards for...are they $5? I forget, but it's about that. That's less than 15 cents per card. I'd say that the cheap cards are still about as cheap as they were back then.

Doc said...

Just for a clarification, I did not sum the COLAs together annually. I compounded them annually. If the rate in 1990 was 5%, the 1990 price would be $0.45 + 0.05*$0.45 = $0.4725. Then carry the $0.4725 over for the next year, rinse and repeat.

Compounding them annually gives a pack price of 82 cents. IF I summed the COLA, that would give a price of 72 cents.

No way has inflation gone up 4.3 times or a 330% increase since 1989. Maybe in some third world country, but not in the industrialized world.

The average US household income in 1989 was about $40,000 and in 2008 it was about $52,000. That's a 30% increase since 1989, or 1.3 times what it was in 1989.

Anonymous said...

4.3 times increase since 1989? Dude, you're on crack.

That would mean a can of Coke that cost 50 cents in 1989 would be $2.15 today.

And I don't think he's being "scientific" just loosely showing how ridiculous base prices are today.


skoormit said...

Actually you are right, I started with the earliest data on the page you linked to, which was 1975. That included some very high numbers in the late 70's and early 80's.

Using the 1989-2009 data, I get an increase of 90%, which is close enough that your argument stands.

COLA is less used as strictly a measure of inflation than the CPI itself, but the numbers are likely close enough to each other that the argument is unaffected.

Personally, I buy few packs precisely because, as you say, the cost per card is so high and the ratio of cards I want to cards I don't want is so low. I'd rather just buy singles off of sportlots. I pay a little more per card, but I only get cards I want.

Doc said...

Skoormit - What you said about not getting the bang for your buck based on the cards you want for the price of the pack is what the problem is. Topps and MLB are wanting to market to kids, but how are they going to get into the hobby (i.e., set building and trading, etc.) if packs are $2 for 10 cards?

Didn't mean to come on too strong, just a little fired up about how the industry has gone freaking haywire since I "retired" from collecting back in the late 90s.

skoormit said...

I hear you. Obviously I feel the same way.

I'm sure Topps justifies their flagship price point relative to the price 20 years ago in part by pointing out that the current product is superior in many ways. The photo quality is better, there are jerseys and autos and patches to be found, etc. The problem for me, and perhaps for kids on a budget, is that those value-adds arent things I care much about.

Topps Opening Day and Upper Deck First Edition provided a nice cheap entry point for kids and other low-budget collectors. Of course, Topps eliminated OD from the setlist this year, and UD won't be back next year. I hope Topps finds a way to put out a basic product at a lower price point than flagship, but I don't see them reducing the price of the flagship set.

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