Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

eBay, Baseball Cards, and Disappointment: A Lesson in Supply and Demand

eBay is the greatest thing that has ever happened to the collectibles market. It’s also the worst.

Bad news first. I used to be an avid baseball card collector; I had a half of a ROOM set aside for baseball cards. My Ken Griffey, Jr. Upper Deck Rookie cards were worth a couple hundred dollars….each. My Dad hoped that the entire collection would pay for my college tuition one day.

However, two years ago I sold every baseball card I had for $400.

I also recently closed my eBay store after selling my parents collection of thousands of collectible figurines and ornaments. Most sold for no more than 10-20% of face value (luckily for us, most of the items were obtained for free through a store my Dad owned).

With everything available on eBay, just a few clicks away, there is no such thing as a RARE item anymore. “Rare” means it only shows up on eBay a few times a month instead of spending months or even years searching trade shows for that one elusive Michael Jordan rookie card. The site has also exponentially increased competition among dealers. With so many sellers visible at one time, the lowest price usually wins. It’s pretty obvious why the collectibles market collapsed!

eBay lowered market value but also gave people a MEANS to sell collectibles.

eBay lowered market value but also gave people a MEANS to sell collectibles.

So that’s the bad. What’s the good part? While my Dad wanted to sell all the collectibles eventually, he had absolutely NO idea how to do it. Sure, we could go to trade shows on weekends and hope to sell a handful of items at a time, but that’s not really a viable option for selling large quantities. So while eBay significantly lowered the value of the market, it gave most people the MEANS to sell their collectibles as well. So in the end it probably works out evenly: you sell your items for less, but you CAN sell them. Not a bad trade-off! (Unless, of course, this is a business venture. Then “selling for less just to sell” is a simply awful business plan).

Of course, if you are looking to BUY collectibles (or any other rare item, for that matter), eBay is one of the greatest things ever to happen to the market. Now you can buy all those childhood nostalgia items that you missed out on…most likely for pennies on the dollar.

Making things even better, eBay recently announced the acquisition of For those of you unfamiliar with that site, you can search for items in local retail stores’ inventories in real-time. eBay is trying to make it easier to shop from home and get the most competitive prices, that’s for sure!

Based on how eBay has already affected the collectibles market, do you think the Milo merger could be both a blessing and a curse? Have you had any personal woes or successes with buying or selling merchandise on eBay?

Image credits from via Flickr


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  1. QLP Jill

    I’m sorry to hear about your card collection selling for less than its true worth! It makes me think about Beanie Babies – once upon a time, there were some that went for hundreds of dollars and people went absolutely bonkers for them, and then all of a sudden people were giving them away at garage sales. It’s so strange but it makes sense given eBay’s ripple effect on the collectibles market. On the plus side, thanks to eBay I was able to round out my old-school My Little Pony collection! I wouldn’t have found some of the “rare” ones without it.

    C’est la vie…

    • JPorretto

      I forgot about my Beanie Babies! 80 or so of those all sold for about $25 at a garage sale because they wouldn’t sell at all on eBay!

  2. Doc

    Oh, Jeff!!! I totally feel your pain on the baseball card collection. I still have stacks and stacks of old cards in my parents’ attic that aren’t worth the time it would take to rifle through them and post them on ebay. But you shouldn’t have sold them…Every once in while on a cold and rainy winter day, you can pull out that old collection and stumble upon a Topps Ron Karkovice card and chuckle to yourself about the good ole days when you loved hearing his name cast over the P.A. at old Comiskey. Nostalgic items like that will never maintain the value they have in your heart.

    • JPorretto

      WOW. A Ron Karkovice reference! If they only gave out awards for best comments….

  3. JJ "Suite G"

    I’ve honestly never sold anything on eBay; I’ve only purchased. I rarely ever use it, but I like having the opportunity to shop for hard-to-find items once in a while if push comes to shove. There was one instance a few years ago where I was able to find an EXTREMELY rare, independently released CD on eBay that I had spent years trying to find in stores or download. It just showed up on the site one day, so I bought it for a few bucks and was super-stoked about it, and I still am.

    • Cybernetic SAM

      That’s because you don’t have anything to sell, you are a true minimalist. 😉


    I also lost a lot of money with my baseball card collection! Screw Ebay!!

  5. PMO

    I used to sell a TON on eBay. My hustle was picking up electronics on clearance at stores and then reselling them on eBay for a profit. (On top of thrift store records, garage sale finds and many many Nike outlet items)

    Unfortunately now, eBay has become so saturated with sellers that prices have been driven down and as a hobby seller you can’t make near as much money as you used to be able to. That coupled with the fees you’re paying to eBay and Paypal for every transaction it has taken all the fun (and most of the profit) away from hobby sellers like myself.

    I do still visit the site and pick things up now and then but nowadays it’s all about Craigslist for that extra hustle money!

  6. Bret Bonnet

    I agree; I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with EBay.

    I rarely BUY anything on the site, but about 10 years ago when I couldn’t afford to keep the heat on in my house I used it to sell EVERYTHING and ANYTHING from a couch, to my paint ball gun, even some lame as silverware. It allowed me to keep my house!

    As far as my collectibles, I have some old school baseball/basketball cards also, and I’m sure one or two of them have to be worth SOME money, but as Doc pointed out, with the days of big $ long gone, might as well just hold onto the darn things for nostalgic sake.

    What I find REALLY funny is the effect EBay has had on collectible ARTWORK. I’ve bought a few pieces over the years and while artist might claim this print is worth $100,000 – one can find the same overpriced print out on EBay for 1/100th of the cost.

    The only thing RARE these days is a good friend – JK, and last time I checked, they don’t offer that shit up on EBay! 🙂

  7. Amanda

    I love this post Jeff! =) Sorry to hear about your card collection though–I’m having the same trouble with all of our Beanie Babies–they’re not worth much anymore.

    I do still love Ebay though. I use it less than I did a couple years back, but I have found quite a few bargains on there! I love that you can find the old items you’ve searched for since childhood! I swear one of these days I’m going to get myself a Giga Pet. 😉 I’ve bought and sold all kinds of things using Ebay, and besides the higher fees now, it’s still a great tool to have.

    Craigslist is awesome too–we have bought and sold all kinds of things through there, and it’s nice not to have fees!

  8. Jenn Nodine

    Wow, talk about nostalgia – this post brought me all the way back to ’98 when I first found EBay. I first heard about it on NPR (I think), along with a game site called “Sissyfight”, which was also addictingly fun. I remember buying an amazing piece of art glass for $4. I thought it was better than yard sales for finding great unloved treasures. That Christmas, I was the best gifter; I found the VHS of the first “Back to the Future” movie, brand new and still in the original shrink wrap for my Aunt Lynn, who had been searching for it for overs year to complete her trilogy. I had spent less than $15 on each person but I inspired awe in my family members at how I was magically able to find items they had longed for. When asked where I obtained all these amazing finds, I said, “EBay!”. I still chuckle thinking about uncle Dave’s puzzled face and innocent, ignorant reply; “Is that Pig Latin for something?”

    Yes, those were the good old days of Ebay; four-letter passwords and no fees (unless it sold), right before our culture was forever spoiled by being able to find and buy almost anything and everything with just a few clicks. Just 2 Christmases later, I was somewhat unimpressed when Aunt Lynn gave me a vintage robot toy named 2XL that she had bought for me brand new when I was a girl but had been stolen from me when my mother and I lived in a co-op while she finished her degree. I was heartbroken when I learned he was missing, but 20 years later I was not that thrilled to have him back (or another one like him). I didn’t even have to ask how she found him; it was like having someone show your own card trick back to you and expecting you to be amazed. My wizard-like status was short-lived, but my memory of that first eBay Christmas will last forever.

  9. Sharon

    Do old photographs, like 1920″s and earlier sell well on Ebay? How about photos from 1930’s and 1940’s

  10. steve

    ebay is still a cool way to sell things and make money, you have to be on top of the game, always with baseball cards, i sell cards at flea markets,news papper,and in the local shopper, and oh ya e-bay too!! never going to get rich but i have a good time and make extra cash too..

  11. David Young

    It’s always dissapoints get to get far less than your items as worth. I agree with you eBay is a buyers market, not really a sellers market. I listed 11 items 2 weeks a go and only received bids on 3. The other niner went back on at reduced starting prices, and not one attracted a single bid. Ebay don’t care, they still receive their fee’s where applicable. It’s the first time in years I have listed items and it’s harder to sell than I remember. I am not looking to make a great fortune on my item’s. I just hope that they will sell for their worth. I would rather keep them than give them away.

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