Sometimes topics which do not seem to be related are actually much closer than one realizes. A reader recently indicated he had stopped getting autographs because of “tiered” pricing. While he was not clear as to what exactly this meant, we believe we understand the gist of the question and will answer accordingly.
Tiered autograph pricing comes in several forms. It can reference different prices for different players, something generally based on popularity but the most common reference is when current or former athlete or coach is signing at a show or private session and there are different prices for different items. Things like baseball bats, large helmets, jerseys or 16 x 20 photos often cost the collector more to have signed based on a tiered structure. While this is frustrating to the collector who might want an autograph, the reason for the tiered pricing actually makes perfect sense.
If you are a promoter who is have a player signing for two hours and expect him to be busy that entire time, then the extra time involved—even a few seconds–to sign more “complicated” items may prevent you from selling enough tickets to make a profit—and it might keep other collectors from getting his or her item signed. When you are trying to ensure everyone who paid good money gets an autograph, every moment taking care of more difficult items to be signed may be taking money out of your own pocket. While in many cases this type of pricing (or one where you charge extra to have an item signed which has already been signed by others) may be aggravating to the average collector, it all comes down to simple economics from the promoter’s point of view.
Fortunately, on my end, we have yet to have a situation where the player has had any sort of issues with bigger items. I do not ask my photo supplier for 16 x 20s because they are much bulkier to display and take care of properly. And as far as I know, we have never had a full jersey or a full helmet signed yet so we’ve been OK on that level as well. But now, after a few months of having guests at a show, I do see why there are “up charges” and while we try to ensure there are as few as possible, there is always the chance that day will come and we will do our best to educate any and all customers as to why those charges exist.
That leads into the second part of this discussion, which is what type of profit should a dealer or promoter make on an item. The simple and seemingly “political” answer is it depends on the item. For our shows, we try to work on a 50 percent markup over cost for what I will call “orderable” items. That includes photos, mini-helmets, baseballs and bats. Sadly some of these items now cost so much that even a moderate mark up makes them seem expensive. We discovered there is not one wholesaler in the DFW area that sells baseballs. So yes pricing something like an autographed baseball from a non-star who played years ago can seem out of whack with what most of us believe they should cost.
In the trading card world, a 50 percent markup by the pack was fairly normal back in the day. When you were paying $12 for a 1987 Topps box and the packs costs 50 cents each at retail, it meant a nice little margin when you sold by the pack and moved through a lot of them quickly. Today, I suspect the pack margins are about 30 percent with box prices even closer to actual cost and often dipping below. Winning products are important to keep some dealers and shop owners afloat after they deal with losers.
On most single cards, unless you re-sell quickly or feel comfortable that will sell (think Joc Pederson or Kris Bryant today) your mark up needs to be significant because of how long it will take. That is why the local store owners I deal with the most tell any and all people who randomly call they are looking for only pre-1970 cards. Now that does not mean Nick and Debbie of Nick’s Sportscards would pass on a Walter Payton rookie card or a nice lot of early 1970’s high numbers but that way they can separate 98 percent of the wheat from the chaff.
The same percent markup runs for sets as well as singles because sets are also fairly difficult sales today. On vintage cards in high condition, one’s markup might be closer because the dollar levels may be higher and therefore the dollar value covers for some of the lack of profit percentage. But what is not going to occur is dealers buying cards on a 20 percent mark up.
I actually received an email the other day to the effect of “I have Joe Montana, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Larkin, Mario Lemieux and other cards and I don’t want to get ripped off selling them to a dealer.” When I patiently explained in an email that about 99 percent of the cards between 1987-1994 trade in reality about 10 percent of book retail, the emailer seemed to understand where I was coming from. I think if you get a lot of those overproduced cards, a percent profit of 1000 percent of more is actually fairly normal because you will likely be sitting on them for a very long time.
Every lot is different and every person looks differently at percentage profit. That does not mean an offer is not fair, but instead that person may value his or her items differently than you do. It’s been true from my earliest days in the hobby all the way until today.