Magazine History & Collector Tips

Observations on the eBay Magazine Market and Beyond

I’ve begun at least browsing the eBay magazine listings pretty heavily again. There’s still some pretty interesting material available on the site, but the category has seemed to become a lot more professional in the past few years.

  • Highspots are now recognized. I remember back when I first bought the Russell & Russell Guide in 2005. I quickly made a tidy little sum just seeking out the single magazine titles they pointed too. Nobody overlooks original Salinger fiction in old issues of the Post or Collier’s anymore. In fact, most single issues of the Post and Collier’s seem to be priced as though there’s Salinger inside every one!
  • Niche titles are no longer undervalued. In fact, they’re overvalued. Somewhere along the lines the mass of sellers came to realize that all it takes is one sucker. (Think baseball free agency.) If there’s one guy online looking for a title on, I don’t know, say a focused science or nature title, then he may as well pay $200 for 20 issues the same as he used to pay $20 for the same lot.
  • Quality lots have decreased. In all ways. Either the condition ranks right there with magazines I’d throw out myself, or the titles are undesirable. I gave up my hopes of finding a mid to high grade lot of 1930’s Saturday Evening Post at a bargain a long time ago. I never thought I wouldn’t be able to find a complete set of, oh, 1980 Time Magazines for $50 or even $100 bucks, but I can’t. If you’re looking for lots of National Geographic or old sewing journals though you’ll be pretty happy.
  • An increase in Bound Volumes. I expected this at least, though I don’t know how many “lots” or “complete sets” I have clicked on only to discover that it’s a bound run of a title. And see point 1 on these, highspots are recognized, so there’s really not even much of an opportunity to log into eBay and steal some 19th Century bound Mark Twain runs for a few dollars anymore.

I suppose each of my four points could be taken as sour grapes to some degree, as 4-6 years ago I was taking advantage of all four of these unrecognized points in the market myself. I was the guy buying unrecognized highspots, niche titles, undervalued bound volumes and putting a retail price on them; I’d hunt the quality lots at $2 per issue and mark them $10-$20 per issue. And they sold.

But the purpose here was to point out that these opportunities have become much harder to spot. Usually these opportunities will be offered by the part-time or amateur eBay seller, though I haven’t come across a tremendous amount of those in my recent searches on the site.

I get emails and phone calls from people looking to sell their old magazines several times per week. Typically it’s exactly the stuff you’d expect someone to have saved: 1960’s runs of Life Magazine and National Geographic are the commonly cited goods.

I know what’s happened by way of fielding these calls and e-mails: eBay has become too complicated to sell on for those just starting out.

I feel lucky to have signed up back in 2000 as that was a time you could just throw a not very good description up with photos being an option, not a necessity. I was able to learn and evolve slowly over the past decade to the point where I get thrown off trying to list on other sites, even when they have an admittedly simpler process.

Reduced Fees = Reduced Urgency

Over the past few years changes in the eBay fee structure has made it possible for professional sellers to list Fixed Price goods at a very cheap cost. It’s also made it possible for amateur sellers to list 50 free auctions each month, regardless of the value of the minimum bid.

By reducing the risk to selling on eBay the site has significantly raised the cost for buying.

Professional sellers pay a small fee for an ad. They spread as many ads onto the site as they possibly can. The investment per listing is small enough where if a single item does not sell it doesn’t matter too much. Thus why not ask what you want … plus a little more.

Amateur sellers are only investing their spare time to list 50 items per month. If something’s been sitting in the house for 20 years they may as well put it up for sale at the price they want.

Despite the times there doesn’t appear to be any urgency to sell.

Auctions of fine goods still recognize fine prices. No bargains there. Auctions for junk still deliver junk at a bargain.

(Speaking of junk, I’m seeing an increase in items creatively photographed as treasures and delivered as garbage. When buying magazines for resale shipping cost makes returns prohibitive. This is likely the subject of another post, but for now, my advice–if you have questions, ask them!)

Best Deal = Best Offer

The best deals you’re going to find, at least in the categories I deal in, are those that include the Best Offer option. Best Offer on a Fixed Price item indicates that the item is either:

  1. Unabashedly overpriced
  2. An item the seller doesn’t know the value of
  3. Being offered by a seller who actually wants to sell.

The current trend I’ve seen in Offers from buyers is a 50% opening offer. The sweet spot where a deal is agreed upon seems to be somewhere between 60-80% of the full marked price.

Personally I’ve seen enough 50% and lower offers that I’ve begun removing the Best Offer option from my own listings. It’s not worth the aggravation. (Here’s a tip, you might accept a lowball offer from a low feedback buyer, but you’re not very likely to be paid by them.)

When offers of 50% and under used to come in I’d shake my head because I’d never imagine making such a low offer myself. I’d be insulted and make the mistake of taking it personal, at least for a few moments. But guess what? It works. Some sellers actually take half and leave me wondering if I should have offered a quarter.

Give it a shot.

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  1. As a seller of Sports Magazine back issues, I agree wholeheartedly with your appraisal of the current market on eBay. In order to sell on eBay you have to take a professional business approach due to the current fee structures. Having sold over a thousand magazines over the last year, I eliminated the best offer option on my listings due to the 50% markdown that I routinely am offered for items. I have taken a more straightforward approach and priced items at the minimum that I am willing to accept to generate more traffic/clicks on my listings and thus increase sales. I am routinely surprised by the issues that people purchase. When I started I would list an item and say to myself, who in the world will purchase this issue, and invariably it is one of the first issues to sell. Thanks for the info, I look forward to contributing more to the discussion. David

    • Pretty much my same experience and current strategy, David. I’ve been using the recent rash of free listing days from eBay to clean up old listings, expand titles, etc. and then relisting unsold items at lower Fixed Prices than I had them, Best Offer removed. By the time I finish doing this to all stock I figure I’ll have a better idea of the impact.

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