An Example of Buying and Selling on eBay — Story Magazine

Written in 2006 and based on eBay listings. A lot on eBay has changed since then, but many of the details of this essay still hold true.

But what are they worth?
Go here to read the the history of Story Magazine.

I always cringe when somebody writes curious about the value of their collection. This goes for magazines as well as other items I sell such as movie collectibles and even the more concrete world of baseball cards. The best answer to this question is one I try to work into my answer somewhere, but always try to say a little more to soften the blow because it sounds rude: It’s worth whatever someone will pay for it.

I’m not getting wise with you if I answer you like that though. I mean exactly those words which broken down a little more mean you can expect to be paid for your collectible item whatever amount exactly one other person is willing to pay for it at most. This is the wonderful thing about eBay and the auction format. Whereas in earlier times dealers had to slog through local shows and fairs, await a new customer in their brick and mortar story, or seek out customers interested in their catalogs through the mail, today we have the shoppers come to us, and for good or bad, eBay is the place that most of them are going to congregate at one time. So there will be an audience and if you really want an answer they will tell you what it’s worth.

So most of the time your guess is as good as mine. Most hobbies, magazine collecting being no exception, have an array of Price Guides to help you put a value on your collection. Most people skip the paragraph in the introduction to these guides which point out that the book is just that–a guide. Nothing more. The numbers are meaningless, again, it’s worth whatever someone will pay.

But my point is not that Price Guides are guiding you wrong or that they have any ill intent. In fact, they can often point you in the right direction and with your own research lead to some exciting finds. And so I return to my copy of the Antique Trader Vintage Magazines Price Guide (hereafter abbreviated ATVM) issued in 2005. It includes Story Magazine, and so it provided a starting point for me when another seller placed several bulk lots of Story Magazine at auction on eBay in April 2006.

The seller had broken up his selection into yearly lots, and the ATVM book showed me what to target. They list the March/April 1940 issue with the Salinger story at a value of $900. Other items of interest were the August 1936 issue at $250 and the March/April 1945 issue at $300. Unremarkable issues, that is those containing nothing special, booked $15, which seemed a little low to me. Those latter two issues in the $250-$300 range did not include the reason for the high value, so I decided to go on faith.

The lot with the 1945 issue came up first, I set a conservative bid, and I lost. Up next was the 1940 lot, containing the valuable Salinger story, and so I bumped up my bid considerably, determined to win it. Win it I did, and at a decent price — is it worth $900? Anything close to it? Well, we’ll see in coming months when I offer it, and I’ll be sure to update this paragraph afterwards. After the Salinger I again lowered expectations, bid on the cheap — oftentimes when I know I can make money on something, I’ll bid just to get an item closer to what I perceive as it’s value, and if I win all the better! That’s what happened here, I scored a few of the lots cheap enough where without giving away my costs on the whole I was paying basically $2-$3 per issue on the lesser 1930’s issues of Story.

What’s it worth? I don’t care — at $2-$3 per issue, I have to make money. I can auction the items myself and use and opening bid that’s cheap enough to entice bidders and hopefully incite action. If you list enough items with reasonable minimum bids you stand a good chance at having a couple “catch fire” as I like to say, or wind up with multiple bids from multiple bidders, which can sometimes lead to a single item paying for an entire purchase.

So after I received my case of 1930’s-40’s Story Magazines, I went through them, satisfied my curiosity on a few of the issues that the ATVM Guide listed blindly and found some issues which the authors of that book had certainly missed. Most exiting to me, even in substandard condition, was the November-December 1941 issue, which contained the annual college contest prize-winning story, by a teen-ager named Norman Mailer. Another exciting issue was the September/October 1939 issue, which ATVM did list at $50, containing a Tennessee Williams short story and even better an interesting bio written by the young Williams which shows us a little of his personality from these earliest days:

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS writes, “I’m twenty-five, a native of Mississippi, descendant of Indian-fighting Tennessee pioneers. I’ve attended three universities, getting my B.A. degree last summer from the University of Iowa. While there, I worked as a waiter in the state hospital–waiting tables is my chief subsidiary occupation although I’ve also been employed in a shoe warehouse, office and retail store for short periods between my work at college. I’ve had two long plays presented in St. Louis by the Mummers of that city–they were “Fugitive Kind: and “Candles to the Sun”. I have two long plays in progress. Right now I’m doing chores and picking squabs for my board on a pigeon ranch in Los Angeles country and have just returned from a 440-mile bicycle tour or rural Mexico and the Southern California coast line. This spring I was given a Group Theatre prize for a one-act play.”

[phpbay]Tennessee Williams, 8, 280, “”, “”, “”, 10, “”, “”, “”, “”, “”, “”, “”, “”, “”, “”, 4[/phpbay]

Okay, after I had my fun going through the issues I let them sit on my work-table for a few weeks before I began scanning the covers. Next step, go through each issue, list every item from the contents page — what you may want to buy for a Faulkner story, someone else may want for the Saroyan story, and another person may want it for a story by an unknown writer who happens to be their father. If you don’t list it all, you risk not getting the highest possible return, or in my mind, realizing the item’s value.

Okay, I’m into these cheap so the minimum bids can be low. The price structure on eBay jumps after $9.99, so I take that as my base point for issues containing the better stories or even for those which are just in excellent condition. The more wear on an issue, the lower the price, going down as low as $5.99 for anything with a cover torn off (junk in my mind, but it might have something inside for someone else!). I auctioned 40-plus issues, and I must say I was disappointed. Even eBay, where as I said the largest group of potential customers gathers to buy, has its down days, even its down periods. I hit one with these, but at the same time, I still flipped enough issues to 1. turn a profit; and 2. holdover several issues as store stock which can be marked up to a price that I personally feel better reflects value, and which at the same time I consider a bargain to some degree.

For those that sold, well, here you go:

STORY Issue Date Features ATVM* Price Guide Value Actual Price Realized
Feb. 1934 Elly by William Faulkner
+ William Saroyan
$15.00** $9.99
Jun. 1934 Benedict Thielen $15.00** $6.99
Nov. 1934 Lo! by William Faulkner
+ William Saroyan
$60.00 $9.99
Dec. 1934 Erskine Caldwell $15.00** $6.99
Jun. 1937 Katherine Anne Porter $15.00** $6.99
Nov. 1937 Thomas Mann
+ John Cheever
$15.00** $9.99
Mar.-Apr. 1939 Erskine Caldwell $15.00** $7.99
Sep.-Oct. 1941 Sherwood Anderson Memorial Issue $15.00** $11.77
Nov.-Dec.1941 Norman Mailer college contest winning story $15.00** $20.85
Jan.-Feb. 1942 Erskine Caldwell $15.00** $14.44
May-Jun. 1942 William Faulkner $15.00** $8.17
Sep.-Oct. 1942 J.D. Salinger $15.00** $41.00
Nov.-Dec. 1942 Single long story in issue $25.00 $8.99
Totals: $250.00 $164.15

*Antique Trader Vintage Magazines Price Guide
** $15.00 is the ATVM* value for unremarkable issues. The features list shows that most are not unremarkable.

I’m a little over $85.00 under guide value on those I sold, but at the same time I’m $125.00 over what I paid per issue, or a profit of about $9-$10 per issue. Lower that a little for eBay fees, PayPal fees, supplies, etc, but still acceptable. And remember, it was a down day. For example, even though the Salinger and Mailer issues sold for more than any of the other issues, I still feel they were huge bargains, especially the Salinger which was in better condition than most of the other issues. The Mailer issue I attributed to condition, but I was told by the winning bidder that he anticipated a known rival bidding and so he had bid significantly more and expected to lose. Ouch, but oh well, that tells me I wasn’t too far out of line when I was assessing values in my head pre-sale.

I think the grid above also points out the folly of following the guides as if they were more than guides. Again, the Salinger and Mailer issues certainly wouldn’t be considered unremarkable, but they were not listed (and thus, were very pleasant surprises for me!). The wrong thing to do would to junk the guide — the guide helped me decide what to bid on, got me back my investment, a small profit, a nice amount of inventory, plus two special issues that I plan to sell at a later date with hopes of realizing significantly greater prices. Don’t junk the guide — take out your pen or pencil and add your finds to their existing listings. Now you have twice the edge of many other bidders. Their notes plus your own unique notes all under the same covers. Of course if you’re like me you have more than one set of covers that your looking under plus a big stack of printed pages and a browser full of bookmarks, but hey, the more research you do the more gems you’ll unearth.

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