eBay and Noble Spirit launch online database with over 200 million price transactions
We’re now used to most facets of our lives being ‘disrupted’ by the advent of the internet. There are few business sectors that have not had to adjust or reinvent their business models to stay ahead of the game in today’s online world.
The niche world of stamp catalogue publishing has remained relatively untouched.
eBay has licenced its entire archived database of stamp transactions: over 200 million sales dating back to 2004. This is then supplemented with new sales figures, as they occur, building a vast repository of transactional stamp data across both auction and ‘Buy It Now’ categories.
This huge dataset has had a simple, searchable front-end wrapped around it to enable you to identify the selling price of any stamp sold on the website over the past fifteen years. Noble Spirit, an eBay collectibles dealer, has negotiated the deal and set up a subsidiary company to manage the initiative.
Collectors and dealers now have the ability to search for any stamp and identify every example ever sold on the site, enabling a quick understanding of what any given stamp is likely to be worth if sold online.
And (for now) its free to use.
It’s a huge leap forward in the transparency of stamp values and is going to force catalogue publishers to take a long, hard look at how they reach their valuations (are you listening Stanley Gibbons?).
A superb resource but not perfect
That said, the data is not infallible and you are going to have to come to your own conclusions around the worth of any given stamp. Let’s say I’m looking for Brazil Scott 78. A search for Brazil 78 gives me 698 records to choose from at the time of writing. There are plenty of entries showing the stamp I’m after but quite a few are irrelevant. If I’m wanting an unmounted mint example, I must then qualify further using the search term unmounted. Or should that be MNH? Or UMM?
And if I want the full story, I need to know that a Scott 78 = Michel 37 = Yvert 47 = SG67, and so on.
You get the picture. You’re going to need to be inventive.
Naysayers will also counter that eBay listings will show examples of everything from the perfectly centred, post office fresh candidate through to dog-eared, thinned, mint-no-gum examples and all points in between. And that’s before you start considering the the reperfs, the regums, the forgeries etc.
But this database has one huge advantage: critical mass. Taking my Brazil Scott 78 example above, even if I discount 50% of the entries with having insufficient detail, that still leaves me with 350 records to choose from. And if I just search for ‘used’ and end up with 100 examples that have sold between $20-$30…well, that’s probably the market price for that stamp.
Valuable search capabilities for online sellers
Dealers and online sellers will find numerous ways to interrogate the data to their benefit. For example:
Items without catalogue prices. Say you want to sell a plate proof and have no idea how to price it. Trawl the database and find out what previous examples have sold for in the past.
Stamps with very few transactions listed. If you find that the stamp you wish to sell has only appeared once or twice on eBay over the past fifteen years, you might assume that asking full catalogue (or more) would be a wise strategy.
Stamps considered undervalued. Over valuations in stamp catalogues are commonplace but the opposite is also true in numerous cases. Why sell a stamp catalogued at $5 for a similar price when the data tells you that collectors have happily bid up to $25 in the past?
Useful for ‘investors’?
Noble Spirit are promoting Stamp Market Index as a tool for investors, with an ability to “reference index projections to shape investment decisions” (huh?).
I’m not so sure.
Yes, there are numerous examples of high value items having been sold on eBay. But it’s a very small percentage of the overall volume of transactions. eBay excels in the low to mid-range stuff. But high ticket items and material that one might call ‘investment grade’ are still very much dominated by the traditional auction houses.
And I don’t see that situation changing anytime soon.
Now if Stamp Market Index were to blend eBay’s data with the collective historical realisations from the Stamp Auction Network…well, I’d probably be more convinced of its suitability as a tool for aspiring investors (whoever they might be).
Where does this leave Scott, Michel, Gibbons and Yvert?
So will you continue to use the prices in your catalogue as a guide or will you use this new source of actual sales data? It’s inevitably going to ask collectors to question whether they need to update their catalogues once again or whether they choose to rely on this new online tool instead.
Ironically, for the catalogue publishers, they’ve just been presented with more pricing data than their editorial teams will ever be able to handle. But given the resource, catalogue publishers can now (theoretically) get closer to accurate pricing than ever before.
And here lies a somewhat ethical quandary.
How will we all use this new resource? By searching using the proprietary numbering systems of the catalogue publishers. And what do they get out of this? Nada, zilch, nothing…as far as I can tell.
Is that fair? Is this a philatelic leap forward or will lost revenue to catalogue publishers put their businesses at risk?
And will we now start to treat eBay sales data as the true worth of a stamp, rather than simply the price a collector selling his duplicates happened to get at 3.00am on a Tuesday morning?
As to the future, I’d bet on seeing more development of the data. A little AI (artificial intelligence) interrogation, cleaning up the outliers and creating structured search fields for often used terms would create a dynamic pricing tool that the incumbent publishers would find hard to follow.
As they say, watch this space…
What do you think…?
Try Stamp Market Index out for yourself at www.stampmarketindex.com