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It’s worth $100 on eBay! How to understand the true value of your collectibles.

I buy a lot of collections, both of comics, 80s actions figures, or D&D stuff. I do that to fill in my personal collection or get condition upgrades. I then sell the duplicates to make my hobby sustainable. To do this I need to price them to make money. But I also need to estimate if they will sell quickly or just sit there for weeks.

A phrase I hear almost every time from someone wanting to sell me their collection is, “I looked up the prices on eBay, so I know what they are worth.” Yet 19 times out of 20 they had only glanced at a couple of the highest asking prices and never looked into what the items were actually selling for. You know, how much money someone was actually willing to give for the item.

To be clear, I don’t have a giant eBay store. Selling comics is simply a hobby for me and I like the experience of selling from my antique booth at the Pink Elephant much more than being beholden to a corporate third party platform like eBay, so I only have about 250 items in my eBay store, about 90% of them being Marvel Bronze Age comics and cool vintage magazines like Heavy Metal and Dragon.

But if you sell on eBay at all you learn quickly how to price items and how to know which items sell quickly. Unfortunately, most folks don’t understand this. Instead, they look up items for sell on eBay, glance at those asking prices, then determine that figure is how much their collectibles are worth.

Sort by Sold and Calculate a Sell-Through Rate

Here’s a tip: Something is worth what someone will actually pay for it. You can’t just look at listing ask price because folks will list something for $100 hoping that some sucker will hit buy. I call this the “Nic Cage Effect.”

Nic Cage famously had at one time the world’s largest private comic book collection and he acquired most of his keys with the mindset that money was no object. I mean, he’s a famous movie star, right? So, Nic Cage famously would get an itch for a comic book and he’d bid up the auction indiscriminately, always getting the book he wanted. As a result, sellers spotted a sucker and started listing things at an outrageous price in the hopes that Nic Cage, or some other sucker like him, would drift by.

But most folks aren’t suckers (or aren’t stupidly rich), so those outrageously-priced items typically just sit there for a while. Maybe they rack up watchers, but they haven’t sold and won’t sell for that price.

Let’s do an example of thinking about it reasonably. I picked out a mag at random: Dungeon #10.

1. First, look it up to see how many are listed:

The search returned 75 hits but there is a lot of noise in there because you’ll see stuff like lots of 10 issues, which give a false positive. You are obviously looking for Dungeon #10 but search algorithms aren’t nearly as smart as big tech preaches they are, so know you’ll have some noise in there and that 75 really isn’t 75.

2. Find a Couple of Accurate Comparables

Don’t despair: A Top Rated Seller has one listed for $19.99 and maybe some of the other 75 listings are clean listings as well. So, we’ve found some accurate comps on eBay for what we are looking for. 

While you are at it, glance at shipping costs. Free shouldn’t be expected. These are just nerds selling comics, they aren’t Amazon with a fleet of trucks, so cut them some slack and budget in $5-8 for shipping.

Also, while it’s not critical, a “Top Rated Plus” seller is always nice to do business with because they have a good track record.

3. Sort by Solds

Next, select “Sold Items.” (This will automatically select “Completed Items.”) This will tell you how many were actually purchased. 

On your iPhone, this is upper right above the search results. Tap “Filter” to find the toggle for “Sold Items.” You’ll likely have to tap “Show More.” Don’t worry, you’ll have to peck around the first few times you do it, but you’ll quickly learn where it is and will be able to find it quickly.

It’s low on the left sidebar if you are using the eBay website.

4. Find the Value!

Now that you have sorted the item for the ones that actually sold, you have a better idea of the actual value because it isn’t just a listing price, money has actually exchanged hands.

I like this example because it’s good news.

The item listed for $19.99 actually sold for that amount…one time. Other sales were $14.95 (typical) down to $5. Many times you’ll see an item listed for $19.99, only to see sales be for less than half that, so it’s good news to see an actual sale at asking, especially because that is atypical. Again, what is item is “worth” is what it sales for, not what it is listed for.

But for the sake of fairness, I wanted to find an example where the listing amount is fairly priced and a buyer responded with a sell. If you have a copy of Dungeon #10, its value is about $14.95-$19.99!

5. Count Number of Solds to Calculate Sell-Through Rate

Finally, do a back of a napkin calculation of sales-through rate. In our search of listings, eBay returns 75 listings for Dungeon #10 and, although there were false positives, that’s close enough.

We then sorted by sold and there were 22 results for Dungeon #10. Again, there are false positives, but let’s call it close enough. Let’s also round 22 to 25 just make make for easier math.

That makes Dungeon #10 roughly a 33% sell through rate (75 / 25), meaning you’d have a 33% change of selling the item within 90 days. Why 90 days? That’s the time period eBay uses when they present their sold searches.

A 33% sell-through rate is about the lowest I go when listing something on eBay. I ultimately would like better than a 1/3 chance what I list will sell in 90 days. A 33% sell through rate means there is a market for the item but it’s not a big, anxious market. It’s about what you would expect: a small pool of old nerds that love old D&D stuff and are looking to fill out their collection of old D&D magazines. And what are those magazines worth to them? Well, about $19.99 on a seller’s best day.

So, don’t just glance at a listing’s asking price to determine an item’s value. Instead, look closely at those that have actually sold. And while you are at it, do a quick look at the rate of sells to determine if the item is hot or just sits there. Then, finally, watch Con Air, a great Nic Cage movie.