It's worse than that Jim, it's a really stupid idea
Some more thoughts on collecting, bidding and my experiences:
- Collector's item: Something that's inherently worthless but there are nutters who are willing to pay a lot of money for it.
- A good piece for a beginning collector: It's crap, but as a beginner, you wouldn't know that.
I've heard "A good piece for a beginning collector" a few times on TV programmes (on the BBC which has lots of antiques related programmes these days; In other areas the BBC also has lots of similar programmes and even 'Big bastard' type programmes. Two signs of the BBC's decreasing quality, unfortunately). I wonder if they've given any thought to the fact that collecting is a bad idea and in almost all cases pointless. Maybe it would kill most of the (non-internet) auction system if they talked about this on TV? If you think about it, people often collect things for no good reason. In particular I can't understand why anyone would collect porcelain/pottery. What for? And what if it falls? Do you dare use that 500 quid plate? You should at least be able to use something you buy. On further reflection I find buying expensive paintings and high priced art in general to be utterly moronic. These should be in museums, what's the point of hanging them in your house, or even worse, vault? Why not a reproduction? Originals are only useful to study. And what happens when a collector quits collecting/is forced to sell/dies? It all gets separated and sold and his collecting mania will have had no meaning, particularly as the collector himself doesn't really enjoy the stuff but is always in a collecting fever to get more (don't deny it, it's true).
A bad experience
I once went to a guy who had various BBC stuff (he sent a list of books, magazines, hardware), and indicated he would be willing to sell me items I was interested in, and he had no price in mind yet for the lot. I was particularly interested in one piece of hardware and said so on the phone. When I got there he had a few magazines I was interested in, a couple of books, and various leaflets etc., but where was what I especially came for? Well, he didn't see it with the other stuff, and hadn't tried to find it! He wouldn't go look for it, and when we got round to negotiating a deal he suddenly only wanted to sell in one lot for a huge amount... I didn't want that, esp. as what I was really after was not there! I finally convinced him to sell a few magazines in particular (for way too much, but at the time I was nearly a collector), despite comments he made like "if I offer the rest for sale, someone is bound to want exactly the issues you want", and "selling these few mags is not helping me"! (but it sure would help me!)
Other stuff he would not let go, saying "It might be a collector's item!". Yes, it might, but he as the seller should find out first then! (and they weren't collector's items btw.). This was especially bad as I first told him about what I was doing with this BBC stuff (putting scans and images on the web), and that there was still interest in BBC stuff. Then he came with "well, as you say there's still interest, this might a collector's item" So, he was abusing the information he got from me...
Moral of the story: don't go without first agreeing on a price and ask explicitly if you can get part of the collection offered, even if the seller said so himself. If it's offered for free, this doesn't apply, obviously.
This left a sour taste in my mouth for a very long time. Donations are very welcome of course, but I will pay a decent price for things I'm interested in, and I will in fact pay a better price than most other people are prepared to pay, so I was disgusted at the "it might be a collector's item" tactic to more or less 'force' a too high price.
I should have restricted myself and said "I won't do business with you", and if a similar situation comes again, I will do this, whatever goodies such a person has.
More bad ones...
Do you really want to know? Well, I could tell of some cases when people offer something for free or for sale, then never reply again to any emails (or even phone...). I even email them asking if they want to keep the stuff, could they let me know. No response. Missing one email is possible, multiple or even worse, phone, is not. Now I've told most of it already! Just one particular case with the phone to tell. If you ask me nicely :)
Almost forgot, I got screwed once by this guy whom I sent 10 quid and he never sent me anything!
30 Carr Hall Rd,
If you see this guy, please kick his ass and get me my 10 quid back. Well, you can keep the 10 quid for that... (+ postage + cost of getting the pound notes + effort + interest, so better make it 15 quid).
These fortunately outweigh the bad ones, see the credit section for people who helped me get stuff I'm interested in for free. This probably depends on what you do with whatever you're trying to get hold of though; if you're a collector who just wants to complete some collection, you're probably less likely to get things for free than if you're documenting like I'm doing.
Rarity is (usually) irrelevant to real value
I've already made the point in collecting part 1, that in many cases where the seller says something is rare, it actually isn't. In other cases the sellers even dare say "I've never seen one on ebay, so it must be rare!". Bollocks! That talk about rarity also assumes rarity (market or real) is related to value. This is/need not be the case. It's only so if you (i.e. the buyer in general) will pay a price based on this. In particular, upper and lower limits on prices in a free market need not and should not be arbitrarily high (upper limit) or 0 (lower limit). Limits should be based on other criteria. E.g. brand X is now priced many times higher because it's no longer imported? Screw you! I'll use brand Y, or even quit using it at all (whatever 'it' is). That's how you do it in that case. For the other case, when there's more supply than demand, it's unacceptable that suppliers sell stuff below production cost (this happens a lot in the market for RAM modules). And you should not want to buy something that's sold below production price. Or do you want to see businesses go bankrupt? (and you WILL be paying for that indirectly).
The following, in my opinion, are the only good criteria for value:
- Getting something you always wanted or that you think may be interesting
- Nostalgia. If you had something before and would like to get it back. This is not particularly useful, but it doesn't disappoint in the end.
- Usefulness for whatever you're doing (e.g. to learn more about something, get documentation on how to use/do something etc.). More or less by definition, this won't disappoint.
In the latter 2 cases, if something is rare, the price to pay because of rarity can be higher without much chance of later being disappointed...
Very bad reasons to get something:
- To complete a collection (utterly useless)
- Because it's rare (who cares!)
Internet-auctions are highly annoying (*) and a big problem with this method for getting stuff, is that you have to wait for people to put things up for auction. There's no possibility (as yet) for 'wanted' ads. For me, wanted ads give material that does not usually (or very infrequently) appear on auction websites, like specific ICs, or magazines. People then contact me saying 'I've got this lying in the attic, and never though about it until I read your wanted ad'. This way I obtain various interesting material that I'd otherwise probably would not get hold of (or with extreme difficulty/effort/expense otherwise).
(*) for bidders that is; for sellers it's a very useful way to sell if you want to get rid of stuff within a short time. But if there's no interest or there are too many people offering the same thing then it doesn't work all that well. So, more or less by definition, auctions work great for sellers who want to sell items that do not appear very often but that are very much in demand. Sellers can however wait a good time to put up an item... So all in all, good for sellers, less good for buyers.
Nevertheless, internet-auctions are an essential element for getting hold of old stuff so here are some hints:
- Update: Something I wanted to put here a long time ago: If you have plenty of money to spend on your hobbies, you can of course disregard most of the advice here :) Just buy what you like... Then again, you might run into someone who's in the same situation. Hmm... Points 2 and 3 are certainly still of use to you, and probably 4 too.
- 1. Bid only the price you think it's worth, not what you think will win the auction. You'll probably see the same item a few months later going for peanuts and kick yourself for paying too much. You will live without it, even if you should never see another again. Life is not about obtaining stuff, it's about using stuff. Use/play with something else instead!
- 2. Switch off notifications on the preferences pages of the website in question (ebay/qoop/ricardo) that you've been outbid. This is annoys the hell out of me and gives pressure to place a higher bid. It will probably do the same to you, or? Don't get stressed for some stupid item you're bidding on! You will live without it... If you really want it, check back in a few days and make a final bid.
The outbid notices can cause 'auction fever', where these notices cause people to bid higher up to the point they realize their folly (or that they can't afford more), when there are often other auctions with the same or nearly the same items. Why don't they look around and bid on another lot?
- 3. Last second bidding: This is advantageous as the bid price depends largely on what others want to pay, not what it's 'worth' (however you define that for old stuff; I think it's best to compare with second hand prices for similar goods that are still available new in case the goods are as useful today as when new; this is the case for e.g. furniture, cars; for other things like computers an obsolescence factor has to be taken into account). So, a bid of one person is often just used as a mark to outbid by another person, whatever the amount.
Downside to last second bidding is that it causes a lot of stress. It's also not quite fair to the seller I think (I've changed my mind about this: sellers choose to do so, and take a chance, leavings bidders to decide on a value), so in the few cases I decide on this course of action, I usually first place a reasonable bid that others can go bid against, then a final bid (you might say the seller should have placed a higher starting bid, but for sellers who sell a lot, just starting everything at 1 Euro/quid/dollar takes away the (large amount of) work to determine what an item is 'worth'...)
I once had no choice as I forgot to place a bid, visited the auction page a few days later, and saw 30 seconds left!
Another problem is that you may forget to bid or get held up somewhere, so you miss the end of the auction. It happened a few times to me, and this is another reason not to do it.
There are programs/services that place bids automatically a few seconds before auction close. This removes all stress (I think, but maybe people who do this still follow it all closely and get stressed anyway! I've never used such programs/services (See update below though...)) but means giving your login data to a third party, or leaving your own computer on all the time.
Ebay has been taking action against some of these services (at least in Germany), but this seems rather silly, as you can do it manually just as well (except for the forgetting/getting held up bit, but this sort of thing can happen to such automated programs as well for technical reasons like name server problems on a certain network etc.). Also, it's the bidding system chosen by Ebay (fixed auction-close time) that is making last second bidding possible. If they added say 5 minutes, to the close-time for every bid that comes within 5 minutes of the close of the auction, last second bidding loses most of its use. And I can think of other solutions... (and people who say such solutions are bad, as I've seen on some web pages, are not thinking things through well enough; some of the reasons they give 'against', are in fact after some consideration, actually a reason 'for').
An interesting other advantage for the buyer is that if you place a last second bid, you probably won't have time to place another if it doesn't outbid the other bidders. This means you're more likely to keep bids reasonable even if others place insanely high ones... (and thus you'll likely spend less and have less of a chance of feeling disappointed when you've 'won' an auction (disappointed: because of the high price)).
Bid only on items you're really interested in or those you think may be of use to you. Don't bid just because something is rare or because it "will complete your collection". After a few months, you just may think "what the hell did I want that for? It's rubbish!".
Before bidding large amounts, do some research by lurking in the categories of interest to you for a few weeks and/or do a 'completed items' search, to see what sort of prices are paid for which items and how often they appear. What's the point of bidding a huge amount to get something which will almost certainly be offered again not much later and that usually goes for a low price?
This explains some of the absurd prices some items fetch that aren't really special, it's often caused by new bidders who don't know what something is 'worth'. Auction fever helps too... Not to forget, the really crazy collection-completists will also place absurdly high bids (but not usually for standard material unless they realize much later that they don't have it yet in their collection) ;-)
- Last-second bidding services: I've tried these mainly for use in USA auctions where this is quite common. I did this after a few experiences where I placed bids on some stuff and people started bidding like crazy on it, then not much later I saw the same thing offered again, didn't bid (because I thought there was no point, too many people willing to bid much more than I was for such an item), and it went for very little money. What's going on here? I guess the bidding war phenomenon. Many of the winning bids were last second, and as last second bidding is theoretically definitely advantageous (you have the same information that all other bidders have, but don't give information away yourself), I decided to give this a go. The result is quite nice. Even though I don't really care if I lose an auction, bidding and then losing does mean wasted time... So, I spend as little time as possible, just place the bid amount I'd be happy to pay on the last-second service, then never watch it until I get a notice that the auction ended. And btw., here a few bids failed due to technical problems and ebay changes; Not much different from doing it yourself.
Theoretically, last-second bidding is advantageous, i.e. the chance of winning an auction with a given bid-amount is higher than with bidding that same amount long before the auction ends. I wonder what would happen if everyone decided to do it? Would sellers object? Would ebay set new rules?
If you want to try, join BidNip and see if you like it (free trial, after that it costs a little money).
My perspective as a seller: People have done last second bidding on some things I sold, and that's fine with me, but I usually don't start at very low prices as I don't like to sell as-is/untested, but instead fully tested and working. Sellers who start at 1euro/quid/dollar might not like it (if the final amount is low!). But they do take the chance of low selling price themselves. Sellers who sell a lot of items probably won't care, as it averages out, sometimes you get high prices, sometimes low ones.
Last modified: Thu Nov 1 23:51:26 CET 2012