Being an avid Beckett magazine collector, I thought it was depressing when Beckett was sold off in 2005 and it seemed to change. Presently, there is a large contingent of sports card collectors who find Beckett tarnished and bad for the hobby. Suing everyone from COMC to Zistle seems to be what’s fueling this antagonism, but that may just be the latest gripe in a long list of gripes that hobbyists have had for Beckett. Another guess may be that Beckett charges too much for their online website features.
Personally, I really enjoyed Beckett once the print magazine became a glossy, beautifully photographed, and article-driven publication. I had little interest in the ups and downs of the price guide as I always decided myself what to pay for a card or cards not relying on the magazine to dictate what a card was worth. The price guide which although always tried to be accurate, never really was. What I do love about price guides was their checklists as this information helped you find missing cards and inserts that you may not have known about.
I could never quite decide on whether Beckett monthly was good or bad for the hobby. There were price guides before Beckett, that were put out on a yearly basis, which was fine, as they were mostly used as intended, a guide, not a bible on prices. If you wanted to buy a certain card for 150.00 and a dealer was selling it for 250.00, rarely did the dealer or the buyer pull out the yearly guide to show the other the price. When Beckett came out with a monthly price guide, it stopped being a guide really, everyone used it to buy and sell cards. If a card was over Beckett price, the dealer was accused of gouging his customers, if it was below Beckett the dealer was thought of as ignorant or dumb. The guide became somewhat a straight jacket on the flexibility of dealers to price their own merchandise. Which is ironic because it’s the dealers which would send in pricing to Beckett through their magazine survey.
It is my informed opinion that you can fault or congratulate Beckett for doing one thing. Inadvertently increasing the cost of purchasing sports cards and other memorabilia. How so you may ask? Well with a readily available monthly price guide, people were more confident in buying cards. There was less guess work for investors and collectors as the prices were right there in the magazine. This increased sales of cards. Not only for new product, but also for older cards. The movement of cards from one person to another increased and at each stop, the card usually went up in price. This pricing info was sent to Beckett and Beckett reflected it in their guide.
Before, if you bought a card you needed experience and knowledge to pay a good price. So many were wary to buy a card at a price above their comfort zone (whatever that happened to be at the time). Many collectors were scared of being ripped off so they would pass at high priced cards or barter for a lower price. It’s why before Beckett Monthly became popular, you could have rookie cards of HOF players in the tens or low hundreds of dollars, with the few elite players card in the thousands. After Beckett popularity these cards dramatically increased in price. One person would buy a card for 50.00 and resell it 2 months later for 100.00. Then the card would be again resold for 200.00 in another few months. Why did this happen? Because Beckett’s guide made everyone able to understand what cards were out there, which were the most desired ones, and how best to find them. Beckett magazine was one of a few factors that made baseball cards more expensive to collect. It made everything more efficient and turnover of cards was quicker. Upper Deck’s entry in 1989 and the Gretzky/McNall T206 Wagner card purchase for $450k in 1991 were two other factors. All these factors led to 1000s of new collectors coming into the hobby which was the catalyst for the increase across the board for the prices of cards. If you ever want to promote a hobby, standardize it with a catalog and especially a price guide and prices for these collectibles will most likely rise.
Beckett didn’t fix prices but they helped popularize the hobby and made it easier for sellers each month to push the boundary of Beckett’s High price a little each month. Bartering was a common occurrence before Beckett Monthly, but after it decreased as buyers and especially sellers would not negotiate as much. Sellers would often say to me, “Why are you trying to barter with me? it’s already priced reasonably, just check the guide.”
By 1993 I mostly gave up on collecting cads. But I continued to read the magazine, reading the front then flipping quickly over the price guide in the middle to find the articles at the back. but slowly over time the magazine got thicker, and thicker, and the articles got fewer and fewer. as they were cannibalized by the price guide. Then the print got smaller and smaller until you needed a magnifying glass to read the price guide when you were trying to organize your base set, inserts, parallels etc. and see what rare cards were available in the different sets.
Now the magazine is mostly irrelevant. The price guide is pointless. Monthly pricing is passe as daily pricing can be had by looking at online auction sales. When the time came to choose between a monthly print magazine full of articles on the hobby, or pricing on the thousands upon thousand of new cards issued each year, Beckett chose the latter and lost a majority of its subscribers. Even moving the pricing online didn’t clue them in that a printed monthly guide is irrelevant and what they should do is make a magazine with stories rather than prices.
Beckett did get a clue when they published a couple of magazines called Beckett Vintage Collector Magazine last year, It contains articles without a price guide, let’s hope they continue to do this.