What fun this is. If only postcards could be priced like gold — market rate, standard. But it doesn’t work that way, of course, and when a piece of artwork more than 100 years old, with stamp and clear postmark, can sometimes be listed at only US$1, you know there are many forces at work. What else does $1 buy these days? A soft drink that’s gone in five minutes? In Hong Kong, the daily newspaper costs more than that. So here are some thoughts.
First, there’s rarity and there’s scarcity. So many cards were issued by the tens of thousands (or more), and as we all know, hardly anyone ever throws a postcard away. During the early part of the 20th century, folks took pictures of themselves, and their houses, and turned these real photos into postcards. There’s no shortage of examples of these, and unless you have some connection to this house, you are not likely to want to pay much for any one rare photo. On the other hand, let’s say a card is well-represented in Google or any search engine, and therefore famous, and everyone wants it. It should, and does, cost a bit more because it is scarce though not rare.
So now to the point: how do we decide what to charge for a postcard? Well, how badly do we want to sell it? Some cards–and we usually say which ones–have an enduring value for us and we really don’t mind if they don’t sell. So we set the price higher, and if someone wants them that much, OK. The reverse is true, too. We know some cards have much higher value for the specialty collector (what will you pay if you are desperate for that card with a blue umbrella?) but we don’t necessarily need to keep them forever. We’ll share some customers’ stories, later.
Small digression. Many years ago, when we were moving to a new house, we had a yard sale to dispose of excess stuff. For years and years we had nurtured a small jade plant and watched it grow, leaf by leaf. Really, it was part of the family and we celebrated each new sprout and agonised over every aphid we found. What kind of price to put on something like that? So it went out on the table, at something like $5, and a customer came along and said “I’ll give you 50 cents.” Our reaction went something like “are you crazy? We spent years getting it to this condition,” blah blah blah. The customer said–and we remember this very clearly–“You can’t sell on sentiment alone.” How true, but don’t try that trick with us now
We look to see what the same cards in similar or other conditions sell for in Google. We check the competition’s prices. We are not aiming to be the cheapest, or the most expensive, or anything like that, but when we find we are way out of line with the market, we readily adjust prices up or down, depending. The idea is to sell the cards, not at a loss.
We know what we paid for cards, and normally wouldn’t try to sell for less than we paid. But even that can happen, because we want all geographic and theme categories to be represented and sometimes we need to source cards just to get a category started. Once we have more of them, the prices can come down a bit.
Now one of the tricks on eBay and other mass-market sites is to list an item for almost nothing, and then charge high shipping rates to make up for that. We don’t work that way. Our shipping is done virtually at cost, and this is completely transparent: customers can see the value on the stamps, and registration is optional. We’re lucky that postage rates in Hong Kong are very low compared with the rest of the world, and that our postal system is still reliable and safe and usually fast.
By now, your eyes are glazing over, and so we’ll end this topic. The next entry is probably going to be about grading. But we can tell you now, in our own view (not shared by many, we admit), pricing is not directly related to a card’s condition. Of course there is a connection, but a very scarce and in-demand card can get away with having a lower grade, and anyway it’s totally up to the buyer whether they want the card or not. We hope you do want it!