Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Are baseball card packs more ex$pensive then they were when you were a kid?

Yes of course.

2013 Topps #197 Tyler Cloyd (is he really higher priced then a 1979 Mike Schmidt?)

Well this is certainly the assumption put forth my many a collector when they review Topps 2013. A reviewer may love or hate the design, the inserts, the checklist or whatever - regardles a frequent complaint is that collecting cards and builing complete sets used to be a cheaper hobby.

I wondered if this could be proven out.

The first thing I did was track down the price point of several different sets of Topps cards.  It doesn't take a math whis to figure out that a 20 cent pack in 1979 is cheaper then a the 2013 pack that goes for $1.99.

The tricky part is converting that 20 cents from 1979 into something meaningful today. I went to an Inflation Calculator created by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics - If you think there calculator is a bunch of mularkey (which it may be)  then move on or find another conversion algorithm.

What I did with the calculator is try and figure out how much a dollar in a certain year would be worth today.

That is the most complicated part of the table below:

YearPack CostCardsper 12 cardsPer 660 Cards$1 =?  In 2012 Price Adj 12 CardsPrice Adj 660 cardsYear

How does this work?

The first 5 columns are all pretty simple. Packs varied a bit in the number of cards per pack so in column 4 we have calculated the price for a 12 card pack. The following column is the price to build a 660 card set.  I realize that sets vary widely in number of cards from year to year.  I used the contemporary numbers as an attempt to maintain some equilibrium in size. 

The Red column is the conversion number.  This tells me how much a dollar from a certain year would buy in 2012 dollars.  A dollar in 1979 is the equivalent of $3.16 today conversely a 2013 dollar is worth roughly 1/3 of a 1979 dollar.  This means you have to take the price of a product purchased in 1979 and multiply it by 3.16 to figure out what you would be paying for that item today - for a 12 card pack of 1979 Topps that would be 63 cents today.   

There you have it. 

The 12 card pack you bought in 1979 cost you 63 cents in 2013 Dollars vs the pack you picked up at Target over the weekend which went for $2.  So yes you are paying 3 times as much for a pack of cards as you were 34 years ago.  Topps cards are far exceeding the rate of inflation since then. 


The big jump came, oddly, in 1994.  The pack price jumped a dime, but the cards per pack went down 5 cards from 15 to 10 - that is a 33% drop. This is from my missing years in collecting, but I imagine 2 factors were in play 1) competition from UD to make innovative cards drove up the price as relics and autograph cards made there way into Topps. 2) The 1994 MLB strike may have led to some sort increased compensation for the MLBPA which historically got a lot of their funding from licensing of items like trading cards and apparel.    

It turns out since the cost for a pack of cards hasn't gone up since 2005 the cost relative to inflation has actually gone down over the last decade - and significantly down from the 2005 peak.

- Somebody please check my math - I haven't done word problems since 4th grade so this could all be hooey. 
- 2013 and 2012 have the same inflation ratio because the BoL&S only does the calculations ever other month and there hasn't been an update for the current year.  
- As far as building sets - for the economics to work out you would have to have darn good collation out of retail packs or have a few friends to trade with.      
- some folks may note that today's 12 card pack may perhaps contain 3 or 4 inserts.  I factored that into the calculations as part of a theoretical world where you could trade your insert cards for base cards. This of course in the far fetched world that is more similar to 1979 when you had a neighbor you could trade with.
- If you really give a damn about the cheapest way to get the 2013 Topps Set is to wait 10 months and pick up the factory set for about 1/2 the price of what a retail box goes for today - but what is the fun in that?

Pack Prices 1997- present Baseballcardpedia
Pack Prices 1979-1995 - ebay (shown on retail boxes)
Pack Price 1972 my memory - Could be wrong on this one.

Bureau of Labor Inflation Calculator


P-town Tom said...

It's been a long day at the ol' salt mines, so I could be wrong here, bu I think your "Per 660 Cards" column is off.

For example, I have $158.40 as the price for 660 cards in 2005.

Take 660 divided by the # of cards per pack, then multiply that by the price of a pack.

Once those numbers are corrected, you'll have to adjust the "Price Adj 660 Cards" column.

I like the study! But, it makes me wish I had a time machine.

Laurens said...

1994 was the first year Topps went with premium glossy card stock in their flagship set.

Just a couple of years before, Topps switched to a cleaner, white card stock, which was a change in the way they made their flagship sets.

deal said...

P-Town Tom - I tried running that and got the same numbers. The Price Adj 660 cards is simply the per 660 cards * inflation factor.

Do you think I have the per 660 incorrect?

For 2005 I have 10 cards for $2 or 20 cents a card * 660 = $132

132 * 1.18 = 155.76

Let me know what you think.

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