Your e-Pack Trash is My Treasure

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Earlier this month, blogger Kin Kinsley asked the pointed question “Is Upper Deck e-Pack Killing Card values?” It is a great article worth reading, and much of my article here draws from the research Kin conducted earlier. In summary, the droves of collectors opening “virtual packs” of 2015-16 Upper Deck Series One and Series Two at the e-Pack website, coupled with the convenience of physical inserts already being housed at Check Out My Cards, has led to a glut of inserts listed on the COMC website for dirt cheap.

This is either awful or awesome, depending on your point of view. If you are someone who sells hockey cards, this is terrible because card collectors who might not normally sell cards can easily sell off their e-Pack inserts on COMC with just a few clicks of a mouse, increasing your competition tenfold.

Or even a hundredfold. A 2014-15 Upper Deck Canvas insert card of Sidney Crosby may sell for $5 or $10. But due to e-Pack and COMC, the 2015-16 Upper Deck Canvas insert card of Sidney Crosby is currently selling for 42 cents. Cents! Making back your money on a box of cards is an improbable task; with e-Pack, it is all but impossible. With one hundred or more people selling the same card — some cards have over 300 sellers — the prices usually hover just a few cents over COMC’s 25-cent minimum price.

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However, if you are a buyer, this is an absolute feeding frenzy; sort of like a great white shark swimming into a school of small, delectable fish. I recently placed an order on COMC, and was able to finish the entire 110-card 2015-16 Upper Deck Portraits insert set, with most of the cards costing a scant 29 cents each. Some were around 40 or 50 cents, while the Connor McDavid Portraits card was a whopping $2.

I also got most of the Young Guns that I needed for less than a buck each. Usually, even the worst Young Guns cards — or “Scrub Guns” as I call them — can sell for between $1 and $3 during the year of their release before being relegated to discount bins. But most Young Guns from this year were listed on COMC for around 60 cents.

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Likewise, the Silver Foil parallels, that you get by combining 10 copies of a “virtual” base card, are also selling for next-to-nothing. An e-Pack of Upper Deck Series One or Series Two costs $4 and has eight cards — seven “virtual” base cards and one physical insert card. That averages to 50 cents per card, meaning that it costs $5 worth of cards to combine 10 of the same base card into a Silver Foil parallel. But you really can’t do much with duplicate virtual base cards; either look at them on your phone, or combine them into a physical card. A lot of e-Pack buyers are doing the latter, driving down price of the Silver Foil parallels to between 30 and 35 cents each. Think about that for a moment; that card that cost you $5 to “make” can now be sold for 35 cents.

Ironically, it costs more to buy an actual, physical 2015-16 Upper Deck base card than the Silver Foil parallel version of the card, since physical base cards would need to be purchased at a store, then shipped to COMC — thus increasing the cost — while the Silver Foil parallels are already at COMC, ready to be purchased.

So, how is e-Pack going to affect hockey card sales on the secondary market?

First, I don’t see anyone bothering with buying Upper Deck Series One or Two inserts, including most Young Guns, at a shop or a show anymore. And why would they? A dealer might want $3 for an Alex Ovechkin Portraits card. That’s a fair price, but if you are building the entire set like I did, why not just get it for 1/10 of that price, along with all the other cards you need at COMC? I honestly do not see myself trying to track down Young Guns or other Upper Deck Series One or Series Two inserts at a shop, show or even eBay. My new secret hope is that eventually every Upper Deck hockey set has an e-Pack version, which would make acquiring all of the rookies or inserts cheap and easy.

Even the e-Pack-only insert sets, Instant Impressions and Code to Greatness, are selling for about 50 cents per card. Think about it; you can only get these cards in e-Packs, but because so many are pulling these and then selling them without the hassle of having to pack and ship them, the price is down to almost nothing.

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Next, I can see the decline of physical box and case sales. Back during the 2006-07 season, I bought a full case of Upper Deck Series Two. I did get all of the Young Guns in that set and then some – including two extra copies of Evgeni Malkin’s Young Gun, woot! — along with a bunch of inserts I really did not want. Oh, and a ton of base cards. I probably made seven complete base sets, six which I sold for $10 each, and still had hundreds of doubles left over. It also took me forever to open and sort those cards; I like the opening, but hate the sorting. Doubles just take up room, and selling off my extra sets and trading or selling the inserts was a total time suck.

Now, with e-Pack, one could open a case, have all of the cards automatically sorted, have all of the hits shipped to them — or listed on COMC — while combining multiple copies of base cards into parallels that can then be shipped or sold. A retail pack of UD Series One or Series Two costs $3, while a hobby pack costs between $3 and $4. An e-Pack of the same cards costs $4. You might not make a lot of money off of e-Pack cards, but you save time, don’t have to ship them, and don’t have to sort or store them. Plus, the  base cards can be upgraded.

This doesn’t mean that Upper Deck cards will go totally virtual. The company stated when the platform launched that e-Pack is just a “version” of their packs, just like most sets have hobby packs and retail packs. But increasing the amount of e-Pack sets is an alluring proposition for them to consider, since they are printing only 10% of the cards they’d normally put into packs, shipping them all to one place and making 100% of the pack sales — minus the royalties to the NHL and NHLPA, of course.

Overall, e-Pack has made selling easy, reduced the amount of unwanted base cards and has made completing this year’s Upper Deck Series One and Two so much cheaper. But it has also, in effect, killed the secondary market for all but the most high-end of Young Guns and inserts. It should be interesting to see if Upper Deck addresses this, and what direction they take the e-Pack platform, during the 2016-17 season. 

Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

14 thoughts on “Your e-Pack Trash is My Treasure”

  1. I’m with you on this Sal! I don’t do a lot of selling, so I’m not bothered by what my cards are “worth”, but am more pleased that I can pick up new cards so cheap. I built the entire 90-card base Series 1 Canvas insert for like $30, and it was even a little less when you consider that COMC gives you a $5 credit when you ship 100 cards from inventory. I’m in the process of grabbing all the Series 2 Canvas cards now to finish it off, and with the exception of guys like Ovechkin and Jagr (which are still cheap), I’ve paid just 29 cents per card so far.

  2. I posed the exact same question but it was pretty rhetorical in nature because the answer is a resounding yes. Plus the addition of foil parallels etc just floods the market that much more with cardboard (virtual and real) which in many ways I find a bit of a shame but the only value a card truly has is what one person is willing to pay to get it so I guess in the end it’s all relative..

  3. Wow, that’s jaw dropping! I hadn’t heard of this happening, and I hadn’t put much thought into the product past the week that the e-card site went up.

    I was reading an article this week about how little money musicians are making on actual song and album sales due to streaming sites (pandora, spotify, even youtube), and while they use to make $1 per record back in the day, they’re now making fractions of a cent! Well, music has become more disposable; we listen until we don’t want to anymore and then the song is forgotten by being replaced with the hot new thing. Cards could be headed the same direction where only a little bit are worth holding onto a physical copy.

    1. Thats a great and sad way of putting it.

      A lot of these ‘NHL Stars’ in reality play 45 games then swing a hammer for 20 years.

  4. I think one point I should have made in my article, but did not is how it appears that more people are dumping off the inserts than trying to build the insert sets. That is a bit surprising, especially since physical cards can be easily traded via e-Pack.

    Then again, I don’t know how many e-Pack users there are, and I don’t know how many are trading the inserts and trying to build the insert sets versus those who are “dumping off” the inserts for 30 to 50 cents. Maybe most e-Pack users are only interested in the very best Young Guns, and nothing else.

  5. Hi,
    I think that all points brought here are very valid… But I personally think that this will kill the hobby and the brick and mortar stores. What about the joy of meeting with other real people and discuss trade and check the conditions of the cards? What about the wait to find the card you want going into shows and stores and really searching for them? Now, you can have everything fast and easy in a few click. Having things not easy was part of old school hobby which made its greatness, which I think will be missed very soon. Now it’s all about the money, not the hobby.

    Maybe a way to avoid that is to have exclusive physical pack’s inserts and special cards. This way, people would still want to buy and open real physical packs… and scarcity of cards will be back.

    1. I really agree. This comment in particular highlights how similar this process of making cards available electronically is to the switch in music from CDs to mp3s. When I was younger I loved going to “record stores” and browsing the shelves, trying to hunt down hard-to-find albums, singles, British imports, or live bootlegs, and then trading/sharing the discs with friends. It used to be a real challenge to find some artists/discs, and the hunt was as much a part of the fun as was the actual listening to the music. Today, anyone can download (legally or illegally) an artist’s entire catalogue (say, every Beatles or Radiohead song) in a matter of minutes. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I do love that I can now get access to recordings that I would never have had access to in stores, but some of the fun is gone.
      Sure, I sound like an old man complaining about new technology, but part of the fun of collecting cards, for me anyway, was the hunt: saving up some money, making the trek to the store, opening the packs, and trading with friends: not just having the final product in my possession.

      1. The comparison of the cards business and music industry is so good and true! In the cards business, of course Upper Deck will save a whole lot of money not to have to print cards, pack them and distribute them. They will do those tasks in a way smaller scale. But for the consumer, as already observed and well described earlier, the online business is saturated by the cards due to the ease of internet trade. I think it will have the same effect as the cards of the ’90 and the values will go down due to saturation of the market. At least for the low and medium grade product. High end product might be safe for now.

      2. I’m old enough to remember going to music stores, or to “used CD” stores and trying to track down rare, out-of-print stuff. That was fun.

      3. Very well said. This is why im interested in hockey cards again! Nostalgia. Send it to online for comp nerds to exploit???? GREAT!

  6. I’ve been in the hobby for a while and am LOVING Upper Deck’s e-cards. As a hockey fan in Cincinnati I don’t have an opportunity to trade or do much with inserts or Young Guns that I don’t collect. The online trading platform allows me to move cards for players that I care about (CBJ). For this reason alone I hope the platform grows and adds more products in the coming years.

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