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.
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.
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.
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. ■