Friday, March 11, 2022


 I have a sort of weird, low-key, bias against gambling and the promoting of gambling. 

A new "social club" for poker is opening in the old Pilot Butte Drive-in location, at least in the evenings. Personally, I think this is a bad idea. First of all, I don't think these sorts of things usually work. Inevitably, one crowd drives out another crowd. It's not like an "exclusive" club, which gets its money upfront. (I have other objections to that kind of thing...along the lines of Groucho Marx.) 

I don't think I had any objections to gambling when I was younger. I probably bought into the idea that it was a "victimless crime." 

Nowadays it's neither a crime, nor I submit, victimless. 

This bias comes from my experiences with speculation. I saw divorces, friends becoming enemies, businesses going bankrupt, and otherwise ethical people doing ethically dubious things.

I hadn't been in business long before I realized that selling things had a lot of grey areas. There were lots of decisions that had nothing to do with "legal," but did have aspects of right and wrong. 

I'm going to outright say something that some of you may not agree with: The price of something, the profit margin there-in, is not an ethical situation for one simple reason--the buyer has a choice. He can choose not to buy. 

Of course, going back to grey, there are a million variations, some of which are more right than others. I've never been able to go to the killer price, even when I could have, because it didn't feel right. But other times, I've had to go to much higher prices because of the situation. Like I said, it's complicated. 

Speculation is a bit different. This is where you try to buy something early at a low price in hopes that it will increase in price, hold onto it, sell it later, thereby giving you a higher profit. It's very exciting when that happens. It's a "win," with all the feelings that entails. It's the exact same feeling you get when you win a game, or...a poker hand. 

Except sometimes it doesn't happen.

Nothing wrong with trying to buy at a lower price so that you have the product in stock when it increases in price if your goal is to have inventory to sell. But if your goal is to make a killer profit, that becomes something different. 

It's addicting. Simple as that. That winning feeling is something you want to recreate, over and over again. You see that reaction on the Antiques Roadshow. People whoop and holler and break into tears.

My guess is those same people probably start haunting antique shops. One of the favorite things I say at the store is "Antiques Roadshow has a lot to answer for..." 

I struggled with the speculators for years. In the eyes of the speculators I was the good guy, then the bad guy, then the good guy, and then the bad guy. 

Finally, I opted out. I decided that I would only buy at wholesale prices and sell at retail prices. I would only buy from distributors and wholesalers. I stopped buying off the street. If I sold out and could no longer get the product at wholesale, so be it. I eliminated sports cards altogether.

I moved away from selling product for its "speculator" value and oriented toward selling things that had their own intrinsic value. I sold books and comics for the purposes of reading entertainment, Magic and Pokemon cards for the purposes of playing the game, toys for the purposes of playing.

Even so, I couldn't get completely away from speculations. Comics and game cards and most everything else I sell have "collector" status, which is one step away from speculation. However, ever since the speculative markets for cards and comics collapsed in the 1990s, it hasn't been much of a problem.

I did allow myself to raise prices on comics and cards if there was a supply and demand issue, but I would warn people to watch out, and I stayed at normal retail in 95% of the time. Sometimes the market simply demands that I carry something, and I simply can't carry that something without charging a little more. The general idea is to go to a high enough price to discourage the speculators, but low enough that the true fan can still afford it.

But even when I did have to make those decisions, I tried to do it in the most ethical way possible. For instance, if there was a rare "Spider-man" comic, I would usually sell it for the lowest possible price to the customer who bought lots of Spider-man comics already. 

If something shot up in price, I'd usually choose to sell it for half the going price. I wasn't out to make a killing, I was trying to find the best way to reward my best customers. 

All that has changed in the last couple years. To my great surprise, rampant speculation is back. For the most part, we have ignored it. I so ingrained my distaste for speculation in comics into Sabrina that she has taken it to heart. Yet we are constantly confronted with dilemmas, comics that are rare that are going for huge prices elsewhere. Do will sell that comic to a stranger so he can sell it for 10 times that much online? Arrggghhh. 

This week, we received a comic that was drastically rationed to the market. It's currently selling for $195 online. The retail price is $25. What do we do?

I'm thinking we might do a raffle and donate the proceeds to charity. But that would require a whole lot of set-up and could go terribly wrong. 

What do we do?

I hate that we even have to make a decision. The people who created that comic could have easily allowed us to order what the market allowed. It's gambling, that's all it is, and no one wins in the end.

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