Let's talk bulk. Specifically, let's look at the history of bulk, the recent price change, and what can be expected in the future.
Bulk hasn't always been a hot commodity. In fact, the regular market for it didn't come into play strongly until the late 2000s. While there were buyers, usually at rates mirroring Magic the Gathering, the proper market for it was isolated to card stores and retail outlets with high traffic. When large companies started purchasing bulk to roll out bundles, it was almost exclusively through buy lists at 0.5-1 cent each. As these entities moved into the tournament scene and found an increasingly strong foothold through outlets like eBay and Amazon, the prices slowly crept to 3 cents per NM-M C/UC. This was the approximate rate with minor fluctuation until 2015.
Between 2015 and early 2017, the explosive growth of Pokemon caused bulk prices to climb. 4-5 cents became the norm, then 6 cents, then 7 cents. It was during this time period that entire stores became built around the movement of bulk from the playerbase into bundles online. These sales were meeting the demands of an influx of uneducated consumers who sought cards for nostalgic purposes but had no concept of what was and was not valuable. Bulk is a market that leverages general consumer ignorance for thin margins but high volume.
So why is bulk 3 cents now?
A few things happened during the price climb. First, bulk-centric businesses dominated the market and forced out most small businesses that could not consistently obtain bulk due to prohibitive pricing or lack of a following. This was particularly true in YouTube and FaceBook communities. The increase in demand attracted hundreds of flippers and small businesses but only a select few managed to maintain the algorithmic momentum necessary to catch the eyes of eBay and Amazon customers.
Second, large bulk buyers began to increase the amount of bulk they keep on hand. Where the largest buyers previously limited their on hand bulk to a few hundred thousand at any one time, the bulk boom saw people purchasing millions of commons and uncommons in expectation of continued traffic.
While bulk is still consistently selling, it is not magical. It is beholden to market patterns like anything else and has its own tempo. Sales in the late summer months tend to lag as people come off of summer spending and prepare for the holidays. Where singles and tournament-driven sales chug on because of the demands of the meta, bulk is a good exclusively marketed to common consumers who are not encouraged to purchase by any release-based factors.
As sales have slowed, bulk buyers have curbed their intake to adjust. The increase in on-hand quantities means most large buyers can supply their sales while market expectations adjust to a lower price. 7 cents was unsustainable. We know that the uptick in "bulk for boxes" programs came from a desperation to increase margins. Though processing boxes was more labor-intensive, it came with enough profit to justify the exchange relative to the high-cost alternate of cash purchases. In hindsight, these programs were likely a warning sign that bulk was going to dip in price.
Will bulk be worth more in the future?
Almost certainly. While we can't expect 7 cents a card any time soon, it seems that bulk will most likely recover some ground when the holidays hit and bulk movers begin dipping into their inventory heavily. At worst, the value of bulk will remain the same. Now is a bad time to sell or trade bulk. It is wise to hold at this point in time. And if you're feeling adventurous, you may even invest in some bulk yourself. If bulk increases to 4 cents over the holidays, you might manage a 33% return in just a few short months. And that's a prospect worth considering.
'til next time,