Jackson items are hot -- for now

The Associated PressJune 29, 2009 

  • Many Michael Jackson collectibles are being sold on eBay and other online commerce sites. Here are a few tips from the Better Business Bureau and dealers in the memorabilia industry:

    HOW UNIQUE? Unless an item is truly rare, its market value may be minimal. Research the cost of comparable items on the market before agreeing to a price.

    CONFIRM AUTHENTICITY: Autographs can be verified by a third party, including memorabilia dealers who are members of the nonprofit Universal Autograph Collectors Club. For other items, the collector should feel free to ask questions about the item, including how the seller came to own it. If the seller can't answer simple questions, then walk away.

    PAY WITH PLASTIC: Consumers should always buy with a credit card if they're shopping online. If the seller turns out to be fraudulent, then the consumer can dispute the charge with the credit card company.

    BUY FROM REPUTABLE SELLERS: When shopping online, collectors should look for the Better Business Bureau's seal on Web sites and click on the seal to confirm its legitimacy. If there isn't a BBB seal on the site, check a company out at www.bbb.org.

    READ CAREFULLY: Don't be fooled by empty advertising claims. Just because the seller claims a commemorative item is a limited edition doesn't mean that there weren't millions made. If it's being widely advertised, it's probably too common to actually gain much value over the years.

    WANNA SELL? THINK TWICE: Remember that the value an item holds for you might far outweigh the price you can get for it on the resale market.

— Deb Elliott is saddened by Michael Jackson's sudden death, but she's also a little wealthier because of it.

The response was underwhelming earlier this month when the Volant, Pa., resident tried to auction a pair of 1980s Jackson dolls for a starting price of $9.95 apiece on eBay Inc. She turned to the e-commerce site after six months of Craigslist postings drew little interest.

"I would have been happy if they sold for $20," said Elliott, a 55-year-old homemaker.

But within minutes of Jackson's death Thursday, eBay bids started coming in. A doll depicting Jackson at the American Music Awards fetched $265 after 21 bids. A Grammy Awards Jackson doll sold for $227.50 on Friday.

"This was definitely a cause for mixed emotions," Elliott said. "I finally got rid of the dolls, but now Michael is gone, too."

The singer's death triggered a surge in the Jackson collectibles market Friday, including newly minted items such as T-shirts hawked online with "R.I.P." and "June 25, 2009" alongside his image. Less than 24 hours after his death, an Internet search for Jackson items turned up more than 24,000 offerings from auctions on several sites and fixed-price "buy-it-now" sales.

In addition to surging volume, eBay reported the average selling price for Jackson items jumped 31 percent on Thursday from daily averages last week. For anyone selling now, there's some uncertainty: Can you get a better price by waiting? And if you're a buyer, should you delay until the frenzy subsides?

"People are telling me I should've held out, maybe they'd be worth even more in a week, month or year from now," Elliott said.

Another question for collectibles marketers is whether the damage Jackson's reputation suffered from his eccentricities and late-career pedophilia allegations will erode the value of memorabilia once the shock of his death passes. Or, like Elvis, who had his share of late-life troubles, will the collectibles hold value because the power of the legend prevails?

"Is he Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, or is he Mike Tyson?" said Jim Lentz, chief operating officer of American Royal Arts, a Boca Raton, Fla., memorabilia dealer that holds publishing rights with a firm overseeing commercial use of Presley-related items. "Does the controversy get downplayed, and does his career get played up, or do people continue to hold the strangeness and rumor against him?"

The singer struggled financially following his 2003 arrest on charges that he molested a 13-year-old boy. A jury acquitted him.

Jackson's problems and death might help the marketing of some of his memorabilia.

"Notoriety might be great for say, the autograph market," said Martin Brochstein, senior vice president at the New York-based Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association. "He's not signing any more, to put it bluntly.

"But in terms of licensed merchandise bearing his likeness, the notoriety is not necessarily such a good thing."

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