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Thursday, September 06, 2012

And now for something completely different... FREE stamps!

When you're a long-time stamp collector, it's almost inevitable that there occasionally are stamps "left over." Some are valuable and can be sold on places like eBay; some have little worth or are defective... personally, I prefer to give those to artists who create interesting scrapbook art or stationery people can enjoy; that way awareness of "old stamps" is spread beyond the existing stamp collector community.

One of my current free listings: US Scott 185
Catalogue value $17.50 (click on image)
Finally, there are some some stamps that are just "somewhere in the middle." Maybe they are in sound condition and list for a couple of dollars in catalogue value, or perhaps they have a catalogue value of $7 but a minor defect or uninteresting cancel. What to do, with these stamps?

For over ten years, I've just been putting them aside in glassines marked "better," saving them for some day where I might have a suitable answer.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine sent me a link to a then new website called "Listia" and said "this is pretty cool." Now, I'm not the kind of person who finds something "new" and immediately starts to tell everyone who's willing to listen that it's "the greatest thing EVER," until I've actually determined that it really IS something worthwhile that other people will enjoy. Hence, I learned about this web site two years ago, but I have chosen not to write about it till now... I just have an "issue" about not recommending things that are ill-conceived and turn out to be a waste of time.

So what exactly IS this "Listia?" Well, it's an auction site somewhat in the style of eBay, except it's about giving away things for FREE. Yes, I said "free," and that includes free stamps.

Now, most of us have been taught that there is "no such thing as a free lunch," and when something is supposedly free, there's usually "a catch."

In this case-- and this is based on having actually used the site for a while, not just "promises in a site description"-- the "catches" are fairly minor. For one (which is pretty unavoidable if you're using the Internet!) you have to register and create an account. Second, where as this genuinely IS a site about "free stuff," it basically operates as an "Exchange and Barter" venue, in the sense that you participate in auctions using the site's "currency," or "credits."

Another free stamp: Scott US E6 used, CV $10.00 (click on image)
Aside from the initial credits you earn simply for signing up, you get more credits by offering things in auctions and having others bid on your free item with their credits.

Here's how it might work: You register on the site. Maybe you list 10 different stamps you wouldn't mind parting with-- exchanging, basically. There are NO fees to do so. Site users can then "bid" on your stamps with "credits."  After a week, your auctions end, and perhaps you have earned 5000 credits (just an example). Then you can turn around and use your credits to bid on stamps you want.

To my way of thinking, this is much better than exchanging stamps 1-on-1 where you are dependent on the other person actually having the material you want... instead, you can just save up your credits and use them to bid for any number of other people's stamps that might interest you.

For those who don't have the patience to list items, you can buy credits to use to place your bids-- but it's totally not necessary, in order to use the site. It can be honestly said that the site can be used completely FREE-- no cash or money needed to be an active participant.

Some might ask why the bother with a "credit" system. The credit system is necessary in order to maintain an active community and a ongoing stream of these listings for free items. After all, if everything was just free-- with NO requirements or strings attached-- a bunch of people would descend on the site like vultures and make a full-time habit of just grabbing everything and returning nothing to the site. Which would also mean that the site would have long since gone away, as the supply of free stuff would dry up thanks to greedy "freebie seekers."

Another free stamp: US Scott 399 used, CV $10.00 (click on image)
Now, I should add that this is not specifically a "stamp" site, nor even a "collectibles" site. Like an eBay, it's pretty much an "everything" site. For example, I have listed old stamps, coins and bank notes which has earned me "credits" I am planning to use to "buy" DVD movies. You can also find clothing, home furnishings, electronics and more.

The reason I am writing about this today is that I am hoping to be part of a move to make the "stamps" category a larger and more vibrant part of the Listia community... Why? Because it really does offer the potential to develop into a viable online "stamp exchange" forum. I have been watching Listia for a couple of years, and feel confident that it is not a "flash in the pan" that's going to go away as quickly as it came. In other words, it's "established" enough to be something I feel comfortable talking about.

There are a number of reasons I am recommending this site to the stamp collector community.

For one, it's free. And we all like free. In these days of rising seller fees on many sites, there are fewer and fewer options for collectors to trade their low-to-medium value stamps without having to hand over the majority of the value to someone else in fees.

Second, a free site takes us "back to basics." Many people got involved in "swapping stamps" because it was a FUN way to add to a collection. This site offers a nice platform for an online stamp "swap meet."

Third, it's free, part 2. As collectors, we seem to have increasingly moved towards a "money based" system for building our collections. More and more collectors just BUY stamps, rather than belonging to a shrinking number of stamp clubs and trading. What if we had a place to trade, that was based on popularity, demand and supply... rather than "dollars and cents?"

A free US Stamp: Scott no. 234, CV $9.50 (click on image)
Fourth... it's FUN! It's still possible to experience the thrill of the hunt and finding something you really need for your collection... and it's still possible to experience the thrill (as the person having something up for auction) of a bunch of people getting into "heated competition" to get a stamp they really want... and yet no money changes hands!

Fifth, it's a good venue for those who don't have a lot of money-- because you can still trade online, but it doesn't have to involve money.

With that said, I'd like to invite readers of this blog to go to the Listia site and become members. It doesn't cost anything. List a few stamps you wouldn't mind parting with and see what happens. That also doesn't cost anything-- and stamps are very popular with existing members. Become part of the community, and help build the stamps area as a trading community for stamp collectors around the world! You can visit my profile page and check out that I really have been a member for several years. Have a look at my current listings for stamps, which really and truly are free... just sign up and bid. A number of current items are pictured throughout this blog post.

Bottom line: I'm just suggesting this as part of an effort to put the fun back in stamp collecting. The only thing I stand to "gain" getting more people involved in something that could become a potentially neat stamp trading site. Give it a go!

Last word: I know there are a few skeptics out there who are thinking: "How can the site even exist if it doesn't make money?" Good question. As I said, they DO sell "credits," the internal "currency" of the web community. They also bank on the difference between the "open market rate" of credits as items trade between "buyers" and "sellers" vs. the somewhat higher cash rate for credits charged for items offered the Listia "Rewards Store."

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