Pokénomics – a fun play on words with a deeper meaning into the investing side of Pokémon. Today we take a deep dive into the world of Jake and Raffi – two Pokémon enthusiasts who have taken it upon themselves to analyse the Pokémon Trading Card Game market and share their insights via YouTube.
Firstly, congratulations on your rapid ascension to over 1,000 subscribers – an incredible feat in just over 3 months! Please do forgive us if these questions have already been answered in some of your videos. Did you ever anticipate that your channel would be so well received?
I [Jake] was optimistic that we would grow pretty fast, although not necessarily quite this fast. After doing research on how to build a niche channel on YouTube I thought conservatively we could get to 1k subscribers in about 6 months with hard work. I believed there was a significant hunger for more high quality Pokémon investing and finance type videos in the community and that Raffi and I could provide content that would be unique and genuinely useful to many people. We noticed that all of the big finance Pokémon channels were made by people who had businesses in Pokémon.
As collectors and lovers of the cards we felt like we could bring trustworthy investing/collecting knowledge to the community without the conflict of interest that stems from YouTubers using their platform to sell their cards to their audience.
Taking everyone back to the start, for those readers who may not have seen your earliest videos, could you share with us your backgrounds and why you were drawn into collecting and investing in Pokémon cards?
Both Raffi and I started collecting as kids. I got back into collecting as an adult in late 2017 after finding my old Pokémon card binder at my mother’s house. I immediately felt so happy when I found the cards and after staring at them for hours, decided it would be fun to look up the current values of the cards. To my amazement, a number of them were quite valuable which got me interested in potentially getting into buying and selling cards to build a large collection. When I discovered YouTube videos from smpratte and Rudy of Alpha Investments, I was introduced more fully to the world of adult collecting/investing and realised I could potentially make a lot of money and certainly have a lot of fun trying to build a large collection. I have always loved investing and been a serial hobbyist. I grew up around a financial investor father who collected herend porcelain and fine art all my life. So combining my interest in investing, finance, and entrepreneurship with my love for Pokémon was a perfect fit for me. I am also a psychotherapist in my day job which I believe gives me some insight into human behaviour. I think that experience has been valuable for me in understanding and predicting trends within the Pokémon card market as well as improving my communication skills and ability to talk to my audience in a helpful way.
What advice would you give to new collectors who are just starting out in the hobby? Could you also provide any insight to people who may be looking to invest in Pokémon cards?
First of all, I am so happy that you are starting your journey in this hobby, the more people the better as far as I am concerned!
If you are looking to make prudent financial decisions with your money, it is important to know that after a two year period of relatively very calm stable growth in the Pokémon card market, over the past 6 months the market has seen explosive growth and been very erratic. Even for the more experienced Pokémon collectors it is very difficult to predict what the market will do next, so for a new person who is trying to figure out what to buy it can be daunting and overwhelming, so I would advise people to be patient and conservative with their purchases initially. Set goals, figure out your basic buying strategies and focus on learning as much as you can about the price history of the market and the cards you are interested in before buying anything. I have videos on my channel dedicated to explaining these steps more clearly. If you don’t yet know what you want to collect, I think starting with the newest modern set and opening packs for the first time as an adult again is a fun affordable way to start collecting. Then I would suggest studying the specific set or card that you are most interested in owning. If you want to hedge your risk buying ungraded, unlimited or Japanese versions of your favourite childhood cards for less money is another great way to start getting back into the hobby with less exposure to potential price retraces.
What are the top 3 sets or subsets that you would recommend investing into right now?
If you have the money, I think base set 1st edition, or any WOTC (Wizards of the Coast) 1st edition holo cards in high grades or in sealed product form, are your safest SET card investment vehicles hands down! They have a nice combination of sky-high popularity with pretty decent rarity and scarcity, particularly certain lower population PSA 10’s. If that is out of your budget, some of the pre TCG sets, Carddass, Topsun, Bandai, and early Japanese sets like Vending Series, or VS series, Fan Club promos, PLAY promos or Masaki promos may have some interesting upside in the long run due to rarity and scarcity and in some cases difficulty to grade, but very likely will never reach the popularity of early WOTC. I think E-series holo’s and Gold Star cards from the early Nintendo ex era in high grades are the next best options behind the earlier WOTC cards. The reality is sometimes it is worth saving your money up and or buying cards to flip for profit until you can afford the higher end items if you are truly looking for the safest investments over a long period of time like 5-20 years.
In your first YouTube video you reference a great infographic that highlights Pokémon’s franchise dominance globally – with a massive $10.25B grossed from trading cards. In your own opinions, why has The Pokémon Company managed to get their trading card element of the franchise correct – fractionally behind Yu-Gi-Oh at $11.161B and ahead of other major TCGs such as Dragonball ($961M) or Magic ($5.2B as of 2016 Hasbro reports)?
I think the “Gotta catch ‘Em all” slogan, the amazing cute, and soulful unique art styles and the unbelievable branding around catching and creating bonds of friendship with your Pokémon, create strong emotional connections to their favourite Pokémon in kids. This emotional connection is very powerful and lasts into adulthood in many cases. I think the fact that this branding exists across so many popular Pokémon products and video games within the Pokémon franchise reinforces the message and funnels more people over time into collecting the cards as well.
Sticking with the comparison of Pokémon and other trading card collectables, have you seen any trends or patterns that the Pokémon TCG is following that other, older and more established collectables – such as sports cards have traversed upon?
Pokémon will have the same challenge that sports cards and all of the other TCG’s have which is how to stay relevant and continue to produce, better and more exciting product. I think Pokémon’s formula is very effective as is but there will always be a hunger for rarer, more colourful, more exciting chase cards. Sports has done this by adding manufactured rarity in the form of 1 of 1 autographed rookie patches for example and making premium packs selling for thousands of dollars. It will be interesting to see if Pokémon ever creates more premium expensive product. Even MTG has started heading more in that direction. Similarly, Pokémon added full arts and secret rares in an effort to excite the fan base. I don’t think Pokémon will change its formula significantly again any time soon as the modern product is selling extremely well, but if there is a dip in popularity we may see some bigger changes in the future.
Where do you see the Pokémon TCG collectable and investment market being in 5 years?
Hopefully in another bubble! But in all seriousness if I was forced to wildly speculate I think Pokémon is here for the long run and could see big growth again when more parents in their thirties rediscover Pokémon and start to collect again with their kids. As long as the Pokémon company continues making better and better games and card products that keep funnelling new adults and young adults into the card world the sky is the limit for this hobby.
Have you noticed any emerging threats or threats already in the markets that could affect investing in the TCG?
There is nothing right now that I see permanently damaging the market, but I do worry about the amount of speculators on modern in particular. When a mass produced item that can be easily reprinted at any time is being bought in mass as an investment by many people all at once it hasn’t always worked out so well for other hobbies IE:1990’s comics and sports cards.
Sticking with potential threats in the market – what are your opinions on record high auctions over the last 3 months. Examples being the infamous T17 – Typhlosion #17 from Neo Genesis and the Skyridge Charizard – jumping from $2,700 in January 2020 to a massive $8,000 in May and July 2020. Do you think threats like shill bidding are present in these record high sales?
I think having a healthy fear of shill bidding is important as I do see cards that were bought for new record prices quickly get relisted on eBay without explanation somewhat frequently, at least 10-20 high-end items a month. However, we have seen massive rises across almost all collecting categories in this hobby, and many sales confirming new or close to record high prices that simply can’t all be ignored or explained away by the notion of shill bidding. With that being said, shill bidding can definitely play a part in trying to artificially hold prices up, so something that we should all be on the lookout for, although most of it goes on without being noticed. With higher prices, more money and more people in the hobby we will see more attempts at market manipulation, this is true for any collectable market.
Do you think large Pokémon YouTubers (or PokéTubers) can have an effect or influence on inflated card prices?
Unfortunately I do, I think there are so many new people in the hobby right now that are looking to PokeTubers as experts to help guide their spending. I believe that some YouTubers are using this to their benefit and others are more uncomfortable with it and feel compelled to teach and educate, and explain that nobody has a crystal ball in this hobby. Many Pokémon YouTubers have their own extensive and valuable collections and or are Pokémon businesses built on selling cards to their subscribers. This is not necessarily a problem but can turn into a conflict of interest. PokeTubers could easily take advantage of that trust and use it to manipulate their subscribers into buying from them. Or hype up a specific card that they own, while they quietly sell said card for a profit. A scheme more commonly known across many markets as a pump and dump scheme. I think the best thing we can do to combat this is help educate people on how to make decisions for themselves and create communities where debate and differences of opinion are encouraged. This way we create critical thinking communities who constructively and respectfully challenge the YouTuber and form their own opinions instead of looking to him/her for the answers on what to buy.
What are your thoughts on the Pokémon Illustrators – do you think a card’s value can be determined based on the illustrator of the card?
A generally prefer certain artists to others but I don’t think as of yet there are too many collectors who collect just by illustrator. That would be an interesting niche though. I think that signed cards are an interesting emerging niche market that has yet to attract mass appeal but could bring more attention on the individual artists and away from just the Pokémon in the long run.
The same for Pokémon characters too. Take Charizard as a prime example. Why do you think Charizard cards command such a premium (or Charizard tax) over other popular character designs such as Pikachu?
I think in large part it does stem from the cards popularity and coolness back in the late 90’s. But I do think some of it has to do with the power of consensus and the idea that we need to decide as a hobby what should be the best so that we can establish a stable and trustworthy market around that item.
Taking us away from the investing side of the TCG into a more light-hearted set of questions, what are your top 5 cards?
Snap Gyarados, Base Set Dragonair, the Checklist Cards from the 1997 Carddass Set, 2016 World’s Promo, Base Set Alakazam.
Are there any cards you do not currently have and would like to own?
The card I would most like to own most is the Snap Gyarados. Gyarados is my favourite Pokémon and unique art competition trophy’s are generally my favourite cards to collect.
What are your earliest memories of Pokémon?
I remember visiting my father at his house, I did not live with him full time, and playing the Pokémon Blue Game Boy game on his couch for hours. Turning on that game for the first time was probably one of the most exciting moments I had experienced up until that point in my life. There was something truly magical about those games. That memory is followed closely by pulling my first holo card, a Shadowless Zapdos that I still have, at one of my friends birthday party’s from a pack I won at the arcade.
A popular question we like to ask: What would you like to see in the Pokémon TCG in the future?
I think it would be fun to have occasional collector sets with some more manufactured rarity like sports has done with inserts. An extremely rare unique Pokémon art sketch 1 of 1 to 1-90 would be extremely fun for collectors to try and chase down. Although I would only want it be once in a while as that type of thing could really take over the hobby.
What are your current collection goals?
I am looking to buy the Snap cards, complete my stamped world promo’s collection, find a high grade Shining Charizard from Neo Destiny and continue working on completing my missing WOTC 1st edition holo’s from the Neo sets, Gym Heroes and e-Series in PSA 9 or 10.
If you had to choose a Sealed, Graded or Raw card collection to continue collecting, what would it be and why:
It is a close one between raw and graded as I love my binder sets but I would have to go graded as I like the chase and challenge too much.
Where would you like to see your YouTube channel progressing in the future? Do you have any current goals for the channel you can share?
I think we are just trying to figure out how we can provide value to people in a sustainable way. I don’t want to run a channel that just repeats itself over and over for views. If we can figure out how to do that over time I have no doubt we will continue to grow as big as the niche allows.
Rounding the interview off, what’s the one piece of advice you would have liked to give your past self in regards to Pokémon?
I would tell my ten year old self don’t stop collecting because you think it is too nerdy you silly fool! Just do it secretly so you don’t get laughed at by your friends and you will have tens of millions of dollars in all of your favourite cards and product as an adult. No but seriously, no real regrets I enjoy the process of collecting and making mistakes along the way, I am not in it for the end goal. I think the not so secret secret to enjoying your hobbies and life in general is to enjoy the process. Part of what is so fun about this hobby is there is so much variety and chase that that process never realistically has to end so it can be a life-long hobby that you can also share with your kids and people of all ages, that is part of the magic of Pokémon.
I would like to say thank you to both Jake and Raffi for giving us the time to interview them. It has been a great pleasure talking with you both and understanding the analytics, data and market trends behind Pokémon investing – this truly has been a unique insight into the investing world. From everyone at PokeGuardian, we would like to wish you both and your channel every bit of success in the future.
You will be able to find Jake and Raffi’s Pokénomics YouTube channel here.
If you would like to get in touch with Jake and Raffi – you can reach them above.
Interview by Adam Turner (@_teammagma).