Beating a dead horse – with nonsense and lies?

Over at the FromPyrgos blog, there is yet another post, titled “Green Generation Him (Parfums Mavive),” that contains claims we’ve heard before, and again without evidence to support them. But beyond these, it’s a great example of what I consider nonsense, which is a term that isn’t used as much as it used to be, at least not in an academic way. Whether you agree or not, I suggest that you read his post for yourself and decide. I’ll try to sum it up here, for those who want to save some time. This reminds me of what we were told in grad school, which is not to “marry” an idea, doing the square peg into the round hole thing, in an attempt to construct a case that is persuasive.

Once again we get a “straw man argument” as well, possessing quotations without authors, perhaps in the hope that his argument will appear stronger by changing these phantom quotations so that they appear unreasonable. But let’s begin with the first sentence of the post:

One of the many things about perfume economics that makes no sense to me is the drive to inflate prices for no clear reason, other than severely miscalculated greed.

When I read this, I was thinking this would be about the major companies raising retail prices while saving money on ingredients, but instead it quickly “devolved” into claims about what is occurring on (and for some reason, this person, like several others, says “The Bay” instead of ebay, despite The Bay being a major Canadian retailer that sells fragrances, though he says ebay and The Bay, which will likely be confusing to some people). And once again we get an “exception proves the rule” kind of argument, at best, but no analysis of what specific scents are selling for, as opposed to what is being asked (as I have done in a previous post). I used the word lies in the title of this post specifically to refer to the title of his follow-up post, which I discuss in the UPDATE below. One question that seems to apply here is, Does this person think that his readers will believe him simply because he makes a claim? One wonders what kind of author would want such gullible readers in the first place !

In any case, one major thing that seems to stick in his proverbial craw is the notion of a “fan base.” Obviously, there must be a fan base for many scents, especially the ones that actually sell for “high” prices on ebay (meaning more than the original retail prices of many years ago). As you might expect, he never provided a satisfactory response to my old post, which documented the actual ebay sales (at “high” prices) of several different kinds of scents. If there was some sort of conspiracy, as he seems to be positing (an “idiotic” one at that!), then why is it that some scents seem to sell well and at high levels whereas others do not sell well at considerably lower prices? Fan bases don’t have to be huge, and ebay availability often seems rather small, except for when a “hoard” is listed. Sure, someone now and then will be interested in trying something new, but this phenomenon doesn’t explain the very high prices on some scents (especially ones like Patou Pour Homme Egoiste Cologne Concentree, Macassar, Jules, Bel Ami, etc.). And it also can’t explain why some very good (IMO) old scents, such as several made by Avon, still sell for next to nothing while “oddballs” like Stetson Country sell for a lot more than seems sensible. Moreover, we know there are fans of certain niche houses, and those scents sell for more than nearly all vintage, so why shouldn’t those people get criticized as well?

It’s illuminating to note how he thinks he can debunk the fan base argument – this seems to be his major notion in this context:

…a handful of guys who don’t have anything better to do with their money, most of them bidding on that overpriced bottle so they can resell it a year or two later at a profit, right back to the guy who sold it to them in the first place. Like I said, an incarnation of idiocy.

How does he know that “the guy” (many, I’d say most sellers I’ve bought vintage from on ebay were women, apparently “pickers”) who sold it at a high price bought it back a year or so later? To make a claim such as this, perhaps a couple dozen examples (meaning different sellers and buyers) would be a starting point. Instead, what I’ve encountered are what I call “stubborn sellers,” as well as “old stock liquidators.” Carven Homme is a good example, as it was selling at high prices for a while and then one seller (who sells fragrances on a regular basis and in large amounts) started listing “new old stock” 50 ml bottles for about $20 total. Thus, right here is an example that refutes his claim, and I’ve seen this happen before, even with Patou Pour Homme (though the prices for that one were much higher). And why couldn’t a fan base have developed, again no matter how small, from banter on sites like I remember posting about the seller who had a bunch of 90 ml PPH bottles on ebay and was quite surprised by how quickly those bottles sold after that post appeared (IIRC, the price per bottle was about $325).

I have never paid what I consider to be a lot of money for a vintage bottle, in the hopes of reselling it or not (I have only bought ones to possibly resell, though more likely to swap, if it was part a lot of several scents and I already owned a bottle, or if it was a lot several of the same scent). In fact, I mostly buy in the hope that I will like the scent, but with the possibility that I can swap it for something of fairly high value if I don’t like it. This is what drives my “blind” vintage bottle purchases. If I had been unable to swap (or on much rarer occasions, sell) these bottles, I would have stopped buying them from ebay long ago, even at what I consider to be very good prices (most of the time). Moreover, I’m not sure why people making money in the manner he describes should be called an “incarnation of idiocy,” since what he described seems to be exactly what happens during a rising stock market, for example! I agree that this seems to be quite risky, and I’d rather “buy low and sell high,” but ask some stock traders what “catching a falling knife” means!

In short, his explanation seems to be what is best described as an economic fairy tale (and other collectibles markets have appeared similarly “irrational” – I remember people saying that only an insane person would buy Mickey Mantle’s rookie card for $1000, for instance, though prices on most vintage scents are quite reasonable relative to retail prices on new designer releases). One clearly incorrect notion is that all the “idiots” are losing money, because he is proposing a “zero sum game” (minus ebay fees), which means that some of the “idiots” would have made profits (see note #2 below)! How does this person think “capitalist economies” function? Does he not think there is often unreasonable speculation? If not, what explains all the great economic setbacks (including the “Great Depression,” obviously) since the late nineteenth century, just in the USA alone? Does he think that every collectible type market is the same size and functions the same way (and wouldn’t one expect small collectibles markets to be more volatile than the stock market)? Obviously, with fragrances, the liquid may get used up (unless the owner is merely a speculator) or can deteriorate over time, which is different from most other markets, where preservation may be much better and the object is not used up at all (at least in terms of the owner’s likely life expectancy). This means that well-preserved vintage scents should sell for a lot more than current retail on designer scents, which is usually not the case, thus making this collectible market much less “irrational,” even though one can’t really claim that “rationality” is a strong quality in collectibles markets generally.

I remember an episode of “Pawn Stars” in which the plastic head of a mass-marketed doll (which I think was sold in the 1980s) was said to be worth more than $1000 (IIRC). There was no original packaging and the body was absent as well. It wasn’t clear why some people, “idiots” in he FromPyrgos author’s mind, presumably, would even want this item, other than having some “irrational” feelings about it, but there is no objective standard for such markets. Even a speculator who “does his homework” and gets a “great deal” might lose money due to a sharp downturn in the overall economy (which drags down most collectibles markets, it seems). And even if we accept the major claim here, at what point do a “small number” of “idiots” deserve to be called a “market?” Collectibles markets never seem to shrink until a “bubble” occurs, but this is never addressed by the FP author, despite the rise in vintage prices on ebay over the last few years. Capitalism is not about guarantees (though one can argue about “crony capitalism” in this context) – you take a risk when you make an investment, and with scents, some people simply want to smell it, as one experiences expensive wines in a similarly “visceral” way, which is not true for most collectibles. It’s not like stocks, which people buy and sell in a desire for profits (or to limit losses). In short, this person hasn’t made one argument that should be taken seriously, IMO, and he seems convinced that is he 100% correct! I wonder if that is a heavenly or hellish mental universe to inhabit.

NOTE: For those of you who might want to comment that his post is incoherent rather than an incredibly bad argument that warrants being called nonsensical, I will grant you that it’s worth considering (I didn’t mention his “red herring” argument about how the “Dr. Suess” books market seems to function above, because that would make this post even longer, and I want to avoid beating dead horses!). It may possess an incoherent quality because there is no reason to make various claims about how scents sell on ebay if one simply wants to tell readers that Green Generation for Men is an excellent “budget” scent (note that I don’t think $30 per 100 ml is an especially good price here – I try to get vintage “gems” around this level, for example, and I’m usually successful at least two or three times a month). If you want to argue that this scent is nearly as good as Patou Pour Homme, for instance, you can just state that explicitly. However, then you would have to argue that people with plenty of “disposable income” should “settle for second best” to save what is for them “chump change,” which is not exactly something the “1%” crowd seems to entertain any longer, if they ever did. Overall, though, I think his post is an excellent example of what used to be called nonsense by the professorial cohorts. Perhaps nowadays we see so much nonsense just on TV “news” networks alone that it has lost its power to shock !

NOTE 2: Let’s say I sold the vintage favorite, Patou Pour Homme (and the FromPyrgos author does not explain why some routinely sell for much more than others, which doesn’t make much sense to me outside of the “fan boy” explanation context) for $50 on ebay several year ago. The buyer waits for it to reach $150 (how does it reach that amount – is it a conspiracy?), and he lists it at that amount, making $100 minus ebay fees (I buy it back). I continue the process, and sell it again for $300. He waits and sells it back to me for $450, and then perhaps I sell it back to him for $600. What did I buy it for initially – it would be less than $50, so perhaps I made $20. If I sell it back for $600, I made $320 minus ebay fees. If he decides not to continue the process when he sees it listed at $600, then he made $250 minus ebay fees (I would have lost over $280 but I have the PPH bottle). But why can’t I find one of the other “idiots?” The point is that the FromPyrgos author has built absurdity into his model – and we have not seen PPH continue to rise in a way consistent with this notion (otherwise it might be several thousand dollars by now).

Nor can it be said that everyone who participates in this model is an idiot. Sure, you can call anyone an idiot if you like, but the point of doing that here involves the claim that people are doing something for speculative reasons and losing money, but unless they were selling back and forth at very low prices (meaning that ebay fees would render it non-profitable) someone has to be a “winner.” This author is assuming that these scents are being sold in a kind of thoughtless, speculative manner, but not only does that need to be demonstrated, can’t it be said that “free” markets contain some speculative element? If some of the most respected companies in the USA weren’t deemed “too big to fail” less than a decade ago, wouldn’t the people in charge of those companies deserve to be called much bigger idiots? Would “drooling imbeciles” be more appropriate? In my experience, and from what I’ve seen (in terms of who is selling, who is buying, and what is being said on sites like Basenotes), the more likely phenomenon here is “hoarding” by those who have the money to do so. Some of those people may at some point decide to sell off a “backup bottle” or two, after seeing a sharp rise on ebay prices.

NOTE #3: Here’s an interesting example. I sold someone a rare scent (Tobaco Latino) for about $30 (100 ml, new). The ingredients were of lesser quality, IMO, but it’s a nice composition, probably an attempt to do a niche kind of thing on a “drug store” budget. It received a little attention on Basenotes, but I don’t remember discussion on other sites. This buyer put it up on ebay for about $100 not long after she received it, and it took several weeks, but it eventually sold! What’s really odd is that at the exact same time it was listed on Amazon’s site for about $35, which is why I priced it where I did. The buyer in this case might be worthy of the designation idiot (suppose he or she thinks it’s the greatest scent of all time?), but I have yet to see it sell again for around $100 (never more), and that was over a year ago. My guess is that in these cases one might get lucky and someone might be very curious about a “rare” scent, but there still has been no “hype” about it, to my knowledge, and an ebay completed item search generates no results (it’s on Amazon for $45/100 ml now). Tobaco Latino cries out to receive the “FromPyrgos treatment,” if that’s what it should be called, yet where are the price-gouging, idiotic speculators for this one? I have a 100 ml bottle of it, and I don’t see a reason to sell it because it is at least rather unique and has an obvious tobacco note, but at some price I would sell it – this is the kind of thought-process I think underlies much of the “price action” the FP author has witnessed, other than the obvious, such as a discounter liquidating a newly-discovered hoard.

UPDATE: The FromPyrgos author seems obsessed with “right fighting” this subject, quickly following up the post I examined above with a new one, titled “The Dust Collectors: Why No Sales?” He spends a great deal of time talking about Yugos (the automobile), and his thoughts seem to be “textbook Freudian” here, but I’ll leave that for others to ponder. My main point is that there are sales, and at high prices. All one has to do is search ebay for sold items and see for oneself. Note that he does not mention this possibility, which is unaccountable, IMO. I did and noticed that Relax Davidoff and Derby has sold for a lot of money on ebay lately (I’ve never tried Relax and think Derby is overpriced, so I’m certainly not talking from a “fan boy” perspective). Red for Men is problematic because most people can’t tell the difference between the vintage bottles and the new ones, so sometimes vintage can be had a very reasonable prices. However, the FromPyrgos author seems to have confused thoughts here, as he feels that he needs to tell readers that comparing it favorably to Preferred Stock is ridiculous (apparently because PS was released first by a short period of time). What does that have to do with the economic argument in question? It’s a silly argument even if it was “on point” because Red is more complex and dynamic – the ingredients seems clearly superior as well. It is only relevant if the claimant argued that the “trailblazing” scent should be worn even if a similar one that came later was superior. I can’t remember anyone making this claim, it makes no sense, and I have argued the opposite (that is, that later releases sometimes seem to “fix the problems” the trailblazing scent possessed). Perhaps the same perfumer did both and had a bigger budget to work with on Red. Overall, it troubles me that this person can’t accept the undeniable reality anyone can see for themselves with an ebay sold items search. Perhaps it is time for him to stop calling vintage collectors deluded (and thinking about ways to argue against reality) and ask himself if he is obsessed !

As of approximately 9:30 PM EST on October 21, 2014, these are some of the ebay sold item results for Relax Davidoff (with a picture of the top results):

125 ml EdT (95% full) for $151.00 total
20 new 5 ml mini EdT bottes for $138 total.
New 75 ml EdT for $120 total.
New 75 ml EdT for $120 total.
New 30 ml EdT for $86.11 total.
New 30 ml EdT for $86.11 total.

Instead of asking, “Why No Sales?” of this scent, I am asking this person, why lie about these sales at what he seems to consider very high prices?

What do I think a good example of an overpriced collectible is (not that I think it’s a certainty that most vintage fragrance sales are mostly being bought as such)?

I’d much rather have a 90 ml bottle of Patou Pour Homme, if both were worth let’s say $40 !


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Filed under Criticizing the critics.

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