CGC Expert Review: Useful Service or Total Cash Grab?
On July 10, 2019 CGC announced that they had partnered with eBay to introduce a new service called CGC Expert Review which promises to help shoppers on eBay make smarter, safer collectible purchases. In theory this sounds like a great service for comic book collectors, but after you dig in to the details, it seems to me more like a cash grab than anything else. But hey, that's just my initial opinion. Let's lay out the facts as we know them, and then you can make your own educated decision on the value of this new service.
Let's start by taking a look at how CGC describes the partnership with eBay on their website:
Get fast feedback on a collectible's authenticity and grade from CGC's expert team. This service gives you a preliminary opinion that can help you to make a smarter purchase. A CGC expert's opinion will be delivered in two business days or less.
Ok, that's pretty straightforward and intriguing to someone like me who has bought a lot of comics off eBay and has been burnt by unsavory sellers on more occasions than I care to admit. You've probably been there too. You see that key issue on "the bay" that's listed in NM condition, the price is right, so you pull the trigger.
When you get the comic, you discover it's more of a VF than a NM and you're left either battling the seller for a refund, arguing about the 'subjectivity' of grading, or just eating the bad decision and getting on with your life. In cases like these, especially with more expensive key issues, an expert review from someone at CGC seems like just what the doctor ordered, right? Let's take a look at the details and find out!
CGC Expert Review Cost & Benefits
CGC Expert Review has two components to it, designed to make eBay a safer place to buy comics:
For $5, you can get a preliminary opinion of authenticity.
For $10, you can get the preliminary opinion of authenticity AND an expert opinion of grade.
I'm not sure how useful option #1 is. When it comes to comic books, it's not that often you're thinking to yourself "hmmm, I sure hope that's not a counterfeit comic!". I'm not saying there aren't faked comics listed on eBay, I just can't remember the last time I saw one.
That said, the CGC Expert Review service can be used for magazines and concert posters in addition to comics. In the case of a concert poster — which is probably way easier to bootleg than a comic book — option #1 would be pretty darn handy.
For your $5 investment, here's what a CGC expert will tell you about the collectible you're interested in:
Likely Not Genuine
Inconclusive (full refund)
Not Eligible (full refund)
So the good news for option #1 is that if CGC’s expert is unable to authenticate the item listed on eBay, you'll get your $5 back. Hooray!
Option #2 was what really caught my attention though because not only are you getting that opinion of authenticity, but you're also getting an expert opinion of the comic's grade. Now THAT is something I could use!
Let's take a look at what a CGC Expert will do for you when you pony up ten bucks for that second option:
Possible Grade Opinions
Likely 8.0 - 10.0
Likely 6.0 - 8.0
Likely 4.0 - 6.0
Likely 2.0 - 4.0
Likely 0.5 - 2.0
Likely No Grade
Likely Individual Page
Inconclusive ($5 refund)
Possible label type opinions
Likely Universal (BLUE)
Likely Qualified (GREEN)
Likely Restored (PURPLE)
It was after reviewing these details where I went from being intrigued about using the service, to thinking it wasn't that valuable after all.
Because each grade opinion tier covers a wide margin of grades, it renders itself useless (at least to me) for those occasions when I'd find myself most tempted to use the service.
I alluded to it earlier, but there's a phrase in the comic community called "eBay Near Mint" which jokingly refers to a comic being listed on eBay as Near Mint, when in reality it's Very Fine (or worse). It's in this situation where it would be awesome to get an outside opinion on a comic that's listed in NM or better condition to verify that it is indeed in the condition in which it’s listed.
But because the possible grade opinion ranges from 8.0 (VF) to 10.0 (GEM MINT) a CGC Expert Review won't help you determine a comic's condition in a meaningful way. It's pretty much the same with the rest of the grade opinions. If you're eyeing a bronze age key listed in 8.0 VF condition, having an expert verify that it's somewhere between 6.0 FN and 8.0 VF doesn't help that much. Especially if your plan is to take that raw comic and submit it to CGC for grading. Sometimes a half-grade difference can take you from being in a profitable situation, to one where you're now losing money between what you paid for the raw comic and the cost to have it graded.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying CGC should be providing opinions on the exact grade of a comic listed on eBay with this service. That would be impossible to do for a few reasons:
Too many eBay sellers only include pics of the front and back cover of the comic when listing it.
A lot of times those pictures are too blurry to make out the fine details.
To get a complete grade on a comic, you need to see the whole thing from multiple angles, including all the inside pages, inside staples, etc.
My problem with the service is that CGC knows this, and it seems to me that this service may be aimed at less experienced collectors who aren't well versed in the nuances of not only grading comics, but the sometimes drastic drops in market prices from grade to grade.
For example, I was recently putting together a market report on Thor #411 (1st Appearance of the New Warriors) for one of my customers who used my Should I Grade It? service.
My customer estimated the comic’s grade to be in 9.8 NM/M condition, and if CGC were to grade it as such, they’d have the opportunity to sell that comic for the current market price of $160 and make a fairly healthy profit on the deal.
However, if CGC were to find that the comic had a slight imperfection causing it grade out in 9.6 NM+ condition, my customer would actually be in a position where they’d lose money on the sale as the going price for Thor #411 in CGC 9.6 NM+ condition is right around $45.
Buying raw comics off of eBay is always a bit of a gamble, and it sure would be nice if there was a way to get an exact verification of the actual grade prior to purchase. But again, I know I’m dreaming of a service that just can’t be offered to the level of detail that I’d like to see.
That's why this service makes me scratch my head and wonder if it's just a cash grab without providing substantial intel that a collector needs to make a more confident decision.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that for those that do opt to use option #2, CGC will give you a $10 voucher to use toward the cost of grading said comic if you submit it within 90 days of purchase.
Again though, if you pay for CGC's Expert Review Service and the comic arrives in a condition worse than what it was listed in, but is still in the range that the CGC Expert opined it was in, it may not be worth it to submit that comic for grading from a financial standpoint after all.
So while it's a good marketing pitch to say "hey, spend $10 on the Expert Review Service and we'll give you a $10 credit on grading", CGC knows that only a certain percentage of people will actually take them up on that offer.
All businesses have the right to make money the best way they see fit and lord knows at the Certified Comic Shop I’ve experimented with multiple ways to make a few extra bucks in addition to selling graded comics. So I'm not denying CGC that right. I'm just saying, in my view, this attempt at opening up an additional income stream provides a greater financial benefit for CGC, than the benefit it offers to collectors of comic books. What do you think about the CGC Expert Review service? Would you try it out? Have you tried it out? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
My name is Jason Stum and I’m the owner of the Certified Comic Shop. In 2017 I decided to chase my childhood dream of opening up a comic shop, and it’s since been my mission to help comic book collectors collect the comics they love. In addition to being a husband, father of four and a comic-preneur, I'm also passionate about sharing my experience and insight into the crazy world of comics on my blog, YouTube Channel and Certified Comic Talk Podcast.