Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne explores what’s causing the shortage in collector supplies for comics and games.

In case you had not noticed, stores have had a dickens of a time lately sourcing all sorts of plastic accessories, especially those for use with cards and comic books.  Case in point, the lowly 25-pack of 3” by 4” toploaders. Prior to COVID-19, customers could readily find a 25-count pack for $2.75 to $3.50. Today, they are almost impossible to find in retail stores, and 25-count packs online sell for $10 to $15. Soft-sided or penny sleeves typically sold for a buck or less for a pack of 100. Now, they are selling online for $2 to $4 per pack. Why so hard to get?

Ultra Pro, one of the main suppliers of card and comic protective accessories sent out an email this week explaining why, at least from their viewpoint:

“High demand and resource scarcity are causing price increases across the plastics manufacturing industry. The pandemic has been the root cause of many delays and increased costs, and this continues to be true even a year later.“ Ultra Pro goes on to cite the primary reasons for the shortage:

Increased Demand for Raw Materials. Most of the in-demand card protection supplies are made of plastic; the same sort of plastic used to manufacture the personal protective equipment (PPE) that has been in such heavy demand for the past year. When it comes down to who gets access to the limited stock of supply of raw materials, for the past year it has been the PPE industry rather than the card supply industry. Couple this shortage in supply with the increased demand for protective materials stimulated by the current boom in Pokemon card speculation (see "Mass Merchants Pull 'Pokemon TCG,' Sports Cards Off Shelves") and it is no wonder there are not enough card protective supplies around.

Labor Shortages. Factory closures, due to COVID-19, reduced staffing to accommodate social distancing. However, product demand increased, and this sent members of the supply channel are scrambling to find staff (see "Rolling for Initiative -- Sales are Booming, Now If We Could Just Find Staff?"). Given that most plastic card supplies come from China, by way of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the absence of dock workers there has caused a container ship bottleneck. This has led to significant delays in unloading ships and rising prices for the limited labor available

Logistics Costs and Bottlenecks. Transportation of goods within the US has suffered from a constriction of avenues for several years now. The trucking industry, especially, suffers from a shortage of qualified drivers. Currently, the trucking industry estimates it lacks roughly 48,000 to 60,000 trained drivers. As with many service industries, the trucking industry also offers comparatively low wages and few, if any, benefits. Since most card supplies get delivered via truck, the trucking bottleneck both slows delivery of product and because of competition for scarce delivery resources, leads to product being out-of-stock and drives up prices.

From Ultra Pro’s viewpoint, those are the three main reasons for card supply out of stocks. We are seeing a drop in demand for PPE so we should start seeing an easing of demand for plastics, which, hopefully, will lead to more raw materials entering the supply chain and easing the shortage.

What do you think? Any other reasons causing the shortage?  Let me know at:

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of