No doubt it goes all the way back to antiquity, but the first explicit examples that come to mind are baseball cards of a century or so ago. Much later came collectible trading card games, epitomized last decade by "Magic: the Gathering" and its ilk. In between, the US Mint, the US Post Office, and countless other numismatic and philatelic producers started doing it. Big industries with big advertising budgets have grown up to meet the demand. Most recently, virtual manufacturies within online multiplayer game worlds have joined in the fun.

It's what I call "artificial scarcity" or, less politely, "fake rarity" — when most of the value of something is based on arbitrary constraints applied to its production and/or distribution. At any moment somebody could throw open the floodgates and make as many of X as s/he pleases. The situation emulates, but is in fact totally unlike, that of true rarities: objects with a history behind them, a provenance, a social context. Anybody who makes more of them is called a counterfeiter ...

(cf. TradingInGhosts (1 Oct 1999), NumismaticRamblings (7 Aug 2000), WorthTheCost (3 Feb 2004), TheMetagame (18 Feb 2003), SupplyAndDemand (13 Sep 2005), ...)

TopicEconomics - TopicRecreation - TopicSociety - 2005-12-30

Comment 1 Jan 2006^ at 11:35 UTC

There's a lot of 'artificial scarcity' embedded in how issues of digital content are handled, and in how the industry wants to further constrain it. -- BL

(correlates: SupplyAndDemand, GiftForFiction, EmptyShelves, ...)