Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Long And Lonely Road Of A Floundering Industry

When you look around the industry today, there isnt much in the way of optimism and happiness. It seems as though the downward slope that the collectibles trade has been rolling down these last few years has gotten steeper due to the economy. I know that I have felt the crushing vice of the recession on my wallet, I can only imagine a company that has sales numbers to meet in an industry that functions on disposable income.

Either way, I think there is a side that is sounding the "All Is Well!!" alarm, and a side that is bracing for impact. I want to address a few things that I think are going to contribute to the argument for both sides. The most important thing we have to remember here is that though the industry may go in a different direction, I was quickly educated last time I commented on this that the hobby will stick around. This is my perspective on the industry and the contributing bodies.

Things That Will Keep The Industry Alive

1. Customer Service

I put customer service at number one because in the history of this industry, its been the last thing on the minds of the manufacturers. This means that when someone had a problem, they were usually focused on making sure the trains run on time. Im not sure as to the extent this actually happened, but it was the feelings that 80% of the HOBBY had. In fact, most people on the message boards and around the country still have a UD hate boner because they had to wait 16 months for their Freddie Sanchez sweet spot redemption. I think this is one of those things that when you actually sit down and look at things, it has gotten better on some fronts. Topps is still giving you crap autos for your redemptions they wont fill, and that has got to stop.

When the customer service begins to sparkle, the people will buy more. The problem is that it is hugely expensive to maintain that standard, ask Disney, the worldwide leaders. With money already tight, its going to be very tough to focus on that, but I would even suggest taking money away from the bread and butter to help out. Instead of laying off your departments, its time to think about how to stop massaging the danglies of the upper executives that have ruined the company.

2. Transparency

Because there is some major competition for licensing and customer base, the companies have done all that they can to hide what is going on behind the scenes. They want to make sure that they have the jump on everything, and as a result, they refuse to talk about the things we want to know about. If there is a mistake, and trust me, there has been quite a few, rather than explaining the mistake and how they will fix it, the company will take the political approach and give some cop out response about their inability to prevent things from happening. It happens with collation problems, with redemption problems, and most importantly ethical problems like with Beckett.

Brian Gray of Razor, despite his shortcomings, has done everything he can to be transparent, and I love it. He is always available to answer your quesitons, and never gives you the run around. Granted the Razor collector base is smaller than UD and Toppps, but he tries, and that’s what counts. If there is a screw up, he is there to answer to it, and most of the time, he promises to be there to fix it. With everyone else, it seems like mistakes are just swept under the rug. Its time to ditch that idea, and really build on your window to the outside world.

3. Relationships With Actual Collectors

We are your customers, and we no longer have to report through a filter imposed by Beckett's magazine editors or message board mods. We have the ability to sound off as needed, with whatever approach we choose. So, with that, its time to start building relationships before the bad blood boils and spills in your face. Don’t believe that will happen? Fine, but in the last six months, I am guessing that blog and board readership has doubled. I know that I have had close to 150,000 visitors here, and Mario is close to a million. That is a lot of exposure, and you can either use it to your advantage or continue to operate in the 1990s and use Beckett exclusively.

Here is what I mean, most blogs will offer coverage for FREE. I know if the brass want to give me a little attention here at SCU, I will not hesitate to post on it. I wont take any product, so there is no cost to will lose. Im not going to post a Beckett "product review" for anyone, but I will give you an honest opinion, no doubt about it. Yet, despite this fact, the manufacturers continue to run the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying to ditch Beckett (though I have gotten the feeling that many of the companies want to), but I am saying to throw bones to the people who will give you HONEST feedback.

Let me give you an example. A few months ago, I pitched an idea to Gregg Kohn of Upper Deck to get me into the Rookie Premiere in LA. This was in order to get us, the collectors, closer to the event. Because of past problems with media coverage, they and the NFL were hesitant on getting it going, but I persisted. The details of my proposal were not designed to bash event used stuff, but rather to see the Rookies in action, and maybe see if any of them are Chris Cooleys in the making. I promised PG language in my coverage and veto power over what I write. If they find that my coverage damages the event, they could put the kibosh on it. Because I live in LA, there is no reason I couldn’t be there, and probably still will be, but I got the feeling that my presence was not welcome. If the NFL is at the helm of the event, help them to understand the importance of the transparency, and show them that I am not out to put the event in a bad light. Work for the people that feed the families of UD employees through buying product. Maybe I am being na├»ve about the amount of work it would take to make this happen, but at least show me that you are trying or have tried, rather than ignoring me.

Things That Will Contribute To Destroying the Industry

1. Lack of Quality Control

Mr Judd put it best that if you are dissatisfied with a part of your production, don’t go to them and watch closer, SWITCH VENDORS! Yet, for some stupid f'ing reason, QC never happens. SPA collation sucks for the third year in a row, and bad things are happening at an alarming rate. If it continues to happen, there wont be any people left who still believe that they are getting their money's worth by buying a box or pack. This goes with condition as well, almost more importantly. If the most expensive card you have ever made is full of chips and bad corners, there is no excuse. Just check out that Tiger, it is disgraceful. Topps, if you think that your shit don’t stink either, good riddance. It is positively worse than any of the other companies combined, which means that you have a steeper hill to climb back up. Basically, if its broke, get off your ass and fix it.

2. Beckett

Jay Bee over at the Topps blog seems to think that Beckett is still a good thing for this hobby, and despite all the stuff I have covered on this blog, continues to think that they are still a good buy every other month or whenever you need a date. Obviously, I disagree with every bone in my body, and here is one of the many reasons why. Also, they continue to perpetuate a vision of an industry to the public that hasn’t existed for the last 20 years, or ever, more like it. They present an unrealistic expectation to every person who stupidly thumbs through their magazine. Don’t believe me? Check out the Craigslist Idiots over on Bad Wax, they are the ones that take the Beckett to heart, only because they don’t know any better. People like them are the people that leave the hobby after finding out the lies that are printed in Beckett every single month.

On top of all that, even if you are just reading the magazine for the articles, please don’t think that Beckett has their fingers anywhere close to the pulse of the hobby. I would put them closer to the ass. The reason is this, as I have said a million times, Beckett doesn’t care about the collector, they only care about making money to keep their teen 'zine alive. That’s why the reviews are never honest, the prices arent real, and most importantly the ethics are non-existant. The only people they have a responsibility to is the people who pay for their ads. As a result, millions of people have ridiculous views on cards and their worth, and it has created a bad place that will continue to get worse as Beckett sticks around.

You may think that my vendetta is fueling this, but after reading all the blogs on cards, which do you have a better time reading? I would take any blog over Beckett any day.

3. Originality

I have no idea why, but the manufacturers seem to think that churning out a set is a chore rather than a place to show off what you got. This is where sets like Classics and Elite bring me to wonder why the hell they look so similar to last year. Why not take the time to get a new idea into the fold rather than pooping out the same thing every damn year. Topps is the ABSOLUTE worst on this, as I could tell you exactly how every single one of their sets looks every season. They never f'ing change anything.

Because of this, I would say that more people leave than ever. Why stick around when the next year wont be any different. Yes, we know Madden has been the same for 20 years, but there is no competition for them to better themselves with. Seriously, I am contemplating putting a stop on collecting until things get more interesting. If I am considering that, its time to change it up. Hell, I even think some of the bloggers are doing a better job creating sets than the manufacturers.

Overall, there is much more to this nut that I havent cracked yet (I love food metaphors), but my hand and brain are tired from this crap. Hopefully someone will get the point soon, much like The Sports Card File, which has been a very entertaining read over the last few months. He really seems to know what's going on, maybe he needs to get back into the biz part time… maybe not.

9 comments:

  1. You have to give credit where it's due. Upper Deck, Topps, TRISTAR, and Razor have all embraced the online card collecting community.

    As for the Topps blog post: It was pretty embarrassing and came off as a self-loathing blogger. He works incredibly hard on his site but will still bend over and take it in the rear to remind everyone he is just a little fish in Beckett's fish bowl.

    Read the Boycott Beckett blog. They are on their way out... it's only a matter of time.

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  2. Im sorry, sending free product to people is not what I am looking for. I am talking about more.

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  3. All those companies I mentioned offer way more than free products.

    I email Topps & UD questions from readers/collectors on a weekly basis and they always respond with information/scans/ whatever is needed.

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  4. Funny how you never really discuss the issue which I think is at the forefront of most collector's minds, namely getting value for money.

    Most products today (even the good ones) are so overpriced that it's scary. Twenty years ago, Topps wax cost about 3 cents a card. Adjusted for inflation, today's wax should be about 5 cents a card. Yet even the cheapest and most basic products (probably OPC this year) now retail for more than 20 cents a card.

    Why would I spend $80 on a 136-card box of Goudey, or $70 on a 192-card box of Topps Heritage, or $70 on a 200-300 card box of Topps or UD, when for a fraction of the price I can get boxes of higher quality older products with 2-3 times as many cards.

    Heck, I just bought a 1989 Donruss Rack Box on Ebay last night for $8 (i.e. the same price as a couple of packs of Goudey or Heritage).

    The number one issue in the hobby right now is the value proposition. Until companies start putting out higher quality products at lower prices, they will continue to have trouble attracting customers.

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  5. 1 question and 1 statement :

    A) Does the word douche qualify as 'PG' when used as a noun or adjective? If not then you have no reason to go to the Rookie Premier.

    B) A much more critical flaw that currently plagues the hobby is the lack of control over forgery. I know that you can't stop every single scab from faking patches, but you can at least make it difficult enough to where if you aren't a career criminal then you end up with a ruined card and a cut up replica jersey. I know going in that it is event-used. I just don't want that event to be some guy named Gary's first trip to the strip club.

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  6. Voluntarheel hit the nail on the head. I think forgery is an enormous issue that absolutely must be addressed. My heart breaks a little every time a new viking head AP pops up on the bay. I think the company who tackles this issue successfully will be rewarded in a major way. Not only could an online patch database be a money maker, it would also send a message to collectors that would increase sales.

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  7. Brian transparent? Hah! He will be full transparent when he admits UD is his backer.

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  8. I think the problem with the industry is their isn't too many younger people that are coming into the hobby as they did in the 70's, 80's and that is mostly due to the labor strikes of the 90's.

    Then the mass production of cards that has made anything that was produced from '86-99 as worthless.

    Also, I don't see kids playing as much youth sports as much and they sit home on their arse

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  9. Interesting post. I think technology-how we use the web is going to be a big way to keep the industry alive. Bloggers like you are doing an awesome job. The more things we try, for example, Twitter, will guarantee a successful industry.

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