Monday, October 5, 2009

Do Yourself a Favor and Read This

For those of you who have been following the recent media blasts about the decline of the sports card industry, I would read this article to get the other side of the story. Some of you will probably shrug it off as a post designed to give false hope, but after recent conversations with Chris Carlin, I doubt that was the point in any way. Chris is a straight shooter, and although he is responsible for the marketability of his brands, he also knows his shit.

Last month, many mainstream outlets incorrectly reported that card shops had declined from 15,000 stores to under 500 over the last few years. The reports were based on arbitrary faulty numbers perpetrated by hobby blog villain TS O'connell of SCD, despite the fact that he had not done any actual research on the matter. Contrary to O'Connell's ideas of what was going on, Carlin did a great job of setting the record straight, as well as showing that the sky is not even close to falling (UD works directly with 1500 shops in the US and Canada alone).

Sadly, these scary "figures" have led to a lot of paranoia on blogs and message boards, most of which was focused on the supposed dying of the hobby. People had started crying about how the inflated number of sets and lack of kids had contributed to a decline in the collecting populace as well as the industry. Although things have changed from the days of the investment crazed 90s, both the hobby and the industry are in little jeopardy of going under. If card shops only lost 5% of their volume (per Carlin's research), during a crippling recession, I would say that is amazing, to say the least. Its actually even more impressive if the original prognosis was a loss of 30-40% total. Add in the thousands of online retailers and ebay stores, and the number is going to be a lot more than any research done by media that is disconnected or unrelated to the hobby. The fact is, regardless of any paranoid chicken little coverage, people still love collecting, writing about, and buying cards.

I think its safe to say that this hobby is never going to die. Collecting based things usually don’t, even when there is no one to produce new stuff. The industry itself may go, eventually, but the actual people who drive it will always create a market for trading, buying and selling. The problem has never been kids or a pollution of products, in fact, the problem has probably been the value that the cards carry. As the reality of the overproduced cards of the nineties were actualized as less valuable than fire kindling, the collectors who staked their involvement in collecting on the amount they were going to make, left quickly. What was left behind were people who loved cards, as always, as well as a few people who realized that investing was bad, but collecting was fun. This is what led from having 15,000 shops to a few thousand.

As with any collectible, there will always be people in it for the money, however, as we have seen, a lot of people are in it for the love of the game too. The proof is in the blogs and boards, as membership and production has skyrocketed lately. When people realize that they can cater their experience to themselves rather than relying on a money driven, conflict of interest laden magazine, good things happen. Also, with a worldwide marketplace like eBay, there is now a way to get whatever you want, whenever you want it.

Bottom line, as far as I am concerned, there has never been a better time to collect.


  1. Thanks for the post. I honest to God think that certain blogs post doom and gloom or as you have called them "chicken little stories" to boost their numbers and do to their lack of knowledge of either the hobby or the major American sports.

  2. Holy crap, these faulty figures have spread quite considerably.

  3. Pab, since you didn't mention which blogs you were referring to than I will assume it was me since I was one of the blogs that reported on these stories.

    For the record, I used sources such as Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Forbes, and even ESPN's Pardon the Interruption when writing about the card industry.

    If you can't trust those guys, who can you trust? It's not like I pulled these numbers out of a magical hat and reported what was not there.

    As for the Upper Deck piece, it was very interesting and informative. That being said, I don't expect them to delve to deep into it because it would hurt their numbers. Remember, these guys thrive off how collectors feel about them.

    As for Gellman's comments about never being a better time to collect, that's hard to believe considering that almost every post previewing new products is filled with anger and hate (unless it's a UD product).

    For me the best time to collect was in the late-90's when everyone was producing quality products, not just one company. Of course, football collectors have it made compared to baseball collectors.

  4. Good call. I, for one, would never have gotten back into collecting if not for eBay. One gripe on your summary: the way I read the article, only 5% of card shops went out of business, instead of a projected 30-40%. I don't think that Upper Deck only lost 5% on volume. My guess is that sales were way down this year, but that it didn't cripple the card shops, most likely because they have all hedged themselves by selling on eBay as well. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think that is the correct interpretation.

  5. Well said! So it's a hobby more than an investment, big f&%ing deal. It's still fun!! You're right - the investors have left, but the collectors, which I believe have been the vast majority of people buying cards anyway, will always be around!!

  6. I don't know. We used to have 5 card shops here in Lexington, KY. just two years ago, and now we have two. The owner of one of the remaining stores has decided to close on Saturdays and take his stuff to a local flea market to move product. It appears he might not be in business for much longer. The thing is, Lexington is one of the few places to avoid the brunt of the recession. People here carry on as if it doesn't exist, but it's knocking out small businesses here and there.

  7. As for Gellman's comments about never being a better time to collect, that's hard to believe considering that almost every post previewing new products is filled with anger and hate (unless it's a UD product)

    This part of the comment is total crap. Enough with the UD bias bullshit, its all 100% opinion. If panini actually produced consistently at what UD does for most of their sets, I might actually like what they have to offer. In reality, there are only two good things in football right now. UD sets with on card autos, and low end Topps. Luckily those two things are SO good that it is definitely the best it has been in YEARS. For the record, I hated the 90s cards and left because it was all about gaudy looking inserts that made no sense.

    These days its all about the autographs, which for someone like me is the best thing ever. With UD's cards offering hard signed cards with great designs at a pace that blows out the competition, its no surprise why they are always going to be favored over rainbow foil loving turds like Panini and their absolute with event used pro-bowl smoke and mirrors crap.

    Dont try to blame this on me. My opinions are what they are for a reason, and I have never hidden that. I am explicitly clear on why I dislike every product I pan, never just "its Panini so it sucks." Yet for some reason, thats exactly what you just said.

  8. Gellman, you're still so jaded by the 'bay.

    Out of curiousity, have you ever pulled one of these magical cards that make your dick so hard?

    Upper Deck has been on a roll when it comes to putting out shit that's 95% shit-on-a-stick (possibly rolled in peanuts) with maybe a good card per case or five.

    I mean, it's a terrific marketing idea, because regardles so what kind of shit you put in a box, people will buy the box if they see even one sweet ass Sanchez card pop up on ebay.UD knows that high-end shit, however rare, sells the product.

    This is a terrible time to collect, because both Upper Deck, Topps and to a lesser extent, Donini, are dumping all of their crap autographs and jerseys on the collectors.

    It's definitely going to get worse before it gets better, too.

  9. Kris, if you expect to get a hall of famer every time you open a box you are fooling yourself. Was there ever a time when you pulled that rare card you wanted out of every pack you opened? If we're talking cards that are like 1:5 cases, you must be referring to some super insane card like you see on a sell sheet. Just because you don't orgasm when you open the pack doesn't mean the stuff inside isn't 'good.'

    Additionally, it's irrelevant if anybody has pulled a super awesome card. There are likely some collectors out there who don't bust ANY wax, simply because they know that they can get exactly what they want on ebay. That doesn't make them shitty collectors and it doesn't make the stuff they collect not worthwhile.

    As with anything that can be purchased with money, if you don't like it just DON'T BUY IT. Problem solved.

  10. Groat,

    I've made this point a few times, and I was referring to the health of the hobby.

    I don't expect to pull nice things, and generally very nice things are a pipe dream.

    When Upper Deck puts out products that'll net you stuff that you could've bought on ebay for 10 bucks (incl. shipping); it's the hobby that's in trouble.

    It shouldn't be so much more cost efficient to purchase singles off ebay, and that's exactly what Upper Deck does.

    Like it's pretty clear, at least to me, that the hobby is well beyond single GU's. Upper Deck and topps seem to think that 2 GU's and 1 Auto is enough for a 60-80 dollar box.

    With that insertion ratio, it just doesn't make sense to buy boxes.

    I tend to enjoy the Panini products, because at least even if you don't pull the right player, you'll get something neat.

    If in UD you don't pull the right player, you're left with 100% junk. Nice looking junk, but junk.

    Upper Deck also seems to insert the higher level players at a much rarer rate, as well.

  11. Kris-

    I totally get your point, especially your last sentence.

    I bought a box of Topps Ticket to Stardom Baseball and a couple of mini boxes of Upper Deck Ballpark. Both roughly the same price. I got junk game used out of the Ballpark for $100. No name players, just some jersey swatch combos of relief pitchers and no-name starters. Nice looking junk, but junk nonetheless.

    However, the $104.00 box of Ticket to Stardom had a Dustin Pedroia jersey auto, a Pujols bat relic ticket card, and a Robinson Cano double jersey relic ticket card with pin striped jersey pieces, not just solid white patches.

    And I've noticed this trend for Upper Deck for quite some time now. Yes, they produce nice stuff, but there is no point in dropping good money for any of their mid-to-high-end stuff because your odds of pulling anything good are slim to none. You are more likely to pull a bunch of junk, especially with basketball and baseball.