Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Arguing Against The Arguers

When it comes to normal people ranting about the state of hobby, its usually about a small group of topics that I cannot stand. Kids need to be brought back to the collecting ranks, the hobby needs to go back to the way it was, and box prices are too high for what is inside are the three I cant stand the most of any of them. There are other things like redemptions, and other crap, but the explanations of those are easy and short. These three I hate seem to pop up everywhere, and they burrow deep down inside my brain to ninja slice my patience gland.

The first one I want to address is the kids argument, mainly because I just got a long email blast from the Vegas summit who's sole focus was on using kids as the solution to dwindling sales and numbers. My face was in my palm at just about every word in the email, mainly because I know that the stupidity they expressed is common in just about every corner of every nook in our favorite past time. Kids are not the answer, and personally, I think it’s a stupid idea to even focus on them as a target demographic. I realize that I have said this a million and a half times, but its completely the truth. First off, targeting male children to collect cards is going to lose out to video games and other entertainment providers almost every time. Cards arent relevant to them any more because the way they get their sports fix is through Madden and MLB the Show. Back 25-30 years ago, those mediums werent around, therefore other less technical hobbies were kind. Now that the technological age is here, technology like video games and television will have a ten fold advantage over tangible collecting like cards, stamps, or coins.

For the kids you do hook at a young age, due to their parents or by random luck, they arent going to want junk. They will want high end autographs and game used cards because that is the generally accepted collecting tendency around the hobby. Kids arent going to be want to be treated like kids, they are going to want the best cards and the highest cost product. Not only that, but most of them are going to find a way to get it. This means they will use eBay and the internet just like everyone else, and when they get on the internet and eBay, they are going to become more solidified in the tendencies of everyone else they see. Manufacturers need to stop trying to cater to them, because it wont work. Then, when the hobby media and manufacturers blow smoke up the ass of the people who are hurting in the industry, saying that they are the ones that will make the jump, those downtrodden people will latch on, because that is the way it was 30 years ago. 30 years ago, kids were the lifeblood of the hobby, today they are gum on the bottom of the shoe of the big market demographic: adults.

Adults are the people who have the money and they have the means to spend it on cards. The reason that numbers are down is not because of kids, its because of two other unrelated things. Obviously, the economy is one, as less disposable income means less people that are able to drop coin on cards. The second is because card design and concept have become stale and boring in most cases, something I was discussing yesterday. If a manufacturer is going to come out with the same shit year after year, people are going to get bored. I have become so bored with most of the releases, that even I can relate to people who have thrown up their hands and left. If manufacturers are going to sit on their laurels and expect people to buy no matter what, they will lose business. If those manufacturers continue to ignore ethical business practices, it will get worse, and Im not just talking about Upper Deck.

Don’t tell me that kids grow into adults either, because that is a shitty argument to begin with. Of course kids create longevity, but its become obvious that hooking them as kids is practically impossible. Hook them as younger adults when money and value start to mean stuff to them. Most young adults are casual sports fans, and casual sports fans are the gateway to bigger participation. If the manufacturers switched all their marketing focus to grasping what casual sports fans are looking for, it would bolster the ranks more effectively. This also means that Joe Shop Owner should not be the face of the hobby, nor should Beckett even be in the picture. Both present a completely unrealistic view of collecting itself, and the manufacturers should do everything in their power to overshadow the diarrhea they spew daily.

Then you have the people who say that the hobby needs to go back to the way it was and everything will be peachy keen again. That is complete crap, especially when you consider what it meant to have 4 sets a year back then versus having a similar calendar now. The hobby was a niche area back then, and it was easy to use existing resources in order to keep that smaller amount of people happy. When the collecting boom of the late 80s and 90s hit, more products needed to be produced for more people. Then, when the jersey and memorabilia cards were released, it brought a ton of new people who wanted to be closer to the athletes they root for. Autographs furthered that obsession, and it continues to this day. People say that we need to go back to the cardboard dark ages, but to strike the progress made would be a death blow to a struggling industry. Nothing would be fixed, nothing would be okay, it would be worse than it is now. Then, when media sources say that fewer cards would be less confusing to kids, we circle back to the original argument. People arent stupid, and variety is exactly what is needed. Plus, when you add in the amount of dud products to the amount of good products, there is nothing in my mind that suggests that manufacturers would be successful only releasing one to four products per year. This is a different era, and it’s a result of a bigger demand for cards. Sacrificing variety will not create more demand, bolstering design and creativity will do more than any of that.

Lastly is this argument that people are touting box prices and their relation to content as a reason why things need to change. The main argument centers around the amount of scrubs and junk cards in products that cost a lot of money as a reason why it’s a bad idea to continue down that path. I agree that having products filled with Adrian Peterson, LeBron James, and Albert Pujols would be great, however, I don’t think people understand the cost of what it takes to get those players into a product. We hate pulling scrubs as a box hit, I get that, but there is no way around it due to the amount of money everyone charges for their signature. Players at the top of the ranks charge so much money, that it sometimes prices them out of a product. Pujols, Peterson, Emmitt Smith, Montana, all are notorious for the cost of their inclusion, especially when you factor in the astronomical licensing costs. Even the rookies charge a complete shit ton for their autos, as evidenced by the Football Jesus, Tim Tebow's, recent signing in Florida. If you think their autographs are easy to pay for, you are sadly mistaken. We complain that our box of Exquisite didn’t return our investment, but that has been the way it is since forever. Boxes have always been a gamble, but now its easy to see that they have taken that gambling to people who can afford to spend more money. If you don’t like the high end products, don’t buy them, its that simple. You have the choice over what you buy, so stop complaining when the manufacturers want to market to the people with a ton of money to spend.

In all reality, if all products looked good, there would be less complaining over box content. Ill give you the example of Topps and Bowman Chrome. The amount of money usually returned on a box of Chrome is much less than the cost of the box itself. People don’t complain as much because the cards they do get look great, and there is enough to keep them interested in the bust. If Panini actually took the time to think out their products the way Topps does with their low end releases, I can tell you that I would not blast them as much as I do. Instead they charge 120 dollars for boxes like Elite and Prestige which look like donkey poop and hold their value like an AMC Pacer. If those sets looked much better, delivered on card content like we know is possible, not as many people would complain. Design is the gateway, not price. Instead we get foilboard bore-fests with those idiotic signed cloth patches, and I walk away wondering who would actually want that junk.

Guys, the main factor here is that the mainstream media wants you to think its everyone's fault but their own, and are directing your gaze away from the laziness and corrupt practices that every company deals with. Stop falling for their "LOOK OVER THERE!" technique and actually get on the right track in terms of how you feel. Its not the kids, its not the changes from thirty years ago, its them. Its our job as consumers to let them know that, and I expect that when the doors at the plant are being locked for the final time, they will finally start to see exactly what the fuck I am talking about.


  1. I agree with most of what you said. Going back to the "way it was"... hmmm... when, exactly, should we go back to? Early 90s when you could buy cards in vending machines at the grocery store? Sure, that was fun, but now look at those cards! I fail to see how producing cards by the millions would be a good thing. Should we go back even further, when there were only one or two sets a year? I'm sorry, but having ONLY Topps Flagship available seems incredibly boring. I think things are fine the way they are.

    I also can't stand the "kids" arguments. Sure, it's nice to have kids involved in the hobby, but the only reason I started collecting cards was because my dad did. And I'm assuming my kid will one day collect because I do. I never really collected because my friends did - I collected WITH my friends because their dads all collected, too. Heck, most advertising on kids programming isn't actually geared towards kids - it's aimed at the parents. Although that being said, I don't care about the handful of $1 per pack products that come out - it lets me buy two or three packs at a time for my nephews (who collect because I do... imagine that!), and they're happy. They'd choose three packs of Opening Day over one pack of Heritage every time.

    And the only people who complain about getting crap in their high end boxes are those that buy them. Um... HELLO! Stop buying them. I love that stuff like Triple Threads, Black and Exquisite are loaded with crap because I can buy the hits on ebay or COMC for a small fraction of what a box would've cost me.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with most of this article. Please do not take us back to 1980!

    Kids are smart, they don't want to be forced into buying worthless crap anymore than adults do. With all the other entertainment choices they have nowadays, it's going to take more than bubble gum and base sets to grab their attention for 5 minutes. Higher prices are a necessary evil for the quality of product customers demand. Just make sweet looking cards and people will buy them.

    Where I disagree with you is the role of the local hobby store. Hobby stores give kids (of all ages) places to congregate, and stir up interest. Organizing giveaway contests and pack wars are something that can attract new people to the hobby and would be sad to see go. I am willing to pay a few extra bucks to have the experience of taking my son to the card shop watching him get his first big hit.

  3. Another Panini problem besides pure design is that there's no heirachy to the vast majority of theer products so you know what you are actually buying. Basically every hit is $25-40 and then you get base and inserts. Looking at the sets/products there's really no rhyme or reason why the set was even produced.

    At least with Topps you know why they are producing something (even if the design is horrible). Regular set is the regular set. Chrome is chrome with some autos. A&G/Heritage for history. Bowman for rookies. Triple Threads for patches/autos. Sterling for high end. At least the product line makes sense and you know what you can expect going in.

    Now look at the Panini basketball line. Every box looks basically the same (with the customary Kobe picture no less) without a picture of what the base card inside actually looks like. Besides being monotonous, why would any sane company expect marginal sports fan to buy the product (much less kids)? Panini's put out 11 basketball releases (with 4 more to come) and I couldn't even tell you the relative value of the base releases besides to say not much.

    For all of Topps/UD faults with basketball/football last year, at least there was some variety within each company and a purpose to each release.

  4. Sam that is a great point, and I completely agree. As bad as Triple Threads and Sterling are, they provide a purpose and a release point. Panini products are all the same product goals with the exception of National Treasures.

  5. I'm with you, but I think there still has to be a way to bridge the gap between the kids and adult collectors. I am not saying the entire focus should be on getting kids to collect. But, you can't leave them in the lurch completely.

    My son, who is 6, began showing an interest in cards last year. He has his own little book to which I started him off but he has since amassed his own stuff. He knows what he likes and even has a story for every card in his binder. I find him sitting down a few times a week and reading the backs of all the cards. The other day I found out that there are four other boys in his class (that we know of) that have collections too and now they are talking about trading with each other.

    While this might be an exception rather than a norm, something should still cater to the younger collectors that are in it, not for the signatures, not for the relics, but for the joy of owning something with your favorite team or players on them. That's why I like the Opening Day/Kickoff sets or the UD First Edition. I don't pick them up for myself but the kids like them.

  6. i agree with you that the 'kids need to be brought back' argument is overblown. i do believe, though, that at a certain age kids are ok with topps opening day or flagship product - they are looking for their favorite team or players that they know. that's been my experience with the few kids that i know who collect - a small sample size to be sure.

  7. You make some good points, almost all counter to the ones I just made in a post on my blog. I actually hit on the things you hate, and I argued in favor.

    Yes, the kids argument is overblown. BUT, do you honestly think in 10 years, the industry will GROW without them? If the manufacturers only pander to adults, do you think there will be a decent enough influx of new adults every year to offset (at the very least) the loss of adults who no longer collect? We need new blood, and yes you are right, kids are most often the demographic that is immediately brought up.

    Should we go back to "the way it was"? Not necessarily, but I think some aspects could be considered. How about for one, chill the heck out with the memorabilia cards. The vast majority are jersey cards, with a pretty nondescript white piece of cloth. AWESOME! How about limit the amount of this crap, and give us better pieces, with lower insert rates and cards per set?

    I certainly don't want to see us go back to mass over producing so that collections of that era are virtually worthless.

    For the price points - it's not so much the price for me, it's the amount of products out there. It seems like every manufacturer has trended to offering as many products as possible, over the same sport. This is great for choice, but (can be) horrible for team and player collectors. This argument could probably go back and forth several times with many tangents. I will leave it at that.

    And yeah, the media is to blame for a lot of how the hobby has proceeded. BUT, I just came back into it after ~15 years, so I probably am not that qualified to really get into a REAL debate about all this :p