Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Examining the Good With the Bad

In the past, I have done a five on five about the hobby, or a discussion of a few good things and a few bad things that I believe are relevant observations about what is currently going on. Since things have changed so much, even in the last few months, I think it bears a redux and re-evaluation.

Five Things That Are Great

1. Community

Since 2007, the online card community has become a staple of the industry to a point that it is taken into consideration when news is released. Not only do collectors participate in the discussion through message boards, facebook, twitter and blogs, but the companies have joined on as well. As of right now, all of the big three companies have facebook pages and twitter accounts, and two of the big three have a blog that covers relevant topics. As great as it is, those things are just the tip of the iceberg. Back in the early part of 2008, when SCU was founded, the amount of online participation was minimal compared to now. Card blogs were few and far between, and widely read card blogs were even fewer. Message boards were heavily policed and rarely produced anything but flame wars and mail day posts. Twitter was barely going, and facebook was for connecting with old friends. Since that timeframe, card blogs have become increasingly popular, message boards have gone so far as creating their own card sets, and twitter and facebook have become a staple of the community. As we saw with the turnout for the recent National show, many people from the community made it a point to meet up in Baltimore to put a face to the keyboard. It’s a great time to be a part of the hobby when it comes to online collecting.

2. Communication

When it comes to communication between the companies and their end users, less is more had always been the policy du jour. In a time where community is a key part of the process, communication has gotten to a point where collectors now have more of a voice in what is going on. If a company does something right, they hear about it from all sorts of different places. If a company does something wrong, they definitely hear about it, and in some cases they fix it. A great example of this was with the prevalence of the fake Rookie Premiere Autos from Topps, and their commitment to serially numbering the future cards to prevent fakes. On that same note, news on upcoming products, as well as announcements on new directions have become practical holidays on the net, and all is thanks to the way that the companies have started to communicate with the collectors. Is it all that it could be? No, but it’s a great thing that is going on in our hobby. As I said yesterday, the Topps panel at the national was an event that had good intentions at heart, but further improvement is needed. Regardless, a panel like that never would have happened a few years ago, and that is where we can see the progress.

3. Collectors Are Starting to Open Their Eyes

In terms of the soft underbelly of an industry known for defrauding its fans, the general collecting populace is starting to catch on that not everything is as peachy keen as Beckett makes it out to be. I remember a few system questioning topics being discussed on message boards when I first got back into collecting, and how much of a fight it turned into. None of the people who commented on the topics could fathom that Beckett or the manufacturers could manipulate them the way they were. Now, if you go on a message board and start talking about it, board members are quickly going to ask you if you have been hiding under a rock for the last three years. No longer do the companies have free reign to churn out questionable items or videos, as skepticism has become much more of a welcome feeling. Many of you may say this has contributed to a lot of negative aspects, but I disagree. I have never been one to want the wool pulled over my eyes, and I think its great that people are finally starting to see that all is not what it seems. Also, from a purchasing standpoint, a lot of collectors are starting to recognize the fakes that have been such a problem in the past. Whether its fake autos, fake patches or fake anything, someone is always there to jump on it. I cant tell you how happy that makes me feel, and I think its great that people are getting the point. They are surely a long way from where they need to be, but it is a million times better than it was.

4. The Hobby Is Receiving National Media Attention

For an industry profit marging that has deteriorated as greatly as it has over the last few years, national media attention is like a breath of fresh air. Whether it’s the sale of the Strasburg superfractor, or any number of other stories, news outlets are realizing how many people still care about sports cards. Hell, I have even seen the Million Card giveaway come up on MLB game broadcasts and morning news shows. When I attended the rookie premiere, an event usually reserved for card companies, the news stations from the LA area and even a few national services were there at the party. Because Topps, Panini and UD were the ones who had set up the event with the NFLPA, they were front and center when coverage of the event was broadcast. Although the hobby will never die, the industry does have a shelf life, and it is extended every time a story is covered nationally. That is definitely a good thing.

5. Things are Rebounding From the Recession

For a long time, the industry looked to be on its last legs because of crippling blows from the recession. Because of the way the manufacturers produce their products, card collecting success is in direct correlation to the amount of disposable income that is available to the nation. When the nation is in dire straits, so is the ability to buy cards, even more so than some of the other industries that were hit by the recession. Now that the nation is starting to recover, there was a looming cloud of doubt that surrounded whether or not the industry would be able to recover. As we have seen with the success of recent releases, as well as the completed auction tab on ebay, things are slowly getting back to the way they were. It may never reach full speed again, but its great to see that collectors are not giving up on the things they love.

Five Things That Are Bad

1. The Money

Baseball cards and money will always be interconnected, but its become ridiculous lately. I frequently blame entities like Beckett and their grading service and price guide for furthering the notion that cards are an investment rather than a fun way to pass the time, and I definitely think that is a good part of it. However, its not the entire story. So many people are solely in this for the money, and that's a terrible thing. When looking at the reason they are in this for the money, I think some of it hinges on the ways cards are presented in a national perception of collecting. When new people come into things, the first thing they are usually exposed to is the question I see way too much of. "HOW MUCH IS THIS WORTH?" Instead of trying to collect things that make them happy, they start to collect things that will make them the most money. Then when Beckett presents such an unrealistic representation of value, it creates disappointment when the truth is realized. I will be the first to admit that I fall victim to this vicious circle as well, and I guess that comes with the territory. However, I think its time for cards to be presented in a way that doesn’t paint this hobby as a money pit. However, when the Strasburg super does what it does, that becomes practically impossible.

2. Creativity is DEAD

I have commented a number of times that there is no more creativity in this world of cards we love so much. Don’t believe me? Look at every product released under Panini since the take over. They might as well have been one continuous product. Topps isnt much better. Then when you see that a company like Upper Deck kicks themselves in the nuts and loses everything, the ability to foster new ideas dissapates. As much as I hate what Upper Deck did in terms of their business ethics and practices, their products were always the summer blockbusters of the card world. That is undeniable, especially when you see how a product like SPA or Exquisite compares to anything else in the same category of products. The boredom has become so disheartening, that many people are giving up based on the sheer number of emails I have received. Personally, I think it has more to do with companies focusing on packing as many relics onto a card as possible, rather than focusing on the simple beauty that cards had in the past. Design and composition has become an afterthought, instead of being the primary focus, and as a result, we have products like Topps Triple Threads and Panini National Treasures Basketball.

3. Scams and Fakes are Becoming Harder to Detect

It used to be blatantly obvious when something wasn’t right. The patch was perfectly centered, or the auto was ridiculously terrible. It was cut and dry, and the informed people never had to worry about getting taken. However, because of the way companies are trying to wow the collectors (a good thing), fakers have had an opportunity to exploit it (a bad thing). It’s a huge problem, and many of the manufacturers refuse to address that it is even happening, mainly because some of them don’t even have a clue as to the extent of how far it reaches. Although some of them take small steps into combatting fakes, none of them go the whole nine yards, either due to cost or due to time needed. They have gotten BETTER, but they are so far from GOOD that is fucking frustrating.

4. The Cost of Maintaining a Respectable Collection Is Getting Crazy

Part of it is due to the amount of money companies have to spend to get their products done, part of it is the nature of the business. The bad thing is that the cost of having a wow collection is getting unmanagable. Box price average is slowly creeping higher, and the content inside those boxes is not following suit. This leads to much higher prices all around, and much of it has to do with things out of the control of the companies who produce the cards. When the top players like Albert Pujols charge as much as they do for an autograph, it drives up the cost to produce a product that is filled with enough content to buy. Pujols doesn’t need the money, and neither do many of the players who sign, but yet they still feel that their signature is valuable enough to commit highway robbery. Then again, when they expect tens of millions of dollars to play a game we all think is nothing more than fun, I guess its expected.

5. Everyone is Using The Wrong Arguments For Why The Hobby Isnt Growing

Kids not collecting cards is not the problem. That’s pretty much it. That argument holds as much water as a generic brand baloon on a cold day. Kids are not the future of this hobby, casual sports fans are. When the collecting base is populated by as many twenty somethings as it is, the manufacturers should not be wasting their time trying to compete with XBOX and DVR. Kids are gone, and they are not coming back - at least until they start cheering for a sports team and buying their own stuff. Because that usually happens around age 16-20, that is where the focus needs to be. Kids spending 2 bucks on a base Topps pack at wal-mart is not going to drive the hobby to a point where it needs to be. Getting the billions of casual sports fans interested in buying AUTHENTIC autographs and memorabilia from their favorite sports players will.

As blogging is always about opinion rather than anything else, these are obviously mine. Im sure all of you have your own opinions, and I encourage you to voice them. However, when considering the things that you like and the things that you hate, remember that there is more to this hobby than bitching about redemptions. These highs and lows are more of a representation of intangible concepts that play into tangible products. When the intangible is corrected or improved, the tangible end results will improve. Bottom line.


  1. While I agree with most of what you've said, as a guy who focuses on vintage and is a veteran of the hobby's halcyon 1980s boom years, my perspective on getting kids active in the hobby is somewhat skewed.

    Reports of the National indicated that a vast majority of tables were selling vintage, and modern (what I call "shiny stuff") was given short shrift. This is a big change from the 1980s where sellers often had vintage cards as singles but still offered stuff from the current year's sets as well. While some of the blame can be placed on the card companies -- too many different products for some sellers, lack of creativity as you mentioned -- there has been a disconnect between vintage/modern that isn't healthy for the long term.

    I began collecting at 6. At the time, a pack was 25-30 cents and my parents had no trouble picking up wax for me to bust. As I grew older, having those cards helped my academic development in ways I never realized. Due to the practice of sorting cards, looking at the stats and memorizing everything I read on them, I became a pretty good math student. Had I waited until I was 16 or so, I'd have missed out on that. Frankly, had I waited ten years to enjoy cards, I may not have been hooked on this hobby.

    Where I agree with your assessment about young collectors is the fact that kids will subject their cards to tremendous loving torture. I did, and still have the cards with battle scars that show they were loved by this young fan. If a collector is focused on autographs and memorabilia, yes, it may be a good idea to keep them out of such destructive hands. However, if young kids aren't encouraged to have a collection (base cards, cheap wax, etc.) it might be harder to get them excited about them later on. Those kids are the hobby's future, now that we're beginning to lose the Baby Boomers who fueled the explosion of the hobby during the 1980s.

    Lastly, I'm on Facebook (same name I use here). Feel free to add me as a friend, as I'd love some friends from the card blogs.

  2. I've said this time and again (not here... maybe not anywhere even, it could've all been in my head) that KIDS are never the target. Parents of the kids are.

    When cards are too expensive to pick up a pack or two for my son, he'll never become interested.

  3. Yeah, I'm there too...except for the kids part. That seems to be the only point I don't agree with anytime the subject comes up. My kid just started collecting 6 months ago. He is 7. Could care less about a jersey or autograph. He just wants the cards of his favorite players that he recognizes and watches on TV (or in his case, older players from the early 2000's that he plays on the Playstation).

  4. I agree 200% on the Panini design issue. Their design turns me off completely from their products. How many variations of 2005 Leaf Rookies and Stars (paint splatter edition) can you churn out on several different products year after year?
    It really makes me long for the cards of the 90s when we had Pacific (great card design) and Pinnacle (innovation). But that's what happens when there is only one or two manufacturers making cards. Innovation and design get lazy and sloppy.

  5. It is very hard not to extrapolate personal experience as a kid too far into the present. The target market for cards had always been kids, at least until 1989. I think it is safe to say that Upper Deck's debut with premium cards at premium prices started the end of the kid-budget era.

  6. I have been collecting for some time now but it really is getting out of hand. The prices for some of these hobby boxes are ridiculous, there is no way I see parents shelling out 150 bucks for a hobby box. And my god, how many parallels do I need of one card. Do I really need an orange, blue, red, silver, gold, platinum, brown, beige and xxx-refractor card. Just because a player has 300 hits in a year doesnt mean a card for each hit has to be done, making them these special sought after 1/1's. Does that really qualify a card to be a 1/1.

    In reality, I don't even know which cards to collect anymore. I love the hobby of card collecting but I have done away with buying boxes since my main collection only consists of Yankees and Oakland Raiders memorabilia cards.

  7. They should focus their attention to the "kids" of the late '80's who are slowly returning to the hobby and not the kids today who will never have the interest we had as kids.

  8. Although I do not agree with everything, this is one of the better blog posts i've read in a long time. No question, the hobby community has moved from strictly flea markets, hobby shops and beckett/Tuff Stuff mags, to blogs, forums and secondary markets like eBay. There certainly are some advantages as I don't think collectors have had so much info or section available to them, but it was fun to go to a local hobby shop to buy singles. Even shopping malls had a solid card shop or two. Not so much any more.

    Also, there's no question that the it has become an arms race to have a respectable collection, but the term respectable is what you make of it. No question, I would love a Jordan, Magic, Bird triple auto, patch, Equisite Billion dollar gold, hologram crazy card, but I can also appreciate a solid base card design and more importantly, the chase.

    As far as the Panini design complaints, I def see some of that. I collect a lot of dif sports and players, but I reviewed every basketball release by Panini this year. No question, some of their earlier basketball products looked the same, but I do think there were improvements with a number of their latests releases. However, I did not like to see a number of sticker auto's in the National Treasures product that was recently released. There is some very good and some not so good across their products. As far as basketball is concerned, I was pleasantly surprised by their first year. We'll see how dif their products are in this coming year.

    Could not agree with you more about why the hobby is not growing as it has in the past. Dead on.

    Great post, Good read!!!