Are Things Dying or Just Different?

Today, a few people have already linked to another unabashed assault on “today’s hobby,” with more references to a “dying breed” and other similarly described movements towards the inevitable dismissal of cards from our consciousness. Although I don’t think she is all that off base with her perspective on change just from looking at eBay recently, I do think that the view is looking through the wrong lens all together. The thread that runs through the article is that today’s hobby is different, and different intrinsically means its bad. I wholeheartedly disagree.

For whatever reason, many people measure their satisfaction with the state of the hobby union against their joy during their original experience within card collecting. For many of us, we were a lot younger, and the world was a lot different. Although the technology of printing and manufacturing cards hasn’t changed very much (cards are still cards for the most part), these collectors feel incredibly detached from their previous experience. The question is not why they are detached, but how this detachment has materialized.

We know why they are detached – the focus has continually shifted away from the simplicity of the 60-90s, moving more towards catering to an aging target demographic that has more money to spend. As a result, the set collectors of that age have opted to hold onto the microcosm of the industry that still caters to them. When any element of that microcosm shifts further away, they become more and more detached. On the flip side, a group of new collectors have come on board who are fully vested in the success of this new industry.

This brings me to a very “chicken or the egg” type of situation. What caused this shift away from the days of four sets a year? Was it a shift in collector desires for more connected content to the players themselves (autos and relics respectively)? Maybe. Was it the cost of licensing and other things in that category? Probably. Was it the fact that the card companies employ a lot of really weird ways of doing business? Yes. Was it any of those things specifically? Not in the least. Collector demand for autograph and relic content has increased significantly, but it may have been at the behest of one of these other situations. Most of all – its really tough to make money at so many different levels of use. Manufacturers, distributors, shops and customers all have to make money – because it’s a collectible industry.

Additionally, you cant expect to continue making money doing the same thing over and over again unless you peddle an essential part of human existence. Otherwise, things eventually have to change, and companies need to find new ways to create revenue. Im sure the people who work in the industry have a lot of feedback surrounding whether or not they made the right choices along the way to where we are now. We can all probably guess there were quite a few wrong directions.

Does ALL OF THIS mean the hobby is dying? No, it doesn’t, it just means things are changing. This also means the people who were happy with the way it was probably don’t want this change to occur in any way. They might be similar to those individuals who still carry around a flip phone, or don’t have a cell phone at all. You cant make everyone happy, and that everyone includes the people who make the cards.

We know there are some major issues with the INDUSTRY that carry over to the hobby. Its not card quality, because a lot of that is subjectively considered person to person. Things I hate are loved by many other people. Its also not redemptions, either – as much as people want it to be. Redemptions are just a product of an environment, and they themselves are not the issue. It does bleed into one of the major issues the industry faces, and that is management of their customers.

As an result, it might not even be as big of a problem as we make it out to be, because the customers still buy redemptions and they still engage with the companies. Some of the top selling cards of the past years have been redemptions at some point:

2013 Topps Five Star Yasiel Puig Auto RC

2012 Contenders Russell WIlson Ticket Auto

But for the sake of argument, lets agree it’s a problem of significant proportions. If customer service and the ability to make up for lost content not delivered through redemptions were better, I doubt as many people would have the same feedback about the existence of them in the first place. If you could pick your redemption replacements, or easily get replacements for your missing hits, its likely not as big of a problem. Redemptions themselves almost have to be a part of a hobby that now thrives on autograph content regardless of form or media. It’s the fulfillment issues that have been the problem, as customers feel trapped by not being able to have a say in the outcome of their requests. I would go so far as saying collectors should KNOW every card has the potential to go without being made as a matter of fact, but also that they should be able to choose their destiny when things go awry.

The second larger issue has to do with collector confidence in the product content itself, moreover that the autographs and relics that we chase are actually what they are represented to be. There are too many stories out there about the feds bum rushing an individual who has sold fakes to a card company. Its too much at the forefront of an industry that is jammed to the gills with unethical people. When there is no collector confidence, the value derived from the products also suffers, thus contributing to the weird ways of doing business labeled above.

Circling back to my main point.

This hobby is not without problems, but it is also fundamentally different than the hobby of previous years. Although the comparisons are going to be made between 1984 and 2014, the results are going to be similar as comparing things comic book collecting (another relatively unchanged medium over the years – similar to the point of indie publishers making successful lines), or other comparable industries. The collecting boom of the 1990s is over, and because disposable income is at play, entities need to reroute to remain. When this occurs, these entities alienate the individuals who were happy with the previous iteration of their desire.

Bottom line, its not dying its just different. And that is okay. The reason it is okay is that there are a lot of people out there just like me who wouldn’t be around this hobby if it were the same as it was when I was growing up. For a lot of the collecting kids that are now adults, our perspective and youthful exuberance has changed too. Maybe we cant like things as adults the same way we did as a kid. Have you ever watched a cartoon from 1990 that you watched as a kid? It’s a completely different experience. I may loathe Spongebob Squarepants today, but I don’t look at Voltron the same way I did when I was a kid. I appreciate it, but my view has changed.

Its time to come to terms with the fact that cards have changed. It may not be for the better in your opinion, but its not as clear a comparison as you would think, either. Just keep that in mind as you read articles like the one linked above. The hobby may be significantly smaller than it used to be, but so is every other collectibles industry out there.

For your reference: Here is the article in question.

5 thoughts on “Are Things Dying or Just Different?

  1. I’m thinking I should start a blog to document and maybe get a discussion going on what I’m going through right now.
    I started collecting baseball cards when I was seven years old, through wax packs my dad would buy me at the supermarket and area convenience store. By 1994 I was buying my own packs with my own allowance and babysitting money. I got out of it around 1996 when I moved and couldn’t find any stores nearby, then 2006 got back into it.
    By 2010, I was collecting only the Topps flagship trio year to year (series one, series two, and Update). Base cards only. I wasn’t interested in the inserts unless they had some sort of high rarity (X/10 or X/1) or were from a player or team I followed. I found myself becoming frustrated with dropping $300 a year to complete 990 cards worth of sets, put them in a binder, and never open the binder again due to the cumbersome nature of finding a specific player or players I care about.
    So I started putting together a digital card project using scans from a couple different websites. Four years later, the project has around 110,000 cards, all sortable by set, team, player… It can simulate opening packs and use cookies to remember what you’ve opened, to itch the scratch of opening packs without spending money or taking up space…
    Starting this year, I’m not buying packs at all. I’m chasing singles for only the cards I want and trying to complete subsets. The goal is to spend around $200 a year getting only cards I’ll cherish not just now, but even five years and ten years from now.
    So far, I’ve bought six cards from 2014 Topps – three “Red Hot Foil” parallels of Red Sox players, and three 1989 die-cuts of Red Sox players. My goal is to collect all RHF cards for Red Sox players and all Sox variations from series one, two and Update, and all 24 rookie card patches from the series one blaster boxes.
    If I want to look at the full series releases, I have them digitally already.

  2. I’m a football collector. So my comments pertain to FB sets.

    My crazy question of the day is this:

    Would the hobby be worse or better if there was a 2 year hiatus on any new cards being produced?

    Look, I know the card companies would never do this b/c they make money off schmo’s like me buying wax. But it occurs to me that there are enough autos of pretty much every player already in the market right now. So the question remains, would the hobby be better if there were ZERO cards produced until Feb 2016?

  3. I dont think it is dying, but it is shrinking? also, because it is a collectable industry that means consumers need to make money? that makes zero sense.

  4. I think we have heard this argument before and I am one to lament the way it was, but I have also been able to adapt to the way things are now. I still get my Topps football master set every year and avoid the rest unless something catches my eye. No big deal. Just like anything else in life, you can’t go back. No matter how awesome it was. I also think that the article had a negative slant and it ignored a lot of cool things that happen in the hobby. Which is a shame because there are.

  5. I only collect football, make or buy a Topps and Chrome master every year and am working backward thru the 60’s sets now and also make an auto set preferably with current year rookies and vets in it.

    It is a question I ask often.. What is the future, will anyone care about Walter Payton or Johnny Unitas autos in 20 years.

    Ciggibot brings up good points. If you look at it in terms of what you spent on wax to make a set no one would ever pack anything out. Probably one of the dumbest things I do is keep track of what I spend on boxes and singles when making sets.

    Will I ever realize the same amount or more when I sell? Not a chance but
    I place a very high value on opening packs. Is it a lot cheaper to let Brent and Becca do all the work and buy a master set off the bay for less than the price of 2 boxes Yes but its not as fun for me… Do I open boxes and hope I hit the lottery, pull a card that may cover the box, yes… but I usually stick to one or 2 products a year and buy tons of it. This year for football is rough, Ive opened lots of packs but kept very little. Did I break even, no but I know its an off year. I did pretty well on 2012 products.

    I started out in the late 80’s in the hey day and bought everything from all the sports because I could. No one can do that now and its forced me to focus my collection on what I like with a small eye toward future resale values.. Did I spend and “waste” a lot of money in the beginning, yes but I would have still spent that money so the net effect to me isnt very different.

    There are a lot of things I dont like in the hobby but I vote with my $$ and dont participate in those things.

    If you are in it to make money, go somewhere else there are a lot of other things and places where you can make easier and quicker. Open, buy, collect what you like and you will feel better with the outcomes..

    There arent many other hobbies where the participants have the expectation that they will be able to make money from it at a later date… Hobbies that turn into money makers are usually called jobs at some point. For example if I want to take up shooting as a hobby, I have a high initial investment of time and money to start and when I dont want to do that anymore, I dont have the expectation or even the thought that I will reap a profit when I get rid of anything associated with shooting. The same for almost any other hobby. Why should cards be any different.

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