Collecting cards has been around for over 100 years, and I dont see those days coming to an end any time soon. Although the industry will probably fall by the wayside at some point, there will always be people who continue to collect. That being said, there are definitely some bad things going down at the moment, and it is leading to collector attrition at record rates. Although there are elements that still keep people around, more things are happening now that are driving them away.
Reason 1 – Exclusives
Its easy to put this on the list, as they are one of the main reasons why things suck right now. Not only do exclusives prevent variety by their very nature, but it can be argued that exclusives also prevent innovation from being at the forefront of the brands. Its one thing to produce crap with other competitors on the market, as they will just fly by you on the way to a larger market share. Its another thing when you have a marketplace with little competition because of environmental circumstances.
Although it does make A LOT of sense for the company to try to build their manifest destiny with the leagues that offer limited access to their (expensive) licenses, it only serves to hurt the population. Not only are people resentful, but they also get bored. Its easy to see how a Panini card differs from a Topps or Upper Deck card in its design, and to have 30+ products per sport with the same company gets repetitive and uneventful.
Companies will say that they can make better investments in the products knowing that the exclusive deal has a long term impact, but I havent seen how this actually makes it into the final product in any sort of real way we can point to. Both Baseball and Basketball seem to have lost a step since going exclusive, and that’s putting it lightly.
Adding football to the mix of leagues with exclusives in place will only further hurt things, especially when for the second time, the company taking over is arguably not the collector favorite, or the company with any real history in the sport. Its all about money, and thats not surprising.
Without getting into reasons why the pending NFL exclusive is even worse when you dig down deep, as a whole, its one of the next dominoes to fall. People are afraid that a company could potentially take over all four sports, and that is a big topic as to why there is less confidence in prices realized on the secondary market. The correlation between industry health and hobby health is evident in the buzz, and an industry where 1 player remains out of the 6 that were around previously doesnt show health.
Reason 2 – Amount of Products
Before I get into this, I am NOT advocating going back to 4 products a year or even 10. What I am saying is that 30 plus products per sport is just not realistic. Not only is it not realistic, but it is causing more harm than it is helping, especially when companies are actually building print runs with a closeout portion of the cases in the plan. I also understand that the leagues carry a large portion of this blame as well, as many of their licenses come with minimum guarantees that necessitate a packed calendar.
Here is the thing. If you look at how many products are being released, its clear that companies are running out of ways to build a trading card. Look at the way Panini dilutes their brand names, and its should be even more obvious that they are struggling to get good ideas into the pipeline. Then consider further that they are only building HALF of the products in football that they will need to build next year. It shouldnt come as a shock when you see Flawless Basketball, Football, College, Kentucky and Duke editions all in the works. Same thing is the case for Treasures and Immaculate as well.
The biggest issue that this leads to is collectors feeling both overwhelmed and frustrated. There is only so much demand on the market for any given player or card, and most of the trading card manufacturers dont sign an autograph deal without 10,000 signatures involved. It just gets to the point where people are just giving up because they know they arent going to get anything they havent seen 100 times previously. At some point, the cards just start to look the same, with different set names attached. Chrome stock can only be used so many ways before people write off the new stuff as “here we go again with this stuff.”
Reason 3 – Lack of Innovation
The last big thing to happen to the hobby was the rise of the relic card, and that happened 20 fucking years ago this year. Not only have companies bled this idea until it became a shriveled corpse of its former glory, but they havent found a way to take things to the next step. Well, at least not on the physical front.
Right now, the 100 dollar box with 4 hits is happening almost 50 times per year over all the sports. The designs might be different, but much of the methods to create the cards are exactly the same. Acetate and other types of card stocks have been minor innovations, but as a rule, you wont find a box of cards without at least one standard auto or relic in it.
This means when a big signer is part of a checklist, their participation is muted by the fact that many times, they have signed thousands of cards prior to the one they are currently signing. Not only that, but all the cards are relatively similar in nature. The only way to create value these days seems to be adding larger and better relics, or lowering the serial number. Contrived scarcity by a manufacturer is NOT innovation.
We cannot continue to sit back on the laurels of 1996 and hope that things work out. Box prices continue to increase, but its not like they are adding anything different to the mix in any way. People wonder why secondary market prices crash so fast after release, and it all has to do with this. What makes this Mike Trout auto different than the 1000 others that came before it? Even Michael Jordan isnt immune. Its time to see what can be done, and reason 2 and reason 3 are prime culprits.
Actually, 1996 is still a big year for cards, mainly because so many of the card companies produce their sets like we are living in frozen time. The collectibles market as a whole boomed in the mid 1990s, partly because of an economic boom, and partly because things were fresh still. Now, 20 years later, things havent gone THAT much further when you consider the grand scheme of things. I mean, Apple can only produce so many computers before everyone tears them apart for not going further with their creativity. Why do you think iPad and iPhone exist? Its not like Apple was ever a phone company before they decided to innovate.
Reason 4 – Too Many Rippers and Flippers
Because of reasons 2 and 3, many people dont buy wax to collect what they pull. This leads to more people buying wax, hoping to hit the big fish, and the selling for nothing when they dont. Because of this vicious circle, fewer collectors are out there to pick up the pieces, which means that prices are soft all around. If 2 and 3 were different, and there were reasons to collect that Durant auto, maybe we would see that fewer people would open boxes JUST to sell what they get.
Being a rip and flip person isnt a bad thing, either. These people need to exist or the collectors wont have access to buy what they want. The only thing is that the collectors need to outnumber the rippers by any margin for the model to work. If there isnt anyone left to buy, all the prices take a hit. If the stuff for sale is all the same as it was the previous 18 products, there is no incentive to buy THIS card over those previous examples.
The worst part here is that this isnt something that a card company can just go out and change. It has to be a wholesale situation across many different categories. A card company can maybe stave off some of the ramifications by avoiding the pitfalls of what is going on with product construction at the moment, but its not easy. Money doesnt grow on trees in the card industry these days.
As mentioned above, there are a lot of stakeholders in this business that need their fill, two of which are only involved with cards because they can be. The leagues and many of the players DO NOT need to sign to stay afloat. Some players do, but the leagues really dont need cards to be successful in the slightest. Considering the number of complaints lodged against card companies, its probably more of a hassle than we would expect.
This creates a vacuum where products are built with shitty parameters, shitty design, and shitty content, leading to less interest, less people that want it, and a bunch of people looking to sell what they have. Its not a good situation all around.
Because all the companies are swimming in debt, minus Panini, its not like they can fight back without serious issues. Panini’s card business is barely profitable as it is, and they can think their Italian sugar daddies for having any sort of stability at all. Without that, who knows?
Reason 5 – eBay
I love eBay, I love the real time pricing it provides, and I love that at any time of day, you can pretty much get whatever you want. That part of it is not in question. The part that is in question is their rampant desire to look the other way when people work outside the lines.
Even though hundreds of thousands of items are up for sale at any given time, there are a ton of people who refuse to deal on eBay because of how buyers and sellers can take advantage of the system. Buyers can report issues without fear of negative feedback. Sellers can shill auctions without penalty. It has devolved into a wasteland of good people who are left with a landscape littered with unethical douchebags.
If the hobby’s biggest marketplace functions more like Mad Max and less like an actual store, that is a very bad situation. Its clear that eBay needs rules in place for all categories, and cards just happen to be a casualty of some of those changes, but it is what it is.
I cant even count the number of times on two hands where I have had a negative experience buying and selling on eBay. This is exacerbated by the fact that each time I have known someone was playing me, but was helpless because of eBay’s archaic policies.
Top sellers are even more at a disadvantage, because of how their items are displayed in searches if they dont maintain a flawless record.
Additionally, the prices set by eBay are volatile. People will use this as a bedrock for a pro-price guide argument, unfortunately. Price guides arent the answer in any way, shape or form, but im starting to form a sentiment that eBay is causing more problems than ever. As I have said above, all the other reasons listed in this post contribute to each other’s prominence on the list, and eBay is no exception.
Because there are fewer people looking to buy these days, prices are even more volatile. When prices jump all over the place, products can suffer or flourish. Sadly, a flourishing product has become the exception to the rule rather than the rule. Most of the time, a set can tank mere days after release for many of the points already referenced. That puts eBay in a bad light, but its more than that.
Overall, there are a million different reasons why things are the way they are. Not surprisingly, people’s opinions on this matter have reached butt hole levels. Everyone has one, and most of them are pretty smelly. Im not saying I have all the answers or even as good of an understanding as many others that are out there either. We need more discussion, we need more suggestions, and damn, we need things to change.
Next, ill be talking about the five reasons collectors should be excited, so dont think this is going to be all doom and gloom.