Bunting for a Hit: Are Digital Cards the New Frontier of Collecting?

If you arent familiar with Topps Bunt, the digital trading card app on iPhone and Android, its time to familiarize yourself with it. Its a game that combines elements of Fantasy Sports with card collecting, and it is taking off this year with new content designed to create value in cards that arent actually tangible. Although this concept is foreign to most collectors, this might be something that has potential to expand the hobby more than any other medium.

As you can see, the digital autograph cards sell for a ton, more than actual autograph cards:

2014 Topps Bunt Mike Trout Signature Card

2014 Topps Bunt – Lot of 21 signature cards

2014 Topps Bunt Derek Jeter Signature Card

2014 Topps Bunt Miguel Cabrera Throwback Signature Card

Here are the less rare cards, which still sell for insane money:

2014 Topps Bunt Troy Tulowitzki Signature Card

2014 Topps Bunt Jose Bautista Signature Card

When you consider that I can buy a real Johnny Cueto autograph for 50 percent of what I can buy a Bunt autograph card, it should perk your ears up. Most collectors would scoff at paying good money for cards they cant ever hold in their hand, but that is the beauty of what is going on with Bunt. As an avid player, and fan of the game, I can tell you that most of the users ARE NOT card collectors.

Think about that for a second. Value in intangible items, to people that have no interest in collecting real cards. Bunt has an active user base of tens of thousands of people, and Topps is making a play to target more of these individuals than you could imagine. The question is whether or not its a fruitful venture in the long run.

It should be made clear that the amount of money Bunt and its sister apps generate is not without extreme cost to produce. Apps of this complexity require constant maintenance, community upkeep, and most importantly a huge amount of capital to build. There is a staff of around 10 people that service the apps, and with salary plus benefits, you can see that the EBIT may not be all that high. Digital licensing also plays in, but its clear how popular these games can be.

Everyone is currently searching for the next big thing, and it is still not obvious that this is it. However, when a card company can engage this many users without issuing packs of tangible cards, why not blow this up to the highest possible element? Its attractive for them, right? No headaches of tracking down players for autographs, or paying exorbitant prices for vintage game used materials. For collectors, there are no redemptions and every card you own can be carried around in your pocket as long as you have your mobile device.

It should be no surprise that the best cards in the game mirror the best cards in real life, but often have exponentially more monetary value (here is the real card), regardless of how the current collector views the medium. Bottom line, it almost doesnt matter what collectors of real cards think, as they are a tiny group, and not the target market.

The true target market is the casual sports fan who enjoys fantasy sports, and that encompasses a group of people that would outnumber card collectors by the millions. I have taken root in the ability to open packs at any time of the day in any venue, and never have to worry about where to store my collection. That’s quite the concept – especially for all the people who have entire rooms dedicated to storing cards.

It also should be noted that cards can be produced on demand, and do not require any lag between event and production. For poignant moments in the season, Bunt can produce cards as needed with huge results. That is powerful to have that type of ability to market to new users. All the wheeling and dealing at the deadline has already been captured in Bunt, where it may not be captured in real cards for a year.

I would be interested to hear people’s thoughts, but again, this type of thing breeds new collectors like you wouldnt imagine. Every day, I get emails from Bunters who have made the transition to real cards, and need guidance. Lets be clear – this is a powerful recruiting tool, yet that may not be the point. Im beginning to think that the more Topps can invest in these apps, the more they will see the rewards outside of their normal target market. Something that hasnt been done since the early 1990s.

Here is some additional reading if you are interested:

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