Topps Platinum Is Live With Early Big Hits

Topps platinum is live this coming wednesday, and some of the bigger hits from the product are showing up early thanks to an early retail release. Despite the fact that the product was one of the more uglier sets of the year from 2009, it was one of most popular retail releases of the year thanks to strong hit concentration in the packs. This year, the product may look much better, but the jury is still out on the overall success the set will have once it hits hobby shelves.

Platinum will never live up to the type of success that SP Authentic had, but it is trying awfully hard to fill the void left behind with a more  conservative design. Contrary to early reports that this product was being turned into Topps’ big hard signed patch product, it still features 100% stickers as all the Topps products normally do, something very disappointing to my hopes for Topps this year. The design isnt TERRIBLE, as evidenced by this Tim Tebow Patch Auto Refractor /99, but it isnt anywhere close to where it needs to be either. Both Panini and Topps have had a huge oppotunity to step up on the design front with Upper Deck leaving the licensed arena, but neither have released products that are in the same zip code as to where UD’s products usually delivered in visual appeal. This one had a chance, but delivered only on the most basic of levels. Maybe if Topps’ design team figured out that not every element needs a border (especially the stickers), they would have a much better look to everything they do. Right now, the borders do nothing but draw focus to the wrong parts of the cards. Think of what this card would be like without the border partially covering the player picture.

I will say this, Topps Platinum blows Threads and just about all the Panini stuff out of the water, but it will continue to be a boredom filled calendar as long as designs like this continue to be the norm. Unfortunately, Topps has adopted the Platinum design for almost all their sets this year, most evident in the upcoming Finest release, and that is not something I consider to be a good thing at this point. Who knows once we get a better look at what Platinum brings to the table.

How many more weeks until Chrome again? Ugh.

2010 Bowman Sterling Is Cringeworthy, Golden Rule Still in Effect

Just when you think Topps has finally started to put the right foot forward, they take three steps back. I really don’t get what it is that Topps cannot see about their high end products, but the stuff is just horrible. I cant even tell you how tired I am of seeing the same stupid ideas product after product, year after year. Seriously, I am wondering if one group of people designs the low end stuff and another group of people designs the high end. Even outside of the continued stupidity regarding the way the stickers are used, the designs never look up to par with even the worst of their low end products.

First off, let me start with the box hits of this product, the rookie material signatures. These cards used to be a matter of taste because they were horizontally oriented and they always had the players with their helmets off. I hated the pictures, so I didn’t buy the cards. Now, the pictures are game style, but the vertical orientation forces Topps to cover up the player with the unnecessary swatch placement, and then it no longer becomes a question of taste when it comes to liking these cards. Its absolutely shocking to me that Topps’ design team is willing stamp their name on a finished product like that, especially when you also see that they cut out a place for the sticker AGAIN. Oddly enough, there is no sticker cutout space on Dez Bryant’s non-memorabilia signature, and it obviously looks THAT much better. Not that it even would make a difference when the player is just barely peaking over the stupidly placed relic, at least in this case.

Secondly, I have no clue why Topps needs booklet cards in every goddamn product. It wasn’t even that novel of an idea when it was first started, and now its getting worse than the Panini manupatch autos that they spread over 25 different products. When you count up the different elements that they factor in to each of the booklet cards, it makes you wonder what the purpose of the card is. Is the purpose to create a good looking card, or is the purpose to pack so much crap onto the front of a card that you actually need two front sides and two back sides to do it. Give me a break.

Lastly, the price point of this product is still one of the most ridiculous on the market. Based on what you get out of a box, this product is so completely overpriced that it makes Triple Threads look like a good deal. Even though you may get 10 or whatever autos per box, all but one or two is going to be a scrub. That means, that you have to count on one or two cards to make up for 250 dollars, and even the Mr. Golden Bronco cant live up to that. That puts the collector at even more of a disadvantage, especially when you consider how terrible these cards sell on the secondary market after the initial release.

Ill give it to Topps, the overall design looks better than last year, but that is like saying this year’s Chevy Aveo looks better than last year’s. In the end, its still looks like an Aveo, and that’s the problem.

Wait Wait Wait. Topps Prime Actually Looks Good?

The golden rule of Topps is that you don’t buy their products that cost more than 100 bucks a box. That’s bottom line, and I RARELY break that rule. The new Topps Prime cards fall just within reason, and to tell you all the truth, they don’t look that horrible. It looks like Topps may have finally pulled their designer’s heads out of their asses when creating new products, and this could be something that does for them what Topps Platinum TRIED to do last year.

First off, the Booklet cards are back, and so far they are in just about every Topps product this year. I hate booklet cards, especially the ones from Triple Threads, and these actually look like what Triple Threads should be trying to do. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these booklet cards actually look okay. Big player pictures, no ridiculous die cut windows, just simple layout with the right components. The one problem is that these cards STILL feature stickers that are built into the design, and to that I call attention to what the cards would look like if Topps actually got off their asses and got them hard signed. Hell, even if these were just clear stickers on that blue background, the cards would be THAT much better. I really like that these cards seem to feature many different parts of the player’s uniform, though the event used football swatches are still lame as all fuck.

Secondly, the base card design makes me revel in its simplicity. I freaking love it. Hopefully all the cards look like this, and they don’t fuck it up with all sorts of riff raff that Topps usually utilizes. Im guessing the rookie autos will just be off shoots of these cards, which makes me happy, but they easily could turn out like the abomniations from 2008 Stadium Club. Hopefully they do these like Topps Chrome and not like anything else. HEAR ME TOPPS? Don’t screw this one up.

Lastly, the relic cards remind me of an old school movie reel, and I don’t really like the way they look. That will be a minimal part of this set, so im not really that concerned.

Overall, this looks pretty good, I am actually beyond surprised that it turned out like this. When I originally heard they were trying to pull this off a few months ago, all I could think about was “Uh oh, here comes Topps (not) Unique version 2.0.”

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 l
oses 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.

Topps Unrivaled Football Preview Is Just Like The Rest

Topps released info on a new set for 2010 this year, and all I can think about is how it is same shit different day. I have always said that the golden rule of Topps is that all mid to high end products should be ignored, because in most cases, Topps shows that they are incapable of designing a product that actually looks good. Although they believe they can trick the type of collectors who don’t value design to buy a product like this, especially through the inclusion of terrible looking booklet cards, Im not as easily fooled.

The most frustrating thing about Topps products in general, is that the design team always feels the need to border the components of the hits. All stickers have huge thick borders rather than seemlessly fitting into the overall layout, and from what we are seeing here, the borders have become so thick on some of the cards that they are starting to cover up the players themselves. Its completely terrible and draws away from a set that may actually be passable if Topps actually took hints from Upper Deck and Panini about how to use a sticker auto.

Right now, the prospects of the coming year’s success are dwindling, and when every set that Topps puts out starts to look the same, I start to wonder who is asleep at the wheel.