Five Good and Five Bad: The Current State of Our Beloved Hobby

In the past few weeks, I have commented a few times on some feelings that are boiling over, whether its the future of the industry or the potential for new expansion within the hobby. I honestly believe that the community of people who collect cards is migrating to a different part of the collecting landscape, but that isnt necessarily a good thing. All that being said, there are still many good things and bad things about our crazy world that we call collecting cards.

Five Things That Are Good

1. A Great Online 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 created content specifically aimed at capturing online interest. As of right now, all of the big three companies have Facebook pages and twitter accounts (some have multiple), and two of the big three have a blog that covers relevant topics. The giveaways they do generate huge excitement, and Panini even created its own parallel to sell to its web community. 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 up and running, and facebook was for connecting with old friends. Since that time frame, 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 see with the upcoming National card show, many people from the community make it a point to meet up in Chicago to put a face to the people that populate our ranks. It’s a great time to be a part of the hobby when it comes to online collecting.

2. Communication is Important

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, manufacturer communication has gotten to a point where collectors now have more of a voice in what is going on – both in a good way and a bad way. 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 from similar sources, and in some cases they take that feedback to the presses. On that same note, news on upcoming products, as well as announcements on new directions have become practical holidays among the internet communities, and all of this is thanks to the way that the companies have started to communicate with their collectors. Is it all that it could be? Not even close, but it’s a great thing that we have what we have. I remember back when it was close to impossible to push your feedback to the front of the line, good or bad. Although there are a lot of complaints that Topps has dropped off the face of the earth, they still do communicate a hundred times more than reps from other commodities we use in daily life.

3. Collectors Are Starting to Open Their Eyes

In terms of the soft underbelly of an industry known for its issues with fraud, the general collecting populace is starting to catch on that not everything is as peachy keen as some of the industry wants you to think it is. I remember a few 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 individuals with malicious intent could manipulate people the way they do. 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 five years. Many of you may think this has contributed to a lot of negative aspects of truly understanding the worst side of the hobby, 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, its likely that someone is will be 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. Collectors are taking things into their own hands

If you go back over the last thirty years of cards, the people making the cards and selling the products have all been relatively from the same ilk. In fact, many of the companies in business now have been in business since the modern era began in some form or another back in 1989. For the first time, collectors are getting involved in making their own products, and that is a great situation to be in. Heroes of Sport, Prospect Rush, SBay Super Box, and others have all found ways to bring their own flavor to the card industry and be successful. From the way it seems, these products are for collectors by collectors.

5. Collectors have new ways to become active in the hobby

It used to be that the way you got your fix was to walk down to the local drug store, or card shop and buy a pack of cards. Now there are thousands of ways to buy cards, including those ways. The biggest boom of the last few years has been group breaks, where individuals have set up sites to give collectors a cheaper way to break a lot of wax, without shouldering a lot of the responsibility. Dont live near a local shop? That’s fine, there are now places you can pay someone to open the box on camera and ship you what you get. Although there are obvious places to utilize this service, and ones I would not recommend, its a cool thing to see flourish. You know its a big deal when its a major topic of consideration at the Vegas Trade Summit.

Five Things That Are Bad

1. The Money

Sports cards and money will always be interconnected, but even ill admit that its become a little ridiculous lately. I frequently blame entities like Beckett, their grading service and price guide for furthering the notion that cards are an investment rather than a fun way to pass the time. However, its not the entire story. So many people are solely in this for the money, and that’s a terrible thing these days. When examining the reasons why, I think some of it hinges on the ways cards are presented in a national perception of collecting. When new people come into our community, 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 in the price guide, 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 of collecting. 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 national media catches on to stories based solely on the value of cards its not going to change any time soon.

2. Creativity is Dying

I wrote a few days ago that there is a dying sense of creativity in this world of cards we love so much. Don’t believe me? Look at every product released last year with maybe one or two exceptions. They might as well have been one continuous product. The boredom has become so disheartening, that many people are giving up collecting based on the fact that nothing new ever really comes out. 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 that churn out cards like this.

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 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 tremendous collection is getting unmanageable. 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 Bryce Harper 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. Harper 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. Kids are not the future of this hobby, and yet we continually use them as the scapegoat for lack of growth. 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 earning their own money. 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.

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 or customer service wait times. 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.

6 thoughts on “Five Good and Five Bad: The Current State of Our Beloved Hobby

  1. How much does Harper charge? I’d love to see a list of what athletes charge the companies to sign.

    I’m not sure how the companies are supposed to worry about fake patches when the companies themselves are basically producing fake patches.

  2. I love how you always point out the kids element, in the 80’s and 90’s kids did rush to the card shop to get product, and yes I was one of them. When you take a business and make it so expensive for the now adult collector, collectors can never say retro, because retro was collecting as a kid. My main point is while cards are always going to be a hobby, it’s just paper reguardless of what the rarity or what’s on it. The hobby will never die, but just like the previous post it will not evolve. I think a player at the all star game said it best kids are the future, and when were gone, will they be collecting. I have 5 kids, and while yes they like the hits, I’m not going to spend 100.00 plus dollars for a bat chip.

  3. Another great post! Again, I agree with the majority of what you post. From my point of view, as for the state of the hobby, the good is very good and I have seen a great deal of improvement over my many years in this hobby. And, while the bad does exist and there is always room for improvement, the good far outweighs the bad.

    While there is very little in this post I disagree with, I would like to address your “Five Things That Are Bad, 1. The Money and 4. The Cost of Maintaining a Respectable Collection Is Getting Crazy.”

    Having collected for 56 years, I’ve seen this hobby transform from a simple, inexpensive form of entertainment to a much more knowledge required, and if the collector chooses, high cost hobby. The key words here are hobby, entertainment and chooses. This great hobby has something for everyone, people with different likes, tastes, and wallet sizes. And, it is first and foremost, a form of entertainment. Something meant for the hobbyist to enjoy how he spends his time and money.

    The reason gold and diamonds costs go up is because of perceived scarcity and because investors are looking for ways to make money. Investors, have always be around and have always been there to affect the costs of collectibles. Whether it is oil paintings, vintage cars or sports cards, investors are an important part of any hobby. They help make it profitable for artists, athletes and manufacturers to to make a living and produce products. And, while some artists and athletes may charge “too much” for what they do, the open market will determine value of what they produce. In the end, the collector determines the value of the collectible when he makes his purchase. Also, if the collector chooses, the investor is an outlet for the collector to liquidate a collection and move on in life’s priorities.

    In 1983, I bought a T206 Ty Cobb from a collector who needed money for an upcoming wedding. He was a little disappointed that I only offered him $150, about half of what I judged it to be worth. I asked him how much he paid for the card. He said, in 1974 he bought it for $5 from someone who advertised at the back of a comic book. For whatever reason, this collector no longer chose to collect and accepted my offer. In 1998, I sold this same card for $1500 and today, it is worth much more.

    From what I have seen over the 56 years of my collecting, most collectors (not investors) are not in this to turn a profit. I have met collectors who have collected for longer than I, who don’t what to sell their collection as long as they are alive. However, in life we buy and sell our home, buy and sell our paintings, buy and sell our cars, and buy and sell our card collection. It is nice to know what we own has value, and if we make fair money when we decide to sell, our time spent in this hobby is good.

  4. Pingback: Around the Carding Blogosphere for July 19, 2013 : The Baseball Card Store | Hairline Crease

  5. As someone who has been collecting for 35 years, I think that much of what you say is spot on. However I would argue that another important issue is a lack of affordable products for set collectors. Even retro products, which in theory are targeted at relative old-timers like me, are structured in such a way that completing a set by buying wax is now unaffordable. And let me tell you, buying complete sets on EBay is nowhere near as fun as building them yourself. Collectors should be able to build sets of products like Gypsy Queen, Archives, Heritage, Magic, etc. for under $100.

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