Over the last decade, cards have tried to expand outwards to get more attention. In 1996, Upper Deck released the first game used jersey cards, and shortly before that, they also explored putting signed cards into their products as well. Since that time, we have pretty much gotten the same stuff over and over again with different designs. Every once in a while something brings a fresh new take to the party, but its rarely anything that completely changes the game. I have long ago come to terms with the fact that there is likely not going to be a “next big thing”, at least until 3D printing becomes more affordable on a large scale.
The question is, will collectors even embrace this new thing when it comes along. We are a very fickle group, and it takes A LOT for us to get on board with something. A great example is full sized or oversized items as redemptions in products:
As an autograph collector over a card collector, these types of things REALLY get me excited. You can have an authentic piece of autographed memorabilia that you know is real, or on an extreme scale, a full sized game used piece of memorabilia. That is insanely cool for me. For those of us that are entrenched in the jersey era of card collecting, why collect the tiny swatch when you can have the full sized piece?
For whatever reason, collectors arent buying in, and that sucks. Although I understand the redemption piece is a turn off, the idea is one that should be explored more frequently. Topps has weaved this element into Five Star since 2011, and I think the results have been pretty fucking amazing. Because the items given in the redemptions are all pre-signed early in the year, there is no doubt that the redemption will be eventually fulfilled. Of course, not many people understand this, but it does play into our hands when buying these up. The fear of a player not signing is a turn off on redemptions for a lot of people, but when there is no need to be worried, what’s waiting a few months for a beautiful centerpiece to your collection?
This is what worries me. You can only do SO much with a normal card surface, even if it is connected to 3-20 other normal card surfaces. You can build up (like we have seen with the shadowbox cards), but you cant build out without increasing everyone’s pack size. Booklets still limit the elements to a very specific dimension, and without really going nuts, its very difficult to change.
Leaf, Tristar and other companies have started packing out photos, baseballs, helmets and other items into one pack format products, and have been successful. But there is not much that can be done when including cards in any element. What else can be offered if the standard surface is so tiny? Both Upper Deck and Panini tried video cards, which for lack of a better term, were outdated 5 years before they were put in packs. Even those needed to be packed out as box toppers or as redemptions.
All the companies have realized that the pack format is suffocating, and box toppers do have a way of getting outside the normal wrapper. However, they arent as fun as pulling something from a standard wrapped group of cards, and can sometimes cost a lot of money to complete.
Other ideas have centered around specially commissioned sketch cards and other pieces of 1/1 artwork to be added to packs, but they have only had limited success when not signed by the players.
Similarly, contracts and contests to get your own trading card have been tossed around as well, but the actual releases are so rare, that it doesnt apply to anyone but a select minuscule part of the people who open the product.
Companies could always create programs that run throughout their products that cater to a higher end crowd, but I dont see a highly digestible element coming in the next few years that will change the game. Its just not coming. We could always have a design your own card contest or a create an inscription redemption, but those arent long term solutions. Without an injection of something similar to 1995, can things continue down this path? Definitely possible, but we should easily consider what may happen if the next jersey card never comes through.
I will continue to stand by the fact that the hobby will never die, so we should take that off the table. However, it could become more and more difficult to conduct business without a fresh element to sell. Thats just sales 101.