Let me start off this post by saying I am indifferent. I think that group breaks are part of the culture in the hobby right now, and there is nothing any of us can really do to change that in the near future. That being said, I think there is a legitimate discussion for whether or not their presence in the grand scheme of things helps or hurts.
Why Group Breaks Are a Good Thing
Right now, the cost of wax is insane, made even more bonkers by how often you can walk away with so little of a return on your investment. When you go to a casino and gamble, you dont lose your money 90% of the time unless you are really drunk or really dumb. Does this mean its better to head to a casino than a local shop if money is your game? Yeah, probably. Its pretty clear that the products today dont deliver on a regular basis, and though there are hot streaks and cold streaks, wax is a losing venture for most sets. What makes this troublesome is that shops and manufacturers depend on wax sales, and if collectors continually feel like nothing is being delivered for what they pay, its not good.
Enter Group Breaks.
Dont want to shoulder the burden of an entire box of Flawless at 1500 a pop? Spend significantly less and still partake. Clearly, this is a much more positive outcome than walking away with nothing on a box that costs triple the monthly payment of a Tesla. Not only do we get to feed our addiction – and that is exactly what it is – but we also get to participate in the hobby’s equivalent of a five star restaurant.
When things are so out of hand that 95% of the collectors out there refuse or are unable to participate in the way that manufacturers need, that’s a huge problem. The market becomes exponentially smaller, with very little prospect of expanding. Group breaks provide a band aid for that issue, as the risk is much smaller for the individual, and shouldered by the group instead.
I stand by my take that this hobby is 100% unsustainable long term. Its just not possible for anyone to survive if the trends continue the way they are going. Group breaks do provide relief in the short term, but even they are not immune from a terrible draft class or another recession. This hobby is all disposable income, and if the purchase of wax no longer provides any chance of value, I think there will be a lot of reason that this industry will fail.
Why Group Breaks Are Not Good For Anyone
There is one word that I throw around on a regular basis, and it is the reason why my indifference to group breaks comes with major red flags. The word is reinforcement, both on the strategy and the product side. Group breaks not only give false hope that people are interested in terrible products, but false hope that the strategy of the current hobby is a worthwhile one to continue.
Right now, Im pretty sure that there are multiple breaks for every product that is released. From the good stuff all the way down to any of the NCAA products that Panini puts out. Every set gets a rip, and it inflates the failure line to a marginal success pretty much every time. Release Infinity football that is collecting dust on every shop shelf in the country? Broken by group breakers on a regular basis. Release a basketball product that Panini had to issue a special offer because it was so terrible? Cases were broken. These products should have been nothing but unadulterated failures that instead made money because of group breaks.
There is also reinforcement that the strategy currently employed by every company is working. Oddly enough, the strategy might be the only strategy available right now because of cost, but the group breakers are extending the life of this strategy more than it ever should have been able to live. The strategy of returning value in so few boxes may have a terminal diagnosis regardless, as I have seen group breaks go unfilled more and more as the months pass.
From a fundamental perspective, the companies believe that they can churn out tens of thousands of cases, most of which do not have perceived value to the person that is designed to be the end user. Dont believe me? Look at the number of people who have literally stopped opening boxes. They wait for the group breaks to produce the singles they want, and just buy them on eBay for a fraction of the cost of a box.
There is a reason the hobby has shrunk at such a significant rate over the last decade. Its been a veritable fucking disaster from an active buyer perspective, and though these new break formats have helped calm the wave, its not even close to a dam against the flood of apathy.
Overall, there are very good things to say about what group breaks are capable of. Just be cognizant of the flip side of the equation. Dont let short term success cloud your judgment of what is definitely not a positive outlook for the industry.