I have heard a lot of talk lately in the future of collecting, and for the most part, there is no real answer to be given. Collecting will be around as things are able to be held in your hand. That’s just human nature. If there are no new products, there will still be people that seek out the existing stash of cards. The future of the industry, however, is a little more murky, as its clear that there is rarely a new innovation to be had. I want to provide my thoughts on some existing mediums and where they might fall in the future, as well as give some ideas of my own.
If you collect cards and dont have an autograph in your collection, you are in a VERY small minority that is out there. The question is, will these cards continue to be the cornerstone of our product base, when you consider that its questionable if the players are even signing the cards anymore? I think that as the players begin to shorten their signatures and prevent companies from really highlighting them in a product, there will need to be unique situations applied. Some how, some way, a player signature will need to change, or it will continue to decline in value. The contrived short printing of certain cards rarely helps anymore, and this SCARES me. Unless a switch to on card becomes more of a focus, autograph cards will continue to suffer the consequences.
I dont think there is much that can be done anymore with jersey cards, other than making oversized cards with oversized swatches. Everything has been done or will be done shortly, and that will lead to the destruction of the medium. If you fast forward ten years, I dont think jersey cards will be around much without an autograph, and if they are, it wont be close to what it is now. Panini thought adding context to the game in which the jersey came from would improve value, but it just didnt. These cards are not a part of the future.
When considering the current innovation that is out there, I dont think these cards can be beat – YET. They are the best examples of autograph cards, in my opinion, because it provides more depth to the presentation of the design. As a result the collector gets something they rarely have had before, and as a result these cards are usually more valuable. I think that as printing technology improves, as does the quality of the pens that players sign with, these cards could eventually be more prominent as they get cheaper to produce.
Five Star built its reputation on the ability to add more to an autograph than just the player writing their name. They asked the player to bring more to the table by adding extra words, which has proven to be exceptionally valuable. I love inscription cards, but like autograph cards, they will eventually reach saturation. I hope companies take advantage of them more often, but at the same time, I dont want to cheapen the idea.
I have written about buybacks pretty frequently, especially as of late with both Topps and Leaf using their rich history to obtain some really nice ones. Buyback cards continue to be a renewable source of fun, as there are SO MANY iconic cards out there that should be either repackaged and sold like Leaf does, or bought and signed by the company like Topps has done. Although there is always a significant risk in these types of ventures for a card company, I would love to see more of it. The great part about buybacks is you can actually get them signed at any time because the cards dont actually need to be produced. Have a signing coming up? Bring a few extra cards to get signed for a buyback program. It should be standard practice.
Future – 3D Printed Cards
If you havent seen 3D printers, they are truly a testament to what technology is capable of. As the technology improves and becomes cheaper, I would love to see what the companies can do with cards that actually print a tactile 3D image of the player on each surface. Think about that for a second, you pull a card out of the pack, and the picture actually has a player popping off the surface. Talk about awesome.
Future – Oversized Collectibles
As things progress, bigger is always better. Although I doubt that redemptions for bigger items will be the answer, oversized collectibles are on the horizon. Packs that include more of the memorabilia aspect of the hobby have already started to become prevalent, but only in a repackaged state. If the companies ever decided to produce their own, I think there would be a huge market for it in the casual sports fan market place. Topps has already started developing apps to cater to this crowd and I think its a great idea. They also took the time at events to get hand stamps on a card, which bring an added element as well. Who knows what they are willing to do?
Future – Create Your Own Cards / Crowd Sourced Card Ideas
One of the major problems with the collectibles industry is that it costs A LOT of money to make something the way you want it done. We are usually left to buy other people’s ideas, or settle for something we like but dont love. League licenses usually prevent true creativity from taking shape, as they have too many rules to make it happen. What if the companies allowed collectors to choose from a few different pictures, a few different borders, and then have the player sign and personalize the card at an upcoming private signing with the card companies? Its not out of the question if done correctly, but its not available now for a number of reasons. Custom cards are getting bigger by the day on eBay and I dont think this trend is going away.
Future – Digital Cards
Im not talking about eTopps or even packs of cards you open online. I am talking about creating online environments where collectors can share and discover without joining a forum. Lets say you open a pack of cards and you scan a QR code on the back. That QR code downloads into an online display that showcases you own that card. It may even alert collectors who are looking for it. That would be something we need yesterday. Company driven online communities dedicated to highlighting cards pulled and owned by their end users.