Innovation is an unusual term in a commodity based system. Many businesses are forced to be innovative, but innovation has somewhat of a different connotation. I posted yesterday on how product costs dont really change despite the cost of producing them shifts each year. In fact, I would even go so far as saying that much of what we call innovation has almost ceased to be. Dont believe me? Look through the recent products that have populated the calendar. Very few of them have created a new space in the hobby, and only Topps Strata did something that really hadnt been done before.
Every other product is a few autographs and a few relics boxed in packs or in a single compartment. Even the packaging is rarely that new or groundbreaking like we saw with Topps Valor.The autographs are rarely more than a changed design over the course of the product’s brand, and little more. Things that are marketed as innovation, arent. To be honest, most of the things we see marketed over the course of a year are just that – marketing. We rarely see something come across that is worthy of being done. Every once in a while you see an interesting concept created, but its the execution that prevents true appreciation.
Although video cards were released back a few years ago, and were a trading card innovation, it was an unnecessary one. Smart phones made the idea outdated and behind the times. This year alone, Panini has marketed their spinning swatch down and distance cards as innovation, but like the video cards, really dont add anything to the space. True innovation spreads the reach of the hobby/industry, and accomplishes something along the way. This is not easy to do.
However, instead of striving to compete in this arena, we are left with stuff like this Leon Sandcastle autograph that sold for ridiculous money on eBay. Its a publicity stunt – albeit a clever one. Rather than going after innovative approaches to an ever dwindling interest in new trading card ventures, companies often shoot for the wow factor like the famous Derek Jeter/George Bush card. Im not saying that would be a bad thing if we also had some substance coming down the pipeline to get people excited. Im all for smoke and mirrors as long as the marketing approaches are supplemented by a strong creative backbone for new realms of the things we love. Despite the numerous (and interesting) marketing ploys and publicity stunts, substance is RARE.
What are the card manufacturers truly doing to make cards better? Much of what I have seen so far, although nicely done, is more of the same. I found myself asking my friends about why I keep collecting, and the answer isnt easy to stomach. Its just a new sticker or autograph on the same card with a different design and a different picture. Sure its fun, but does it really progress things to the point where it becomes giddy fun to see what comes out next? Unlikely.
A similar industry is seeing the effects of this as the years go by – videogames. The next gen systems in PS3 and XBOX360 were a new era of gaming because of the way HD changed our ability to see the intricate details of the screen. Now that PS4 and XBOX one are coming, I dont see that all that much has changed. In fact, the Wii generated a ton of buzz with their initial release because of the crazy innovation that it displayed. So much so that the other systems modeled new updates after its functionality.
What will be the Hobby’s PS3 or Wii system? What will change our consciousness in the same way memorabilia and autograph content did back in the mid 1990s? To be perfectly frank, Im not sure, and I understand that its easy to ask this question and not provide answers.
Its also obvious that I am just stating something that I am sure goes without saying. Its obvious we need innovation, but I dont think its obvious what truly counts as an innovative idea that can lead to a sweeping change. Investing in spinning relics is an innovative idea dressed as a marketing ploy. Im looking for the first company to throw caution to the wind and really do something.
Although I think that the hobby will survive far longer than the industry ever could dream of, there will be a finite point where things just dont do what they used to do any longer. Eventually, the industry, without a new method of production or approach, will collapse under the weight of a public that isnt interested in the same stuff being done over and over and over and over again.
You know what the craziest part of this is? When innovation presents itself over the last couple of decades, most of the time, collectors dont support it until its past its infancy. This means it will take a few years of investment before any dividends will be shown. Im not sure if any company can afford a timeframe like that without some sort of promise of the future. Jersey cards took a few years to catch on, same with Booklet cards and other “new ideas.”
This means its up to us to recognize and reward these new and influential ideas when they are brought forth, and I am curious to see if we will end up doing so. Hopefully for everyone’s sake we can pass with flying colors.