Open up a hobby box or blaster and you’ll notice that over 99% of what’s in there is junk.  I’m so frustrated with prices and content that I only buy dollar packs now.  Forget about blasters, paying $20 for a piece of jersey that was event worn sucks.

I’ve decided to make a list of the Pro’s and Con’s of the industry as we know it.  After I’m done you will see that maybe the title of this post is right, maybe the industry is failing and fast.

PRO’s

  • Subset’s like Topps Chrome Rookie Reprints leads me to believe that quality subsets are making a comeback.
  • With only three manufacturers there is a lot less confusion about what to buy.
  • Card games like Adrenaline and Attax are helping bring kids into the industry.
  • The sticker industry is going well and again bringing youth into the hobby

CON’s

  • No creative designs anymore.
  • Very few new card sets.
  • “Cheap” card sets are no longer cheap.
  • “High End” card sets are way too expensive.
  • Autographed stickers just seem to cheapen cards.
  • Game worn memorabilia is usually now event worn and not even used near games.
  • Exclusive contracts with the various sports are killing the hobby.
  • Autographs are of never going to make its or superstars.  There are no longer autographs of everyday players.
  • The focus of the blogging industry is now on vintage cards, player collections and custom cards.

As you can see as good as the pro’s are, the con’s are so much more loaded.  The industry has been steadily declining in recent years and this year will not be any different.  The main culprits in the reason behind this failure are the sports themselves.  The money required for licensing fees is ridiculous.  Then forget about the individual contracts like Strasberg, Harper, Jeter, Pujols, and Rodriguez are just some of the examples why the industry may never be able to put out quality products at affordable prices.

Topps has changed hands a few times as well as CEOs.  I just don’t think anyone has any idea of what to do to straighten the mess that is the card industry our.  So I ask my fellow card collectors to make the call, how can we save the card industry?

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11 responses »

  1. I will say I was sure I was going to have to say no wait what about this but you hit all the main points. I agree with almost everything except the con about blogging. I still think there is a ton of variety in the card blogging community. And the one I think that needs to be added is lack of quality control that seems to be plaguing Topps and how terrible Topps and Panini high end products are.

    What can we do to save the industry? Nothing. I thought for a while Topps was reaching out when it got its football license it asked via it’s blog for suggestions on how to make their football products better. Think if the industry was to do more outreach or include some feedback into there product developement it might help. But what one collector likes another thinks is trash.

    And if there is any doubt that exlcusive deals hurt creativity or quality one only needs to look at topps baseball products this year. I think the wrapper redemptions are a nice add on but they should be a thank you to the customer not an apology or plead to buy product.

    And now I remember when retail packs were a joke. Now they have some great stuff and even exclusive cards farther hurting LCS’s taking business away from them. I’m guilty.

    One thing I like that most don’t seem to is the Manufactured Hat Patches and Bats and next year gloves and i’m sure balls aren’t far behind. I think it’s a nice addition. So what if it isn’t game used, Topps isn’t saying it is. I’ll agree the relics being event worn is bull shit. If it’s going to be a relic card it should be game used. What kinda crap is having a rookie put on and take off tons of jersey just so they can be cut up. dumb. How about we just have them hold the jersey for 1o seconds and wipe there pits with it and call it event used!! Sorry ranting.

  2. Paul says:

    I think the only shot of saving the card industry is to make the leagues or the player unions take it over to operate in-house. If you can cut some of the licensing fees out of the equation, maybe you can get the costs down enough to make product that actually has value to the collector.

  3. Weber 10 says:

    holy crap, why dont you write him an essay?

  4. bamlinden says:

    One thing we can do to ‘save’ the card industry is focus on the positives and not the negatives.

    I’ve seen way too many posts lately on a lot of blog sites talking about ‘how they hate this’ or ‘that’s bad for the hobby’. The hobby is what we make of it and if we don’t like it – refocus or get out.

    The hobby does not control me – I control what I want to get out of this hobby.

    I went from set collector to player collector because that is what I wanted to do – nothing wrong with that. I started doing customs because that is what I wanted to do. I still very much enjoy a great deal of products released. I might not buy it, but I can still enjoy it.

    If you don’t like blaster boxes – don’t buy them. If you don’t like a certain set – don’t buy it.

    People need to focus on what makes the hobby fun – not what they hate about it or the negative results of it or making fun of it.

    Just my opinion.

    • chemgod says:

      My focus of the post is that if the hobby doesn’t correct itself, there will cease to be one.

    • Paul says:

      “Making the hobby fun” is something that each person can (and should) find their own answer for.

      But unless you’re just interested in making customs or collecting vintage, you need to care about whether the card companies can remain profitable.

  5. jl says:

    How to change the complection of the hobby, let’s look back to a time of pre 1997, when a auto or a #’ed card like original elite meant something, When 1/1 was really a 1/1. Now flash forward to today, when a pack of cards cost over 2.00 or up to 250.00 and it’s all about colors and a big hit, it made what in 1997 the chase, no longer the chase, but the majority. You only have to look back to 1996 with Leaf and signature series 10.00 a pack 1 auto, or in 2001 Fleer legacy basketball with the full repilca jersey, simple with a little chance, but it was something that made collectors get whooed, that is what the industry needs, a change where going back in time, can maybe spark something new.

  6. Peterson says:

    I am pretty ready to pack it in. Upper deck was the sure thing to my Topps dumb-luck and I am feeling the pinch. Topps has had so many quality control issues this year that I am having to send back my first ever defective topps product. (3 seperate packages, 2 value packs and a blaster. When I opened those expensive things I felt like no one cared what I thought of the cards, that who’s gonna send back a 1:4 left-to-right ratio OC xfractor anyway. It’s like they are fucking with the lions tail. I was going to boycott topps until 2010 ginter came out…but that held no interest for me. Bowman chrome has looked 1000x better than topps so far, but how does that work?

    as you said perfectly, bloggers are about vintage, PCs and Customs.

    Customs is where we are going. I believe this.
    Quality design from mega-corporations is not fucking rocket science, it just has to work and be worth the trip (or site visit) to get it.

  7. JBob says:

    I think design of the cards is where the revolution has to start! I know I hound on how cool 90’s inserts are a lot but it’s so true. Mem cards can obtain this when used correctly but it’s often the case that lazy design and mem cards go hand in hand. The industry also needs to innovate at a quicker pace delivering more on what the mem is on the cards rather than the number of swatches or colors. HR bats and meaningful jerseys make better hits even if more limited in supply.

  8. CK says:

    I think the hobby is dying, unfortunately. I go to shows (in the mall) or the big Philly show (3x a year) and I’m the youngest one there by 20 years (and I’m in my 30’s). No joke. There is no future with kids – they have way too many other distractions (video games, computers, cell phones, etc) to bother getting into something as quaint as cardboard. Some will, but the vast majority will not. I honestly feel like I’m part of the last generation of card collectors – some of you may be in your 20’s, but really, there isn’t much left after us. So when the older generations start to die out, the hobby will die with it. Sounds morbid, but I think it’s true.

    It’s just a shame that things can’t be like they were in the ’80s, in the sense that base cards were worth something. A base rookie card was worth going after. You didn’t have ridiculous inserts and parallels and whatnot. I get that things change and that’s progress, but it’s also the downfall. There’s too much out there and what once was “rare” is now common – like in this original article above.

    In some ways, I’d like to blast the hobby back to the stone age, where it’s just base cards and sets – no frills, useless autos of nobodies and endless parallels and variations. If that’s all we had to choose from, the base sets would be of value, in theory. But Pandora’s box has been opened, so now that collectors know what’s out there, there’s no going back.

  9. todduncommon says:

    I enjoy posts like this. In general, I agree about focusing on positives, but it is a two-pronged issue–you have to try to mitigate the negatives while accentuating the positives.

    Among my more recent thoughts, is that part of the problem is not just that the overall market has shrunk. That is true. However, usually when “market” is discussed, it is primarily in terms of annual retail sales of new product. The one advantage that card shops are supposed to have is their inventory of old cards. Everybody knows that hobby shops basically live and die these days by stocking hobby boxes of new product to generate foot traffic in the store, but make barely any margin on it (or try to soak you with markup). They hope that some older or vintage material will stick to you before you walk out of there. That strategy is a total failure.

    It seems the only time there’s a flurry of activity in a shop is delivery day for a particular new product. I often see three or four guys at the counter ripping box after box of a $400+ purchase, looking for so-called hits. The irony to me is that last year’s (last month’s?) hits are gathering dust under the glass right under these guys’ empty wrappers. My point is that interest in vintage cards, especially among kids, can be declared dead. Most kids (and let’s face it, we’re primarily talking about boys) today don’t give two turds about history. If they are interested in sports cards at all, they want the grown-up priced stuff anyway, or they might be interested in Adrenalaxx or whatever is mimicking today’s hot CCG anime or M:TG style game cards.

    Part of the subtle allure, as a kid, of collecting palm-sized pictures of male humans in occupation-specific garb, is its portability, and that you can easily take a significant variety with you in your hand or backpack side pocket. It’s interesting to see boys these days fully absorbed in the facts and details of a fictional anime or cartoon universe in the same way that I and others in our childhoods knew teams, cities, and player positions and statistics. The sad part is that at least sports takes place in the real world. I would argue that collecting sports cards (and its Americana cousins) encourage the development of the same (and more) useful skills than negotiation, organization, and competitive instinct cultivation that the CCG cards primarily serve.

    We just may have to accept that much like property prices, sports card values will never be, on the whole, back up significantly, much less to its peak standard. Sure, there will be the rarefied air buyers at auctions, but they are like whales in Vegas–there are not that many, and the available vendors fight for them hardily. Many auction buyers are either speculators in their own right, or represent some form of museum, trust, business, or other display-oriented venue. The actually rich, independent sports card collectors for collecting’s sake are pretty rare these days.

    Sports cards are going the way of stamps, coins, comic books, and other hobbies that now limp along (compared to their collecting peaks (e.g., stamps in the 70s, comics in the 90s) with their own tiny echo chamber of experts, auction houses, periodical publishers, and rapidly aging and eventually dying population of collectors.

    What tells me this? As an anecdote, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought a card on eBay, only to receive it in the mail in an envelope covered in something like nine five cent Herbert Hoover stamps. There’s a significant number of people who use their previously failed speculative stockpile of postage stamps to mail out their occasional sales from their currently failed speculative stockpile of sports cards.

    Upper Deck is very emblematic. Born out of the upward hockey stick days of sports cards, it had great products with lofty goals and ideals, only to be compromised from within by greed and misplaced arrogance, finally to arrive at the point where they practically are reduced to making soccer and lacrosse cards, at a single digit fraction of their former selves. Don’t forget that many adults were and are turned off from participating in the hobby because they see it populated with unsavory personalities like the Don West – Al Rosen types, whom you never trust and feel like they are just taking you for a ride.

    A hobby with as much “buyer beware” activity like this one wears people down, and kills outsider interest. No wonder adults and kids gravitate towards RC cars, copters, and planes, for example. In technical hobbies like that, you don’t have to worry as much about being reamed every time you go to make a transaction.

    The only real hope I can think of is the possibility of dramtically reducing the amount of product even further. Relative scarcity for the existing population of collectors is the only thing that may allow new product to retain enough interest to be valuable six months after release. That also might make base cards (gasp!) desirable again.

    Topps, at leas,t has done a good job of maintaining its flagship, core brand name products. It’s been clear for years that UD has preferred making expensive, limited production sets. However, when you poop on your own identifying brand (base UD has been uninteresting and lazy for years), the foundation to support the caviar brands is eroded. On the other side, I don’t think anyone at Panini can even tell you what they think their flagship brand is. They have so many similarly faceless and anonymous designs that they look like they were made by robots.

    The card manufacturers should be reduced to making one, or maybe two, different products per sport. I know that won’t happen, as there are investors and maybe even shareholders to supposedly try to please, and get those revenue figures up. Reducing production won’t make that happen, unless prices are out of reach for most.

    Therefore, the cost structure needs to be brought back into control. I’ve always been surprised, at some level, why the existing cards shops haven’t formed an effective, national collective bargaining association. That would have more pull than the large single wholesalers, and maybe even be competitive with the Targets and Wal-Marts, whom the card manufacturers seem more inclined to quietly please these days.

    With those business participants, some kind of hobby summit with the dealer’s association, manufacturers, wholesalers, and league and player unions could be created to discuss how this now much smaller pie can best be made competitive and sustainable (price points, player auto costs, rational property licensing fees, exclusives vs. non-exclusives, etc.).

    Otherwise, in the next five years, we will probably see a return to pre-1981 days of only one year-over-year card vendor, with occasional spikes from pretenders, repeating the patterns of the thirty years prior to 1981.

    Naturally, I see little hope of either a dealer association, or such a summit. The borderline cynic in me tells me that there is just a too entrenched collection of personalities, interests, and players to be able to stop competing for a brief period in order to agree on anything. It’s probably easier negotiating nuclear arms reduction than it would be to get this hobby’s cranky and curmudgeonly interests in the same room together.

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