July 07, 2007

What Do Collectors Want?

Thanks to a never-ending stream of mainstream news articles, we are aware of what's going on in the boardrooms and back rooms of our favorite card companies. But what about in the product development departments? What are they up to? Presumably, Upper Deck will have a lot on its shoulders should it capture Topps: if the cards aren't right for 2008 and beyond, wouldn't it follow that collectors would show their disgust and demand better cards? Or spend their money on other things?

But what is it, exactly, that makes a card set great to today's collectors? Admittedly, what I would consider the cornerstones of a great set are probably not relevant to the collector weaned on inserts, autographs and relic cards, short prints, parallels and refractors. Do today's collectors (and by 'today's collectors' I mean collectors that specialize in new sets) really want insert sets like Topps' 'Generation NOW', or do they want it because they are told to want it? I don't know if I have a definite answer, though I'm leaning towards the latter.

We all want to see the hobby flourish, right? When even the most pessimistic readers write that they see card collecting as a dead hobby, there's a pang of sadness in their words. No one wants to see the hobby die. So wouldn't it follow that the card companies (or company) would make it a habit of listening to collectors before they create another crappy set that no one can afford?

And even if it turns out the companies don't want to add it to their agendas, I want to know. That's why I'm writing today.

Leave a comment to this post and tell me what you want to see in a set and what you think makes a set great. Ask your friends, go into the shops and ask dealers, other collectors, guys at shows, the message boards you post on, the guys and girls you trade with or even the man on the street. Everybody's got an opinion on what baseball cards and the act of collecting means to them. Now's the time to express it.


Pat Blakely said...

From what I read on message boards, 95 percent of collectors are worried about what cards are worth, rookie cards, or redemptions rather than the cards themselves. This certainly seems to be the case at card shows, 2 of which I have attended so far since coming back into the hobby.

The days of the hobby flourishing aren't going to happen I'm afraid. While everyone seems to be blasting Upper Deck, they must be doing real right to have enough cash to buy Topps. Upper Deck was able to get Fleer for about 6 million. But yet, go into any Walmart, K-Mart, or Target and you'll see a small basebard card rack, and a lot of the product is Topps, not Upper Deck.

Topps must be doing something wrong in order to put themselves into a position of a hostile takeover. The 2007 basic set I think is sheer laziness. The back photos for example are merely cut outs from the photos in front and are microspoic in size. The 2006 Topps didn't do that.

And the sad thing I saw at the card shows, it was all middle-aged men.. and yes, I am middle-aged myself.

Except I don't give a damn about the value of the cards. I just want to complete sets. I found the card shows weren't interested in helping me with that except the one guy who wanted 50 cents a common for 2007 Topps.

If I ran Topps, I do think 660 cards is nowhere near enough. I don't mind the inserts except when an insert is used an a common card is taken away. When I was a small kid, the insert was a baseball coin. You knew in every pack, you were getting one coin and 12 cards.

I guess the hobby is doing what it needs to survive, the days of getting a pack of Topps in a gas store for the price of a candy bar are long over.

I think if Upper Deck does take over Topps, They will issue a large lower cost Topps set and simply drop the Fleer line. They aren't taking over Topps to drop the Topps name though. And finally, Topps has had several owners in the past.


Matt said...

First and foremost, the ideal set should be affordable.

Make 50-cent packs, no matter what the cost to the product. Sacrifice paper quality - to some extent - if absolutely necessary. In practice, this will still permit very good quality, but with less metal stamping and holograms, which will not be missed - maybe the equivalent of your average 1988 card.

Scale back insert sets dramatically. 2 insert sets at most, each with no more than 20 cards. No parallel sets.

Include at least 3 "base set" special series, i.e. Rated Rookies, All-Stars, SuperStar Specials, and Highlights.

Always include cards for that years Hall of Fame inductees.

(As an aside, I'd love to see a 150-card set comprised entirely of ballpark giveaways, limited to 30K sets, 5 cards per team, with the ballpark, the date, and the opponent on the front of the card. Each giveaway would contain 2 cards, one to keep, one to trade.)

Continue the practice of only producing cards of players on 25-man MLB rosters. The race to be the first to print a rookie card led to the insane practice of "rookie cards" predating a player's MLB debut by years, and irreparably damaged the hobby.

Full career stats on all cards, including minor league stats for young players. Include each players draft info - team, round, overall pick.

Finally, the front-of-card design needs to impart the necessary information. No "too-cool-for-school" player name only stuff. We need name, position, and team logo.

Jeff said...

I agree with the two previous posters, more affaordable, no more "air boxes" in KMart and Walmart, meaning the boxes of cards that have 3/4 styrofoam inside.
I guess I'm old school, lets go back to the 80's more players, less inserts. There are players who haven't had a card in a couple years becaus they aren't "impact" players.
Lets get back to rack packs and being ablt to go to the corner store to buy a pack of cards..
The hobby is big business and is catered to investors rather than collectors.

Jason said...

Not only are the days of the "days of getting a pack of Topps in a gas store for the price of a candy bar" long over, but they've priced themselves out of the impulse buy arena entirely. Once upon a time, you'd find a box of cards next to the register at Wal Mart, grocery stores or the local convenience store. Losing that, baseball cards are effectively out of the mainstream. I agree, there needs to be a cheap pack that people might pick up on a whim. $1.99 for a 7 card pack isn't that kind of item. Produce a base real base set again (without parallels!) and order them by teams like Fleer used to do in the 80s.

Joshua said...

Simpler cards. Lower prices. More than 4-5 cards a pack.

Daniel said...

Everyone so far is on the right track. Sacrifice paper quality for price - a pack of 10-15 cards should cost no more than $1. That would allow them to be the impulse purchase item they once were. Cut way back on the number of sets (this is already happening), because it's just too hard to keep track of so many, and it seems overwhelming. Full career stats on the back - definitely. And good special cards like World Series, team photos, future stars cards with several players per card (this is a tradition that died for a while but has come back, luckily). Also, place the packs somewhere in the store where I don't have to ask the proprietor to open up a glass case with a key for a simple pack of cards. This is another impediment to impulse purchases these days. I realize the cards must be a heavily-stolen item, but they're not the Crown jewels.

I think I'd be happy if the card industry were what it was roughly 20 years ago, with three or four strong companies each making one set per year. I never got into the glossy sets put out over the last two decades. Give me simple cardboard.

Gary said...

$1 packs with 10-15 cards. 660 or 792 cards/set. No inserts. I really liked the old Fleer sets sorted by team with the teams in order of the prior year finish.

Flax said...

The ideal set would feature every player, something like Topps Total or UD 40-Man did. The problem is that Upper Deck feels they can make more money with memorabilia and scarcity than by marketing cheap no-insert packs to kids. And they're probably right, because kids have been priced out and might not come back. They've dug their own hole and it's likely inescapable at this point; they'll just have to market to adults until they've done all they can do and the whole thing blows up.

Jeff Herz - My View of the World said...

The biggest problem to me is the price and the availability. Where I live the only places I can consistently get cards is the card/comic store and Target. Occasionally a drugstore or convenience store will have a box of cards since they were able to pick them up on the cheap.

I spoke to the owner of a convenience store and he said there is not enough profit margin for him to consistently buy them, which says the manufacturer must be selling them at close to retail price. So the other comments are right on about finding a way to get the manufacturing price down, so that can be passed along. If the stores can make some profit they might be willing to put them back next to the register where kids and collectors can find them more easily.

Finally, I have no use for inserts. I like sets and I have been buying Topps packs this year for the first time in years to see if I can collect a full set.

The best buy is at Target, where I get 12 cards per pack, but 1-2 of them is an insert which makes my pack now really 10-11 cards that I am interested in. In almost half of the series 1 packs I also got a checklist, which is no longer technically part of the set, so I am down one more. SO in reality I am paying $2 for 8-9 cards, not really a card bargain, which adds to my frustration

Beppo said...

I agree with what has been said, especially enabling the "impulse buy". Back when I collected heavily as a teenager, finding a pack at a gas station or in the checkout line (even at grocery stores) for 33 cents or 50 cents made me have to get one (or more), even if I had only a few dollars to my name. These days, you pick up a couple of packs and you're spending $15 or $20, and that really adds up. Kids can't afford that, especially pre-teen ones that would collect just for fun.

So I think there should be a pack that is $1 or less, and while I'm okay with a few inserts, don't let them run up the price of the packs. Make it where kids (or adults) can pick up a few packs each week at the gas station or Walmart, which would make the hobby fun and affordable again.

They can keep some of the high-end sets around for those types of collectors, but don't forget about the collectors who don't spend hundreds per year on cards, yet still want to collect. It's vital to the hobby.

Anonymous said...

I prefer to put sets together and don't care much for inserts. On top of it being difficult to put a set together from purchasing packs, I want my cards to be perfect mint with dead centering on both sides of the card in all 4 directions. This makes it even tougher to complete sets, especially older ones when Topps really had a poor track record for centering (see 1979). I may purchase 10-15,000 cards to put together one base set of Topps cards due to centering and condition. But I'll bet I have the most pristine 1965, 1971, and 1972 almost sets in the whole world :)

Do away withthe inserts, put the subsets back in the base set, and go back to how sets were put out in the late 70's, early 80's.

Anonymous said...

First time on this one. Been collecting since 66 . When a basic card pack (TOPPS) which I have collected every year is the cost of 2 loaves of bread or .2/3 price of a gallon of gas, the fun goes right out the window. As recently as 1995 you can buy a pack for 99 cents. Cripes in 1991 (40 years for Topps) I got 15 cards for .50 cents. What the hell happened ?? Its not like the company went out of business. Also, get rid of those stupid inserts. That drives up the price but seriously, a jersey card of Wily Mo Pena can drive up the prices ? Have regular subsets like the 70s or 60s, (World Series, All Stars ,,League Leaders), that is all you need. Really .. Take a look at the span of sets from 1968 - 1974 ,(which are my main sets, and you will see some great action shots, league cards,,WS cards, Playoff cards and all the stats baseball junkies could ask for in a card. Just my thoughts as a long time collector. Currently Im working on a 70 and 71 set.

John said...

I just purchased 11 packs of 2007 Opening Day Topps at the local Sprawl-Mart. $0.97 per pack. Only two inserts, but they were nice if common players. 6 cards per pack made it $0.26 per card which wasn't a bad deal at all. In my area (North Carolina) the list price on the pack is higher than the price Sprawl-Mart charges.

My boys (12 and 9) and I love to collect the current cards. We love the Fleer Ultra 2007 series, as well as the Topps 2007 Chrome, refractors, and xfractors. The local Sprawl-Mart had the Topps Chrome packages opened at the bottom where it looked like the packaging had given way. Perhaps someone was looking for the right card... Either way, we used this to our advantage to pick the packs we wanted. About $1.00 per card is as much as I will pay off the shelf.

We have 88 - 92 Don Russ, Fleer, and more. It pains me to see the Beckett's doesn't list so many of the cards. I have mid-80's stars from Pacific and the guide doesn't even list Pacific cards until '93 or so. *sigh*

We're in it for the fun. I like the White Socks and have ~ 300 individual cards for them, including Michael Jordan, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Bo Jackson, and others. I collect good looking cards, semistars and unlisted stars, and then specialty series, like Upper Deck's 2006 Rookie Sensations (18 of 25 now and growing).

The players on the Little League team I coached all have a minor interest in card collecting at least, so maybe there is yet a future in it besides for investing.

Anonymous said...

My dad and I "collected" literally tens of thousands of baseball cards dating from the 1950's through the early 1990's. This started around 86-87. We "invested" in a number of high end autographs as well.

It was fun to collect the cards, but even better because he decided that I needed something that would hold it's value to pay for college.

Years later, post-grad school, I'm sitting on a few hundred thousand dollars of educational debt, not to mention a pile of cards that used to cost $35-100 each, dozens of autographed baseballs that cost $100 each, and nobody wants anything for more than $1.00. The autographs aren't worth anything because they're not "certified".

I can't bring myself to throw it all away.

How does that old saying go-- Experience is the best teacher, but it's a damned hard way to learn. Thanks dad.