January 03, 2008
Lessons from the Other Beckett
Yesterday Beckett announced they're shifting the format and timing of their publications.
So let's cut to the chase. Is Beckett making the right move here? Or is this simply a re-hash of Waiting for Godot, as the biographer of that other Beckett paraphrases, "to keep the terrible silence at bay"? Since I'm a little late to this party, here are four things I've been thinking about today:
Competition is real, not matter where it's coming from (i.e. the Internet)
Although I'm probably taking myself and my writing way too seriously, bloggers like yours truly, Chris Harris, David Campbell and others are cutting into the Beckett audience. We're producing fresh content that's opinionated, truthful, and free to read. Heck, even TS O'Connell and the SCD crowd got on the blogging bandwagon earlier last year to keep up the pace.
By moving the printed edition to once every two months, Beckett cuts down on printer, distribution, shipping and production fees and moves their fresher content to the web (at least that's what I would do). So then what becomes of the Beckett Blog?
Where is all this new editorial content going to come from?
Back in the day, Beckett had a ton of new content every month, plus detailed price listings for the majority of sets. Besides Beckett, I distinctly remember Tuff Stuff clocking in at over 200 pages on more than a few occasions. But most of those 200-plus pages were advertisements, and the last time I checked, there aren't too many dealers out there today who can support a national advertising budget. Also, where's all this new content going to come from? Is there a room full of monkeys at typewriters that's going to help churn this stuff out? Or have blogs like Stale Gum, Cardboard Junkie, Cardboard Gods, and The Baseball Card Blog awoke a widespread kindred spirit of old baseball card collectors just itching to write?
What is the breakdown going to be?
With the Sports Card Monthly, are we looking at 10 pages of content for the four major sports and 5 pages for racing, golf, the WNBA and the WWE? Because it's starting to look a lot like Tuff Stuff.
Also, how will new card pricing be introduced? Through the monthly? Or as a way to boost sales of the single-sport magazine? If it's the former, then presumably there won't be an outcry from the hobby. But if it's the latter, and new cards are only introduced every two months, you can almost guarantee that there will be an outcry from the collectors and dealers who rely on Beckett almost every day. Newspapers publish stock prices five days a week for a reason.
The Ramifications of Upping the Cover Price
This is probably the most important thing to come out of this whole story, for two reasons. First, by charging more, Beckett is moving their magazines away from the casual collectors or lapsed collectors who maybe want to check out what's going on or find out how much their Canseco rookie is worth. It may not seem like much, but consider that right now Beckett Baseball is $4.99 per issue. If you buy it at the newsstand, $4.99 is almost the average cover price for any magazine not named US Weekly or OK!. But by suddenly adding between $3 and $5 to that cover price, you're pricing a lot of people out. Not that I would know, but $7.99 and $9.99 cover prices simultaneously scream out 'niche' and 'pornography,' which may seem appropriate, considering the way some collectors covet their cards.
The proposed change in cover price is also important because it will make Beckett more expensive than Tuff Stuff, truly it's only competitor. For those who don't see a difference between the two, it's like if Pepsi raised their suggested cost to $2 a can while Coke stayed at 99¢. Which one are you going to drink?
You could make the case that Beckett had to do something to combat stale months with no new pricing, the immediacy of content on the web, and so on, but then again, to quote the playwright: "Why people have to complicate a thing so simple, I can't make out."