Today I walked down to the supermarket and for the hell of it bought the new Tuff Stuff– excuse me, the new Tuff Stuff's Sports Collectors Monthly. And while it was fun to flip through it, scan the ads and learn about cards from the Dark Ages of the hobby (1996 - 2005), I got to the point where I felt like I was deluding myself if I actually believed what was printed in the magazine's price guides. I found myself agreeing with the anonymous commenter on the "Toppstown" post: a conventional price guide has become the string quartet on the Titanic.
I'll admit, that's a dire read on today's hobby, but let's examine the situation. The hobby doesn't need price guides to exist, and yet would be chaotic without them. Beckett and FW Publications (publisher of Tuff Stuff) provide infrastructure for the secondary market. Dealers consult them when setting prices. You want to see a world without the consultation of book prices? Look no further than eBay.
With its low prices and open-source approach to assigning realistic value to cards and memorabilia, it's the new face of the hobby. It's slowly killing independent in-shop dealers. It's taken the bottom out of the value of game-used, relic, auto and other seemingly hard-to-find cards. That Poley Walnuts insert of the squirrel at Yankee Stadium from last year's Topps? Tuff Stuff has it at $40. Here are two eBay auctions: one's at $1.25, the other at $0.99.
I know I'm not the first person to bring this up, but have you really thought about what the hobby will look like in the next five years? I think it's fair to say that both Beckett Publications and FW have enough money to continue publishing their respective fleets, but what will be in those magazines? Or, more appropriately, what will be on their websites? Will there still be price guides? And if yes, will the prices they hold mean anything?
Ebay's not going anywhere. Beckett.com has a large community forum on the site, as does TuffStuff.com. Beckett's got guest columnists, Tuff Stuff's got bloggers...
With realistic pricing coming from a relatively unexpected third party, is original content the infrastructure of the future? Or can the Becketts and the Tuff Stuffs reclaim their relevancy in a traditional role in the hobby? And what about all the dealers who got into the industry only to watch their roles in it disintegrate?