July 13, 2007

The State of the Hobbyist

Are collectors happy?

It’s hard to give an easy answer to such a difficult question, but after reading this week’s messages, it seems a change from today’s status quo wouldn’t be so bad. In fact, it may even be preferred.

If you haven’t been on The Baseball Card Blog over the past week, readers have been sending in their input on what makes a set great and what the perfect, yet-to-be-produced set should include.

Whether or not they come right out and say it, collectors want a set to be easy. Give a set enough base cards so that everybody on a team’s 25-man roster gets a card, a few subsets, one or two base insert sets and a few ‘valuable’ relic/autograph cards and that’s enough. Throw in rookie cards of actual rookies, All-Stars and team cards and that’s it. Really.

The Thesis of The Modern Card Collector

The writing is on the wall: Collectors are tired of confusing, multi-tiered parallel sets, endless ‘mirror’ sets (like Topps’ Mickey Mantle Home Run History), useless and worthless inserts and other bells and whistles that take their energy away from completing the set and needlessly drive up the cost of packs and boxes.

From the sound of it, give the average collector cards that look and feel like 1986 Topps or 1990 Upper Deck and they’d be content. Stuff 15 cards into a pack and charge less than a dollar per.

But it can’t be so simple, can it? I mean, The Hobby is not in the same place today as it was in the late 1980s. A manufacturer can’t simply stop producing relics, autographs and other insert sets that drive today’s pack sales. They’d be out of business.

But what they can do is ease up. Go back to the years right before the Upper Deck Era started (1986-1988) and learn from the great sets of the Eighties. Sets with iconic photography, full stat lines and Minor league stats for the younger guys. Sets where a rookie card meant something. Take the great things out of these sets and create a new take on the remaining Flagship brands: Fleer, Topps and Upper Deck. Don’t push a thousand insert cards through the Flagship; make collectors go to other brands for those. Ease up on the mirror cards and make a parallel set that’s easy to collect (if you make one at all).

The funny thing about all of this is that for all the woe-is-me gloom and dooming I do around here, I’m still the Guy Pushing Thirty Spending More Time Than Necessary In The Baseball Card Aisle At Target/Kmart/Wal-Mart/Toys’R’Us. And as much as I outwardly hate the idea of pouring money down the drain for new cards, I still want new cards. I like opening packs. I like putting together sets. I’m guiltily addicted to That New Card Smell.

And like many other collectors, I’m concerned for my hobby. I don’t want companies to stop making new cards. I just want them to make them better.

That’s not so much to ask, is it?


Rob said...

That's a good summary of what seems to be the common complaints about the latest sets. I just started collecting cards again this year. I haven't collected since I was a kid, and things have changed a lot. Excuse me if I get some of the terminology wrong. A lot of the above complaints apply; too many insert and parallel sets (especially the hundred cards sets that all look the same), the cost of a pack, and the number of different products each manufacturer comes out with each year. It's been an eye-opener starting again. Another thing I've noticed is that the attention to detail and quality is really careless. I've lost track of the number of typos and misprints I've heard about in just this year's Topps sets. It would also be nice if they paid closer attention to the design of the set as a whole. The order of the set borders on logical every once in awhile, but then they'll throw a player card in the middle of a string of team cards. I'd like to see evidence that they paid attention to the look of the set collected in a bunch of 9 pocket binder pages or something. I guess what it all comes down to is collectors not seeing any evidence that the card companies are doing anything for them, instead a lot of their decisions seem like blatant attempts to make more money. Taking a look at this hobby from a newbie's point of view, it seems pretty obvious where it's hurting.

Joey said...

Thanks for giving us all a forum to share our thoughts. I think if the card makers studied the comments made in the previous post and developed sets using those comments as a guide we the collectors and they the manufacturers would have a much brighter future.

Patrick said...

I know a lot of people, including myself wouldn't mind a situation like you mentioned. But with so few people buying cards these days, if Topps put all their effort into low-end cards, they would go bankrupt these days.

Upper Deck already puts out a low end product, 2007 Fleer, that cost 50 cards for 5 bucks at K-Mart. And if you read the message boards, no one talks about them. But to be honest, those Fleer cards are really a horrible looking card.

I didn't know about Topps Total until your last story but that appears that no one bought those either. So why would Topps try that strategy again?

I know we say we want cheaper cards.... But the evidence is starting to show that we won't buy them anymore. Kids aren't going to buy them anymore no matter what.

I do think Topps needs to make a 990 card set with their current line. It's a no brainer for profit. Maybe the only thing that keeps them from doing it is it would drive up the cost of the complete set to 89 or 99 dollars and Walmart wouldn't be happy about that.

And finally, everyone bitches about UD but again.... UD is apparently making a bunch of cash.. so their profit model must be pretty good if you are a stock owner.

Anonymous said...

I stopped buying new card sets in the early 90's as there was just too much then, it is overflooded, give me the days of 1-5 sets total. I only collect cards prior to 1980 presently. Best card sets ever 1975 TOpps and 1964 Topps Giant.