I’m trying very hard to resist the urge to go to Target at the moment. Why? Because I have a weakness for shiny cards that I absolutely don’t need. So far I’m winning, but it’s been a struggle this morning. Anyone mind if I vent a little this morning? Cool.
At the top of my rationale for not going to Target is the fact that they won’t have anything I want in the first place. I have three Targets within driving distance, 2 “super” Targets and one smaller original Target. None of them get any of the retail exclusives allegedly available these days. The only retail exclusive I’ve seen in the past THREE YEARS was Bowman Platinum at ONE of my 5 Walmarts within reasonable distance. So, there’s not really any point in going, which of course leads me to believe that “retail exclusive” cards are a giant joke in the first place. What’s the point? Honestly, the card industry is so completely backwards it’s almost, several times, lead me to throwing up my hands and just giving up.
What’s the point in collecting anything that’s impossible to collect? There are no stores I could go to that carry these products, 99.9% of my entire collection has been purchased online on the secondary market. People collect lots of stuff, in a wide variety of categories. People collect watches, and there are watch stores in every mall. People collect action figures and/or vinyl toys, and there are dozens of places to buy them (Hot Topic, Box Lunch, Barnes and Noble, Target/Walmart, etc). People collect books, music, video games, movies, dishes, gadgets, sunglasses, shoes, debt, you name it, it’s collectable. All those things have stores where you could find something you’re looking for. Even the broader category of “sports memorabilia” has stores. I went to the largest mall in Houston over the weekend: The Galleria. It has a hockey rink, 4 floors of shops, a hotel and a dozen restaurants. It has TWO sports memorabilia stores. TWO. You know what both of those stores don’t sell? Cards. I can buy a $2000 Tom Brady signed helmet, but I can’t buy a $2 pack of cards.
So, I ask you, what the hell is the problem with the card industry? It has multiple companies in it, who produce all different kinds of products. You’d figure someone, at some point, would have said “you know, we should probably put cards where people can buy them!”. Gas stations and convenience stores, book stores, sporting goods stores, big box stores, anywhere and everywhere a kid (or a kid at heart) could possibly be enticed into buying a $2 pack of cards. Sure, you don’t want a hobby box of National Treasures at a gas station, I get that, but 2/3rds of both Panini’s and Topp’s product lines would do fine in multiple retail locations.
It’s almost as if they don’t want people to collect stuff. It’s like a club that’s so exclusive you can’t find it, and that’s ok because they don’t want you there anyway.
Just look at the “print on demand” bullshit. They don’t want you buying a pack at a store. They don’t even want you buying a box. They want you buying your cards, from them, for $10 a piece, and that’s just insane.
The entire point of collecting something REPRESENTING something else, is that you like that “other” thing and want to capture a little piece of it. In this case it’s baseball. I love baseball. I live and breath baseball. It’s in my blood. I played, my brother played (and was going to get drafted), my father played, I coached, he coached, we were all involved. It’s enjoying baseball itself that lead me to cards. They were a physical representation of the players I enjoyed watching, and one that I could “keep” long after the season was over. I have never heard anyone say “Man, I love baseball cards, but I just can’t stand watching them play, I hate the game itself”.
Baseball cards are not a commodity, like stock, that you can short, or capitalize, or monetize. They’re not fine silver or gold. They don’t stand separately in value outside of the player and moment represented on the card. Otherwise, a lowly bench player would be worth the same as a superstar. Let’s all face it, a piece of literal cardboard is not and will never be worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Fake rarity is also an abomination, and is their solution to their dying industry. 1/1, 1/5, 10/10, gold bordered, red bordered, strange foil patterns and colors do not change the value of cardboard. Red cardboard is the same as white cardboard. Foil stamping does not inherently make something valuable. When you print 10,000 cards, and color one red, you haven’t created something ultra rare. You’ve created 10,001 cards. It’s people who put the value on something. People who decide what something is worth. Wouldn’t you want to put those things into peoples hands? Wouldn’t you want to increase the number of people who think your products are neat, and that they might have value? Why would you then destroy your distribution channels and limit your options?
The only logical answer is that they’re scared. They nearly lost everything by “going big” and pushing cards on the general public. The junk wax era nearly ruined them and they’re scared of a repeat. So, instead of making their products better, and controlling production, and choosing sensible distribution, they’ve decided to change the narrative instead.
If we say something is “rare” then it is, right? If we create a fake supply problem, people will think “hard to find” must be valuable as well. There’s nothing wrong with their printing presses. There’s nothing wrong with their distribution model. This is what they want! Instead of finding new customers, they’re whipping the customers they have left into frenzies. They don’t look down on the secondary market because the secondary market LITERALLY drives the primary market forward. They’ve created a system where the initial market is so bad, it creates demand on the backend.
Imagine if any other product did that. Ice cream for example. If Ben & Jerry’s just up and decided that their ice cream was going to be sold exclusively in Vermont, and no where else, it would create an entire B&J black market. People in Vermont would be buying dry-ice, styrofoam shipping boxes and mailing that stuff everywhere for crazy prices. Real B&J fans would pay anything for some of the good stuff. The rest of us? We’d just pick whatever was in the freezer case at the grocery store and move on with our lives. That would put Ben and Jerry’s out of business, while making the secondary market temporarily rich.
Baseball cards went all high-end / specialty shop / online retailer, and the general public has turned away as a result. They’ve decided to live in their niche rather than break out of it.
Just yesterday I had a good friend tell me that his boys have been super excited about baseball after the World Series. I asked the boys if they wanted any cards and they kind of looked at me funny. Why? Why would they? They can’t afford to buy more. Their dad isn’t going to “hunt” for them in stores, and the retail options they have are disappointing to say the least. When your Target only has two boxes of NASCAR cards on the shelf, next to an ENTIRE WALL of pokemon junk, you’re not going to go out of your way and find baseball cards and start a new hobby you can’t possibly sustain. Right? If I gave those boys cards, where would they get more?
What if baseball cards were back at the checkout in grocery stores? What if they were in convenience stores? Maybe people would buy them, maybe they wouldn’t, but there’s no way to know unless something changes. It doesn’t even have to be all the products. Why not just flagship Topps, or Donruss for Panini? If there were packs of Flagship next to the gum at the checkout line, I would buy a pack each and every time I went to the store for something. I would. I also know that it’s a gateway product. Maybe I buy a pack here and there and all of a sudden I’m interested in buying more for “my team”, or maybe I want to buy the set now. Maybe I see what other products are out there. Maybe I become a collector. Maybe THEN I end up online, or in a specialty store.
It just seems like an industry that’s in desperate need of fresh blood should be doing everything it can to get at least a gateway product in front of new customers. Otherwise they’ll be stuck with a bunch of old grumpy dude trading slabbed and graded Aaron Judge cards online until the industry finally dies.