Wednesday, August 07, 2013

2013 NSCC: Y U NO HAPPIE? And An Observation on "Added Value"

Last week the 34th National Sports Collectors Convention convened in the "Village" of Rosemont, Illinois, and I spent three days checking out the scene.  Over the next few weeks I'll be posting some of my best pick-ups, but I want to start with something I noticed at the NSCC.

There are a whole lot of unhappy people in The Hobby.  While walking the convention floor, I could not believe the number stone faces.  They weren't angry or anything like that (well, most of the time), but they sure as heck didn't look like they were having any fun.

Isn't that what having a hobby (any hobby, not just The Hobby) is all about?  Having a good time?  The great Jefferson Burdick called card collecting, "A magic carpet that takes you away from work-a-day cares to havens of relaxing quietude where you can relive the pleasures and adventures of a past day -- brought to life in vivid picture and prose.”  I'm sure if ol' Jeff were around to see this year's NSCC, he'd probably revise that statement.

I think I know the reason why.  Now, I don't want to go off on a rant, but it seems to me that the cause of this Hobby Melancholy is the systemic belief of many that The Hobby is immune to the laws of basic economics.  I see it all the time.

You see it on eBay with sellers posting cards with ridiculous minimum and/or BIN prices.

You see it in the collector who tries to nickel-and-dime dealers into selling their cards for well below fair market value.

You see it in the mega case-breakers who feel as if they have a Constitutional right to a 33% ROI on EVERY. SINGLE. PRODUCT. they rip -- even on dogshit products like Tribute WBC and Gypsy Queen -- then bitch and complain when they don't.

And you see it in the manufacturers who constantly feel the need to "add value" to their products; to hell with the consequences.

"Added value," the two most over-used and misunderstood words in The Hobby today.  Two little words used by manufacturers to justify anything and everything.  (If you don't believe me, listen the next time a card company flunky makes an appearance on Cardboard Connection Radio.)  But do these "added value" additions really add value?

Let's take a product like Topps flagship baseball as an example.  (You can also use some of Topps' other low-end brands like Heritage, TANG, and Bowman, as well.) Look at how Topps Baseball was structured, say, ten years ago and compare it to this year's edition.  Over the years, (and perhaps not coincidentally, accelerating around the time Michael Eisner and Madison Dearborn bought the company) the Topps Flagship has been steadily adding new "value added" features: More inserts.  Larger insert sets.  More Parallels.  A guaranteed "hit" in every box.  Manu-Relics.  And of course, my favorite, gimmicks.  About the only things I can think of off the top of my head that Topps has actually subtracted from flagship have been Ticket to Toppstown and Topps Attax. (BUT THOSE WERE FOR "THE CHILDREN," DAMMIT!!!)  All of these additions have made Topps Baseball into what is today: A bloated, uncollectible mess of a product that's no longer fun.

I guess that's the reason for all the glum faces in Rosemont.

But what about the "value?"  Surely, all those gimmicks, all those low-numbered parallels, and all those high-end "hits" must be valuable cards.  And yes, individually, if you're lucky enough to pull one from a pack, you have received a genuinely valuable card.  But is the "value" of that card "added?"


Gimmicks, hits, low-numbered parallels, et al, DO NOT add value to the product as a whole.  They get their value by cannibalizing it from the rest of the product.

Don't believe me?  Well, you should have seen all the current and recent-year inserts that were clogging up the quarter boxes at the NSCC.  The standard Big Mojo Hit has been relegated to the $1 and $2 bins.  Complete sets?  Have you checked eBay lately?

The lesson is, you can not do what Topps has done to flagship (and Heritage, TANG, Bowman, et al) over the last few years.  You CAN NOT guarantee a minimum of $3 worth of cards in EVERY $2 pack.  Try as they might, but it's just not possible.

Either A) the market price of those packs has to rise, or B) the cards inside become devalued.  And in the case of 2012 and 2013 Topps Baseball, an option C) is happening.  The cards are devalued and the price of wax has dropped to Junk Wax status because the products are so awful.

Of course, that's just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Aw, fuck it. Who wants pie?


Play at the Plate said...

There's pie?

I read a post earlier (sorry I can't remember who wrote it) about how he picked up a ton of 2013 singles for a nickel to a dime and saved about $70 over what the same number of cards would have cost buying packs. Never mind that he got the cards he WANTED. I guess it's like buying a new car. Let someone else take the depreciation hit.

I agree with you about the big time case breakers. It's a little disconerting to not even have seen any Ginter and yet there are a bazillion Ebay auctions for that stuff already. I'll bust a box for GintaCuffs, but I say let the smoke clear and pick up stuff on the cheap.

mike said...

I read your post with interest as I attended my first-ever stop at the National this year, and brought along another show virgin with me. We were amazed at all the things there were to see and touch, but equally smacked in the mouth by how expensive anything with any appeal seemed to cost.
Just because its the National doesn't mean its direct retail. At least that was me. $25 for a Cubs patch? $175 for a Brent Celek signed jersey? Really?
I stuck to the smaller quarter/dollar boxes, but found it frustrating that I didn't find a single Walter Payton card on Friday other than his rookie, and most of those were graded. And I did notice the only haggling going on were by guys with backpacks talking to guys with keys in their glass cases.
I get the whole buy/sell market, but I agree with you, Chris, that it was a gloomy atmosphere. Especially with the guys in the corners of the show who seemed like a Beckett was the only thing between them and the highway. It was a little disheartening, my first National.