Friday, October 2, 2009

Is The Hobby Dying??? Are You Kidding???

(Warning: The thoughts may be disorganized, but the intent and the point should be quite clear...)

All week I've been browsing message board after message board, blog after blog, website after website, and what I've seen isn't pretty. You see, Fox News came out with a story...a fluff piece if you will (they have to take a break from politics once in a while)...about how the sports card dying. I won't pretend that I didn't see the video. Based on what I've read online, I think I know the gist of what the story was about.

In the 1990's there were more than 5000 shops catering to sports card collectors. Now, we're lucky if there's even 1000 stores left. Sales have plummeted from the heyday in the mid 80's and early 90's from what was once a billion dollar a year industry, to may be a two-hundred million dollar one, and the sales keep dropping. Stores keep closing. The world is coming to an en...wait...that's a whole 'nother Oprah.

The numbers are real. The numbers don't lie. And with the economy the way it has been, many people have really been selective as to what they're going to put their money in. Unfortunately, sports cards and other luxuries aren't high on the priority list.

But does that mean that the Hobby is dying???

Are you kidding me??? Of course it isn't.

Since I've started collecting baseball cards more than 22 years ago, I've fancied myself as a student of the Hobby that we call card collecting. From the beginning of time, man (this includes women too) has collected souvenirs. Trinkets. Things that will allow them to remember good times. The advent of pictures, and thus picture cards, only revolutionized ephemera as a collectible. Whether the subject of the picture was a famous person, or a flag, a bird, insects, or women with hats, or a historical event, or a comic adventure, people collected them. Displayed them. Showed them off to friends. It's been going on for centuries.

Has there ever been a down time for such fancies? Sure. American history will dictate that during the Great Depression, and during WWII, whether it be financial reasons, or rationing reasons, the hobby took a back seat to more important matters. When it was all over, and the economy got better, life returned to some semblance of normalcy, and picture cards returned as well. Only this time, the subjects were of athletes, specifically, baseball players. This was never more prominent until the 1940's. Sure there have been cards made of these players all along, it's just that back then, they were included in packs of cigarettes. Now, they were being marketed with gum. And that piqued the interests of kids across America.

The kids knew what to do with the cards. They played with them, they traded them, they folded them to make that motor sound when they rode their bikes. They used them, they abused them, and as they got older, their moms tossed them out with the garbage. You want to know why older cards are worth something? Because there aren't many of them left. Let alone in good enough condition.

As the Hobby as we know now it started to gain recognition in the mainstream press (this was before the internet mind you), many people, who would have otherwise never even smelled a stick of Topps gum in their youth, thought that sports cards were the big ticket item. If they invested enough money into them, they can turn around and sell them for big bucks. After all, those cards from before 1970 were getting big bucks back then, who's to say that new cards can't get the same coin. So came the investors, the speculators. Those who bought bricks of Joe Charbonneau rookie cards and saved them for a rainy day. They didn't play with them, or fold them to make that motor sound. They held onto them, making sure they stayed in mint condition. As more and more people bought these cards, more and more companies decided to make more and more cards. By the mid to late 80's, you had at least 11 companies making cards, five prominent ones in baseball alone. And as more and more people bought cards and kept them in mint condition, learning not to ding the corners, or crease the fronts, and fold them in half, the companies made more and more cards. And as more and more people spent the money, the companies made cards and products that cost more money. And people still bought them.

Then the bottom dropped out. Strikes, lockouts, in almost all sports, along with general dissatisfaction with the athletes earning a living playing a game, caused many to begin questioning the Hobby they've invested in and leaving altogether.

"Aha!", said many in it for the money. This was the time to sell. Unfortunately, nobody was buying. And that's when the market began it's free fall into what we have now.

The scary thing is that this story doesn't just apply to sports cards. It can also apply to comic books, Beanie Babies and other bean bag collectibles, stamps, dolls, tulip bulbs...(okay, that's a stretch). And only now are we wondering if the Hobby is dying?

Is it dying? If so, who is to blame? Is it the investors? Is it the card companies? Heck, a couple of our favorite bloggers want to pin it all on the number one source of the hobby. But in the end, it is a combination of factors that has caused the hobby to go into the state that it currently is in. People thought that they could make a quick buck on a collectible. Companies who believed that if more people are buying, more people will be willing to spend on more products. Magazines that transformed the mindsets of many collectors by assigning a value to their collections, turning what was once a simple hobby to one where monetary value mattered more than if they had a complete series of cards. It is not one, but it is many that has caused the downward spiral that we are currently in.

In 2001, there were four companies making baseball cards, churning out more than 80 products. As we get ready for the teen years of this century, there were only two left, making no more than 34. One company went bankrupt. Another lost the rights to make baseball cards and has since been sold to another company (they are still around though...) As we go into next year, there is one company who has the blessing of the MLB Properties to create cards. The other is allowed access to the players only.

The internet has been blamed for slowly killing brick and mortar hobby stores across the country. As more and more people embrace technology and the ability to locate cards that would otherwise be impossible to find, and prices that they choose, less and less people are visiting actual stores. And when they do, they scoff at the prices because they "know" they can find their prize cheaper somewhere else. Is the internet the cause of what is killing the Hobby? No. If anything, it has only helped expand the Hobby to previously uncharted territory. Our world may have gotten smaller, but our collections have gotten larger thanks to the world wide web. This can also be said for big box stores as well.

But the Hobby is not dead.

I have always believed that this hobby goes through peaks and valleys, with some plateaus along the way. Right now, I see our hobby in a valley, on a plateau, looking upwards getting ready to make that climb. The hill is steep though, and will take a long time to maneuver. But it's not impossible to do it.

For even though the numbers are down from more than a decade ago, there still are numbers. Maybe not in large numbers as before, but people are still buying. What we are now seeing the people who are actually committed to the hobby, not just the speculators wishing for a big pay day, keeping the Hobby alive by buying products, whether online or at stores. As long as there are companies catering to the collectors, the Hobby will still be alive. As long as the collectors are willing to share their knowledge with the next generation of collectors, and teach them how to collect properly and responsibly, the Hobby will still be alive.

For those who write about our hobby, whether as a professional, or somebody doing it for fun, it makes little sense to fight one another. Back and forth bickering will make us lose sight of the bigger picture. Regardless of the reasons why, and regardless of the speculations, the fighting is petty. the complaining childish, and needs to end. We all have our reasons why we write about our Hobby. But one thing is clear. If we don't promote the Hobby in a positive light, the Hobby will die. I'm not saying that it should be all unicorns and rainbows, as there are always bad seeds in this industry. That's where education and information needs to come into the forefront (and where that "teach them how to collect properly and responsibly comes into play). But otherwise, we all share a common promote the Hobby.

There is an old saying, "those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." This means that if we don't learn how we got into this mess, and how get away from said mess, we are bound to come back to said mess. The Hobby is not dying. It's just going through a phase, getting ready for the next step in its evolution. For as long as there are people who will collect sports cards, this Hobby, our Hobby, will be around for a very long time to come.


JayBee Anama

1 comment:

David said...

Dying? I think it's stronger than ever.