The Hobby.

19 04 2015

It's alive

It’s…  alive!

I just did a search on eBay.  There were 3,524,888 items up for sale under the category “baseball cards”.  I could probably leave it at that, but I won’t.

This seems to happen every few years, or maybe it’s once or twice every year.  The last time I really got into it enough to post something about it was when 2012 Topps came out.  For whatever reason, that was a year that more bloggers swore off collecting Topps flagship than any other year since I’ve been blogging.

Kids and cards

Anyways, it usually goes something like this.  An article or a video comes out about how the baseball card hobby is dying, and us bloggers discuss it in various forms.  It usually focuses on how card shops are closing, card shows aren’t as prolific as they were 20 years ago, and how kids aren’t involved any more.  It often treats eBay as the killer of the hobby.  Discussion ensues.  It’s often a bit negative for my taste, and it but it is usually pretty interesting.  Then we all go back to collecting cards.

Tanmanbaseballfan who does 6,000,000 cards and counting had a post the other day giving his opinion on the hobby dying.  I basically agree, and started to write a comment on his post.  Once I got to the 6th sentence, I realized it was more suited for a post.

Internet purchases (eBay, Amazon, etc.) and superstores have changed the way we buy cards.  But eBay didn’t kill the hobby – it transformed the hobby.  It did kill the traditional local card shop as we think of it.
Two thoughts:
  1. This is far from unique to baseball cards.  Wal-Mart, Target, eBay and Amazon have put out a lot of other local businesses.  They’ve made grocery stores less profitable and put some out of business.  They’ve also put RadioShack and Borders out of business, while putting Best Buy and Barnes & Noble (who were the superior of their fallen competitors) on notice.  Larger stores like Home Depot have made local home improvement stores relatively obsolete.
  2. I don’t think this is a bad thing.  It’s nice to be able to have my groceries mailed to me or get them at Target.  Getting electronics on the internet is convenient (though sometimes I do like to go to Best Buy – I always thought it was better than RadioShack).  It’s better that I can go to Home Depot for anything I need for my house, as opposed to the local store that has 1 of the 3 things I need.

I’m sorry that some card dealers haven’t been able to change with the times.

Just kidding.  Scratch that.  I’m not sorry at all.  This is America, and that’s how capitalism works.  The fact is, card shops are losing because they’re not as competitive.

  • Many card shops aren’t open on weekends (and definitely not on Sundays) or after 5 PM on weekdays, which isn’t convenient for the majority of the working public to go to a card shop.  Target is open every Sunday, and it’s open at 7 PM on Tuesday if I need to pick something up on the way back from work.  So is eBay!
  • Card shops often don’t have a legitimate internet presence, which would help them reach a wider and varied audience.  I can look up online what target has in store (and obviously this goes without saying for eBay).
  • Finally, and probably most importantly, a box you can get for $80 from eBay or Blowout Cards will cost you $110 at the typical card store.

There is one area where card stores could differentiate themselves: customer service.  I think many collectors would be willing to look past the other factors if they could go into a clean store and talk baseball with someone else who has the same interest.  There’s a local card store I go to where the owner doesn’t necessarily have everything above figured out, but he is open on Saturdays and he’s super-friendly.  I’m willing to pay a bit more for a box of cards 3 or 4 times a year because I enjoy the experience when I go into his shop.  He still charges me the same price for the box, but a lot of times he throws in the $5 or $10 in supplies I was picking along with the box.  When I lived in New Jersey, there was a card store in New Jersey that was very similar.

Unfortunately, those shops are kind of the exception and not the rule.  Many of the card stores I’ve been to look disheveled and disorganized.  The owners act disinterested in their customers or, worse, kind of creep them out.  In short, if it’s not a place I’d want to bring my 3-year old, I’m probably not going to want to go there either.

The hobby isn’t dying.  Are local baseball card shops dying?  Yes, that’s undeniable, but don’t confuse the two.  It’s different from it was 20 years ago, just like 1995 baseball card collecting was different from 1975 and from 1955.  Interest in sports memorabilia is as big as it ever has been and baseball cards are a subset of that.

I just did that same search for “baseball cards” on eBay, and the number dipped below 3.5 million auctions.  So some people just bought and sold a few more baseball cards.  If I do it ten minutes from now, the number will probably be above 3.5 million.  I don’t see anything in the next 50 years that will bring that number down to zero.  As long as they are playing sports, people will be interested in memorabilia related to sports.  And they’ll be wanting to buy baseball cards.

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7 responses

19 04 2015
Tony L.

You hit the nail on the head. I was going to write a post like this too, then realized that my sermonizing would repeat many of the same things that others have said much more succinctly.

The real point is that card shops have to get with the times. Mom-and-pop grocery stores, pharmacies, 5-and-10 stores, hardware stores, book stores — all of them have dwindled in number over the past 30 years or mostly disappeared due to the ability to get things in one place either online or in person (big box stores). Keep up, differentiate yourself, or go the way of the dodo.

It’s not cool or warm and fuzzy to say it, but nobody has the “right” to stay in business. Adapt or be pushed out of the way. It’s a tough world and not everyone succeeds. Card shops have been figuring that out too.

19 04 2015
chuckneo

Yeah, and some card shops will actually stay in business because they’ve adapted. Places like Dave & Adam’s, Blow Out cards – they do a hybrid of brick/mortar and online.

19 04 2015
thechopkeeper

Great post. I’ve long said many confuse the hobby with the industry. The industry may be on the ropes (or not), but as long as there are fans, we will have the hobby.

19 04 2015
chuckneo

Well put. I’d argue the industry is fine as well. Different than 20 years ago – but what industry isn’t? The motion picture industry is completely different from when star wars first came out. And now they’re going to make the 3rd trilogy!

19 04 2015
nighttimeowl

Any story that says ebay is killing the hobby is poorly written and researched. Ebay, and similar sites, are a godsend for collectors — any collector who can figure out a computer.

20 04 2015
chuckneo

Most of the stories like this that I’ve seen have been poorly researched. They reek of fitting the story to a pre-conceived agenda.

I may be wording that a little unfairly – most that I’ve seen don’t directly state that eBay killed the hobby. But they always focus on how card shops are closing, card show attendance is down, Mr. Mint doesn’t buy as much, etc. While doing so they neglect bringing up the other mediums, mainly the internet.

20 04 2015
Bill in lutherville

Great post. I really agree about the lack of personality of local card shop owners. I travel quite a bit for business and try to shop at local stores in which ever area I happen to be working that day.

It is always amazing, how disorganized so may of the shops are, how out of date some of the pricing on older items are and how reluctant many of the shop owners are to offer a simple greeting of hello and how can I help you, much less engage in simple conversation.

The business has changed thanks to Ebay, COMC and Sportslots. The local card shops may have suffered, but UPS and the USPS has benefited.

Great post

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