Chase the Base?

Author: Todd Uncommon

Contained in responses to a “state of the hobby” thread today on SCU, the discussion largely turned again towards whether the hobby would do better to market directly to kids, or to just assume that someone older always buys the cards.  Is it true that kids today don’t buy them with their own money, and might get them only in some sort of trickle-down effect of collectibles?

It is very hard not to extrapolate personal experience as a kid too far into the present. The target market for cards had always been kids, at least until 1989. I think it is safe to say that Upper Deck’s debut with premium cards at premium prices started the end of the kid-budget era.

In 1981, whatever money I got as a kid–allowance, small job, gifts, recycling proceeds, even found change–easily would pay for a fistful of card packs at the counter of my local supermarket or drug store. 25, 35 or 40 cents didn’t take long to add up to buy just one.

Back when 30¢ could get you 15 best friends (and a sticker!). For a while. Maybe.

Today, “retail” options are pretty much limited to discount mega-chains like Target and Walmart, and that same fistful of packs basically come prepackaged in a blaster for $20. Even accounting for inflation, those prices (for arguably less desirable product than hobby edition) are out of reach for any frequency on a kid’s budget, so I am convinced that it is more often some adult’s money that really is the revenue source.

I have to give credit to the card makers for actually trying to make lower-cost products in an attempt to get closer to kids’ budgets: Upper Deck Victory, First Edition, Topps Total, Opening Day, etc. to name a few.  As much of a nostalgic note as it strikes with me to have 99 cent pack options on the store shelves, there is also one inescapable truth. Nobody wants these products.

Why?  Well, the allure of pricier brands is strong, and their lottery-style hits are glitzier than those from these budget brands, even if the cheaper sets have them at all.  Add the fact that with some of these lower cost products, you really can see the quality reduction to meet that price point. UD First Edition is an awful product; it’s basically the standard set, but with the attractive life in it sucked out so it could be sent back in time and sold into Cold War-era Bulgaria.

In trying to think as a kid, I can see why they might spend their three bucks on one pack of Yu-Gi-Oh! or M:TG with a guaranteed rare / shiny / powerful card in the mix, compared to three packs of stodgy, limp looking cardboard.

Hi! Magicians and clowns use me for flash paper at birthday parties!

Topps Total sometimes felt like it was printed on notebook paper, the cards were so thin.  Who wants these when somebody’s richer friends are getting at least flagship to high-priced and shiny cards from their mom, dad, or designated guardian?

I think the secret is not in finding a cheaper price for kids to afford.  What needs to happen, and I don’t know if it’s even possible at this point, is to make base cards desirable again.  Let’s face it, base cards are basically packing material for wide distribution of the hits these days.  Decoy support.  No better than gum, stickers, puzzle pieces, team logo holograms, or lenticular trivia cards used to be.

Now that overall populations of hits like autos and relics are in a glut, to the extent that you can get 4/$10 at your local card shop, the status of the base cards, even in the priciest of wax boxes, has fallen even further.

What "mojo hitz" looked like when your uncle was a boy.

To use my frame of reference as a kid in the 80s, finding the ’81 Fleer Fernand(o), the ’84 Topps Mattingly, or the ’85 Topps Gooden in a  40 cent pack *was* the hit.  Sure, that aspect of getting a lottery hit was present, even back then.  However, today, the lottery ticket appeal is actively marketed, rather than being a market effect of its own accord based on player or team popularity.

The last great base card?

Is making base cards the new chase cards even possible? I think the last time base cards were desirable on their own was 1990 Leaf.  If you got a 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas, you were doing really well.  Since then, chase cards, inserts, parallels, autos, and relics have all come and gone as gimmicks, taking our eyes off the mark of collecting “base” cards just because we like them, not because of what we think the inserts might be worth to someone else.

What’s Your Greatest eBay Wish?

Author: ToddUncommon

First of all, it’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since the last post on Wax Heaven, and longer since my first.  As one of my friends says, time flies when real life happens.  On the personal front, I’ve been in the midst of a job search since before Christmas.  There are positive signs that things will turn around soon.  Naturally, much of my absence from here has been in keeping the household together, managing finances, and networking for new employment.

Anyway, enough excuse making, and on to the post subject. I have been lucky enough to live about a 25-minute out-of-shape jog away from eBay headquarters for several years now.  I’ve been an eBay buyer and seller since 1998, and over that time, eBay has invited me, off and on, to come to their campus and have the privilege to participate in “usability studies”.  They bring in users and customers, and have them go through exercises and interviews to provide feedback and user insight.

Recently, eBay contacted me to offer an invitation to an expanded usability study that runs from this evening to tomorrow morning.  So far, I’ve met product managers and engineers from the pricing, search, security, and platform / architecture departments of eBay.  They’ve been very receptive and responsive to ideas and experiences with eBay that I and the other invited customers have discussed with them so far.

For my part, I mentioned some of the issues that I’ve both heard from the hobby community and experienced first-hand.  For example, I mentioned the community perception of a “double dip” between eBay insertion / final value fees and PayPal processing fees.  I also passed along concerns I’ve seen on message boards about the new pricing that eBay announced.  New or lower volume non-eBay store users have minimal insertion fees, but eBay stores will see the five cent insertion fee for inventory (Buy it Now) items going away, and being priced higher.  For card sellers on eBay, this can be a daunting shift to readjust dozens (to hundreds) of listings to find a way to sell low-price / low-demand cards, and still find a way to come out ahead.

eBay is, like it or not, the central marketplace for our hobby, whether you’re a dabbler or a retailer.  Nearly every card shop I know that still exists does significant business on eBay.  The most successful shops tell me they do nearly a third of their business on eBay, and it helps keep their physical store open (at least as long as rent doesn’t go up).  Here’s a prime shot to tell eBay what you really think needs to change or be improved, at least for our “Sports Mem, Cards and Fan Shop” category that’s been as staple of the site since it was conceived.

Although this is short notice, I return for additional sessions tomorrow morning here on the West Coast, and I am inviting you to comment on this post with the things that both bother and concern you the most about eBay, as well as any ideas you might have to suggest for improvement.  It’s one thing for me to interpret my experiences and what I’ve heard, and another to be able to go back tomorrow morning, point to Wax Heaven, and say “take a look”.

So, what would you tell eBay if you could?

You Be the Judge! – Black Diamond

One of the perks of being a card blogger is that occasionally I receive free products to review and showcase. While baseball rules my collecting life, more and more I am being tempted into collecting hockey cards. While I absolutely loved the “hits” from this box of 2008-’09 Black Diamond, overall it brought back some rough memories for me.

For starters, the base cards have way too much going on. I can honestly say these are the worst-designed base cards I have seen in sometime. They remind me of something Pacific Trading Cards would have released in the late-90’s. The only element that saved this box was the “hits” and inserts, which featured cut-out and even a card with a see-through window similar to this Pacific “classic” (link).

What was great about the game-used relics is that between three cards that could have been duds, there was seven different color patches with one being serial numbered to 100. The autograph as expected was a sticker but it barely sticks out and the inserts truly made me feel I was busting a product from the late-90’s, just not the great ones.

For the hits alone I’d bust another box but only if I could find one for about $60 dollars.

Thumbnails lead to full-size scans.

You be the judge! How did I do?

Should Upper Deck bring Fleer back?

In less than a month it will be a full year of without an official Fleer Trading Cards release. When I entered the hobby of collecting in 1990, Fleer was one of the brands to purchase. By the late-90’s, it had so many different products that surely they could do no wrong. Unfortunately, two years before my return to the Hobby they were history (link).

While they were rescued by Upper Deck, it just was not the same and 2007 was officially Fleer’s last hurrah. It’s just too bad that their last two products were ’07 Fleer and ’07 Fleer Ultra, two of the bigger bombs of the 2007 season. Upper Deck has continued to use the brand, including a very successful run in Hockey products but let’s face it: Fleer belongs to baseball card collectors.

So here is the question I pose to the readers of Wax Heaven: Does Fleer deserve a Donruss-like comeback or should we let sleeping dogs lie? Personally, I believe Upper Deck should release an updated version of 1995’s Emotion. Back then there was no game-used relics or chance of pulling an autograph. It featured nothing more than beautiful photography, thick card stock and a perfect design.

For true collectors, there is one box of Emotion on eBay right now with a Buy It Now of $49.99 or Best Offer (link). I suggest to give this release a shot to bring you back, if only temporary, to a Hobby that once thrived on design & photography and not “gimmicks” and ultra high-end products.

I want to be in charge of Topps!

I cannot believe that with the year winding down, we collectors are left with Topps Heritage High Numbers Edition but no Turkey Red or Bowman’s Best. While at least we know Turkey Red will make a comeback in 2009 Topps as an insert set, there has been no news about the under appreciated Bowman’s Best.

If you recall, Best made its debut in 1994 and introduced the collecting world to Bowman “Chrome” cards. Unfortunately, in 1997 Bowman released a “Chrome” line and the rest as they say is history. After that, Bowman’s Best became the middle child of the Hobby.

Bowman’s flagship was for the dull collector who didn’t appreciate flash and wanted to complete a set. For those young “Joe Collector” type, Bowman Chrome offered everything you could want and in 2001 with the Albert Pujols autograph became the #1 product of the Hobby. Where did that leave Bowman’s Best?

In the gutter, that’s where. Topps had decided to shelf a legendary product so they can put out one more product featuring the ridiculously ugly ’08 Topps design (High Numbers). That’s like Britney Spears putting out two albums in one year because she thought we just couldn’t get enough of it. Sorry, as a collector who has bought Topps since 1990 I can honestly say 2007 was the absolute worst design of a Topps flagship I have ever seen. Thank goodness 2009 brings  change (link).

Now, as far as Bowman’s Best is concerned: does it deserve a return in 2009? Bowman’s Best once ruled the Hobby with Vladimir Guererro and Andruw Jones Refractor rookie cards and ultra-rare (at the time) certified autographs. Just looking at their 2007 autograph checklist, they obviously had the right idea. If you busted a box of Best in ’07 you could of pulled a certified autograph of Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Tim Lincecum, Prince Fielder, Cole Hamels, Joba Chamberlain, Matt Holiday, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard plus the hot prospects everyone wants. The only problem was the price tag of $250+ per box online and even more in Hobby shops.

If Topps cared about the old school collectors who once loved Bowman’s Best, they’d bring it back in 2009 but it looks like today it’s all about gimmicks, relics and the continuing Prospects War versus Razor, Tristar and Donruss. I am guessing we will see Bowman Little League cards before we ever see another release of Bowman’s Best. For card companies, money talks and old school walks.

It’s just a way of life.

The first Bowman Refractor - 95 Bowmans Best

First Bowman Refractor - '94 Bowman's Best

The First Bowman Xfractor - 96 Bowmans Best Atomic Refractor

First Bowman "Xfractor" - '96 Bowman's Best Atomic

First Bowman Chrome autograph - 97 Bowmans Best

First "Chrome" autograph - '97 Bowman's Best