Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pass Me the Soapbox, Please

For those who read this blog on a semi-regular basis, you've probably noticed that over the last few weeks I have posted more pictures of digital mockups created on my computer than scans of real, live, pack-fresh baseball cards.  Judging by my hits, some of you aren't nearly as thrilled to read about cards that don't actually exist.  And that's totally cool.  Because you see the thing is that I'm having a blast fiddling away with Photoshop each night.

And in deconstructing and reconstructing some of my favorite designs, I've learned a lot about what (at least in my opinion) makes a good card.  Not a good product.  Not a good release.  A good baseball card, that when held up by itself just makes you feel good.  I've been recreating the designs that resonate with me - packs that I remember ripping open when packs were $.99, or $1.29, or if you were really going to break the bank $2.  Sure, part of the appeal is that these cards are the designs of my childhood.  The familiar patterns and designs that I sorted and resorted almost daily as a kid, the stat lines and flavor text on the reverse forever burned into my brain from hours spent reading and rereading the cards.

But I think there's more to it than that.  It's not just the warm and fuzzies of childhood.  There is something fundamentally strong about these card designs.  They're clean, crisp.  Not too cluttered with graphics, or loops, or even foil stamping.  They let the photo do the talking, and offer a design that draws your eye exactly where it needs to go.  But there's a reason for that, isn't there?  Those cards, those products, were ultimately driven by kick ass looking cards.  Not inserts, or a billion parallels.  Sure, the insert craze was in full blast.  And there were certainly those who were chasing the big dollar cards.  But the financial success of a product still seemed to lie in selling a base card that at the very least wasn't ugly.

To each their own, but I've been really sick of seeing cards that are photoshopped and filtered to hell and back.  Think Bowman Inception, or about half the football and basketball products Panini puts out.  The 90's are gone, and aren't coming back.  That I can deal with (though I do occasionally have a hankering for some Oasis).  But has the card industry changed so radically that the only profitable model is the current high hit/throwaway base model?  I don't have answers.  We will probably never have concrete answers, since the full breakdown of production costs, profit margins, and sales data will never be released.  But just how close can we get to breaking down how these products are put together, and whether this is the hobby going into survival mode, boiling products down to what has the highest marketability to stay in business, or simply a choice that collectors have come to accept over the past decade?

Over the next few days I'll be looking at this from two perspectives:  the design, and the dollars and cents.  I'm trying to go in as open minded as possible.  I honestly have little idea what the overall production picture looks like, and as somebody who almost exclusively deals with the secondary market I'm curious to take a closer look.  We all know the hobby isn't as robust as it was a decade or two decades ago.  But where do things stand in terms of production, collecting, and resale?  And what might that $1.29 pack of Collector's Choice look like today.

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