I've been grasping at straws the last few months trying to find my hobby zen. My card interest has been up and down lately, quite literally changing from day to day. Blame it on the crappy winter, some crappy luck lately, or some crappy releases. But I've been looking for something to spark my excitement.
For better or worse, I recently wandered back into the land of card forums. I still haven't really found the excitement to twitter, whether for hobby interests or just in general. But I pretty quickly remembered why I have no business being on cardboard forums. My excitement over a Jermaine Allensworth 1998 Topps card just doesn't really gel with threads of "look at my $800 bat knob triple autograph booklet" and the glut of "I only sold my Mike Trout auto for a $300 profit - I hate this hobby!" threads. But I have been really interested to come across some of the COMC related threads, many of which are being discussed from the perspective of dealers who have large chunks of change and cards invested in the site.
COMC has always been an interesting subject to me. I joined the site in 2010. I had started grad school, had a little extra cash, and had gotten sick of having to pay shipping time and time again on ebay for low end cards. I had suddenly discovered a place that seemed like the perfect fit for me as a collector - a great place to find low end cards on the cheap, without getting killed on shipping costs. It was like a card show available at my fingertips day or night, every day.
But there had always been some lingering questions on my mind about the site, its longterm growth, and the nuts and bolts of having millions of cards in one central hub. It's just something that seemed really fascinating both in concept and application.
Let me make clear that COMC has continued to be and is today one of my favorite avenues for buying cards, and still the primary online means that I use to add cards to my collection. But there has definitely been some food for thought in recent months, some of which really has me scratching my head.
In quick summary -
- Radio silence. Early on COMC seemed really big on self promotion. Makes sense for a young company. Blog posts a plenty, announcements, specials. It just seemed like a really exciting company that really brought something fresh to the table. But in recent months, COMC's communication almost came to a halt. The site surpassed 10 million items, and days went by before even an announcement was made. A post was later put up saying the owner was away for a while, and there was nothing more to it. But you'd think in a company with a decent number of employees someone else could and would be delegated to handle some of these basic communication and promotional elements.
- A tale of two tiers. Something that really appealed to me as a buyer was the fact that the cards were all processed in a uniform way. Anybody who bought on ebay can tell you that you can see a card from ten different sellers, and depending on the light, time of day, scanner, corner of the room, and zodiac sign the scans can come out drastically different. With comc, I could easily look at a dozen vintage cards or copies of an autographed card and pick the one I liked the best. Well, last Friday COMC added about 500,000 cards from big time vintage dealer DeansCards. The cards aren't in COMC's warehouse, and instead will be cross listed with Dean's site. The scans used were also those provided by DeansCards, rather than COMC's own. For the first time I know of, this basically gives one seller special privileges that aren't available to the rest of the COMC universe. And a lot about that just rubs me the wrong way. And my old adage has always been that no good news will ever be announced at 5:30 on a Friday...
-Magic men. I read a very interesting thread where a buyer said he purchased a card and relisted it at a higher price. Apparently the seller noticed, and realized he could have cashed in higher. He contacted COMC, which removed the card from the buyer's account and refunded him the purchase price. It brings up some really interesting questions over who truly owns the cards - the person who has the card in their account, or can COMC play this hand of god role. For its part, COMC's official stance is they will only reverse a transaction if both buyer and seller agree. Which didn't happen in this case. Their response to that has been "we made a mistake, sorry."
Overall, I guess I just don't get the warm and fuzzies from the site I did when I first joined. Obviously the goal for the site has always been to be profitable. It's a business. But so many of the decisions in recent months make me feel like things are being done as immediate cash grabs (processing discounts, but all processing fees must be paid in advance by a certain date) or just generally decisions that rapidly move away from the core business I've enjoyed for years (auctions, allowing a large seller to play by different rules). It's not meant solely to rip on COMC. Instead I wonder where the relationship between the hobby and technology continues to move.
Ebay revolutionized the way collectors collected. It could be argued that it crumbled a decades old hobby model in pricing and access. But today ebay is really only viable for higher value cards, and I read that they are pushing fixed price listings over auctions. Smaller sites like justcommons or sportlots continue to exist, but in more of a niche market. Beckett's marketplace, like the entire company, has been shit for years. COMC seemed like the next evolution in the hobby - a centralized physical hub merged with what amounted to a digital card show. I still love the idea. But some of the things bubbling beneath the surface make me have gigantic reservations about the longterm sustainability and viability of the site, and in turn whether I want to pull out the cards I have in there sooner rather than later.
Digital shopping brings with it a ton of advantages. But this hobby's move to digital has crushed such a huge portion of the physical card market. Not just the brick and mortar stores, but the weekend card dealers who used to set up once or twice a month. And if some type of digital card collapse did happen, I don't know what options would be there until another wave of sites and ideas rose from the ashes.
I'm a little bit post-apocalyptic here on the card market. And I certainly don't mean to be chicken little, though I'm sure it sounds a bit that way. I'm curious to see how others feel about the online card market these days. What are your primary buying sources? Do you see yourself still buying in those same ways 5 or 10 years from now?