There was an article in the New York Times on July 1, 2013, which talks about the decline of people investing in baseball cards. The shame of the situation is that the remaining card companies (Topps and Upper Deck) are not making it easy for adults or kids to collect baseball cards anymore. They are not easily accessible, and the market is so saturated with different products that it is impossible for a person to know what to collect. For instance, a quick search of Cardboard Connection lists 39 different sets of 2013 baseball cards that you can buy and collect, 25 which are branded Topps. That does not even take into consideration the other sports and trading cards that are available, further confusing the novice collector and deterring them from possibly making their first purchase. Yes, it was supposed to be a better investment than the stock market in the 1990’s when cards were flooding the market, but then there was a sharp decline, and now the card companies are complaining that the market is not returning, yet they seem to be doing everything they can to kill demand, and continuing to produce more supply than is probably needed.
When I was a kid, you could get baseball cards everywhere. You could not walk into a gas station, drug store, department store or any other major retail establishment and not find baseball cards. I used to make treks to different stores across town, just to find an elusive Johnny Bench or Ozzie Smith card, because my local haunts were not producing the cards I needed to complete my series. Little did I know that I needed to go somewhere like Tennessee or Montana, light years away from Binghamton, New York to find those missing cards, but I was on a mission and boy was it fun. Today, my kids don't understand baseball card collecting and don't understand why I still do it to this day. And neither do I, really.
A few years back I was speaking to the owner of a local convenience store and he happened to have a box of basketball cards. I asked him why he had them, and why he does not regularly carry trading cards. He said he got this box at a deep discount, not telling me what he paid, so it was worth putting them on his counter so he could move them. He said there is simply not enough profit in trading cards as a whole to regularly give them any space in his store. This got me thinking. My town, like many others, has had a recent influx of super drug stores, huge stores such as CVS or Walgreens or Rite Aid or whatever, that have aisles and aisles of all the crap you could ever need. As my wife was shopping for something I started wondering about these aisles, figuring one of these huge stores might have baseball cards. While they had three different aisles for candy, not a single trading card could be found and this leads me to the final reason why the industry is in a decline, the product is simply hard to find and not at all cost effective. It’s almost as if they don't want you to buy cards and if you do, they don’t give you a lot of value for your hard earned money.
The Stamford, Connecticut area is a fairly large community with a population of close to 120,000 people. However, the only places where I have been able to find cards regularly are at the Target and the local comic book shop. If you go a little further north there are two Wal-Mart's in Norwalk, Connecticut where you can get cards as well. However, in both Target and Wal-Mart they are located off in the corner near the cash registers. And in one Wal-Mart the cards are actually next to the cigarettes, which makes them seem almost forbidden when you need to ask an associate for assistance in selecting your pack of cards. All the cards are thrown together on the wall in a singular display so finding what you are looking for (in my case the plain old regular Topps Series 1/2) is especially difficult.
Then if you are lucky enough to find the set you are looking for, there are additional choices. There are the small packs of 8-12 cards, for about $1.99 each. There are 30-36 cards for $5.99. And there are 81 cards for $9.99. Why 8-12 cards you may ask? Well because in every pack, there may or may not be a special insert, which ultimately means even if you choose to collect a particular set, then you are also getting additional inserts that you might not even want (like me). So if there is an insert you might only get 8 cards, which actually increases the base cost ranges from $0.17 to $0.25 per card, when the secondary market for the majority of these cards goes for between 5-10 cents, especially when you can buy the complete set of 660 cards for $49.99 (or $.08/card) at the end of the year. It really seems to me that is the real goal for the companies.
Back in 2007 I started reading Ben Henry’s baseball card blog (baseballcardblog.blogspot.com) and decided to start buying individual packs again for the first time since 1982, when my original collection ended. I really enjoyed opening them up, seeing who I got, eyeing a few stats of a key players, and ultimately (mild case of OCD?) putting them into numerical order to determine which cards were outstanding. At the end of the season, I would find online shops like baseball-cards.com or baseballcardzone.com that would sell me individual cards to help me complete my sets.
Each year since then, I find myself buying less and less individual packs simply because it feels like I am getting less cards, less value and more crap, plus my wife keeps telling me I am wasting our money, which might be true too. It is a shame, because as my kids gets older, I am seeing none of their friends interested in pursuing this hobby, I see only a few of them actually following the game itself (but that is a whole other story), so unless the card companies drastically change their strategies in how they are pricing and how they are marketing to their consumers, then this article is accurate and there will continue to be a shrinking market. Eventually it will just be my friend Lee Goldinger and I trading cards back and forth.
In the meantime, I am still looking for a 1984 Jim Beattie (#288) and the Toronto Blue Jays Team Card (#606). So if you have an extra one of these laying around hit me up and let’s see if we can work a trade so I can mark that set complete.
Jeff Herz is a baseball loving, Card Collecting, Jeffersonian Libertarian, who is interested in protecting privacy and civil liberties. A loving husband and father to 3 kids in Stamford CT, where the Board of Education works really hard at not listening to him while he tilts at windmills to make the entire education landscape more successful.