By Michael Reuben aka mreuben

Ever since I returned to the hobby in full force a few years ago, I’ve been reading blog after blog all proposing different ideas which would bring flocks of people to the hobby. More high-end products. More low-end products.  Make it easier for set-builders. Make it more exciting for white-whale chasers. For prospectors.  For kids. Of course, all of these proposals are worthwhile and needed for any good industry. As someone who is back fully into the hobby I say we don’t need to go out there and expect to find the magic bullet that will bring thousands more buyers into the market. It’s not like the next idea is really going to bring the masses back to the card industry.

First, as collectors we have to ask if we really want the hobby to return to its hey-day. The industry seems to have hit its peak in the late 80s and early 90s. Though there are some iconic cards from this era, it’s hard to disagree that this is the worst period of time for so much of what we look for in the hobby. Cards were poorly designed, companies found a variety of ways to swindle hobbyists to make a quick buck, everything was horribly overproduced. Many of the blogs I read on a regular basis note that many of the cards from that era are better used as kindling for a fire than as individual cards on the secondary market. Between the neons of the early years of Score and the unreadable, ‘futuristic’ designs of the mid 90s, these cards are simply painful to look at. If this is what will result from bringing a mass market back to card collecting, is this something that we all want – if we are already in the hobby?

Just like any other industry, the hobby should be comfortable with a steady 2% to 5% growth. This can be accomplished by continually putting out solid products that hit the markets we already have. Personally, I like vintage and sets that remind us of those looks. Because of that, I have Heritage, Allen and Ginter, and a variety of other products that come out to capitalize on that. I know I don’t like ‘prospecting’. Because of that, I almost never buy Bowman or Pro Debut, or those sets. I like to consider myself a mid-level hobbyist so I don’t go low-end with Opening Day, and I can’t afford to go high-end with Triple Threads. I’ve found my niche like so many others. So long as Topps – or whoever is making cards – makes sure to keep their consumers happy, the industry should be fine.

I roll my eyes at the gimmicky cards that still occasionally come out, but I know that is a draw for many of us. It’s not going to get me to buy a product or get me to stop buying. What I can’t stand though, is when there are obvious faux pas. The epic failure of the curved 2010 Topps Chrome really could have turned me off from a set I enjoy putting together. Poley Walnuts and Kaz Uzuki wouldn’t do the damage that a printing error almost did. I’m not a huge fan of this year’s Allen & Ginter design, but It’s a set that I’ll keep going after. However, the vintage-looking market is getting close to being over-saturated. I can’t put all of the sets together, between Ginter and Gypsy Queen and Lineage and Heritage. It gets to the point where instead of breaking boxes to try to complete sets like I did when I was a kid, I’ll either give up on sets all together or use trades and the secondary market to get the set put together, which doesn’t necessarily benefit the producers.

Ultimately my proposal is this: do well what you already do. Quality over quantity. Instead of five vintage looking sets, stick with two – Ginter and Heritage. If you come up with a design you want to use like Gypsy Queen, make it an insert for Ginter, not a whole separate set. Make Lineage an insert for the base set. Make one Chrome-like mid-level set, maybe two. There is no need for five different sets at the same price point that accomplish the same goal. We don’t need Triple Threads and Marquee and Tier One and whatever name they will use next year. Prospectors can accomplish their prospecting goals by going after one set with a bunch of inserts, subsets and parallels instead of having to break various different boxes.

Ultimately, while you’re looking for your new audience, don’t offend your current market.