by Rich Klein
A little over a week has now passed since CBS Sunday Morning presented a taped piece about the "death" of the baseball card industry. I think the "death" term is a bit strong but there is little doubt that the hobby we knew 25-30 years ago is evolving and that evolution might indicate the old ways are dying. Here are a few of my random thoughts on the process.
The TV piece by reporter Armen Keteyian began with a montage of a weeknight card show in Parsipanny, N. J the home of the 1984 National Sports Collectors Convention as well as an interview with Mike Gordon who is one of the promoters. Seeing Mike was good because he has been fighting some health issues in recent years but CBS also made a minor factual error when they said the Parsippany show began in 1981. In reality, it began in the summer of 1982.
The basic premise, when everything was broken down, was the network citing a statistic that the new card market is down 75 percent from the peak of the early 1990's. That fact is true, and in reality that number was probably unsustainable as events proved. However, I would surmise that if all aspects of the hobby were considered, there is probably as much money being spent today on cards and memorabilia old and new as there was in 1991.
In addition, and I have touched on this in many of my columns, the idea of attending a show or a store helps bring a sense of community to the baseball card hobby. We see it on message boards all the time. A collector writes something like ‘I'm going to be in Dallas for the next week, are there any shows or stores worth visiting?’ Collectors want to go and see cards and other collectors in person.
However, what has changed is the delivery of cards. That is because many transactions are now performed online whether via auctions, message board trading or buying/selling sites such as checkoutmycards.com.
Check Out My Cards (and in the interest of full disclosure, I do have about 6.000 cards currently listed on that site) not only enables a collector to amass many cards in one easy fashion but provides great scans on each and every card. Like eBay, COMC is more like a 24/7 show. This is just one example of a way to purchase cards which didn’t exist as little as ten years ago. Many collectors figure there’s no need to go to a show when you can buy a seemingly endless variety of cards from the comfort of your office or living room.
My friend Mike Berkus, one of the promoters of the National, recently wrote a nice piece on Frank Barning’s Barnstorming blog about the CBS story, as did several other long-time hobbyists including one of my best friends Mel Solomon.
One other aspect to think about with a show such as the National is the sheer cost for a local collector to attend. The Chicago daily admittance fee is $18 and parking near the site was $11 last year. That means any collector is out $30 if they drove to the show. Now, many collectors would rather just spend the $30 on cards rather than spending that money on the ability to purchase cards. That is a huge difference from the Parsippany National in 1984 with admission under $5 and no parking charge.
If you think about that disparity, little wonder that only people who grew up attending shows or setting up at shows are still doing so. In addition, many vendors who may have their inventory online have to spend significant time to erase cards sold at shows from their on-line inventory.
For all those reasons and more, shows are not what they were. But if one really thinks about things, many aspects of our lives change. When I was growing up, Top 40 radio on AM was a dominant force. By the time I graduated college, FM was dominant and now internet and satellite radio are strong forces in the media.
Another sea change is that 20 years ago print publications were the primary method of delivering hobby news. Now, print is an afterthought and online sites such as the one you are reading are the new way of delivering hobby information.
There are many more changes and some are good, some are not. I do miss going to shows. When I moved to Dallas in 1990. there were card shows almost every weekend. Now, there is a local show once a month and perhaps one big show a year in the DFW area. I do consider myself fortunate in that a good card store is five minutes away and another one is within a half hour. Many collectors do not have that option.
So, for collectors who care, the future of the hobby lies not only in continuing to participate online but also to actually attend shows and stores and if the cost is a few dollars more , it’s worth it to keep both ends of the hobby alive. Sometimes there’s nothing like holding that card or piece of memorabilia in your hands. Go to a show or a store today!
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]