Ramblings: Ch-ch-ch-Changes

by Rich Klein

As this is being written, there are only a couple of weeks until the 2012  election. Four years ago, America swept in a new president with the slogan “Change You Can Believe In”. Now, four years ago seems like a short time but both our nation and hobby have changed significantly over that time. In terms of the hobby, here are some changes, both good and bad, that I’ve observed in the last few months.

The first change to discuss is the name change of Check Out My Cards to COMC. In the spirit of full disclosure I am a seller on COMC. Recently COMC.Com was launched and there were several major changes from the old site to the new site. One of the changes that brought upon a flurry of negative comments was the new site would no longer feature “free” Beckett pricing. According to what Tim Getsch, the founder of COMC said, that contract was no longer fair to Beckett as a licensee as well as to COMC because of the growth of COMC. In this case, both parties are correct. But there is more to that situation. You see, it was a little “hobby secret” to look up Beckett pricing on the Check out my Cards web site. During the 2010-11 Topps “Vintage Card” giveaways the Facebook group dedicated to that trading always mentioned go to Check Out my Cards to look up Beckett pricing on the cards. In addition, I’m sure there were many other people who, instead of paying Beckett for their online price guidejust saw this as a free work-around.  Now Beckett as a licensor deserves their money and the new COMC has the right to make sure Beckett pricing is not a free service any more. Both COMC and Beckett are right on this one.

The other change on COMC, and this time in a negative way, is now the “handling” charge per card is on the front end rather than the back end. The handling cost has not changed but now as a seller or a buyer you see that charge up front rather than at the end. I had previously sent COMC a lot of cards with a book value of $1 or less and in the previous system, the psychological barrier to selling a card was a $1 BV as many collectors accumulated their cards and then, even if surprised at the end, would pay the handling fee per card at that point. In the new system, the handling fee is included in the price, which is fine but what that really does is make the sweet book value price for selling cards $2 and higher rather than the $1 and higher it previously was. I’ve read through the commentary on their blog about these changes and I will say as a seller I’ve been affected quite a bit as I’ve sold only two cards in the last two weeks. Hopefully, the new cards that I submitted as part of the National Special will kick in some new sales for me.

Another change, and this one, was actually done in 2008, was when the previous owners of Beckett changed their web site. Now changing a website design isn’t uncommon.  Sports Collectors Daily did just that several weeks ago and that’s why Rich Klein’s Ramblings now has its own section.  The Beckett web site change in 2008 did not go as well however.

Before the 2008 web redesign, perhaps the most dynamic message board in the hobby was the old Beckett message boards. Groups such as the “Chromies and the “Night Crew” always posted and there were always interesting threads about the hobby.  There was no doubt ‘The BMB’ as it was known, was the dominant hobby message board. When the new Beckett site was created in 2008, all of a sudden there were no message boards any more. I emailed one of my contacts at Beckett and was told since the BMB was not really a revenue generator, there was no reason for the message board to continue.

Well, within a week of that the Freedom Card Board web site was created and their founder Chris Gilmore has posted something to this effect, if Beckett had not messed up the switch with the web site and the message boards, we would probably not be here today. On a side note, FCB as it is known, has also changed their web site recently and there have been some issues in the switch over. Once my new password was squared away, posting on the FCB board is actually much easier now for me that it was previously.

Beckett.com has changed quite a bit over the years but at this point I’d like to digress and talk about the Beckett past. One of the reasons Beckett “won” the war against Krause when it came to cataloging and marketing their hobby prices was Beckett always was ahead on the technological front. A big bear of a man named Mark Harwell was a driving force in adapting to changing technology and his insistence about what computers, the internet and even email would do in the future really helped bring Beckett into the 21st century very quickly.

I remember an email from my old hobby friend Frank Barning, who was then writing a column for Krause’s Sports Collectors Digest in which he said something like “Beckett will win this war because you are all light years ahead of Krause when it comes to technological advances”.  Frank was, of course, very perceptive, as the only pricing venue Krause (now part of F&W) has left is their Standard Catalog of Vintage Cards and that is still primarily in print version.

The third and final change I’d like to discuss are some of the changes at a local card show I frequent in the Dallas area card show.   The promoters, who frankly are still learning the business, are in the process of moving their show to a bigger location in McKinney, Texas about five minutes away from the old show in the city of Allen. However, the last few months have been instructive on how not to handle an upcoming change if you fancy yourself a promoter.

They had announced they would be running shows in the Allen location the third Saturday of each month during 2012. Well, once they had the new location squared away, they decided to take the summer off. I don’t know about you, but a commitment is still a commitment and yes, I think that show should have been run during the summer months.  Collectors and dealers trust promoters to keep their word.

Another aspect of that change involves how to tell people about what’s happening.  The promoters realized on the day of the show they needed to create a flyer. Well, it was nice to see a flyer but there were precious few details such as contact information for the promoters, written instructions on how to get to the show rather than Google maps and other details. If you are going to change make sure you have all your I’s dotted and the T’s crossed. I set up at the recent show and what had been a recently strong event with 60-70 people per show attending was down to 20-25 people. The third aspect that needs to change, especially since the location is changing, is to do a little MSM marketing even with the cheap local papers in that area. A flyer and a press release about moving would go a long way to generating publicity for that show in the new location at Craig’s Ranch in McKinney.

Change is welcome and often needed.  If technology hadn’t advanced in the last 20 years, I’d be writing this column on a typewriter and mailing this in so it could be formatted as a print newsletter.   I’ll take the electronic method.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]