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Friday, April 15, 2011

Why are cards so expensive now?

I feel like I've said this before, but maybe it's just been running in my mind for a while. I apologize if you've seen me write this already.
2011 Topps Tribute
Prices on cases, boxes, and cards are higher this year than last year, and in fact seem to be at their highest since I returned to collecting in 2003. (When I collected before that, there was no eBay or major trading card sites.) Some people point to the Topps monopoly as the cause for this.
I don't think the monopoly, specifically, is the cause for higher prices. I think we're seeing a few things coming together at the right time.
Rookie and player interest is growing - Strasburg, Harper, Posey, Belt are all big names in the past couple of years, which we haven't seen in a little while. And with teams other than the usual suspects in the World Series this past year, there's probably a bit of growth in that area.
Never mind Brandon Belt, where's the card for the person sitting on the bench?
I think we're also seeing some of the people my age return to collecting from their childhood. It's the same This will increase demand.
There are signs that the economy is getting better, and people feel safe in spending more disposable income in cards. Again, this increases demand.
With this increase in demand, there has been a drop in supply. The latest downswing hit hard starting around 2005, between the economy and overproduction. After the mess that was 2005, with the end of Fleer and the removal of Donruss from baseball, there was a return to normalcy. Remember 2005 Donruss Champions? Eight hits per box, for about $80. That's crazy. While Donruss was essentially dumping its excess relic/autograph stock, it's not too far off from the norm for the past couple of years before it. For $20, you could buy a blaster box and be guaranteed a hit. (Okay, so 2011 Topps blasters had a manupatch. It's not a hit. Sorry.)
I saw a rise in prices in relics and autographs a couple years ago, when Upper Deck and Topps were the only companies making products. Both companies really haven't focused on large numbers of hits per box (excluding those high-priced products like Tribute and Triple Threads).
These past two years have seen about half as many releases as the previous years. Even more so this year. While the removal of Upper Deck from the picture created a monopoly, the real issue is a decrease in available product. People went nuts for the flagship Topps because there is no Upper Deck. Tribute is doing so well because there is no Ultimate Collection, SP, or Sweet Spot. There's no Masterpieces, Goudey, OPC, or Goodwin Champions to go up against sets like Heritage, Gypsy Queen, and A&G. So even if there weren't more collectors or more puchases by collectors (maybe there isn't), there is less to buy.

Does Topps need to up production to meet demand? Why?  If Topps ups the production run per set, it'll have the same problem we saw in the mid-80s. If they increase the number of sets produced, it is a repeat of the mid-90s. If they add more relics and autographs, it repeats the problems of the mid-00s.
2005 Donruss Champions
Do we need another manufacturer again? Perhaps. But who? Upper Deck, for all its great photography and innovation, has many enemies. Panini has done some good things lately, and many fans, but they bring the Donruss/Leaf/Playoff legacy with them - including the designing of sets purely as relic holders. (Again, 2005 Donruss Champions.) I would like to see a new company. Regardless, the number of releases needs to be limited, as I think we're just a little lower than is right for the hobby. Take some releases away from Topps - in fact, allow each company to release 12 sets. That would provide two releases per month. And I would require at least two of them to be a multi-series set (in other words, Topps' flagship might be considered three releases). On second thought, Topps would do so much better with almost-monthly series updates to its base set, much like its vintage days with six or seven series. I guess Topps is still printing on 110-card sheets, so maybe a 990-card release spread out over the season would work. Think of all the lame insert sets Topps could create for that many sets!
1973 Topps High-Number Wrapper
Am I angry that cards are expensive? I wish I could find some cheap pickups. I haven't touched a single Tribute card, and I'm having a hard time getting the Heritage hits for my sampler collection. But rising prices are signs that the hobby is growing again, or at least doing something right.

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