Friday, April 25, 2014

Time For a Change When it Comes to New Products?

More and more collectors I personally know, have stopped purchasing unopened boxes of new product. Thankfully the hobby has seen that void filled, in recent years, by the case breaking phenomon. Without them, the amount of new singles on the secondary market would be at an all-time low.

For the most part, I have outgrown the need to purchase boxes of the latest "hot" hobby product. Sure, occasionally I get sucked in like everybody else but more often than not the post purchase experience is one of regret and not satisfaction. Why? Because, I'd rather take that money spent on a box of the latest and greatest and just buy the singles and hits I want from the product direct on the secondary market.

I'm not alone in this feeling or practice and I don't believe it bodes well for manufactures and retailers. So what can be done to harness the dollars being spent on the secondary market from a manufacturers standpoint? I believe it's time to re-envision the product configuration of a box of trading cards.

Let's face it, most people collect teams if not specific players. So why not give the collector what they really collect? Using Topps Museum Collection brand as an example, what if they planned it as normal but instead of packing it out randomly with a set box/pack configuration, it was packaged out by team? They would obviously need to adjust production numbers with an increase of Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, etc and a decrease in Mariners, A's, Astros, etc.

The new pack-out configuration would be team specific with the same elements of chance for the "big hit". It could be sold by the mini-box with "x" number of mini-boxes per case. Cases could be team specific to cater to individual markets or an assortment. Each mini-box would have the team base set, (1-2) parallels, (1-2) inserts, (1-3) autographs and (1-2) memorabilia cards. The autographs and memorabilia cards would be cards normally produced for the specific brand, not dumb downed single swatches and autographs of players no one cares about. Pricing would be commiserate with the type of product. $20 for a team set of Topps Baseball with (1) memorabilia card or $40 for the same team set, all team parallels all team inserts,  (1) autograph and (1) memorabilia card. Or whatever, you get the idea.

A higher-end product like Museum Collection described above might be priced at $75-$90. Triple Threads $125-$150.

I would buy that type of product for every Chicago team I collect: Blackhawks, White Sox, Bears, and Bulls. Could people still just wait for cards to show up on eBay and other secondary market sites? Of course but I'm willing to bet, that, more people who are currently not buying new wax, would do so with a reconfigured product as described here.

I'd like to see a major manufacturer give this a try for a couple of products for a few years and then compare P/L statements on those products from the new format to the old. I truly believe they have nothing to lose in the long term and potentially much to gain from a fundamental paradigm shift in how we, as a hobby, look at new wax.

What do you think? Would you buy it? What problems, if any, do you foresee with this type of distribution?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Are There Flaws in the Graded Card Scale Due to Printing Technology?

The information contained in this article is the result of being contacted by a seasoned commercial printer. His knowledge of the printing practices of trading cards from the 1950's-1980's has caused him concerns with regards to how cards are graded. As a result of this first hand experience with the printing and cutting process, it brings into question the methods and scale used by grading companies when establishing a trading card's final grade, particularly those from the aforementioned era. Below is a re-written version, for clarity, based on the several emails he sent me. 

It's no secret that collectors, dealers, and auction houses spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, and perhaps more, every year, on grading services. This practice has become an important part of the hobby because it has helped to eliminate the personal bias regarding condition that used to be so common between collectors and dealers. However, are the current grading scales fair? Do they take into account the technology in the actual printing and more importantly, cutting, of trading cards? With sometimes thousands of dollars riding on the difference between a card receiving an 8 grade compared to a 10, an understanding of printing technology would seem essential in determining a cards grade. So why aren't these factors incorporated into the grading scale? Here is a closer look at some individual characteristics of how trading cards are printed and cut and how grading companies erroneously miscalculate these factors into the grading equation.

The cards are first photographed for color separation and then plates are made for bulk sheets. Next the plates are laid out on the press for printing.  Before the industry began using digital presses, older cards were printed using a process known as four color separation. Each sheet required four separate printing plates, one for each of the primary printing colors; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This is commonly known as the CMYK color model. The four sheets are individually printed, dried and printed again for each color separation. A component called sizing  is added to the top surface of the sheet to protect the colors. After the actual printing process is completed, the sheets are brought to a pressure cutter.

Printing sheets are cut face or front side up. The front of the cards are obviously the most important part of a card. It contains the visual image and usually the the majority of the color so protection is important. When a sheet is cut, it is always cut from front to back.  The backside corners often display exposed fibers or what some call “touches”. These occur as there is no color protection (sizing) on the back of the card. The sizing is what holds the corners and makes them sharp, an important aspect in the grading process. However, it is never the concern of the printer to eliminate or prevent these backside “touches”. As a naturally occurring part of the production process, is it fair that the presence of slightly soft backside corners be a determining factor in a cards grade? The front of any card is the element that needs to be judged very closely and the back, if it has normal defects like touches, should not be judged/graded so harshly. In doing so, grading companies can turn a card from a legitimate 10 into an 8 because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the production process.

Grading Implications
So, should these “touches” be considered damage to the card or should the back corners be accepted “as printed” if the front side is sharp and the card is well centered? If all other criteria for a card to receive a 10 are met, shouldn't then the card be allowed the grade of 10 regardless of touches or fibers on the back corners? After all you can not have better than something that was intended to be printed in a specific way.Reason being is that if a card has any touching on a front corner it should not and can not be graded higher than the same card with touching on a back corner because cards are supposed to have sharp front corners. Many cards submitted for grading and that should theoretically be considered perfect “10” 's are overlooked and graded as “8” when in fact the cards are intended to be printed and cut that way. Is this indicative that graders have little or no understanding of the actual printing process for the very subject matter they are paid to grade?

It is a fact that a percentage of the cards on a sheet will never be perfectly centered despite the use of high tech pressure cutters. Why? All cards on outside edges of a printing sheet have little chance of being perfectly centered. When a sheet is cut, it is nearly impossible to find outside edges that completely match inside edges because printer sheets incorporate outside edge margins. A study of printing sheets will show that some cards are almost always perfectly centered while others are never perfectly centered. Why? Because from the pressman's point of view, many cards on the outside edges are allowed a percentage of error. However, the inside cards have the same spacing, so theoretically they can be cut perfectly if the cutter is aligned properly. It is these outside cards that have variance from left to right, right to left, top to bottom or bottom to top.

For example, let's take a look at a printing sheet that has 21 cards, lined up in a configuration of three cards  in each row with seven rows of three cards each. Based on real-life practices used universally by commercial printers, this would mean that of the 21 total cards, 16  are likely to never have perfect margins. So depending on the number of cards on a sheet you can determine by their positioning, which cards will have the best chance of being perfect. As a result of the self-created rules of grading companies to determine card condition, cards aligned along the outside edge of any sheet will often not be eligible for a receiving a top grade. However, this does not mean that they are not perfect cards. It only means that the grading companies have rules that apply only to specific cards.  Current grading methods are inadvertently giving preference to cards that are in a specific positioning on a sheet.

With all this being said, is it time that changes be made in grading criteria or the qualifications to be a card grader? Would it not make since for graders to have had some experience in printing and layout? Without that experience and knowledge, what makes them qualified in determining which cards are considered to be“perfect”? Is the process of card grading only as good as the understanding of the printing process and technology itself? While there may be currently more questions than answers, with the amount of money that is at stake, surely the questions need to be asked and open for discussion.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Greatest Baseball Card Scenes from Cinema

The list is short. It begins and ends with these two clips from the 2008 movie, Diminished Capacity, starring Matthew Broderick, Virginia Madsen and Alan Alda.


Near Mint Mint

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hobby Talk - Random Musings

Well, this might be the longest I have ever gone without posting but it's not for a lack of opinion or anything to say. As I have mentioned before, as the co-host of Cardboard Connection Radio, the show provides an outlet, twice per week, that allows me the platform to provide much of the commentary I used to provide here. But some things have been on my mind and I thought I'd digest and work through them here.

Upper Deck's Current PR Strategy
For the third time in about a year, Upper Deck has helped to create awareness about various social causes, by bringing attention to the personal situation of three individuals. The first, a Wounded Warrior, the second a young Nebraska Corn Husker fan dealing with cancer and most recently, Mandi Schwartz, brother of St. Louis Blues Jaden Schwartz, who died of cancer in 2011 and was a member of the Yale woman's hockey team.

Let me preface my initial reaction to this by saying, I DO NOT IN ANYWAY THINK UPPER DECK IS TRYING TO PROFIT FROM THE MISFORTUNE OF OTHERS. However, I question an obvious public relations strategy, whose, at least partial, purpose is to bring goodwill to the Upper Deck name by bringing attention to the misfortune of others, regardless of the positive benefit that may come about as a result.

I honestly don't know how I fully feel because a tremendous amount of good did come as a result of the actions taken by Upper Deck, in all three situations. Am I over-thinking this  What do you think?

Jesse Owens Olympic Gold Medal
$1.4M . . . Wow. I understand that Jesse Owens competed in a hostile environment in front of a fascist mass murder who built an entire political party on the concept of racial superiority and Jesse Owens exploded that misnomer for all the world to see. It did make me think though. Given that Hitler's real angst was with people of Jewish faith and descent I wonder if Owens had been Jewish, would the medal have sold for more, less or the same?

True Randomness

Black Diamond
Embedded diamonds on Black Diamond Hockey Cards? Long overdue. While they might have take a page from the Panini playbook with Flawless, the idea of the Quad Diamond Rookies having a 1/1 custom created via interactive online draft redemption, is very cool.

Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects
I don't think I will EVER, understand this set. It's like three sets in one and confusing as heck. Some of the cards have traditional numbering (1,2,3, etc). Others, as we have come to know, are numbered BDP1, BDP2, etc. While still others are numbered TP-1, TP-2, TP-3, etc., for Top Prospect. Why?

Topps 75th
I like the idea of this product but I think they left an awful lot on the table. Here are somethings I would have liked to have seen.

  1. Larger Base Set - If you want to capture the essence of every non-sport release over the last 75 years, can really do it with just one card represented per set. I think for the most part, when you boil it down, that you can select five cards from an entertainment product to get a good sampling/representation of the subject matter, be it TV, movies, music etc.
  2. Larger Autograph Checklist - Most of the people on the checklist have signed for other products. Plenty of first-timers out there that could have given this a bit more weight.
  3. More Autographed Buy Back Cards - Love the idea of a Sylvester Stallone buy back autograph from Rambo. But what about Rocky? And why just ONE, single card. I understand the chase element but I think just one was a little cheap.

12 Days of Christmas - Sports Collector's Remix
Did you see my song parody on Cardboard Connection? No I don't sing. Check it out.