Sunday, August 26, 2012

Are the kids all right?

Apparently, 2012 Panini Triple Play is gearing up to be a pretty popular set amongst the blogosphere.

My thoughts on the topic received amongst the most views and comments of any post in this blog's history, I'm proud to say.

Incidentally, it's just another reason why I've come to love the blogs so much. I haven't heard a single peep about the set on my trading forum yet. Although I guess that's fitting, since "book value" wouldn't begin to tell the story of how groundbreaking Triple Play could potentially be.

That's for another post, though.

As I'm sure is the case with most other collectors, my favorite part of the local Target is the card aisle, located right next to the cash registers. (At least at my Target.)

My dad and I have walked through there on quite a few occasions this year. It's where I go when I have a little extra cash in my pocket. It's where all the new "treasures" of the card year await.

And it's almost always empty.

At my local Target, the Yu-gi-oh, Pokemon, etc. cards are located right next to the sports cards. If I do happen to see anyone frequenting the card aisle, it's little kids hoping to "score" the next great Yu-gi-oh card for their "deck".

I've seen older folks digging through the sports cards on a few occasions, but not often enough to really notice. (No pack searchers from what I've seen...yet. I'm sure one will pop up sooner or later.)

But a funny thing happened when my dad and I walked into the card aisle at the local Target last week, hoping to get our first look at the anticipated Triple Play set.

There were actually kids in the sports card aisle.

I couldn't tell you the last time I'd seen that. It felt great to know that there were at least a couple kids in the neighborhood who were still interested in the hobby.

After they left, my dad and I had the card aisle to ourselves, as usual. The first thing that caught my eye was the brand spankin' new Triple Play packs, of course.

When we find ourselves in the card aisle, my dad likes to browse around for a few minutes before making the final selection. I always have my eye on the prize, that one new set on the shelves. (Triple Play, in this case.)

This time, I followed my dad's eye around the card shelves.

A fairly obvious realization came into my mind at that point.

The kids we saw last week couldn't have been more than twelve or thirteen years old. When I was that age, I got ten bucks' allowance per week. I was free to do whatever I wanted with it.

Even at that time, I wanted the most bang for my buck.

Looking across all the prices in the present day, it's easy to see why I'd never seen kids in the card aisle at Target before.

A six-card pack of A&G sets you back three bucks. A four-card pack of Bowman Chrome is three bucks. A rack pack of Topps flagship sets you back another five smackers.

Most of those are out of the young collector's price ranges.

It's obvious from the cartoonish images and low price per pack that Panini had the younger collector in mind when the idea was conceived.

In the end, adults will probably end up representing most of the consumer market for Triple Play, which is fine considering adults well outweigh the younger members of the hobby nowadays.

Looking back, I guess it was bound to happen.

The hobby has gone through a dramatic shift since the "glory days" of the 1970's market.

In fact, it's pretty much the polar opposite.

While I'm sure there had to have been a few adults who collected cards back in the day, the hobby was almost entirely focused upon the younger generation.

I especially enjoy this 1973 Topps "highlight" card because it's the very representation of that fact. Topps cleverly referenced the old children's cartoon "Dennis the Menace" in a card that featured the World Series heroics of then-unknown A's backup catcher Gene Tenace.

No one collected because they thought the cards would have any "value".

They collected because it was fun.

Of course, all of us pretty much know the rest.

The overproduction era "boom" enters the hobby, prices rise, the kids are pretty much priced out, the card market crashes.

And now we're left with the "dying" hobby.

While I don't agree with that last part at all (despite what some news outlets would have you believe), it's no secret that kids aren't a large part of the card market anymore.

As a result, there haven't been a whole lot of sets geared towards the younger collector in recent years.

One of the few I can remember is the 2004 Upper Deck Power Up! set. It involves something where you enter a code somewhere and something happens that no kid could ever care about.

Much like the whole "Topps Town" deal from recent flagship sets.

Given that Power Up! is the best recent kid-themed set I could think of, I can't say I blame much of the younger generation for being dismissive towards the hobby these days.

Just look at that monstrosity.

Before Triple Play came around, Topps Opening Day was pretty much the last non-flagship set designed for the younger collector.

Until this year, Opening Day packs were also priced at just 99 cents a piece. (They rose to a whopping $1.09 in 2012.)

While I've always been a supporter of Opening Day, I'll admit that it's basically a less-glorified version of every single flagship set. Even the photos are the same, in most cases.

You have to admit that this year's 3-D inserts were actually pretty nifty, no matter what age you are.

Still, Topps had tried and failed with the kid-themed inserts in past years.

Although Topps challenged kids to "spot the error" last year, I'm sure few had trouble with it. I don't know that Jose Bautista stepped up to the plate without a bat in his hands on many occasions.

Personally, I think the time to get kids back into the hobby is dwindling.

Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part. The time might already be up.

If the hobby is going to survive in the future, we need the younger generation to be a part of it now.

I put it to you, Topps. Take a hint from Panini.

Even if it's not a "cash cow", try to put some real time and effort to a set that kids will genuinely enjoy, not a four-card pack of Topps Chrome that sucks away what little money kids already have.

A low-budget set could pay huge dividends in the future.

Sure, adults will probably always represent the majority in the card market. There's no denying that. But through it all, I still have one question.

Why can't there be room for both?


P-town Tom said...

Great post and something I've always wondered about, "Why can't there be room for both?"

I, for one, just love ripping, and collating, and trading, and ripping some more, and making a checklist, and hunting down those last few cards.

I miss the days of 15 cards in a 50 cent pack. My allowance went pretty far back then. I'm working on this year's Opening Day set because it's priced right. And, even as an adult, my allowance for cards hasn't changed too much.

flywheels said...

1992 Topps Kids. Look 'em up. Great set for kids. Slightly ahead of it's time in my opinion.

Hackenbush said...

Well written as usual. It got me thinking. Is there anything else that's analogous to the card collecting situation? That is a kids hobby or recreation turning into an adults one? Is it the same for stamp and coin collecting? Nick,you're a lot closer to being a kid than I am. What do kids collect these days? Or has collecting in general become adult thing?

Nick said...

A few of my friends still play the Yu-gi-Oh card game, although I'm not sure how widespread that is among people my age anymore. They're the only people I've met in the past few years that collect anything card-related. (I've never met anyone my age who collects coins, stamps, or anything like that.)

From what my dad has told me and what I've seen in record stores lately, collecting vinyl seems to be on the upswing with my age group as well.

Video games are the biggest hobby amongst people my age, although it isn't exactly a "tangible" one. I'd say about 95 percent of college students play at least a few times a week, although I haven't been one of them for a long time.

I do still see a decent amount of kids my age at card shows these days, which is a great sign.

All in all, collecting has probably shifted into mainly an adult thing, although I still believe (or hope) there's enough aspiring younger collectors to keep this hobby going in the long run.

Hackenbush said...

I guess I'm cool then. I have about 800 vinyl albums. The again, four of them are Barry Manilow so forget what I said about being cool.

Zayden said...

Personally I agree. Topps is going to need to start thinking about how to get the kids involved again. As do we as collectors.

The thing is, that when I was a kid, I didn't want or buy the products that were meant to be for kids. Then again, I think at the time, most of the products were aimed at kids anyways.

So I don't really know how it all falls out now-a-days, because the products seem to be trying to please every kind of collector, except for the kids.

It's one of those marketing things that I'm not that familiar with. However I know enough to know that if I hadn't been a collector as a child, then I probably would not be in the hobby today.