Digital Footprints

A recent post by Jenny Miller about the Topps Bunt app got me thinking about digital cards. I’ve long wanted to see such a post on this blog but I suspect that our membership base is skeptical at best* when it comes to cards that only live in an app.

*And dismissive at worst.

I get it. This is a cardboard hobby and the idea of something existing only digitally doesn’t feel “real.” At the same time, the experience Jenny describes is closer to the pure ideal of the hobby than much of what’s going on with card releases. She doesn’t have to spend any money. She’s able to look at her collection and acquire new cards anywhere and anytime she has battery life on her phone. There’s no concern about finding a card shop or hoping that the card aisle hasn’t been raided by pack seekers. It sounds like a lot more fun than most of the bellyaching I see about the current state of the hobby on Twitter.

What really got me thinking though were the images Jenny used in her blog post. I’m online-averse in all my media. I prefer CDs/DVDs/BluRay to streaming. I prefer books to Kindle. As interesting as the Topps Bunt app seems it’s just not something that appeals to me…unless I can get the cards out of the app. As much as I’m a luddite, my concerns are actually more about being locked in to a corporate ecosystem and the fact that companies have a bad track record with regard to maintaining these things.

I just don’t trust these apps to last and while I don’t need ALL my cards to last another 20, 30, 40 years it would be nice to know that there’s a possibility of it. Jenny didn’t get her images out of the app (she confirmed with me that she pulled them from Topps’s Twitter feed) but she could have.

My phone (an iPhone8) produces screenshots that are 750×1334 pixels. This translates into 2.5″×4.45″ at 300 DPI. Even if you have to crop off a little of the image to get just the card this is enough data for good-quality printing. Yeah. There’s no reason why you couldn’t roll your own Bunt cards.

As much as it’s weird to me how the Bunt app cards show evidence of wanting to pretend to be physical items with their wrinkles, halftone rosettes, “autographs,” and peeling effects, they are actually something that can be taken into the real world if you wanted to.

Costco wallet-sized prints are 59¢ for four. Even if you didn’t print these, just being able to save them outside of the app gives you a level of flexibility and future-protection that alleviates a lot of my concerns. It also reminds me of a number of other card-related things we’ve covered on this blog where the original objects contain information that is no longer accessible for most collectors.

One of the best things about this hobby is how it’s a near perfect usage of technology—in this case print technology. Cards are the right size to hold and store. They’re durable enough to handle without falling apart immediately. And they don’t require any supplementary technology.

I very much love cards that push the into other technological realms though. They just require some help to be fully enjoyed if the other technology does not age as well as ink on cardboard.

For example, Auravision and Baseball Talk are both wonderful objects but the audio portions of them are tough to access. Record players may be making a comeback but they’ve not been standard in most homes for a long time. Plus you have to punch a hole in the middle of that nice Auravision photo to listen to anything. Similarly, Baseball Talk requires a special player which, even if you have one, is not guaranteed to work anymore since it’s a cheap child’s toy.

But the internet is a wonderful place. The Auravision recordings are up on YouTube. As are the Baseball Talk ones. This means I can have my Baseball Talk cards in my album and pull up the corresponding recordings on the web. Yes there’s always that fear that the recordings will disappear from YouTube but they’re out there, but there are tools out there that will download the audio from a YouTube video and convert it to MP3.

Another thing that YouTube has preserved is things like 2000 Upper Deck Power Deck. Sure you can just shove a baseball card sized mini CD-ROM into a binder page but reading the data is near impossible now. Most computers don’t have optical media trays and the ones that do are usually slot-loading ones that can’t accept non-standard sized or shaped media. So your only option to see what’s on the disc is to go to YouTube and hope it’s been uploaded.

I’ve actually been engaged in my own form of converting a somewhat-inaccesable product into one with digital footprints. I don’t have the toy to view my Viewmaster discs so I’m only able to see them by holding a disc up to light. This isn’t ideal. Scanning them into wiggle gifs produces a better way of seeing them.

I’m also going a step further and scanning the booklet so I can convert each image into a 2.5″ square card with a still image in the front and the booklet on the back. No it’s not the Viewmaster experience but it take the photos into a form that’s more accessible.

Do I expect Bunt to be around in a decade? No way. But I do expect JPGs of the cards to be available someplace. Maybe not all of them, but someone next decade will have an archive of a bunch of them. And I have my fingers crossed that a few cards will even be printed out the way I’m printing out my Viewmaster photos.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

4 thoughts on “Digital Footprints”

  1. Jenny’s post was an eye-opener for me. I had zero idea what this stuff was before reading it but ended up impressed and intrigued. As you say here the digital approach may have more in common with the “good old days” of collecting than today’s physical cardboard-chromium alloys.

    Would be awesome if Topps or anyone made an app/game that let you “collect” the T206 or 1933 Goudey set from “packs” and trades. If Pokemon Go was open source it might just involve replacing the monsters with the Monster!

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  2. Interesting piecet, and thanks for the link to Jenny’s post on Bunt. I suppose there are a lot of collectors out there who have been aware of Bunt, but who had no specific understanding of the product/service, so I would agree with Jeff that this was an eye-opener.

    I’m like Nick; I totally prefer a physical representation of my pop culture, but just as I know that not everyone can devote the space to shelf after shelf of DVDs, books and CDs, a voluminous collection of cardboard might be beyond the management of a lot of collectors. Plus, younger collectors are more likely to have a different relationship with the digital world than someone like me, who began accumulating cardboard in the late ’60s.

    Personally, I could never imagine myself being interested in a digital baseball card collection. I have issues with the whole concept (for instance, the idea of a digital “relic” card . . . if you don’t have the tactile connection, what’s the point?). But when I read Jenny’s post, I’m seeing a collector who’s delighted with her collection and how she puts it together. Isn’t that the point? And she’s done it by wisely managing her digital assets, rather than pouring a lot of money into it. I’d seen Bunt products offered for sale on eBay, but I didn’t fully realize that you could collect them without putting actual money into it. So there’s that . . .

    There’s another online parallel to digital cards: with the availability of photoshopping techniques, there are numerous creative collectors using old Topps designs to create cards that never were and should have been (i.e., players who were left out of a set for one reason or another, or who got traded in midseason, or who had to share a rookie card). I enjoy visiting those sites, and I have a file on my hard drive of “collected” images, which I enjoy perusing, but can’t really see as a true collectible. On the other hand, there’s at least one collector creating such cards who has enough knowledge of printing processes to produce short runs of his efforts on a nice, thick cardboard stock . . . and I happily pay for his cards, and in fact have boxes full of them.

    To each their own . . . I think Nick is right, there are plenty of long-time collectors who would be dismissive of Bunt. They’re not “real cards.” They’re not “real collectibles.” But a hobby is something one should enjoy, and reading Jenny’s post, I have no doubt that she enjoys collecting digital cards. And I’m sure she’s not alone.

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  3. I collected the Star Wars Topps digital set for a couple months. I never really contrasted it to physical card collecting, it was just a fun app. (Problem for me was that it was so addicting, I decided to give it up!)

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