Digital Marketplace

Last December I wrote a post about Topps Bunt, digital cards, and the ways that cards can exist in both digital and physical forms. It was very much from my point of view as a digital skeptic who distrusts the way that digital items are locked into proprietary software and rely on corporate maintenance to exist.

It’s one thing to sink a bunch of money into physical cards. If Topps dies, I still have the cards. Whereas with digital cards we have no idea what will happen in a decade. Will Topps be around? Will it be supporting the app still? Will it be maintaining a server where all that stuff exists on the web? None of us knows and that’s a leap of faith I’m unwilling to make.

At the same time, events in the hobby the past couple months have had reevaluating my thoughts on this. Yes this is related to Project 2020. No it’s not about the cards or even the values they had. Rather it’s about the way they were being bought and sold online.

It was wild to watch and I’ve never seen something where card prices were behaving like a stock ticker and people were buying and selling faster than the the shipping could keep up. While there’s been a market for digital only cards, I sort of ignored it until realized how many people are totally willing to flip cards without ever really having them in their possession.

In the same vein of things, I’ve been seeing discussions about flipping on COMC and can’t help but see that universe as also being digital cards. The same thing is going on there. There’s a big marketplace for buying and selling cards that you never physically own.

Yes, people point out that the cards on COMC are literally there and you can always request a shipment. But from where I sit this is remarkably close to how money used to work back when it was backed by a physical standard—something we abandoned almost a century ago.

I know I know. Cards aren’t money. But as we move into purely digital currencies and purely digital cards, I can’t help but wonder about if the upcoming generation will treat these things differently. I’m already seeing reports of blockchain-backed digital transactions of digital collectibles. I suspect such things will only increase in the upcoming years.

This is the kind of thing that likely freaks out a lot of us. Especially in this nostalgia-focused hobby. One of the only editorial points of view that Jason and I enforce is to focus on usage rather than value on here, this trend toward a digital-only marketplace for cards is one that has me asking myself what it means to actually use a digital card. I certainly hope that the usage is not only for flipping on a digital marketplace.

Some of those questions have already been answered in the Topps Bunt post where, refreshingly, the digital marketplace can serve as a pure version of card collecting where people can just have fun acquiring, trading, and set building. But those digital collections also feel incredibly ephemeral, focused on new items with no long tail or ability to deep dive into the past.

I don’t want digital cards to be emulating physical ones. I’d love to see them do things that physical cards can’t do. But I’d also like to see them be something that can be collected and shared across generations. At the end of the day what makes cards interesting to most of us here is the story they tell about baseball and our connection to the game, not the story about how much money we spent or the profits we made.

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

9 thoughts on “Digital Marketplace”

  1. Something I’ve been thinking about…as technology improves, what if counterfeiters can ultimately create fakes that even experts can’t distinguish from authentic cards? Already we are at a point where the largest grading service and auction house either cannot or choose not to notice professionally altered cards. Similar issues have plagued the autograph market.

    Where scarcity, condition, and demand should be the primary drivers of value, I would argue that fraud is now the biggest driver of value in the Hobby.

    Meanwhile, head to digital with blockchain where ownership is known, authenticity is known, and condition no longer even applies. Perhaps we are on a path where that becomes the only way to truly ascertain value.

    In a different direction, think about how stocks are bought and sold. Yes, you are buying an actual thing: 0.00000001%
    of an actual corporation complete with 0.00000001% voting rights, but for all practical purposes you’re simply buying/selling digital.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sort of related to value … though I would use “price” rather than value … price will always make headlines because it’s easy for people who are casually connected to the hobby to understand that concept – 1952 Topps Mantle sells for 10 million space bucks. That gets attention.

        I would say that the 1980s, when buying stacks of 50, 100, 500, 1000, etc. of a single card was prevalent, was very stock market like. Eventually people learned that you didn’t need 1000 copies of the card to turn a profit, though having 1000 copies of the card is certainly more divisible than a 1/1. I’m guessing people had to take physical possession of the cards, though perhaps there were dealers who acted like local versions of COMC, which I imagine would have worked by selling cards on consignment.

        You don’t find a lot of 100 count lots of the same card nowadays (well, not from current products) as the hobby has moved on to “rare” cards and people realizing they don’t really need 100 copies of a card. Those could be intentionally manufactured scarcity (1/10, 1/5, 1/1) or scarce because only so many cards have received a certain grade. The lack of high grades could be due to actual condition issues (vintage cards) or the fact that no one cares to grade certain cards (do we really believe there are only sixteen 1989 Topps Keith Hernandez cards graded PSA 10 – literally yes because that is what the population report says, but there are almost certainly more 10s out there if people would send them in to be graded).

        But I think there’s a difference that will show up in the long run with products that are truly manufactured scarcity (like Topps Transcendent) and those that are not (regular basic flagship Topps) that happen to have some scarce versions of cards. I would argue that the truly high dollar products (like Transcendent) won’t have as much staying power long-term because they won’t have developed a collecting base (that’s where the importance of collectors comes in over those looking to make a quick profit flipping the latest shortprinted card). Sure, there is a 1/1 cut signature Ruth autograph in Transcendent, but there are other 1/1 cut signature Ruth autographs and other Ruth autographs out there if you really want a Ruth autograph. But the product itself won’t resonate with the collectors because it won’t have been “collected.” Now you take something like the 2011 Topps Update Trout rookie, and even its parallels, and there’s something that resonates with collectors. That’s what Project 2020 is doing – taking the cards that resonate with collectors and reimagining them. I can’t see that happening with the higher end products – I can’t see them asking artists to reimagine a Topps Tribute or Museum Collection card because they won’t appeal to the general collecting world because I don’t think they are collected in the same way as flagship (or its variants like Chrome or Opening Day) are.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The more I buy online, especially through COMC, the more cards have a digital component for me. The daily shopping, zooming in on scans, etc, has become more time filling than the actual acquisition of the card. It’s become a bigger part of my collecting experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For sure. I’ve been scanning my autographs and putting them online because I like the browsing experience and ability to search and group multiple ways. We’re all operating in a digital world so this is really more about where on that spectrum you are.

      Like

  3. Speaking of sharing across generations: my ten-year-old daughter, who has collected real cards sporadically, LOVES Topps Bunt. Spends time each day on it. And I find myself doing the same, because we collect together. So from that perspective, Bunt offers us something to the next generation even as I continue to prefer physical cards. (Helps that Bunt has plenty of throwback players and sets, too. Got to collect an Ed Kranepool recently!)

    Liked by 1 person

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