I could go on and on about the routines that I use throughout my day as a teacher, but all of us can think of ways that our life, whether it be at work, home, or leisure has rules and structure. At some point during the day all of us face some sort of structure, routine, or rules. I am often surprised at how many rules there are with collecting baseball cards too. If you join a trade group or forum there are often rules and etiquette in how cards are traded. If you buy cards off of Ebay there are rules for when you have to pay and how. Rules.
Despite the fact that many of us have to follow rules, routines, or procedures in life one of the largest names in the card business, Topps, has decided to not follow its own rules. I know it seems silly since they are their own company they can make their own rules right? Yes, to a degree. The bigger problem with Topps is the fact that they create rules for distributors and businesses selling their products, but they fail to properly enforce the rules which is resulting in anger, frustration, and volatility in the secondary card market. For example, let's look at this awesome Oscar Taveras card...
2013 Bowman Inception Oscar Taveras Autograph
This card is sitting here on my desk and has been in my possession now for almost four days. I've been really excited about the fact that I was able to add this card to my collection and I could have very easily done my normal post about the card and a little information on the player. Fifteen minutes and I would be hitting the publish button at the top of the page. So, here's were this card gets thorny. According to my good friends at Atlanta Sports Cards, the Bowman Inception product does not release until today. Now, before we move on I will tell you that I did not get this card out of a pack, nor did I buy this card as a single from Atlanta Sports Cards. They are just good at what they do. Check the release date on their webpage, of which I have provided a convenient screen shot.
I actually bought this card off of Ebay and I actually frequently buy cards off of Ebay that are opened before they are released. In fact, there are a lot of people that do the same exact thing that I do: they check their calendar and see that Topps is releasing a product soon. The rush to their computer, search out a few cards on Ebay, and before the product has even officially dropped they have their cards. Even places like Target and Wal-Mart frequently display and sell products before their release date. The official response from Topps is just deafening silence. Check their Twitter and Facebook pages this morning and you will see all sorts of posts and tweets celebrating the release of their newest product: Bowman Inception! There will be pictures and contests and all the sorts of hoopla celebrating their product despite the fact that this product has been selling actively on Ebay since June 20th.
So, why is this rule so bad to break? I know a lot of people that buy cards pre-release and celebrate the fact that the cards are out and floating around early. Why wait until the actual date to buy, when you can buy here and now. There are actually several good reasons not to buy or sell the cards ahead of time, but lets start with the biggest problems first. Topps obviously ships out their products to sellers ahead of the release date to make sure that it is on shelves and in the hands of collectors on the day of the release. Their efforts in this regard are much appreciated. However, once the product is sent out to the shops and distributors shouldn't Topps have policies in place to make them comply with their rules?
My Oscar Taveras card came from a Fairview, Texas shipping address. A quick Google search of Fairview, Texas card shops shows that their are two in town. What are the chances that the Taveras card sitting on my desk, and the 38 other Inception autographs they sold on Ebay, came from one of those two card shops in Fairview, Texas? If I am a betting man it would not be too hard to figure where the cards came from and who opened their cards too soon. Just like other people and places in life Topps could develop a set of consequences dealing with stores ripping into their wax too soon. I know it does not sound great, since we are all eager to get our hands on cards, but there are a few other things to consider here.
First, lets consider the sellers and card shops that play by the rules. One of my favorite people to buy cards from on Ebay is BrentandBecca. They are case busters from Arkansas and they always have tons of great product on their page. They are also on Twitter where you can follow their case breaks and they also do a great job of talking with collectors. I frequently watch their Ebay page and their Twitter page and know for a fact that they are very strict with following the set release dates issued by Topps. However, in doing so they miss the initial wave of card sales on new products which frequently bring some of the best sales and prices from the sellers side of the story.
Many of our local card shops face the same predicament and most choose to hold back their products and wait for the proper release date before they open their cases and boxes up to customers. For many of these people and places it's a question of integrity, but also the fact that they do not want to be the store that is the first to be punished, or made an example of for selling their product too soon. I spent a little bit of time chatting with a card shop owner outside of St. Louis this past weekend about this issue and he summed it up this way:
'Since Topps is the only real game in town with baseball products, you're walking on egg shells with them all the time. Wait for the date and someone else has already beat you to a bunch of sales. Open your cases early and get singled out by Topps, your business is hurt badly"
I do not know about you, but I do care where I shop and I know that the number of card shops has been dwindling for the past decade. As a hobby, we need to do all we can to support the people that make it possible for us to buy our cards locally. Or, in my case-until this weekend, buy from the places that you love and trust to provide you with great cards for your collection.
Lastly, opening cards before the release date can cause bad variance in the secondary market which hurts (usually) the collectors. This spring I tracked down a copy of a Matt Carpenter Gypsy Queen autograph. I actually bought the card from Brent and Becca for $10 after watching the card fluctuate for a week landing some copies of the card north of $25 dollars. Now, I now as a person who is primarily in this hobby to add cards, that we all want the best deal possible for the cards we are buying. Did the person who bought the Matt Carpenter card for $27 get a good deal? No.
However, the prices of cards on secondary sites like Ebay often vary wildly when they are sold prerelease. My awesome Oscar Taveras Inception card has sold anywhere between $45 and $89 in the past week. A few days ago I tried to pick up a Wil Myers autograph from Inception on Ebay. The price of the card was under $50 with two minutes to go. I was excited to see a Myers autograph for less than $50 that was not an off brand, so I put in a bid. It closed in the low seventies and I lost the auction. This afternoon though I ran into a trading partner on Facebook who flipped my a copy for $45 delivered.
The unwillingness of Topps to stand up and actually enforce their release dates is hurting everyone who takes part in this great hobby. Collecting baseball cards would be so much better if Topps would dig in their heels and actually call a few places out for breaking their release date and find a suitable punishment which helps enforce their policies. In my job as a teacher, I am expected to enforce my policies, procedures, and rules on a daily basis. I know that does not always go according to plan, but its an easy fix when things do not go as planned. Consistency is the key. I know that they might step on a few toes and upset some of their cliental, but for the greater good of the hobby it would be great if Topps would be consistent with their releases.