Thursday, October 2, 2014

An Open Letter to Topps (@toppscards) #Collect

2014 Topps Archives #106
To the good people at Topps:

Hi, I'm Jim.  I've collected baseball cards since 1979, when I was a wee lad of six.  Today, I own a complete run of Topps baseball card sets back to 1972 and my Dad and I spent twenty years hand-collating a beautiful 1956 Topps set.  For the past five-plus years, I've written about the Phillies, their baseball cards and my family on my blog, The Phillies Room.  (The blog you're visiting now.)

But enough about me.  I wanted to write to you about my son, Doug, and to give you some free marketing research and key insights into his demographic - the pre-10-year-old male.  You might be thinking that the pre-lawn mowing allowance money, pre-disposable income demographic isn't all that important to you, but it should be.  My son Doug is seven years old right now, which is right around the same age at which I first got hooked on collecting.  He is at a crucial age in terms of deciding whether or not to become a life-long collector, and of importance to you - a life-long customer.

About six months ago, I gave Doug some random Phillies baseball cards, which piqued his interest in learning more about the three-ring binders of complete baseball card sets in my collection.  After a month or so of looking at his growing stack of cards, he decided he'd like to try and collect a complete set.  Doug first decided to collect the 2014 Topps Opening Day set, which he recently completed with the help of some generous fellow baseball card bloggers.  He also wanted to try and collect the 2014 Topps Archives set, which (as you already know) borrows designs from old Topps sets and places those designs on a modern baseball card with today's baseball stars.  I also appreciate that there are some all-time greats sprinkled throughout the set, which gives Doug and I the opportunity to talk about Steve Carlton and Jackie Robinson, among others.

2014 Topps Archives #31
Over the past few months, we've bought a few blaster boxes of Topps Archives and a few rack packs from Target.  Doug slowly opened all the packs, saying aloud the team name on each card. (He thinks "Diamondbacks" is a ridiculous name for a baseball team, but that's neither here nor there.)  I showed him how to sort the cards (by hundreds, and then by tens) and he then meticulously slid each card into its new home within the nine-pocket pages I had provided.

He made sure each card went into its proper slot, making sure to leave open spaces in the pages for those cards we still needed.  If you're still reading this, you'll remember I promised free marketing research and key insights, so presented below is unaltered commentary from Doug as we opened, sorted and admired his new 2014 Topps Archives set-in-progress.  Presented along with his commentary are a few items I respectfully submit for your consideration.

1. Short Prints
Let's get this out of the way first.  Doug thought it was cool that there were 250 cards in a complete Topps Archives set.  He thought it was awesome when he was filling up his pages and he'd have a run of five or six cards in a row.  And then he was completely mystified as to why he only had three cards in the 200s.  I explained that these cards were short-prints and that these cards were harder to find than the others. "Why?," he asked. "Don't they want you to be able to finish the whole set?"

Don't get me wrong, I understand the economics of why short prints are included in your sets.  But other than your flagship set and Opening Day, do they have to be included in every other set?  If it's absolutely necessary to have short prints in a set like Topps Archives, perhaps the short prints could be more limited within the set instead of comprising 20% of the complete set?

2. Insert Sets/Parallel Cards
When we were sorting the cards together, Doug came across cards that didn't have the same design (or in some cases, shape) that he was used to seeing. "What are these?," he asked. "These cards are weird."  I explained that they were insert or chase cards and they weren't part of the actual set we were collecting.  "So why are they in the pack if they're not part of the set?," he asked.  Well, some people like to find these cards and some of these are really valuable.  I told him that some collectors would rather have these "hits" than the actual cards in the set.  "That's crazy," he said.  "I'd rather they just give me the cards I need for my set."

2014 Topps Archives
1971-1972 Topps Hockey #71H-MT
For the non-high end sets you put out annually, have you ever considered releasing base set only packs?  And . . . hear me out on this . . . perhaps including a stick of gum with these base set only packs?  It pains me that my son might not ever open a pack of baseball cards while chewing the bubble gum that came within the pack.

3. Card "Numbering"
One of the insert cards that Doug found in his packs was a 1971-1972 Topps Hockey card of Mike Trout (one of his favorite players), borrowing the design of one of your vintage hockey sets.  The card is numbered 71H-MT.  When trying to put his new cards away, in order, he was again baffled.  "Where's the number on the back of this card? What's this code doing here?"

I explained to Doug that "71H-MT" was actually the card's "number."  Thinking I was trying to be funny, he responded, "C'mon! That's not a number, that's some sort of secret code.  I wonder why they don't want us to be able to put these cards in order?"

I think I know the reason why this happens.  Checklists are in constant flux until you push the button on the printer, and by using player's initials or other acronyms, you avoid the mess of having to pull a #3 or a #9 card from a set at the last minute.  But just know this confuses the heck out of young and old collectors alike.

Please feel free to contact me with any follow-up questions, and we'd be happy to provide further research into your efforts.  Doug will gladly accept payment in baseball cards.

A faithful collector,


Tony L. said...

Great post, Jim. When I first got back into collecting earlier this year, I had a lot of the same thoughts and feelings as your son does.

And, you're totally correct in saying that Topps and other card companies should pay attention not only to us older guys, but also to the younger-than-teenager crowd. That's the group of people who will collect for the next 40 years.

Steve F. said...

Excellent post! Hopefully Topps takes these comments seriously. I know of very few kids who collect cards these days, and I imagine that Topps would be interested in finding out how to keep happy those that do, and to hook new collectors when they are young, as they probably did for the vast majority of us reading this. Let us know if they reply!

At the very least, I wish they would start putting gum back in some packs--Opening Day would be a good start. Or individually wrapped pieces in Heritage like they did for many years.

Jeff said...

Couldn't agree more with everything in this post.

mr haverkamp said...

Spot on commentary.....sure hope a Topps rep responds in some fashion.

Jim said...

Thanks everyone.

Nothing from Topps yet . . .

Fuji said...

Can't wait to hear how Topps responds. I'm a huge fan of the Archives line and end up buying the complete set (w/short prints) to save money.

However I totally understand your son's point of view. When I was a kid, I loved busting packs, building sets, and chewing the bubble gum. Short prints would have frustrated me and possibly turned me away from collecting.

deal said...

I don't let Topps (or any other brand) tell me what to collect. I collect what I want.

If the Base set ends at 400 but SP run it to 475, no problem, I build 1-400. And don't bother w/ the variations.

Eric Bracke said...

Great Post!

Steve F. said...

Good comment, deal (a/k/a Phungo). I have tried to take the same approach, but there is unfortunately something in my genetic makeup that draws me back in and then I start to try to land those SPs, and the next thing I know, I have spent a small fortune on it. I wish I had your willpower!

Fuji, I generally do the same thing as it is much cheaper that way, thanks in large part to the "hits" in the packs (which I could generally care less about) that cause the pack-breaking to be more expensive. But I think next year will be the year that I return to pack-breaking and hopefully get my son into it, probably with a set that doesn't have SPs.