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The Internet is Responsible for the Resurgence of Sports Cards and Collectibles

In recent years there have been discussions among collectors suggesting that the internet may actually be hurting the sports cards and collectibles hobby. They point to decreased card show attendance and the struggles of brick and mortar stores as evidence of the demise of the hobby. I am here to tell you that they are wrong. Not only was collecting not ruined by the internet, it was saved by it. That’s right, the internet saved sports collectibles. There is more money in the hobby now, consumers have more buying options, and it is easier to start a business than ever before. Those things are good for everyone involved.

The ‘Golden Age’ of Collecting

Within the last 15 years we have seen the sports cards and collectibles market fall from grace only to rise again to it’s current form. Most collectors and business owners over the age of 20 will point to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as the best time to be a collector and the best time to be a dealer. Up until that point the sports card hobby had grown steadily from the 1970’s, when shops started popping up around the country, in to a $1.4 billion a year national pastime in 1992.

Card shows were packed with dealers selling top notch memorabilia, signature prices were still reasonable, no authentication was necessary because counterfeiting was minimal, and card shops were able to thrive with loyal customers who were begging to spend their excess cash in their stores week after week. And I don’t disagree with any of this – those truly were great times to be a collector. But factors out of collectors and dealers control would cause the ‘golden age’ of collecting to come to an end.

All Good Things Come to an End

As the US entered recession in the early 1990’s the hobby crashed. Couple economical problems with a hobby oversaturated with companies trying to capitalize on collectors by overproducing (and thus devaluing) their product, and we were left with a hobby on life support. Americans gravitated towards spending their money on other things and card sales plummeted to $400 million in 1999. Failure was inevitable and neither the collector nor the business owner could do anything about it.

The Rebirth of Collecting Online

Lucky for collectors, this little thing called the internet had grown from an information exchange for research, education, and government use into an economic juggernaut that pulled the country out of recession and into the age of eCommerce. Largely due to the advent of eBay, the hobby went virtual and hasn’t looked back since. In 2003, eBay alone sold $3 billion in cards – more than twice the sales of the entire industry at the peak of the ‘golden age’. In addition to eBay, other auction sites, trading forums, as well as fixed price web sites have sprouted up all over the internet. The amount of money in the hobby now is far greater than it ever has been.

Collecting is BETTER Because of the Internet

Not only did the internet save a dying hobby, it made it better. Consumers now have more choices. According to Beckett.com, 34% of collectors still buy in shops, 33.1 % from online auctions, 24.5% buy from online fixed price dealers, and the remaining through other methods. You can still go to a card shop or show (although their presence has been reduced), but the internet has enabled consumers to find what they are looking for easier and cheaper. The consumer is now able to become more educated in less time. In minutes they can compare prices from stores all across the world. They can join message board discussions and chat rooms with other collectors to exchange both information and memorabilia. The hobby can now reach everyone, not just those with a card shop or show nearby and some free time on a Saturday.

Counterfeiting a by Product of Success, Not the Internet

One potential downside to internet that a naysayer is quick to point out is the increase in counterfeit memorabilia. It has been estimated by the FBI that over half of all autographed memorabilia is forged. While this is bad for the hobby, it is not solely because of the internet, and it is not a problem faced solely by sports collectibles. Most other industries (music, movies, software, etc) that thrive on the internet are also subjected to counterfeiting. It is the nature of the beast. There will always be people looking to make money by cheating the system. As technology increases, it becomes easier and easier to create counterfeit memorabilia, as well as to counterfeit CD’s, DVD’s, and software. The best thing that we can do is educate our consumers and continue to develop measures against counterfeiting. Unfortunately, counterfeiting is a by product of the success the industry has had on the internet. The hobby was not brought to the internet by counterfeiters looking for an easier way to scam collectors, nor did the internet “cause” counterfeiting.

Where Would We be Without the Internet?

Back to those who would rather the internet never happened: where do you think the hobby would be today without the internet? It is illogical to think that it would have been able to boom without it. It likely would have continued to struggle. Instead it has flourished. To think that less information exchange, higher prices, and more difficulty finding items is good for the hobby is ludicrous. It seems that the only ones who are complaining are those who have failed to embrace the change. Those who have taken advantage of the many resources the web has to offer are certainly not complaining. The reality is that it the hobby is far bigger and better today than it ever was in the past.

Business is Good for Businesses Large and Small

From a business owner’s perspective, the market is better today than ever. There is significantly more money in the hobby today than there was in 1992 and it is much easier to start a business. All you really need to do is start posting auctions on eBay and you can grow from there – no store, no employees, not even a table at a show. Anyone can do it. The catch here is that it is drastically different than it was ten or fifteen years ago. And where there is change, there are always those who resist. Many who invested a great deal of time and money starting brick and mortar businesses during the ‘golden years’ only to see them collapse were not quick to embrace the internet. While I certainly feel bad for those who lost their business, I don’t correlate that to the internet being bad for the hobby. I can also point to all of those (myself included) who wouldn’t have even had a chance at entering the industry fifteen years ago, who now have had the possibility to live their passion because of what the internet has brought to the table.

Embrace the ‘New Golden Age’

Factors outside of our control caused the ‘golden age’ to end, but by adopting technology and using it to grow and expand the hobby we have introduced a new golden age – one that is better for both buyer and seller. Change in everything is inevitable. We should be embracing this new golden age of collecting as opposed to wishing it never happened.

Submitted by:

Adam McFarland

Adam McFarland owns SportsLizard.com - an online marketplace for buying and selling sports collectibles http://www.sportslizard.com.

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