Thursday, September 3, 2009

Beckett Isn't Evil Incarnate, Please keep your displeasure at a dull roar

There’s a lot of noise in the blog-o-sphere in regards to one of the institutions of the card collecting community - Beckett. Unfortunately for them most of the talk is negative. Reading some blogs would make you think that the editors went around kicking dogs and kissing other people’s girlfriends. Yes Virginia card collectors have girlfriends - some even have wives! GASP!

It’s easy to bash on others, especially when they do things that are inexplicable. I’m not here to defend Beckett or their practices. What I would like to do, however, is see if there is a way for them to make the transition back to relevancy for the internet savvy collectors. As my pappy used to say, “It’s easy to tear things down, the hard part is building them back up.”

At times it seems that the internet is just one large wrecking ball. Bloggers and those who comment on those blogs tear down (sometimes with great glee) teams, players, newspapers, religious institutions, religions, governments, other bloggers, celebrities, and even cute puppies. Rarely do they suggest ways that the targets of their derision can be fixed. It’s mostly, “I don’t like it so it must suck and I must show the world my anger!”

To that I say, “Easy big fella. It’s not the end of the world”. So with that in mind lets tackle a couple of the complaints and what Beckett might do to improve things.

1. Only suckers use the price guides

This is probably one of the top rallying cries from the non-Beckett crowd. It is a valid point. The introduction of internet auction sites destroyed the relevance of the pricing guide by granting access to millions of cards to millions of collectors in the privacy of their own basement.

No longer are kids and adults forced to go to the one or two shops in their town or wait for a show to roll around if they wanted to buy singles. Shop owners had the upper hand in the transactions simply because they were they were the only guy in town. In their defense, pre-internet they needed a source to tell them what to sell the cards for. They wanted to maximize their profits After all they are in the business to make money.

Beckett was there to give them that information. It also helped the consumer out. A less than honorable shop dealer in Baltimore could be trying to sell his Floyd Rayford cards for 3 times the national average simply because O’s fans loved them some Sugar Bear. The savvy collector could check his Beckett and see that not only was Rayford not listed, he wasn’t a minor star or even an unlisted star. He was -GASP - a common. Oh the horror!

Armed with that knowledge he could walk into Joe’s Card shop and try and work the price down to something reasonable. Or he could call his cousin in New York to see if the shops up there had Rayford’s sitting in common boxes.

The point of that rambling is that Beckett was there to provide information for both the sellers and the buyers. That went away with the internet. So what should they do now?

The first suggestion would be to ditch individual card pricing all together. Give the price for a box, a pack, the set. Then post two average prices for commons, minor stars, unlisted stars, and listed stars. The first price is a retail price. That’s the price you see in the magazines today based off of sales in shops and at shows. The second price would be an online price. This would be compiled by the prices of completed auctions from the various auction sites over a determined amount of time.

If there are any abnormally high priced cards (think 2001 Pujols cards when they came out) they can always note them in a separate article such as their hot list. This method would allow for more sets to be included in their monthly magazines and still provide a general guide for buying/selling or trading.

Another suggestion, and I think they tried this for a time with the ir hockey edition, is to do away with the set breakdown all together. Just list your star players (Jeter, A-Rod, Lincecum, etc) and break their prices down by base card, relic card, auto card, etc. The prices could be broken into three categories, low end product, mid tier product and high end. As we know not all relics are equal so there has to be consideration for the higher end products of the world.

These are just high level, introductory thoughts. Details would have to be hashed out and flaws uncovered and fixed, hopefully with bloggers input. If they’d like a more thought out approach they can of course contact me through my email and I’d be happy to charge them a consulting fee.

2. Box Breaks / Product Review

Oh boy is this a hot topic. As a self proclaimed industry leader Beckett does have a responsibility to review and discuss new product. However, it is a fine line between receiving product for review and receiving kickbacks.

Set reviews should be something that they focus heavily on. With the volume of product that is released throughout the year they should be able to offer detailed reviews for 3-4 sets a month during the respective seasons.

During the off-season they could also review older sets that are readily available on the internet. For instance I just bought a box of 2003 Topps Gallery from Dave & Adams and might post a review about it in the next week. Why can’t Beckett do that as well? They can list the big rookies from the set, the types of inserts, approximate price of a box online, what collectors liked or disliked about the set, etc.

Of course, what is currently at the heart of the discussion is how Beckett gets the product and what they do with the cards they receive. The conspiracy theorists believe every box that enters their doors is hand picked to flavor reviews and show off the big hits. If that’s true or not isn’t the point, as my pappy also said, “Perception is reality”.

The perception of impropriety is just as bad as impropriety itself. So Beckett needs to do one of two things.

1. Stop accepting free product.
2. Give it all back, or give it all away

The first choice has been debated in other blogs. Basically they buy a random box at a local shop or online and review the contents just like any other consumer would. This has the two fold effect of eliminating the possibility of hand selected products and it also supports the local card shop or online dealer.

The drawback is that the reviews in the magazines would lag a month or two behind the release of the product. But by their nature monthly magazines are outdated by the time their released anyways so it isn’t that big of deal. The on-line busts would be just as relevant as any other that you see on you tube or various blogs.

It also allows them to maintain a bit of objectivity in their reviews. Since they’re not depending on free product to review they don’t have to “be nice” to the products. If something isn’t cool, they can say that without worrying about getting cut off from the product. Would a manufacturer cut off advertising money if they got negative reviews - a smart company wouldn’t. They would focus on making the product better.

As for the giving it away choice. Well that’s simple, random packs to subscribers, contest giveaways, face book or twitter giveaways, the possibilities are out there. Selling hits isn’t cool, but if they had bought the box I would think it would be fair.

If they continue to receive free product couldn’t they just give it back when they’re done? Upper Deck or Topps could repackage it and send it through the channel or have their own giveaways. That way even it doesn’t matter what they break for free it’s all getting back into the public.

Beckett should have a place in the collecting world. They have the platform to spread a lot of information about cards, collecting and sports in general. Instead of being price heavy why not focus on well written collector blogs? They could have regional writers profile local shops and write about their success and their problems.

If they don’t decide to change let it be on them. The best way to show your displeasure is to not mention it all. Yelling and screaming just brings more attention to them. Throughout my life if there is a business that continually screws up I just don’t visit them. For example, there is a local McDonalds that can’t grasp the concept of making a cheeseburger without pickles. After the third time of screwing up my order I stopped visiting them, they no longer get my hard earned money to provide me with cholesterol burgers.

The same thing applied to a local card shop. After not having product, randomly changing prices on supplies and generally being surly I stopped going. They’re now out of business and I’m still spending money on cards.

If Beckett keeps getting one of ones in every box break, stop watching them. If someone comes up and wants to charge you “Book Value” don’t do business with them. Continuing to complain about the same thing weakens the argument, you eventually become background noise. If others still feel the need to pay for things based on outdated pricing don’t try and change them - point them my way and I’ll be happy to sell them what they need. Heck I’ll even cut them a break and sell it to them at the “LO” price.

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