Thursday, February 5, 2009

My thoughts on the high end debate...

I know that I’ve maybe come across as overly critical of the high end sets and those who collect them. Let me first apologize for that and then explain in detail my position.

I don’t dislike the idea of the high end. It has to exist, for the same reason high end wines exist, or luxury cars. To support a broad range of products, a certain amount of profit has to be made, and this profit comes from producing a high end product.

When it comes to my other hobby, knives, I tend to buy high end. The topic of conversation in the world of knives is the EDC, or Every Day Carry. While I know perfectly well that a $25 knife would do just about everything I need it to do, I choose to EDC a Benchmade that retails for $170.

Why? Because it’s a quality knife and has stood up to everything I’ve ever thrown at it. It’s backed by industry leading customer service and support; it’s made from top quality materials and is at the forefront of knife technology in its locking system.

The rest of the knives in my collection, while few are as expensive as the Benchmade, all would be considered high end. There are no “Made in China” knives in my collection, 90% are American made. Those that aren’t American are German, Japanese or Swiss. All top quality pieces backed by outstanding customer service (Buck, Kershaw, Spyderco, SOG, etc.).

I carry and collect these knives because I appreciate the quality that goes into their construction and believe in the companies behind them. I know that when a problem arises I’ll be well taken care of.

At the same time there’s a difference in a high end knife and a high end baseball card. The value of the high end knife lies in its ability, not its worth. There are collectable knives worth thousands, and there are knives whose worth can’t be calculated in money. There are knives that you can depend on to save your life if necessary.

When it comes to baseball cards, the conceived value in the high end is in the idea of scarcity, the 1 of 1, or the X of XX. As far as I’m concerned, serial numbered cards are perfectly fine.

I’m not against the high end of the baseball card market on principle. I don’t dislike that segment of the industry just because it’s high end, and I’m afraid that a few of my comments on various blogs have come across as such. No, I dislike the current crop of high end sets because they don’t appeal to me in the least and because I don’t see them as representative of the hobby.

To me a baseball card is a picture of a baseball player on the front and some stats on the back. Very few high end sets look like what I think of as a baseball card. When I see a card with huge pieces of jersey or bat my brain automatically finds what’s missing, and that’s usually the player.

I have seen quite a few relic cards that I’ve liked, so I’m not against the idea of the high end relic card. But the design of a lot of them just doesn’t appeal to me, and don’t make me want to invest my time in the product.

One thing I don't like about the high end is the idea of short printing cards. Certain cards are meant to be rarer than others, of course. But they shouldn’t be so rare that completing sets revolves around those few cards. Building a set should be a challenge, yes, but it shouldn’t be frustrating because of one card. Those short printed cards shouldn’t take all the joy out of opening a pack.

I used to play Magic. And of course there are levels of rarity. It was always fun to open a pack hoping to get that one last rare that you needed for a deck. Sometimes it took a while, sometimes it took trading, and sometimes you didn’t get it and had to make do with something else. But it was never frustrating. That said, I don’t know about the state of MtG these days, as I haven’t played since the late 90s. It could be just as bad.

But I digress. The high end is fine and exists for a reason and has to exist. I think in the end, my main problem with the high end is in its presentation. It seems to me that a lot of the high end products are almost an afterthought and just thrown out there. When that happens, all levels of the hobby suffer.

To have a strong high end, there has to be a strong base. The high end has to exist in order to keep the brand profitable so that the low end can exist. But for the low end to be successful it has to support the high end and vice versa. There has to be a strong enough base to create interest in the high end, but at the same time, the high end has to be interesting enough to make the time and money spent on it worthwhile. One can’t exist without the other and there shouldn’t be competition between two levels within the same brand (just look at the American automotive industry).

I also understand that just maybe the high end sets aren’t geared towards us traditional collectors. And that’s fine. I’ve been away for a long time, so I’ve got a lot to learn. I could be way off base with all of this.

I am certainly not opposed to there being a high end level of collecting. It needs to be there, just like there needs to be a high end level of knife manufacture. In the end it comes down to the wants and needs of the collector. But I think all levels of the hobby would prosper from more attention to detail at every possible price point and less “trickery” on the part of the card companies.

This is a hobby, it’s something we all do to have fun and relax. It shouldn’t be frustrating.


night owl said...

I'm not interested in high end at all. I don't like the way it looks and I think some of the cards are downright disasters.

My problem with high end is that some it trickles down to the middle- low-end, so that set builders or casual collectors are forced to deal with things like artificial scarcity, emphasis on inserts, and a crappy base product.