With the blogosphere abuzz with opinions, mostly negative and strongly critical, about the 2012 Topps Heritage High Numbers set, I thought I would wade in and add my opinion now that a checklist for the set is available. Also, I'm waiting for something in the mail and lacked the steely will to go through my photobucket or make new scans, so soap box posting time it is.
Topps is releasing a 100 card add-on set to this year's Heritage set and including one autograph. The set is a direct deliver from Topps alone, similar to Topps Mini from earlier this year.
To a collector like myself, I've never found Topps Heritage that interesting. Mid-1960s designs do little for me and I've always had a hard time accepting that I would pay more money to a company for cards which feel like they are made on a worse stock. Admittedly, I am not the primary collector Topps is going after, but if the set was priced reasonably, say $20 and not very limited, I might consider purchasing a set, solely to make up for never being able to purchase a Topps Traded set as a child.
What Are They Trying to Recreate
Topps seems to be trying to recreate two ideas from their past with this release: Scarce High Numbers and a Year-End Traded set contained in a single box.
Going backwards, in the 1980s, Topps released a traded set on a year basis. The sets seemed to only be available in hobby stores and came in brightly colored boxes. As there was only one Topps product each year at the time, the updated cards reflected trades and new rookies not previously eligible for a Topps card, using the same design as the flagship set. As a child, I was quite excited about these sets, but was never able to find one at a reasonable price, such as under $40. Of course, I lived in a fairly awful place for card shops in my youth and was unaware of shows, so your experience might vary. Aside from the 1982 set for the Topps Traded Cal Ripken, these sets today are pretty much worthless and I passed on an opportunity about a year ago to pick up all of the sets from 1983 on for about $20 total, which is about the price you would pay for one in a brick and mortar shop.
And by limiting themselves to 1,000 sets, Topps is artificially creating the scarcity of high numbers for their pre-1974 sets. As you likely know, Topps used to release their cards by set, as they do now. Only back in the day, there was no strongly organized hobby store industry and cards were available in grocery and newspaper stores. As the year went on, some people naturally lost interest in the cards and with each passing set, it seems less cards were sold and therefore less cards were printed.
In many cases, trying to complete a Topps set in this era can be challenging, due to the "enhanced" prices which dealers charge for these cards, as they are believed to be "scarce". I suspect, few cards are actually legitimately scarce and instead the demand for rookie cards, more likely to be in a later release after their debut, really created the market for far greater prices on later releases. By doing this, Topps has recreated the charm of making a set difficult to complete without making an investment with Topps.
What I find strange is that Topps has capped their revenue on the set at $100,000, given that 1,000 sets at $100 only brings in this much money. And even here, they will likely take less as a decent number of their customers will have $10 coupons from the Golden Giveaway which could be used towards the set. In fact, those very coupons probably eliminated any chance of the set being reasonably priced. Still, I suspect that there are more than 5,000 people interested in the set at $25 sans autograph. which would likely create similar sales, with the thought being you don't need to limit production on the sets at a lower price point.
What I find really surprising is how Topps is going about cutting out the hobby shops and online dealers. For many, if not most of us, this is how we are able to obtain our yearly Topps cards. By taking high-profile items, such as this and Topps Mini, they are preventing dealers from getting hot items. This takes customers out of the store and direct margin profit from these stores. If you asked me, I think Topps is starting to take steps towards vertical integration. With vertical integration, Topps would basically stop selling to hobby shops and instead sell directly to the consumer.
If Topps feels that orders are generally soft from hobby shops and more are likely to go under, then this is an optimal strategy. Without a strong hobby store base, which we all know is rapidly disappearing, then Topps loses their primary distribution network. This new set is a way to see what a new sports card order would look like, with the companies themselves becoming both a creator and a seller on the terms of a Blowout Cards.
We the consumer would be still be able to purchase our hobby boxes directly from Topps. Topps would be able to keep costs down in the short term by converting profit previously going to the hobby shop into savings. If Topps sold us $60 boxes of 2013 Series 1, they would likely get a steep, short-term increase on profit margin. Of course, without competition, we would likely see prices rise fairly dramatically a few years later as the company needs to keep adding profit at the expense of the consumer, but we would likely see that anyway, as I would expect there to be half as many hobby shops in ten years as there are today without any intervention.
In closure, I think this set is a short term attempt by Topps to gauge the market for direct delivery, as was Topps Mini. From the fact that it is a week and they've been unable to move 1,000 units, I suspect this set will be a flop, especially in light of the Chris Getz autographs which could be your "hit" in a $100 product. However, we as buyers, should get used to these types of products, as they are unlikely to go away in the long term, especially as our supply of hobby shops continues to shrink.