Looking At The Mega Peak And Dastardly Lows Of Cards
Clients include companies that produce cards for large numbers of salespeople, actors and models wanting their attributes and credits singularly circulated. “One job,” says Bouton, “was for the Midwest Breeders Association. It featured stud bulls along with their |stats.
He adds that physicians, dentists and other professionals use the card device to “disseminate credentials without appearing to be ostentatious. Baseball cards are an unpretentious, yet effective, means of getting people to know more about each other; a real communications icebreaker.”
Not all cards serve the same purpose. Recently, a government watchdog group in Pennsylvania produced and distributed pictures and voting scores of each member of the state legislature. Many of the most ardent collectors were the elected officials themselves, trying to round up their own cards before they were circulated to the public.
Many small printers are asked to print trading cards,” says Frank Hudetz, president of Solar Press, one of the nation’s largest card-deck producers. “The problem is not in printing, but in the cutting, collating and packaging.
Naperville, IL-based Solar Press is not “inviting other printers to send their sheets for finishing. We believe that, with capabilities comparable to ours, several hundred printers, new to baseball cards, could become significant producers,” Hudetz says.
Printing buyers agree that suppliers are needed. One, Joanne Richter at Alpine Gifts in North Bend, WA, had difficulty finding a printer for trading cards her firm marketed depicting characters from the Twin Peaks TV series. “When the show went off the air, fans descended on our town (where the series is set) looking for memorabilia,” she comments.
Richter obtained still photos and a license to sell “movie cards.” Similar arrangements resulted in blockbuster cards for Star Wars, Star Trek and Batman, making films the second most popular subject matter (following sports) for trading cards.
By far the largest printer of both sports and film cards is Panel Prints of Old Forge, PA. The company’s biggest customer is, not surprisingly, Topps, Inc., the largest card publisher with quantity records of its own. You may recall Garbage Pail Kids, the all-time bestseller, or Desert Storm cards, the rage of 1991.
Frank Hubbard, president of Panel Prints, doesn’t let on how many cards his seven 77-inch presses churn out because Topps keeps that information a trade secret. “The last thing I want to discuss is baseball cards, but,” he adds, “the estimate of 81 billion cards is outlandish.”
Dallas lithographer Tom Daulton disagrees. “If every American eventually had a card made (assuming an average run of 1,000 cards), the total volume would be 270 billion cards a year!”
Daulton’s Performance Printing Co. is gearing up for a two-shift, two-press operation that, at 100-up per form, should produce 100 million cards a week. That would be less than two percent of the conceivable market, but still place the company among the “majors.”
So, how has the market for cards grown? Carl Altomare at North Wales Press (North Wales, PA) knows first-hand. “One of our press operators collected photographs and stats of team members of the Reading Phillies, a farm club. For fun, we printed a set of cards, and the rest is history.”
Prior to the press run at North Wales Press (NWP), no one had ever produced baseball cards featuring players outside of the major leagues, yet all players began in the minors, a minefield for collectors.
Today, NWP’s former press operator is a full-time card publisher, and his ex-employer is the printer for all minor league baseball plus some other projects. “We continue to do commercial printing,” says Mike Altomare, sales manager, “but the cards offset a lot of the overhead!”
The reason is margin. One card yields about $25 per 1,000 in the retail and promotional markets; and that’s just for the printer. At the retail level, a box of 350 “Platinum” series cards from Pro-Set, a challenger to Topps, goes for $90; a 10-time markup thanks to clever marketing of clear-coating on both sides.
Such challengers have led the Brooklyn, NY-based Topps to a momentous decision: get rid of the gum! “The consumer value of the cards grew radically compared to the value of the gum,” says Timm Boyle at Topps. The gum was “adding negligible value” because it was scuffing the finish on the cards.
What’s more, another newcomer, Upper Deck Cards of Yorba Linda, CA, retails a $0.125 card that’s hologram-embossed for authenticity. And LBC Sports of Villa Park, IL is laminating a blind-embossed foil-stamped wrapper onto grey board. The enhancement potentials for the “ultimate collector’s card” are unending, and advertisers are onto the craze.
The Seven-Eleven Stores tied their “Slurpee” drinks to monster cards, and fast-food giants Domino’s Pizza and Denny’s have sponsored card sets including vanity cards as rewards for outstanding employees. Monthly magazines and quarterly catalogs for card collectors are on every newsstand, many with cross-sell advertising. In every city, there are auctions every weekend for vintage editions of uncirculated sets, and countless classified ads run in newspapers and magazines seeking specific cards.
Big League Cards now is adding pages to cards for more information and impact. At the Wessell Co., a short-cutoff full-web press has been modified to score, z-fold, glue and eight-slit in-line-finished eight-page booklets. The 10-out product is being distributed by Collect-a-Books.
Will there be 16-page baseball cards, or 32s and beyond? Before reprogramming our quotation system, let’s examine the emerging markets.
Real estate salespeople, already into cards, may show “sets” of properties and bind the same. Textbook publishers, seeking more “consumables” besides workbooks, may shift science and social studies to “study-cards.”
Bouton, of Big League, suggests hospitals could produce family packs of newborn handout cards and bar-scene singles could bare all in facts and figures introductions.