the top of the first inning of Major League Baseballís
All-Star Game last month, Chicago Cubs third baseman
Kris Bryant clubbed a home run off the left field
scoreboard at San Diegoís Petco Park.
minutes later, the moment had been memorialized with its
own baseball card.
to the new world of card collecting, where your
collection can be as large as your data plan.
2012, Topps Inc. has launched seven free apps that let
users collect and trade digital cards. As app store
visits surge and hobby store visits decline, these
programs have injected cash and interest into one of the
last vestiges of print media to go digital.
trading cards look a lot like their paper forebears: a
photo on the front, stats on the back. Users open the
apps to ogle their collections, make trades with other
players, and get new cards by opening a limited number
of free packs. Die-hards pay for additional packs,
increasing their chances to land rarer cards that can be
swapped for real-world money.
from the nationís pastime, Topps has apps for the NFL,
soccer, the UFC and the WWE. It has also broached
nonsports markets with trading card apps for "Star
Wars" and "The Walking Dead."
privately held New York company would not discuss the
profitability of its apps, but said physical sales
currently outweigh digital sales. Its digital business,
however, is rapidly growing.
said its apps have been downloaded more than 9 million
times. Kick, a soccer app, is its leader, with more than
4 million downloads. More than 600 million packs have
been opened across its apps, with an increase of more
than 50 percent in the past year.
to AppAnnie, an app tracking service, five Topps apps
have ranked among the top five most downloaded sports
and entertainment apps; three have held the top spot at
times. The digital products have allowed Topps to build
a business that is in many ways the opposite of its
cards take days to make, package and ship. They are
generally released in sets just once or twice a year ó
and interest in them peaks around opening day.
digital apps, it takes just minutes for Topps to release
new cards after big plays, decisive victories or trades,
or update existing cards with up-to-date statistics. And
the company doesnít have to worry about paper, ink,
packaging or shipping.
Jeremy Strauser, vice president and general manager of
digital apps, cautioned that the digital business isnít
have to create a software, an app, and make it
work," he said. "I wouldnít say itís
cost-saving ó I would say itís a different kind of
cost is personnel. When Topps director of app production
Chris Vaccaro started the job four years ago, five
employees worked on its app division. Now there are more
day I still wake up and canít believe what weíre
doing," said Vaccaro.
companyís success has led competitors to quickly build
their own e-card businesses. Upper Deck Co. launched
e-Pack this year for fans to buy and trade NHL cards.
Upper Deck has free cards available but also allows fans
to buy a physical version of any digital card for a fee.
America launched Panini Instant for soccer cards in time
for this summerís Copa America tournament. Its digital
basketball card app launched a year ago.
STORY CAN END HERE)
collecting is a hobby based on scarcity. If it were easy
to get the most-coveted cards, why would anyone keep
in the 1990s, sports card companies, buoyed by strong
profits, cranked out more cards than collectors could
keep up with ó reducing their value and collectorsí
mass produced them to the point of no return," said
Lee Obrien, 40, a longtime West Virginia collector who
has shifted entirely to Topps apps. "They just made
the collectability not that fun because there was so
many of them."
protect digital cards from meeting that same fate, Topps
and other companies use algorithms to limit supply. This
rewards the lucky ó and the persistent.
Topps released its baseball app, Bunt, it was met with
skepticism at Beckett Media, the leading sports card
after subscribers of the Dallas companyís digest of
card prices wrote in asking about digital cards, the
publication realized Topps was on to something.
"The market forced us to start taking notice,"
said senior market analyst Brian Fleischer.
paper baseball cards, most digital baseball cards are
worth close to nothing. But collectors are willing to
pay a premium for rare cards ó even if theyíre just
a digital image, not something they can touch.
2015 Topps Hi-Tech signature card of Angels star Mike
Trout sold on eBay for $550 months ago. A Jared Goff
draft day card went for $450. A purple "Star
Wars" Rey Classic variant commanded $1,000.
trades are done within the app, but the money moves
through third-party platforms like eBay or PayPal.
collectors swear loyalty to physical cards, arguing that
the art of collecting is lost when itís a hobby of
pixels and code.
you imagine a father and son bonding over an e-pack?
No," said Adam Martin, chief executive of New Yorkís
Dave & Adamís Card World, one of the nationís
biggest card shops. "Thereís nothing like opening
a physical pack of cards."
however, hasnít given up on winning over collectors
month, the company will launch a physical set of Bunt
cards based on designs used from the app. Each card
comes with special codes that unlock a digital version
for app users.