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Sports E-Cards—Collectibles of the 21st Century?

by Eric Brantner (07/29/08).

It’s no secret the Internet has changed the face of how consumers shop for items. Music, movies and books are just a few of the things you can buy online to download directly to your computer. The sports collectibles world hasn’t been unaffected by today’s digital society. eTopps is a branch of Topps sports cards that allows collectors to start a set of e-cards online. Collectors have a virtual portfolio of their favorite players that they can use to sell, trade and track their value without ever leaving the house.

One of the first questions that might come to mind is “if the cards are virtual and accessible to everyone, how do they get their value?” Topps solves this problem by offering certain collectibles for a short time and in a limited number. This prevents the market for cards from becoming flooded with too many of the same piece. After all, if an unlimited number of Joe DiMaggio rookies could be created, why would anyone pay more than a few cents for it? Limiting the number of downloads preserves the market for Internet baseball cards.

Collectors wishing to sell their virtual baseball cards can do so through online auctions. Of course, potential buyers must have an account at eTopps so the card can be sent to their online portfolio after purchase. All eTopps auctions are monitored by the staff at Topps, and the final prices are averaged to determine the current value of each card.

If owning a card that you can never physically touch doesn’t sound good to you, eTopps has a solution. For the price of shipping and handling, eTopps will physically print your cards and send them to you in plastic sleeves. Printing is typically done at the end of each season. Of course, after you have the physical card, you can no longer sell its virtual version online.

As far as investing in eTopps cards goes, it can be a dicey proposition. (My story on baseball-card collecting as an investment is filled with useful information.) The online market hasn’t quite found its footing yet. There was a period when Topps was producing too many e-cards, and the market fell flat on its face. Recently, eTopps corrected this problem by limiting the run of cards. Some rookie cards, such as that of Albert Pujols, have seen dramatic increases in value. Other cards, such as an Alex Rodriguez eTopps, have flattened or declined in value.

It’s difficult to tell the future of virtual card collecting. I think it’s certainly a novel idea and a fun hobby, but until the market finds itself, I’ll probably stay away from investing in it too heavily.

What do you think of these collectibles? Do you think virtual card collecting is the future of sports memorabilia? Or will this idea fade away in the upcoming years?

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