Thursday, March 10, 2011


I’ve been a bit obsessed recently with Topps’ silver-age business model.

Now, I admit I’m no Adam Smith, but I’m completely baffled at how producing baseball cards in the ‘60s and ‘70s was ever a profitable endeavor.

I mean, I can grasp the current business model easily enough. Ten cards per $2 base-set pack, distributed through mass-market retailers, plus packaging variations on that basic theme. Then, a slightly more robust version of that base set is sold through to hobby dealers at a higher price point.

And really, the base set is just meant to function as a gateway drug to higher-end product—the $50 packs out of which the majority of users… er, collectors… will pull an Andre Dawson memorabilia card with a street value… er, average eBay sale price... of $5.

But 1970? That I don’t understand.

Topps offered cello packs and racks back in 1970, but let’s look at the dominant configuration: wax.

A 1970 wax pack contained 10 cards and a stick of gum, and retailed for 10 cents.

Now consider at least some of the expenses that went into that 10 cent pack:

  • Printing/material costs for the cards and wrappers, plus production costs for the gum.
  • Staff expenses, for everyone from designers to product jobbers.
  • Distribution to all the mom/pop stores across the country.
  • Payouts to the players (around $200/per, if my memory of Ball Four serves me).

And let’s not forget the scratch-off inserts and such that were a mainstay in packs from this era.

Sweet Sy Berger, how did they ever do it!

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