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!