Collectibles Made Of Ones And Zeros

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 2 2015 @ 10:20am

Baseball cards have gone digital:

David Roth remembers the good old days:

If any or all of this is mind-bending to you, you are probably not Bunt’s target audience. Eighty-one percent of Bunt users are between the ages of 13 and 25, and as such find nothing terribly weird about a baseball card that doesn’t exist in any corporeal sense. But as a comparatively doddering 36-year-old, I felt both old and weirdly, preemptively tired—like, octogenarian-on–Yik Yak tired—in my engagement with Bunt.

[Michael] Bramlage [a VP at trading card company Topps] is right that the younger demographic is “very rational” in its preference for phone-bound virtuality over fragile cardboard—a photo on Instagram is indeed more reliably backed-up and more readily shared than one in a scrapbook—but I’ve never known baseball cards as anything but baseball cards. Having traded them with classmates on a literal gravel-and-hormone schoolyard did little to prepare me for the scaled-up proposition of trading them on a sprawling virtual bazaar.

But he finds some similarities:

[B]aseball cards only exist as an investment because we—kids and adults, all of us held in that tenuous balance between the two that fandom demands—choose to invest these cardboard rectangles with value in the first place. These cards are worth what we decide they’re worth and only that much, and that has always been true. One generation’s cards are neglected in dust-shrouded boxes; another’s move and grow, relentlessly, in the permanent mint condition of the Internet. Which seems more valuable to you?

Update from a reader:

So now we can add baseball cards to the list of digital collectibles such as … nothing else, because people don’t collect digital goods. Home computers have been around for 30 years and I can’t think of a single digital collectible. There’s a small market for replaying old games though those are generally simple games that, aside from the nostalgia value, are legitimately competitive with basic indie games when it comes to gameplay. And either way, I don’t think anybody is making much money off them.

A collectible needs scarcity and age to be valuable. But with digital goods, scarcity means DRM, which means being tied to a specific device or organization. The moment you add DRM you lose the ability to have old files, so you no longer have collectibles.

Take away the collectible aspect – the idea that your card portfolio could exponentially grow in value – then what do you have left? It’s all down to the fun of swapping these digital cards, but without that anchor to the real world (and real value) I’m not sure how they succeed.