A reader sits up:
Woah woah woah! To the reader who wrote “now we can add baseball cards to the list of digital collectibles such as … nothing else, because people don’t collect digital goods,” I would counter with “Magic the Gathering”, a trading card game (famous enough for a recent South Park homage) with an online collecting / playing community that might rival its cardboard sibling.
Remember when the missing Bitcoins at MTGOX made headlines? MTGOX, or “Magic the Gathering Online Exchange” was an online marketplace for exchanging online MtG cards? There is no way to turn physical cards into digital ones, and (for the most part) there is no way to trade digital ones for physical. And yet, as of 2007, MTG Online accounted for upwards of 50% of total MTG revenue. That’s roughly $125 Million a year! In digital-only collectible objects!
At the end of the day, digital collections just make sense for some markets. They don’t lose value due to wear, they are easier to maintain, and trade/sales are much easier to setup. I’m not saying go burn all your hardbacks and buy Kindle copies; just don’t be surprised when the digital collection becomes the norm and not the deviation.
Update from a reader:
You’re reader ignores a few crucial differences between the different “digital objects” he describes.
First, we’ll take Magic cards. Magic: The Gathering is a trading card game with two general ways to play: limited (opening fresh cards to build with) and constructed (using decks built by the player before the tournament). Both of these require particular “packs” or “cards” to build the appropriate deck. Without paying for the digital objects, you literally can’t play the game. Similarly, Kindle books have real utility: you have no other way to read the book short of buying it in some other format.
Baseball cards, however, have no such “use value” outside of looking at pictures and statistics. Unfortunately for Topps, pictures and statistics for major sports figures are easily found via Google, ESPN, or any number of great online resources. While there are also ecosystems of Magic and Book-related content, none of them replaces the actual activity of reading/playing in the way that these sources do for baseball cards.
TL;DR: Digital books and digital magic cards have use value. Digital baseball cards are just digital Beanie Babies.
Your “update from a reader” gets some major points wrong about digital Magic the Gathering (MtG) cards. Buying online, digital-only cards is not the only way to get that use value out of those cards. There are any number of web sites where I can play “Constructed” or “Limited” or any of the other variants (there are a lot) without paying a single penny for a card, digital or otherwise. They implement the entire library of available cards and all of the various rules. No different than I can look up stats of baseball players on any website.
The only reason to purchase those cards is the same reason a person purchases baseball cards: to get them from the official licensed vendor where scarcity is real (if artificially introduced). This is the classic definition of a collectible and digital MtG cards are in no different. I collect digital MtG cards for the same reason someone collects baseball cards, there’s just happens to be a game you can play with your MtG collection if you choose.