As I See It...
By James E. Lee
(From Newsletter No. 48)
Revisiting My Crystal Ball
I have starting thinking about the fiftieth issue on my newsletter which is about six months away from publication. This past week I reviewed all of my As I See It columns. It was interesting to note that several of my prognostications that I have shared with you over the past nine years have come to pass. As an example five years ago I thought that public auctions would move from being floor sales to being conducted on the internet. Today all of the major auctions are a combination of floor and internet bidding. With this in mind I thought that I would share with you some of the trends that I see evolving in our hobby.
In the eighteen years that I have been a full-time professional philatelist the landscape has radically changed. My business has gone from being 80% show and 20% mail driven to 85% internet/mail to 15% show driven. This is a huge swing and a reflection of the direction our hobby is going.
In the past six months we have seen a major consolidation in the auction market. As auction houses merge I think we will see more specialized material being offered via auction. The number of lots per sale and the size/ dollar amount of those lots with generally soar (as is the case with European auctions). The buyer’s premium seems to be trending up. This could affect the net proceeds that the cosigner receives. The number of collectors bidding via the internet will explode. Some auctions are already attracting between 400 and 500 internet bidders per sale. There is major collectibles player that is trying to enter the stamp auction market. It is the only sector of the collectibles market that they are not involved in. They dominate most of the sectors in which they presently conduct auctions. As the auction houses gobble up more and more market share a great opportunity will develop for successful professional dealers and specialized collectors alike (more on this later).
The stamp show as we know it will need to continue to change in order to survive. The cost of putting on a show continues to rise. Hotel venues are increasingly difficult to find (they would rather book weddings). The number of full-time professional dealers (that attract the serious collector) is shrinking. Add to this the difficulty of attracting enough volunteers to put on the show. The shows that succeed today are built around a strong volunteer base. The show managers are constantly cultivating new volunteers.
How will these changing dynamics affect the future of our hobby?
First, let me say, I believe that the future of our hobby has never looked brighter. The marriage of stamp collecting and the internet continues to pay dividends in the form of new and younger collectors who quickly move from the ranks of beginner to intermediate, advanced, or specialized collector. What will change is the dynamic of participation in our hobby.
The biggest change will be the continuing evolution of the internet as the “portal” to stamp collecting. As the oldest of our community passes an ever increasing percentage of our population will collect through the internet. Of my own client base 75% (up from 50% three short years ago) now collect via the internet. My own children (now young adults) do everything on the computer and cell phones. They do not use the printed yellow pages or have land lines in their homes. Websites and internet stores will continue to replace brick and mortar stamp shops. The majority of the commerce of our hobby will be conducted via the internet and telephone.
The larger and successful stamp shows will continue to grow as long as they continue to cultivate and build their clubs and volunteer show management base. However, I think the dynamic of the show itself will change. In order to attract the collector to the venue they will need to offer more than exhibits and a bourse. The emphasis will need to be on social aspect of the show itself, learning seminars, and non-traditional exhibits.
Two years ago at the ASDA Fall Mega-Event digital exhibits were introduced. The collectors had prepared power point presentations of their exhibits. These were shown on three different screens continuously throughout the show. While this form of exhibiting is in it’s infancy I believe it is the future. In the numismatic arena, The Professional Coin Grading Service (PGCS) has created the registry set competition on their website. Collectors compete by showing collections of their best coins from a particular series. The concept of exhibiting on the web exposes your collecting accomplishment to millions of people instead of hundreds. At some point in time we may have online judging of exhibits. The day may come when we have a virtual stamp show conducted on the web.
It may seem that we are moving away from what has made our hobby great the in person socialization experience. Here in lies the opportunity I mentioned early on. The full-time professional dealer needs to create an edge to survive as our hobby moves forward. The edge is personal service. While my business is now conducted in front of a 20 inch screen personal service still drives it. Our niche is the intermediate, advanced, and specialized collector. I am always available to chat with clients, whether they are buying, selling or just need information and unlike my family doctor I do make house calls when asked.
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