This really gets me fired up.
A customer of mine recently wrote to a major auction firm asking to be removed from their mailing list. There was nothing unusual about that request.
As an auction firm, the light goes off in your head that this customer is possibly exiting the hobby. Maybe due to health, lack of funds, or whatever the reason, this customer may be looking to sell their collection.
A member of the staff at this auction firm followed up with a letter. As a business person, I understand this auction house is trying to create business for itself. That is how companies stay in business. They follow up on any possible leads. This gentleman’s request to be removed from the mailing list was such a lead.
What I completely disagree with is their tactics. There is nothing illegal about what they did. However, it hinges on scare tactics and in my opinion, gives our hobby a bad reputation.
The follow up letter started out normally, thanking the gentleman for his past business. He included a copy of his business card and asked that he be contacted at a future date should the collector wish to dispose of his collection. So far, so good.
He included an extra paragraph saying that the market is changing (that part is true). The stamp market is no longer robust like it used to be. He advises that the older generation is dying out and fewer new collectors are coming into philately. He goes on to state that most folks born after 1964 have no interest in collecting anything. He concludes with, “With this in mind, you might not want to wait too long to sell your collection.”
Whoa! Hold the train there a minute.
It is true that the hobby is changing. The Internet has really disrupted things. Traditional philately, as we’ve known it for the first 150 years since the first postage stamp was produced in 1840 by Great Britain, is changing.
My astute customer also sent along a copy of a recent advertisement where Stanley Gibbons claims that there are 60 million stamp collectors. How can there be 60 million collectors if the hobby is contracting like the major auction house contends? These are two very different views of the hobby.
My opinion lies somewhere in between these two. I do not know how Stanley Gibbons arrived at a figure of 60 million collectors. Maybe if you count everyone who has a box sitting in a desk drawer containing stamps torn off of envelopes? Although I disagree with their figure of 60 million which seems somewhat inflated to me, I do think the number of stamp collectors is quite large, at least several million.
Some of the growth in the hobby is because the population is growing. We have more people on Earth today than any time in our history. It’s not surprising that the number of collectors increases too.
I have mentioned in the past that there are thousands of auctions on eBay that are being sold every day. Someone is buying those stamps. I doubt it is only old codgers as the auction firm suggests. Many of the older collectors I know do not know how to use a computer and have no desire to do so. There must be some younger collectors buying this material on eBay.
Yes, the market has softened a little bit over the last several years. If our economy ever catches fire again and people start having more disposable income to spend on discretionary things such as stamps, I think prices will perk up again.
If I knew the answers on how to solve all of the hobby’s dilemmas, I would be a very rich person. I do not have the answers. No one does, at least not yet. Yes, the Internet has disrupted things. I think we’ve seen a gradual shift from “specialist” type collectors who enjoy looking for plate varieties on Peruvian coffee tax stamps (fictional, of course) to more “generalist” type collectors that like topicals (Disney, space, etc.).
I’ve always felt that uncertainty is an opportunity looking for a solution. There is a degree of uncertainty in the hobby right now as tastes shift and some traditions come to an end. With every end comes another beginning.
Let me summarize what, in my opinion, this auction house is trying to do. They want to scare the collector into selling their collection now through them before all of the old codgers kick the bucket and no one wants to buy your collection. Additionally, “if you sell through us and the realization isn’t as high as you hoped, well, don’t blame us. It’s the shrinking market with depressed prices. Be happy you got anything for your collection.”
That analysis, in my opinion, gives our hobby a bad reputation. “Oh, you had better not collect stamps. Maybe you should consider coins instead. Did you read that no one after 1964 is interested in collecting stamps?” Sorry, I just do not like that. Professionally, I think it is wrong to use scare tactics to drum up business. Why not use something positive instead? Why not say, “We are a major auction house with a huge and diverse set of bidders. Consider consigning your collection to us. We feel that we can achieve a better price for you than our competition.”
If I was not optimistic about the hobby, I would not be here.
I am a software developer by profession. I also have an MBA in business. Yes, I’m a part time dealer and do the stamps in the evenings and weekends. Engineers in my field are paid a very good salary. Instead of doing stamps, it would be easy for me to do some consulting work on the side in software development and make even more money.
But I’m not doing that. I’m here as a dealer. 1 am about to start my 14th year in the business. I write articles for other philatelic publications. I am a member of several different clubs and societies – all the way from the ASDA and APS down to my local stamp club. I am a proud and unabashed member of this hobby. I believe in this hobby. I have no plans to go anywhere else.
Could I make more money doing software than stamps? Possibly. Without going into all of the details, I am in stamps because of other opportunities that are not measured in mere dollars. I have written about them in the past and I’m not going to review them again. If I didn’t think this was a business venture worth being in, I would get out now. However, I’m not getting out. I recently expanded into offering worldwide approvals. I’m looking to grow my business, not throw in the towel.
Color me optimistic. The hobby is changing and like all other dealers, I’m still trying to figure out how best to adapt to those changes. Maybe I’ll be lucky and find that solution to this opportunity. I am passionate about the hobby. I hope that passion is contagious.
Scare tactics though? Speaking ill of the hobby? Go to hell! You will get none of that here. Ever! It is not professional and it does the hobby a disservice in my opinion.
Thanks for sticking with me and reading this far. I will get off my soapbox now …