Monday, June 09, 2008

Inkworks Has Lots of Band Aids

One of the uglier "innovations" in the trading card hobby (that's sports and non-sport cards) is the introduction of the band-aid (or sticker) autograph. That's where signers put their autographs on sheets of stickers rather than the cards themselves. The stickers are then added at will to the cards at a later date (or held back for an even later date).

Many collectors have balked at these band-aids. Even the manufacturers understand their non-appeal as I regularly see these companies brag in their promotional materials about the inclusion of "on card" autographs for certain sets. Non-sport manufacturer Inkworks has stated in the past their dislike for sticker autographs, which seemed like a sign that such a development was unlikely. But any coach or manager will tell you that a public or semi-public vote of confidence is often the kiss of death. And that kiss is landing like a big sloppy puckering up from your long-lost auntie as Inkworks has announced an about-face and begun using band-aids, or "signed holographic security labels" as the company has dubbed them.

Beginning with this week's Supernatural: Connections release all future Inkworks sets with autographs will come as sticker autographs.

This announcement has not sat well with many collectors in the non-sport end where the hobby is much quieter and low-key when compared with its sports-collecting cousins. The discussion at "Non-Sport Update Magazine"'s Card Talk message board where some are vowing to go as far as to boycott all future Inkworks products.

Inkworks' announcement, which came after dealer pre-orders for Supernatural:Connections were due reads:

Due to autograph card security issues, Inkworks will be using signed holographic security labels on autograph cards for all products beginning with the Supernatural: Connections trading card collection that releases in June 2008. This change was made to protect the integrity of Inkworks autograph cards.

Carefully worded for certain, this cryptic message does in a lot of ways raise more concern than the stickers themselves. If this move is indeed due to "autograph card security issues" then what is the concern and why have collectors been left in the dark? Have any Inkworks cards been copied or counterfeited? If they haven't been copied or forged then what is the problem? Many collectors may not have noticed but a lot of Inkworks' autographs have a faint watermark on the back of the card. If there's security risks, perhaps this fact could have been better promoted so collectors would know what to look for when they buy Inkworks autographs on the secondary market.

Make no doubt about it, this is a business move. Stickers are easier to ship and they allow manufacturers to build a solid supply of signatures so they can offer more in their products. Done correctly, they can also be attractive as many of Topps' recent non-sport offerings have demonstrated. If the stickers are used as a part of the design process and signers keep their loops and squiggles within the proper area, band aid autographs can be a fair compromise between collectors' sometimes fickle tastes and the business side of things that keep card sets profitable and, therefore, the hobby afloat.

Although I'm not entirely excited that Inkworks has made this move, I do understand where they're coming from. Times are tough and some tough decisions have to be made, even if they're choices that aren't your first. However, in this day of increased corporate transparency, a little more forthcoming statement may have boosted the confidence of collectors rather than making them question whether or not their collections are indeed authentic.

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