CEO sounds off on hobby issues
visitors to this site may not be familiar with Allan Caplan.
Most collectors of contemporary non-sport material certainly
formed Inkworks (known initially as Graffiti) in 1995. Its first
release, GoldenEye, based on the newest James Bond
film, debuted later that year. Subsequently,
the Raleigh, N.C.-based trading card firm has been named Best Manufacturer
four consecutive years by Non-Sport Update's readership.
a Skybox executive in the early 1990s, Caplan's influence was manifest
in card products such as The Lion King that
garnered acclaim from collectors and retailers. Prior to his
Skybox stint, he owned a Midwest chain of home video stores that
Blockbuster Video eventually purchased.
shared his opinions and provocative insights with the
Hobbyist at the Autumn 2002 Philly Non-Sport Show.
you were starting Inkworks today, would the challenges be greater than
they were for you seven years ago when the hobby was in the midst of a
I think it's actually on a par. To get into any business,
especially one where you deal with licenses, you have to have
credibility. A new company coming in that doesn't have credibility
or the track record -- and a licensor has a show or character (to
market) -- they need to know they won't be embarrassed. That's
where we had a benefit. I had a great track record then, as well
as the people who came to work with me.
How difficult is it to negotiate property licenses given the fact that
there are more card companies in competition?
No, there's not really a lot of competition, or good
competition. Some companies will take pot shots, but there's
nobody with consistency. Some try and take an interest in older or
retired (properties). We try to get new products that help fuel
the business, although we've done Lost In Space Archives (1997)
and Planet of the Apes Archives (1999). After GoldenEye,
it was the James Bond Connoisseur's Collection. Then we had
The Phantom (movie cards) and Pinocchio. The last
two were good mistakes to learn from.
What makes a strong property?
You don't want a show that's going to last only one or two
years. You don't have the following or the loyalty factor.
That's why Dark Angel failed. We don't go after licenses
until we know that it's going to be renewed. With Alias, we
didn't get it until after the first season. Buffy was into
a year and a half when we produced. Then, the fans were ready.
Some shows and movies gather tremendous mainstream publicity. It
seems card companies tend to piggyback onto that popularity while hoping
to interest more consumers. Do you see a significant problem in
our hobby that fails to promote collecting in general?
Unfortunately, very few of our competitors are trying to promote the
hobby at different trade shows. Some of the bigger companies that
have been around and have histories of 50 years don't go to shows.
They disrespect the consumer who pays for them to stay in
business. I have a problem with bigger companies that depend on
smaller companies like ours to carry the load.
Is there a way to prod other firms to promote more?
By talking with you (the media). And I embarrass them in front
of the Hollywood community. They just don't promote. And my
smaller competitors don't know how to promote.
Why? A lack of staffing?
Lack of passion. Staffing isn't an issue. We're a small
company. We use lots of freelancers. When we go to San Diego
(for the International Comics and Entertainment convention), we leave
one person back at the office to handle the mail and answer the
phones. I was at the Canadian National show, which is cards and
comic books. No other trading card company was there. Also,
at Wizard World in Chicago, there were 42,000 people, but no other
trading card company was there.
being rude, some of my competitors are absolutely dead. I learned
a long time ago -- it's somewhat trite now -- a terrible thing happens
when you don't promote. We worked like hell for three months to
get San Diego set. Everybody who came to our booth had a great
time. There was nothing that stopped my competitors from doing the
same thing except the dedication to make it happen.
Internet auctions have affected all hobbies and pastimes that host both
major conventions and minor shows. What factors should our trading
card promoters consider when putting together live expositions in
today's cyberspace market?
Just like in retail, location is still everything. You want to
get the crowds out. You want to make card collecting fun for the
general populace. The die-hard fans will follow you everywhere,
but there aren't enough of them.
got to be where the general populace can get to you easily and feel
safe. (Certainly) not where there is a deplorable shopping center
directly across the street of a topless bar on the corner.
Perhaps a promoter's budget or scheduling conflicts prohibit usage of
more impressive venues. Should manufacturers take a more active
approach in locating a safer site, as you say?
We don't want to do it ourselves. We'd like to have somebody
like (Non-Sport Update publisher) Roxanne Toser be the ringleader
and have each manufacturer pony up a few extra dollars to make it
feasible to have a show in a place that respects the product you're
selling and makes it easier for people to visit.
What is your vision of an ideal venue?
There's a reason airport hotels have big conference centers.
People can fly into the airport and use their shuttle bus
(services). It's easy and less time consuming. (For the
Philly Show), to take a cab from the airport to here was fifty-five
dollars. That's rude. It's easier for people to access an
What were your impressions of the Midwest non-sport card show held in
In Chicago, Paul (Maiellaro) tried valiantly to get it off the ground,
but had minimal attendance because it was too far from O'Hare
airport. My own relatives would drive from (west suburban)
Clarendon Hills to the show in Tinley Park. If they didn't come,
who would come from the far north suburbs like Buffalo Grove or
of the dealers said, "Well, this is great. I just got off the
Interstate and the hotel was right there." I told that
dealer, "Would you like 200 people to come to this show or
800?" It's not made to be easier for the dealer. It's
supposed to be easy for the consumer.
like 800 people to show up for the weekend, with 600 of them being young
kids. I want youngsters to enjoy card collecting and not just
adults saying, "Give me a card so I can run and sell it on eBay."
For Chicago's 2003 show, Maiellaro is considering an animation theme for
autograph guests. If the convention site is not as strong as it
could be, do you think such a theme would serve as an attendance
Caplan: Not broad enough. He didn't get very
many people the other way. How are you going to say I'm going to
do Japanimation as a theme and make it work? It just makes it more
in the trading card business -- let's get everyone in the business to
come. To do that, we consider Chicago as a cheap flight.
Philadelphia isn't much worse, especially if you are on the East
Coast. Maybe make a series of shows, one in the East, one in the
Midwest, another in the West. Do them over a six-week
period: Show, break, show, break. That could be one
The sports card industry releases baffling numbers of sets, jersey
cards, autographs and other inserts. The non-sport market doesn't
have concerns of that level, but could overproduction manifest itself in
The big problem is some companies neither understand, nor care what
their product is worth after the fact. Our autographed cards don't
go downhill; others do because they have to get people to create a
theme. We had a competitor who used a hair stylist (as an
autograph contributor); another competitor used a make-up artist.
What's her reputation? Who wants her cards?
company uses fabric that went into the making of costumes on a
show. It's confusing and not smart. We've never used
anything but authentic costumes worn on shows for our Pieceworks cards.
Then, do you think the non-sport industry is in a better position to
Nobody can afford to produce too much today because you don't want
to dump product. But in the mid-1990s, some people thought they
were geniuses. They were printing so much and loading up sets with
tons of different chase card levels. For example, some of the
Marvel products had more chase cards than base cards. None of them
are worth anything today. It almost put us all out of
business. We've been fighting since the mid-90s to give the
It would seem you equate value with intrinsic interest in certain
You can see it on eBay. You're able to buy (base card)
products for $1.99 a set. It costs manufacturers more than that to
print them. But people are grabbing autographed cards, grabbing
some chase cards, but very few chase cards have been worth what our
similar chases because they were done by the artists who actually do the
think the consumer will get a little tired of it. We did a Buffy
Evolution set with only one level of chase and no autographs.
We sold it out. The Evolution print run was lower, but on
purpose. The price was higher, but the dollar amount was
You don't want to max out dealer expenditures on too many products that
hobbyists may display lukewarm reactions?
I think if you want autographs to be a real chase card, to have the
consumer enjoy chasing them, the collector needs to have a good
autograph in every other box. And a Pieceworks card in every other
box. In a (shipping) case, there is something unique in each
box. Besides regular chase cards -- we usually have three levels
-- we have box loaders and binders for collectors who want one.
How much importance do you place on advance printing technologies to
attract younger collectors today?
I'm not sure the younger audience members care much about the
technologies as their parents do about price points. If we can get
back to putting price points down to a buck-and-a-quarter to a
dollar-fifty, even 99 cents for the kids, that would make it easier for
the parents. Kids can be passionate card collectors, too.
They don't care all that much about autographs or Pieceworks cards --
they want cards of their favorite show, their favorite character.
for the technology, it just gets prettier and slicker. With our
(2002) Alias set, we used mirrorboard (card stock). The
chromium looks great, but if everybody used it, it would get old really