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The State of the Hobby

What indicators should we use to assess the health of the hobby? Sales? Memberships? Readers of philatelic publications? Attendance at stamp shows? All of these; or none of these?

If we assume all are good measures, then the message being conveyed is largely upbeat. This may surprise you. We stamp collectors spend far too much time lamenting the loss of the “good old days.” Instead, we should be redirecting that energy to initiate programs that will ensure a strong, vital future for our beloved hobby. Everyone can do something. Everyone must do something! We are all stakeholders.

If we build a “Hobby Health-O-Meter,” how do you think it would look at the moment? From my vantage point, it looks pretty encouraging! Let’s review:

The Marketplace.
In speaking with a broad spectrum of dealers, I have heard that the marketplace is good to superb. This variance can be explained because of the types of material each dealer sells and the segment of the market they are attracting. At the upper end, superb quality rare stamps are achieving astronomical prices at auction, such as the recent sale of the Inverted Jenny plate number block for a record-smashing $2.97 million. Wow! How amazing is that? There is scarcely a week that goes by in which a new record price is achieved for extraordinary stamps or covers.

Mid-range material is also selling briskly. In the past several years many dealers have embraced the Internet as their preferred marketplace. You can’t blame them. The Internet offers dealers an economical way to distribute their wares to an international clientele, remain open for business 24/7, and position themselves and their stock in enticing ways.

Who could have predicted a dozen years ago the success of eBay or the impact it would have on the collectibles field? Who could have foreseen so many auction catalogs would be available online (and that they could be archived for future researchers)? Who could have conceived that APS would have its own Internet marketplace at www.stampstore.org, providing members the opportunity to sell their own material to other members who can click their way right through their want list and find those elusive items in the comfort of their own home?

The marketplace has done a very good job of adapting to changing condition and has succeeded because of that. In fact, the chief complaint I hear from dealers is that they can’t find sufficient stock for their customers!

If dealers can’t find sufficient stock, this must mean it is residing in collections somewhere. Yet, with a few notable exceptions, most philatelic societies and clubs are experiencing a membership decline, including the venerable APS. Those organizations that are increasing in size are doing so because of very aggressive promotion and because they offer services that attract and keep new members.

Several specialist societies have begun listing their memberships on eBay so that when someone does a search for “North Ingermanland,” the North Ingermanland Specialists Society will appear so that interested people can purchase a membership immediately with the “Buy It Now” option. It takes a little time to do this, but the societies who are using this recruiting tool have been successful.

Most societies have their own websites with membership applications right online. This makes it very easy for web-surfing philatelists who want to join. As an example, if you run a Google search for either “stamp collecting” or “philatelic society” the American Philatelic Society is the first website that is listed. With our newly-redesigned website coming online very soon, this should make membership in the APS even more attractive.

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating. YOU are the best advertisement for the APS and all the philatelic clubs and societies to which you belong. Help all of the organizations you love best by recruiting new members. It is good for the overall health of the hobby, and it is good for the friends you recruit.

Readers of philatelic publications.
Our weekly, monthly, and quarterly philatelic publications report a general downturn in readership. This is disappointing. These publications, several of which are now beginning to appear on newsstands and magazine racks in major book shops, are wonderful promotion tools for our hobby. They are produced and written by people who are just as passionate about philately as we are, and yet fewer collectors seem to be subscribing.

Cost is certainly a factor, but I don’t believe it is a large factor. The subscription prices are modest and comparable with other magazines and journals. In some ways I think the Internet that I have been so strongly praising in previous paragraphs has been the cause of subscription decline. Are stamp collectors reading less? I don’t think so. But I do think that more collectors are getting their information from sources that exist on the Internet. Call me old fashioned in this regard, but I prefer to sit in an easy chair with a paper magazine that I can peruse at a leisurely pace than sit at my desk staring into a computer monitor and scrolling back and forth.

Attendance at stamp shows.
There is a lot of good news here! STAMPSHOW in Grand Rapids, Michigan was the best ever for attendance with a reported 10,000 collectors coming to the show and partaking of all the exciting things to see and do. Kudos to APS Director of Shows Ken Martin for pulling a huge rabbit out of a hat yet again!

In previous columns I have had to report the demise of a few of our World Series of Philately (WSP) shows, but now I can report that some are coming back after fixing the nagging problems that plagued them. In October I had the pleasure of attending Filatelic Fiesta in San Jose, California. This show was troubled by the lack of affordable convention space in their area. After much hard work and the dogged determination of a core group of volunteers, Filatelic Fiesta is in the process of reaccrediting as a WSP show. The cacheted cover issued at this year’s show illustrated nearby shows Phoenix rising from the ashes just as this wonderful show is returning again to serve its philatelic community. FLOREX in Orlando, Florida is similarly “rising from the ashes” and is in the process of reaccrediting for WSP status. I wish both of these shows continued success and thank them for their role in serving the collectors in their respective communities.

In a few short months we will be able to attend Washington 2006, our once-a-decade international stamp show. It is being held May 27 through June 2 at Washington D.C.’s convention center and it is shaping up to be an event that each of us will be speaking about in superlatives for decades to come. Time is running short to make your plans and reservations, so I urge you to do so immediately. Visit the Washington 2006 website at www.washington-2006.org or write P.O. Box 2006, Ashburn, VA 20146-2006.

The Hobby Health-O-Meter.
So where are we on the chart? I’d conclude the hobby is functioning at about 80% of where it should be. Some aspects are chugging along nicely, but they aren’t pulling up the lagging portions of memberships and readers. Each of us doing one positive thing can make next year’s “State of the Hobby” 100%.

I’d love to hear your ideas, and promise to share them with members of the APS Board of Directors. Contact me at P.O. Box 250, Pleasant Plain, OH 45162 or by e-mail at tongajan@aol.com.

Happy Holidays!
To each of you and your loved ones I extend the best wishes for a happy and safe holiday season from the entire APS Official Family. Please keep a warm thought for those of our members in the Gulf States who have suffered from the devastating hurricanes.

Janet Klug
December, 2005

Published by permission. ©2005 Janet Klug

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