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What was the BIGGEST Disappointment in 2021 for the Autograph Industry?

January 18, 2022 6 min read

What was the BIGGEST Disappointment in 2021 for the Autograph Industry?

All right. It's December 31st, 2021, and I was just thinking back on it, like, what are some of the biggest disappointments in the autograph industry in 2021? There's always a budget each year it seems like, but this one really kind of stuck out to me and I don't know what the solution is and I don't know if it's going to fully come back.

So it's got me a little concerned, I guess, for the retail customer, and one of the biggest disappointments has to be the lack of licensed photos that one can purchase. Now, as many of, you know, Photofile closed down in 2020 after being in business for 33 years or so. And they were the main source for licensed photos.

You could go to their website. They had just a ton of selection on pretty much almost every player. You could go there and find licensed photos for say Larry Bird and they would have 10, 12, 15, so different selections, and you could print them up. in 8 X 10s, 11 X 14s, 16 X 20s.

So their selection was just incredible and it was affordable pricing to, I think, 8 X 10s were seven or eight bucks shipped for a high quality licensed photo. Now yes, I know you people out there that like to print up your photos at home can do it way cheaper, but again, I always suggest to do a license photo because the quality of the autographs can be great. Plus, you're not breaking the law. We don't want to be doing that. So Photofile was the best option for that, but then they closed down and that caused a lot of issues for something so simple. Like just printing up a darn photo. It's not like we were having issues making jerseys because we couldn't get the materials in or whatever, but it was just photos.

So Fanatics attempted to kind of pick up where photo file left off and they do have a little bit of selection on their site, but not much. I don't know what percentage it is, but it's got to be like 1% of what Photofile had. It's just incredible how limited the selection is for licensed photos.

Then in about October of this year or so. We ran into a paper shortage on printing up 16 by 20s. I was trying to get a couple of them for the Mike Trout signing and Fanatics told me that they couldn't print them at 16 by 20 size. And I'm like, "this is, this is freaking America. What do you, what do you mean? We can't print them in a 16 by 20 size?" They're like, "well, there's a paper shortage." What do you mean is a paper shortage? I mean, there's trees everywhere around here. This is crazy? If you ever driven through Arkansas, Northwestern, Arkansas is pretty much forest, there are literally hundreds of thousands of trees out there.

So I was just shocked that a multi-billion dollar company couldn't find paper to print up a 16 by 20 photo on and it just blew my mind. I mean, my gosh. I get, you know, fanatics, try to pick up a little bit where Photofile left off and if you're a multi-billion dollar company printing off a $5 or $6 photo, just isn't really all that sexy, right? It's like you could spend your time and your resources on other things that can make you more money. So I totally get it. So I'm not a hundred percent sure what the solution is, but we've got to be out there employing other printers to print up these photos. I mean, it's really not that hard.

You got to find a nice company out there that can print these up. That's not going to steal your images. You've given the rights to print up, you know, certain sports or whatever it is and let's get some people out there printing these darn things up here. There's gotta be somebody out there that can make this profitable and make this doable for the retail customer and the one that you know, wants to just buy one photo to send it in for a signing. They liked this particular image and they want to buy a license photo. They want a high quality image. They want to do it right. Obviously Photofile going out of business after 33 years, there was probably some issues with that business. I mean, whether it's profitability, getting the licenses, who knows what the exact issues were.

So obviously there are some things that need to be tweaked in that business model, but we've got to get this fixed. I mean, you can buy retail jerseys out there. You gotta be able to buy retail photos and all that kind of stuff. I mean, I just feel terrible for the customers that want to buy it at ones and twosies and whatnot.

Now customers like me, if we want to go to get something wholesale or whatnot, yeah, we can contact Fanatics and they can most likely print up pretty much, most every image out there, they have the license and the ability to do that. So we can get bulk stuff like that, but for the ones and twosies for the customers out there, it's just not something that they seem to be interested in.

Of course, one of the big issues is always licensing. Licensing is such a pain in the butt. It's just incredible how difficult this model is. We're just printing photos up here. We're not asking to take over your likeness and image here. We just want to print up a photo so we can get your autograph on there.

It's just difficult, especially for retired players. They're just not part of any union anymore. So you've got to get in contact with them directly and get their approval for this and then approval for the photographer and then approval for this company. I remember I was trying to get a photo printed up for Scotty Thurman. So if you don't know, Scotty Thurman, he hit the game winning shot for the 1994 Arkansas basketball, national championship game. Great player in Arkansas, a very talented guy and it's basically one of the biggest plays in Arkansas sports history, and there's a very awesome image out there of the shot. There's actually two of them, but there's one in particular and I've had this one signed before. It is a Sports Illustrated shot. Now, if you don't know anything about licensing, Sports Illustrated is like the Gucci of photo printing. I don't know what their deal is. I wasn't able to get it signed this time around with Scotty. I had to do a different photo. So I looked at getting this thing licensed. First off Sports Illustrated really couldn't tell me a price. It was a range and the range to get just the license for it was $3,000 to $5,000.

It just blew my mind. I was like, like what? Huh? I mean, no knock on Scotty. Scotty's great, man. But really any player, it's just one image here. This is not Ali knocking out Liston here. Plus the cost of printing on top of that. So I was just like, "well, what is it? Is it $3,000 or $5,000?" and they're like, "well, we're not quite sure we'd have to talk to the photographer." I'm like, what the heck is going on? This should be like a hundred dollar licensing fee and let's print these up and get them in my hands here in about two weeks. That's the process that should be.

So for you guys that were taking part in the Scotty Thurman autograph signing, that's why that photo wasn't available, the cost was like astronomical. Like by the time I printed all those things up, I could have bought a small plot of land in Arkansas. It was just insanity.

So anyways, that has to be the biggest disappointment in 2021. It has to be the lack of licensed photos out there to be able to purchase, not for dealers like myself, you know, we can go out and purchase photos like that, but for the retail customer. People always ask, "Do you have photos of this guy?" and I'm like, "no, because I have to go out and buy a whole bunch of bulk." I'd love to be able to point them to a website, like I was able to do a Photoffile and say, "buy it right here and send it to me. They got all the options. They have all the sizes." That was the glory days of photos and the autograph industry.

So, I hope we get this thing fixed here. It's just really very, very frustrating that a country as talented as we are, can't quite figure this photo printing thing up yet or refigure it up here.

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