The playing card market is dead. But why?
Before I get into it, let's just realise a truth...
There are too many deck designs within magic.
- Pigcake just got his deck funded on Kickstarter.
- Fraser Parker (fantastic mentalist) also funded his deck a few months back.
- Joker & the Thief has 2 hours to go (at the time of writing this).
But what's the theme? All have around 190 backers.
190 buyers does not make a market. It shows a saturation point for new designs from independent producers.
A very scary insight.
All these guys have audiences, reputations & fantastic ideas. But what's happening to them is happening across the industry as a whole.
Fontaine started selling to Murphy's recently. Zach is a marketing genius and used to blow out of each print run in minutes. The secondary market used to blow up with $25, $50 or even $100 Fontaines. Now there's surplus stock.
I say all of this, not to point the finger, but to prove what I've been saying in private for over a year, is true.
Decks are dead... Because it's impossible for everyone to keep up with all the new designs and colorways from all producers.
Level Playing Field
Everyone and their cat can make their own deck now.
MOQs (minimum order quantities) are so low, that people with moderate levels of savings or audiences, can get their own deck made.
The playing field has been levelled. And in the last decade, 20 deck producers has snowballed into more than 200.
- Foil is for everyone.
- Crushed stock is standard now.
- Embossing is on even the most basic decks.
Why is this a problem?
Everyone has access to the same quality and it splits the focus & attention of buyers.
The more mouths to feed, the less everyone can eat... Nobody gets their fill.
Some producers started to work with licenses to 'differentiate' their decks - and reach new audiences. But that won't last forever... Watch as they pivot back to magic.
USPCC Locking Down
I don't have any insider knowledge on this. But before selling their business to Cartamundi, USPCC locked down their 'rider back' design in 7 levels of legal protection*.
*That's hyperbole. It may be more or less than 7.
Overnight, rider back gaffs, Shadow Masters, Bicycle Ghost and 1800s were all dead.
Their rationale was to not give an inch to the industry, to make it easier to pursue those taking a mile (aka. Those ripping off the rider back design and printing overseas).
Unfortunately, the lack of capability to gaff or alter a normal bike deck hurt the magic industry. People started moving to Maiden or Mandolin backs - but it's not the same... A sugar-free creme brûlée won't hit the spot in the same way as the real deal.
The change meant we had to stop printing over 100,000 decks per year - and if we had to, who else did too?
Other magic companies can't gaff the box or bicycle backs either. It forced everyone to scatter across a plethora of different designs.
Lead Times & Costs
Our average time to get a deck made now is 6 months.
And the cost to make utility decks (like cohorts) has basically doubled since Covid. That's without adding foil or gilding. Which skyrockets the price even more.
There are two problems with this:
- We can't double the retail cost of decks for customers. That's not fair. So we opt to lose profits instead.
- That how we feel about something today may be different in 6 months from now.
That added 4 months (on top of the 8 weeks it used to be) makes it impossible to catch trends - or create them.
And we're not the only ones feeling it. Whether it's Cartamundi or USPCC, the lead times on decks for everyone has become a major concern.
I speak to a lot of deck producers privately - and they all mention how slow it's been. Or how difficult it was during covid with lockdowns and supply shortages for decks.
It hasn't fully recovered... and it may be too late now.
What are we doing?
Pick a busy road in London. It could have 10 coffee shops on it. Would you open coffee shop number 11?
No. Why not?
Because you inherently know something about saturation.
- The shop serving the best coffee will succeed.
- The shop serving the cheapest coffee will succeed.
- The shop closest to the footfall will succeed.
Every other shop is scraping by in a super competitive space - as they're all selling the same product.
In this analogy, Ellusionist used to be the only coffee shop on the busy street. Now we're just 1 of 200.
We have good designs. We have great card stock... But so do others.
Because we all print in 1 of 2 places (USPCC or Cartamundi) that are owned by the same company. They have the monopoly on price & outcome in the playing card space.
The only way to differentiate yourself now is for us to be the cheapest. To outcompete the over saturation.
That's good for you as a customer, because it means you can stock up on decks you will use/have always wanted, for a song.
It's good for us as a producer - but it's bad for everyone else who can't compete.
This is nothing new for us. We've been doing this for a while, behind closed doors, focussing on magic and just letting decks be. As we could see it coming for a year or more.
Ellusionist will continue to give its overall focus to tricks - to magic.
A few times per year we will introduce cool mystery decks and new designs, but in reduced quantities. Just for our own enjoyment / regular use by magicians.
But playing cards hasn't been/won't be a big focus of our business for the foreseeable future.
How will you know if I'm right?
Watch how the industry responds after we make the first move.
3... 2... 1.