As most of you bloggers may recall, 20 years ago there were 5 major baseball card brands (Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Upper Deck, Score). Ten years ago, there was still 5 (Topps, Donoff, Upper Deck, Fleer, Pacific). Now it seems that there's only one card company, and that's Topps. What happened?
Of course, most of the big card companies were driven out of business by lack of sales (Score), lack of granted license (Upper Deck, Donoff), Merging (Fleer) and silly mistakes (Pacific). And the fact of the matter is that with the exception of Score and Pacific, all of these brands were quite popular over their 20+ year runs.
Donruss, for instance, was very popular over time. With its cool designs and one of the first brands to go for full gloss, they had a bit of a following. Hell, they even had a few TV ads in there too. They've also put out some of my favorite sets (1992-93 Studio, 03-05 Diamond Kings, 1995 Donruss, 2005 Champions), and if they were still making licensed cards today, I'd buy them over Topps. But now they're stuck making unlicensed multi-sport cards that nobody likes. And it's a shame too.
Fleer was another company that met a sad demise. While they never were really a crowd favorite, they still managed to drive in sales with cool sets and cool products like Ultra and Tradition. In fact, in 2004 I ended up getting little packets of a few different products (Skybox, Flair, Showcase, Classic Clippings, etc) and I was hooked. Only in 2006 they were bought out by Upper Deck, and in 2008 the Fleer brand was completely discarded (except for Hockey cards).
The biggest example of how the last 20 years have made a difference is Upper Deck. I loved Upper Deck, mainly because they were always trying to be like Topps. And they put out some great designs too, like their 93 and 95 sets, along with great ideas like Goudey, Masterpieces, Goodwin, and many others. And things were going great until the license was yanked right under them. And their 2010 set was a lackluster offering that still showed logos even when they weren't supposed to.
It's sad. All we have now is Topps. Now Topps still puts out great sets, but there's no competition. There's no Diamond Kings, no Masterpieces, no Skybox Autographics to banter with Allen and Ginter and National Chuckle.
It's just Topps. And that's the sad part.