The Future of Philately?
It‘s the Internet! Reading that you are either in full agreement or shaking your head. Many people discuss the current state of philately and its’ future, raising concerns, and sometime arguments, about what to do to reverse the decline in sales and memberships. Little progress is being made because many of the people leading the discussions don’t fully understand the Internet and how it relates, or they are simply afraid of change. It is time to raise the level of understanding and change the discussion to one that is more meaningful.
In the US, collector and dealer attendance at shows has declined, in part, due to an aging collector base, slow sales, higher costs associated with attending shows, and a general lack of interest. While collectors have been quicker to embrace the Internet as a place to buy and sell, dealers have been slow to embrace the medium. In Europe and Asia, stamp collecting is an active, and in some areas, a growing, pursuit shared by a much larger base of collectors and dealers. Dealers see the Internet as another sales tool and take full advantage of it.
When attending shows I ask dealers if they are online. A few have an e-commerce site, others say they have a basic website; many have no representation online at all. Think of it this way, the Internet is a (basically free) way to advertise your existence. But you have to know how to use it to your advantage. E-commerce sites use a database structure and require that dealer inventory be digitized in some manner. Static sites can use downloadable spreadsheets and text files (or pricelists) to display inventory. Even a basic site can offer advertising and, hopefully, direct collectors to your store. You have to remember that, even with a website, you are one of hundreds of thousands listed in the search engines. You still need to be found!
For collectors it can be like the Wild West out there. There are scammers and fakes everywhere. Are you willing to send money to a foreign dealer, or a dealer without credentials? Knowledge is key here! A well-known source for buying and selling is EBay® – www.ebay.com. This has become the marketplace for buying and selling inexpensive material. Unfortunately, some of the sellers aren’t knowledgeable and unintentionally (or intentionally) misrepresent grade, scarcity, or the actual item they are selling. I’ve seen collectors at shows with an item they purchased online seeking a determination as to value and authenticity only to be disappointed.
There are familiar resources out there for collectors. Online catalogs offer a way to identify and gauge the value of an item. A few of the online catalogs include Scott® - www.scottonline.com, Stanley Gibbon - www.stanleygibbons.com, and Michel - www.briefmarken.de.
There are multi-dealer sites that allow you to view dealer inventory and prices from different dealers. StampFinder® - www.stampfinder.com* and Zillions of Stamps -www.zillionsofstamps.com are two that come to mind.
There are resources for both collectors and dealers alike. The American Stamp Dealers Association –www.americanstampdealer.com and the American Philatelic Association – www. stamps.org have listings of upcoming stamp shows, links to local stamp clubs, and other resources.
Recently a Summit on the Future of Philately was held involving the ASDA, APS, USPS, and others to discuss and decide on a roadmap for the future. The initial findings, while they had a few suggestions involving the use of technology, they never delved into the full potential of technology and the Internet. I look forward to the results of follow-up meetings.
As I indicated in the beginning, I wish to add my voice to the discussion. There are a tremendous amount of resources for collectors and dealers beyond the known few I have mentioned here. I will be offering advice for both collectors and dealers in upcoming articles. For collectors I’ll show you additional resources you may not be familiar with where you can gather information, find that elusive item, or just have fun on the Internet. For the dealer, I will offer suggestions on how to get listed in the search engines, designing a well organized site, and methods for making your site the go-to place for stamps and philatelic material, how to reach an International audience.
I also intend to lay out a road map for the Future of Philately on the Internet, reaching across borders to access the international markets, and hopefully, show you a brave new world of philately online.
About the author, Bruce Drumm owns and operates a web design and hosting company, Servers, Inc® – www.servers-inc.com, dedicated to philately and e-commerce. He’s been designing sites since 1997 and has partnerships with Adobe, Google, PayPal, Microsoft, and others. As a collector, he has been able to build systems and sites with an understanding of stamp collecting and how to do business on the Internet.
*Denotes one of our clients.
About the author, Bruce Drumm owns and operates a web design and hosting company, Servers, Inc® – www.servers-inc.com, dedicated to philately and e-commerce. He’s been designing sites since 1997 and has partnerships with Adobe, Google, PayPal, Microsoft, and others. As a collector, he has an understanding of philately and how to do business on the Internet.