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How a 79-Year-Old Business Adapted Its Model for an On-Demand World

For baseball fans, the 2017 World Series was especially memorable, featuring close games, clutch hits, big strikeouts, and defensive gems. Throughout the seven-game series between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, venerable trading card company Topps captured those moments in a brilliant way: the creation of more than 100 baseball cards printed and sold after each game.

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  • The employees engage in daily group texting sessions to decide whether a team or player did something to deserve the printing of an on-demand card.
  • When Topps decides to commemorate a baseball achievement with a Topps NOW card, a special card illustrating the event is printed by the following day, such as when Yankees rookie outfielder Aaron Judge hit his 50th home run on September 25, the most ever for a first-year player.
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  • The limited inventory applies a time-honored business model of scarcity marketing — the same approach Snapchat made popular with disappearing Snaps and stories.
  • Even in the digital age, physical products that people can hold still matter, as seen with the resurgence of vinyl and the enduring power of physical books. And the Topps cards are miniature works of art, having vastly improved in quality over the years.
  • No one, least of all Topps, can predict what the inventory will be, creating a guaranteed element of surprise.

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