Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Is numismatics in danger?
I have seen a statistic making the rounds on social media; it says the average ANA member is in their mid-sixties. I have also seen extensive coverage on the U.S. Mint's Invigorating the Coin Collecting Hobby - Numismatic Forum. Both of these topics address the same problem: How to get more and younger people interested in numismatics.
My mind dwelt on this subject for about a week. I was trying to figure out how to bring younger people into numismatics, thus dropping the average age of ANA members and invigorating the hobby. I considered coin collecting apps, better social media engagement, and a recent acquaintance had recommended taking to the schools to use coins as teaching tools. It wasn't until last night, when I finally reached a level of supreme frustration, that I asked myself a question that flipped the situation on its head.
Is there really a problem?
From what I have read, two metrics were used to measure the current state of numismatics. One is the average age of ANA members. The other is the number of active customers the U.S. Mint has.
Absorb that for a moment. I'll wait...
The ANA's Problem
Perception: ANA membership statistics are a good gauge of interest in numismatics as a whole.
Reality: The cost of an ANA membership isn't really worth it for casual collectors.
The ANA is an excellent source of information, but, unless you plan to do some heavy numismatic research, the internet can provide all of the information you need for free. My guess is that most current ANA members have been involved with the organization for years. Many may be lifetime members. Many younger collectors, like me (I'm 33), do not see the value in joining.
The U.S. Mint's Problem
Perception: Sales are down because fewer people are interested in numismatics.
Reality: Fewer people are buying directly from the Mint.
It is crazy to say interest in the hobby is on the decline simply because the Mint can't move as much product as it used to. I have never ordered an item from the U.S. Mint, and I don't intend to start. I have a very limited collecting budget and I believe it is better spent on coins I am actually interested in. I prefer my coins to be older.
Take a moment to consider all of the places someone can acquire a coin. I have come up with the following:
Brick and mortar coin shop
Online coin shop
From fellow collectors online
From fellow collectors offline
That is a lot of options and none of them are the Mint. Although, you could argue the Mint is an online dealer, and you'd be right, but they are far from the only one.
There is not really a problem with numismatics unless all coin dealers are seeing numbers slump and values are dropping. I feel safe saying there has never been a time in the history of numismatics where more coins and more information have been available than right now.
It is possible some numismatic mainstays are on the way out. Kind of like how you don't see many payphones anymore. When cell phones rendered payphones unnecessary, AT&T didn't try to figure out how to bring the kids back to payphones, they began offering cell plans. The ANA could do something similar by digitizing their library. Also, how cool would it be if the ANA ran a crowdsourced numismatic reference like Wikipedia.
Do not think for a minute that just because a company like the ANA isn't charging subscription fees that they aren't able to make money. Look at Google. Free to all and they pull in mind boggling revenues.
I don't know what to the tell the U.S. Mint. Since they are a government entity, they have very little room to maneuver.