hobbyDB admin Christian recently talked to Lindsey Amrani, editor of British magazine Model Collector about the giant database hobbyDB is building and how this will benefit collectors worldwide. This interview appears in the May 2016 issue.
Lindsey: I want to begin this interview by asking you about what’s probably the most ambitious plan (short of world domination!) I’ve ever heard – i.e. the aim to create a database of every collectible ever made. Whose idea was this? And what was the thinking behind it?
Christian: I have been thinking about a database like this for more than 30 years, and it took more and more shape as I saw great websites come and go. I vividly remember three excellent sites that collectors build to document Lone Star diecast models. All of them are gone now. Also, while I understood why they chose to do so, I disliked that Wikipedia did not allow listings for whatever it calls “not notable” – that is most of the toy companies and all of the individual models and toys ever made! As a team we had a vision for a free resource which documents everything, bringing together data on the most popular – and the most obscure and so far undocumented – collectibles ever made. With many detailed data points on each and every item, it’s easy for anybody to expand their collectibles knowledge with hobbyDB – whether you’re a museum curator or a beginner just trying to find out more about an item you found at a boot sale.
Lindsey: Your website carries the mission statement: “Over 100 Billion Collectibles* – *Eventually”. Now, I like a challenge myself, but I’m struggling to get my head around the sheer magnitude of such a project. However, I assume that realistically, there’s no actual end game here but that the project will continually roll on, as clearly today’s new product will become tomorrow’s collectables?
With a Tonka on the main photo and the Corgi Toys Batmobile as an example
Christian: You’re absolutely correct, hobbyDB is an ever-expanding entity and we don’t anticipate it’ll ever stop growing! Take for example Hot Wheels, we now have 31,000 catalog entries, are probably missing another 100,000 (remember, we also catalog prototypes, customs, errors, catalogs, hats, pins etc). Also Hot Wheels produces another 600 new models every year and that is before all the variations they create, often unbeknown to them!
Actually, that’s one of the best parts about hobbyDB – collectors from all around the world share our vision of what it can achieve, and are therefore pledging to help grow the catalog and ensure the catalog remains as accurate as possible for everyone that uses it by contributing their time, help and knowledge. Being powered by collectors gives our database the unique ability to continue to grow and change as new collectibles become available in the future.
Lindsey: You’re based in Boulder, Colorado, but this isn’t just a US based project, is it? My understanding is that you’ve already assembled an international panel of domain experts from across the collecting spectrum. How did you find these experts and can you tell us a little more about their role when it comes to this project
Christian: I’ve been in the collectibles industry for more than 41 years and along the way, I’ve shared this idea with many experts in the field. I wanted to make sure that that we were building exactly what the community needs and account for every different type of collectible out there. Our Advisory Board not only provides us with data and images from their own collectibles, but they also advise on the taxonomy and ontology for the project, helping us stay true to what the community really wants.
Lindsey: You’re offering collectors free access to this database, so can you tell us about the benefits this offers?
Christian: For those looking to research or browse, hobbyDB is already offering a seemingly limitless library of collectables, along with detailed data points to provide as much accurate information on every item as possible. Our team members know that the smallest difference between two items can mean a huge impact on the asking price. Therefore we’re making sure that we make it simple for anybody to record even the most minute details. For those looking for a powerful collection management tool, the hobbyDB project is designed to be as seamless as possible when it comes to uploading items to your collection, while also providing the luxury of viewing all of your collectibles in a single, organized location. Others might just use the Wishlist and finally, hobbyDB even supplies a marketplace for collectors where they can buy items to complement their collections.
Lindsey: Clearly the idea is to expand the database, so if collectors decide to upload details of the items in their collections to www.hobbydb.com website, are these then made available for everyone else to view, or is there a privacy option?
Christian: We’re hoping to grow the database by encouraging collectors to upload photographs and details of collectables that aren’t already in the system. However, we do understand that sometimes our community members would like the ability to make certain items in their collections private. Therefore, whenever you add a collectible to your collection, you are given the option to set the collectible to private or public.
Lindsey: This sounds like a fantastic service, but with so much work being put into this incredibly labour intensive project, how are you actually monetizing the site?
Christian: Well, we aren’t selling anything ourselves, but as I mentioned, we do have a marketplace that covers the not inconsiderable cost of paying the bills so that hobbyDB can keep running forever and our developers can keep building awesome new features for the site.
With James Bond, Dinky Toys and Matchbox examples
Lindsey: When you say sales platform, are we talking about at an eBay style marketplace? If so, does it work in the same way or is a slightly different/better proposition for collectors?
Christian: Over time, eBay has become deeply unpopular with collectors, especially sellers. Their policies are now very much geared towards sellers of new, high-end items like electronics, skewed in favor of buyers and mostly incompatible with selling vintage items. The site is tolerated as there is currently “no alternative” – until now. hobbyDB’s cost to sell is much more reasonable than eBay’s fee.
Also, since hobbyDB is first a database, it’s quicker and easier to sell items than on eBay as you just have to search the database for the collectible that you’d like to list and click “Sell” and that creates a pre-populated listing which you can easily and quickly customize. hobbyDB has kept fees very simple. It only charges fees if an item sells. The fee is 10% of the item cost, which includes the PayPal fee of roughly 3%. The fee is capped, so you never pay more than $100 plus PayPal fees for any single sale.
Also, as a special deal for readers, Modelcar Collector readers who are interested in opening a store won’t have to pay any store subscription fees until 2020! — The regular cost to operate a store on hobbyDB will be $9.99 per month, so you can do the math on how much you’ll save.
Lindsey: Does the site also feature a forum where collectors can get involved in discussions and debates?
Christian: We believe that most collectors already have their favourite forum and enjoy the camaraderie those offer; instead of replacing these forums we would like to work with them as they include some of the most knowledgeable collectors. We only have a forum for our Curators and Champions where they could discuss everything data related and request features that would help make their jobs easier.
Lindsey: Getting back to the database, we’ve already talked about how you’ve put together an impressive team of experts who are constantly adding new information and updating existing records. But in order to really make this massive task really work and expand the collective pool of information you need even more input. So how can our readers get involved?
Christian: Well, hobbyDB is powered by collectors. One of the best ways your readers can get involved with the hobbydb project is to become a curator. Curators are members with special privileges who contribute to the project by keeping information clean, accurate, and up to date. Becoming a curator is easy; all you have to do is decide on the theme/manufacturer you’d like to curate and let us know! We’ll add a special badge to your profile page and your picture will be featured on the page(s) you curate, so everybody knows you’re in charge. A single subject can have multiple curators, so you can even team up with friends if there’s something you’re all interested in. If you’re feeling zealous you can curate as many pages as you want!
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