Is Philately Losing Popularity

Philatelic popularity began a long, measurable ascent about 1900. An historian can see the hobby taking off, and we know that the numbers of collectors increased because we see an increase in the number of philatelic magazines, in the quantity of different stamp albums, increased membership in collector societies and more stamp dealers. As these quantifiable measurements of the appeal of our hobby have fallen off in recent years, the idea that our hobby is losing adherents has been gaining traction. But the evidence is really not that clear.

It is true that the number of APS members and Linn’s subscribers are down. There are fewer, less well attended stamp shows than there used to be. Stamp dealer offices used to exist in all major cities where they seldom do anymore. But whether this is because of a decline in the popularity of stamp collecting or a shift how people pursue their hobby interests is not clear. The number of general interest newspapers is down as are their subscription rates and the amount of advertising that they hold. The New York Times is a fraction of its former size and Newsweek, one of the great weekly news magazines of the past, recently ceased print publication. Does that mean that people are no longer interested in news or does it mean that they are getting their news in other ways?
Specific to our hobby is the fact that at any given time on the EBay and Bid Start sites alone there are millions of individual stamps and covers for sale, far more material than was available at all the stamp shows held, in their heyday, all around the country in any given year year. Linn’s is smaller, but there are hundreds of websites with philatelic content available for free. Are stamp collectors reading and buying less or are they just reading and buying in venues where they are harder to count? And even if there are fewer collectors in the US and Western Europe (and this is not proven), how do we evaluate the impact of literally millions of collectors in China and India and other newly industrializing nations?
Lastly, prices have seemed stagnant and even lower for a broad basket of philatelic material over the last twenty years. But is this because of fewer collectors or because postal agencies have become extremely adept at marketing literally hundreds of millions of dollars of mint new issue philatelic material each year to collectors? More new issues are sold each year to collectors by postal agencies than the total sum of business done by all the full time stamp dealers worldwide recycling older philatelically significant stamps. So no, it is not at all clear that philately is losing popularity. Rather, like so many things in the electronic information era, it is reconfiguring.
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