Twelve years ago, Vivian and Frank Barning came to the conclusion that, as long as they had to go to work every day, they might as well enjoy it.
The Barnings didn’t immediately quit the jobs they had, but they didn’t wait long. Three months after getting Baseball Hobby News off the ground, their hobby became their business.
A big business it is, too. With Vivian, 43, as publisher and Frank, 48, as editor, the San Diego-based publication has burgeoned from a 16-page newspaper to a 138-page oversize magazine with a slick, full-color cover and a monthly circulation of 73,000. With the January issue, it became available on magazine racks throughout the country.
Published out of the couple’s Kearny Mesa offices, Baseball Hobby News--which sells for $2.95 per issue or $19.95 per year--has a full-time staff of six, including the Barnings, and 16 contributing writers spread across the country.
Before making the leap into business, Vivian taught school and Frank was a sportswriter and sports public relations man.
They lived at the time in Glen Cove, N. Y., and if Vivian hadn’t spotted a small ad in the Sporting News, they might be there still.
“It was 1975,” she said. “I saw this ad about a baseball card show coming up, and we had both been collectors as preteens. For some reason, we had stopped completely, so Frank wanted no part of it. He said that stuff was all in the past.
“Well, I insisted. I said, ‘We’re going.’ And I literally dragged him to that show. Frank’s expectations were that there would be 20 tables of weird-looking guys selling cards, but there were actually over 100 tables of a vast array of materials. We even saw one buyer with a trunk full of cards.
“It was amazing. Before long, I could see Frank’s attitude changing.”
The Barnings kicked around the idea of putting out a hobby-oriented paper for some time before taking the big step.
“There were a couple of publications on sports collecting at the time,” Frank said, “but I could see possibilities in entering the field.
“I had a background in sportswriting and sports PR, and a lot of people were getting into collecting cards, but they were making mistakes. They would pay three times as much as a card was worth, or they would trade cards for cards of lesser value. There were no price guides then.”
He figured there was a market for a publication establishing what was a good investment.
Still, the project was no more than a topic for discussion until Vivian swung into action again.
“After a couple of months of kicking the thing around, I told Frank to put up or shut up,” she said. “I told him to do it or stop talking about it. He said, ‘Are you serious?’ The next thing you knew, we were making plans.”
Baseball Hobby News made its debut as a newspaper in March, 1979, with a 24-page issue. It slipped to 16 pages before beginning the growth that led last fall to the magazine field.
“Our goal was to entertain and to educate,” Frank said. “Everybody else was in it just to sell ads. We had about 40% editorial content, and we’ve kept it that way.”
Not surprisingly, considering the tremendous growth of the baseball card business, several competitive publications have sprung up. The others put such heavy stress on guides to card prices that the Barnings have been forced to add them to their magazine.
“We would go to a card show and people would invariably ask if our publication had a price guide,” Frank said. “When we said no, 80% of the people would walk away. Because of that, we began focusing on card prices in the January issue. We didn’t want to do it because it isn’t journalism, but it’s what people want.”
Although their publication, which is printed in Gardena, obviously stresses baseball, the Barnings also run articles on football, basketball and hockey cards.
“We try to reflect everything that’s going on in the sports card industry,” Frank said.
Baseball card shops have sprung up all over in recent years, but the business has also spread to drugstores, variety stores and even antique shops.
“This makes the hobby that much more popular,” Frank said. “You aren’t going to stumble into a card shop, but you might get started in one of those other places.”
The Barnings say the size of Baseball Hobby News--10 1/4 by 13 1/4 inches as opposed to the standard 8 by 11--is an advantage.
“Distributors say it’s the coming size in magazines,” Frank said. Vivian added: “It stands out above the rest on the newsstands. Rolling Stone is the same size, and it has been a circulation leader for a long time.”