There's quite the pot-stirring going on with the images and previews of next year's Topps base set. For my part, I'm still waiting for Update to drop from the release calendar stork to see if there are more cards from players standing around during all-star weekend.
I think that there are two points of view on the initial information available. One, is that collectors want innovation....what that innovation is, only the collectors who want it really know. Surprisingly, I think the Topps base set has excelled in the past three years in terms of innovation.
2009: Introduction of legend SPs as variations of base cards. I think this was a great idea, and the fact that they were not extremely easy pulls, though plentiful, made them collectible.
2010: Introduction of the online card giveaway. Though it had its many glitches, the Million Card Giveaway got people excited about opening a pack of cards. Has a run of the mill insert like this sold for $3 a pop in recent history? 2010 Topps Series 1 boxes are all but unaffordable now because the primary supply dried up long ago.
2011: Introduction of the diamond parallel. The numbered gold parallel has run its course and to coincide with the diamond anniversary, these parallels had a great look, easy to obtain, and actually didn't feel like a wasted card in the pack for a set collector (speaking as a set collector)
There were also ideas that didn't work or should have been abandoned after one year like the "pie in the face" cards, "uniform change" shortprint variations, ToppsTown cards (just have codes inserted or something, don't count them as real cards), and Target and Walmart base card variations (after 2009 Topps series 1, the configuration change rendered them as afterthoughts).
2012 Topps is not a gamechanger because 2011 Topps was a success from what I can gather. Businesses will go to the well until it dries up. This is why we're seeing rehashes of the diamond parallel and a similar giveaway (with a possible bidding twist) and similarly themed insert sets and set size and pack out configurations. The base brand Topps set has gone through many epochs, so to speak, of sets that it put out.
1986-1991: 792 card base sets, rack pack inserts, grey card stock, varying designs in which the team name was prominent most years.
1992: a true transition year, white card stock, still 792 card base set, introduction of Topps Gold parallels.
1993-1995: Topps Gold parallels and golden foil were king and defined the product. 1995 Topps had its own twist with Cyberstats parallels. Few insert sets if at all. 1995 Topps League Leaders was the first non-gold themed insert set. The beginning of the 2 series offerings. Set size varied with the smallest being 660 cards and the largest being 825 cards.
1996-2000: Smaller base sets than 792 (as small as 492), many insert sets with the main attraction being star player card reprints through their career with corresponding Finest or Chrome versions ('96=Mantle, '97=Mays, '98=Clemente, '99=Ryan, '00=Aaron)
2001-2005: This is the era that introduced autos and relics as a chase element in the Topps base set. 2001 was the real game changer here, introducing the numbered gold parallel and celebrating the anniversary with reprints and insertions of vintage cards. All two series offerings with distinct border and design elements, 2005 began the "mirror insert" trade with the Barry Bonds home run cards. It would expand.
2006-2008: 660 card sets, continued expansion of "mirror inserts" with Mantle, Bonds, Dimaggio, Generation Now. interesting or wacky gimmicks (Alex Gordon in 2006, Jeter, no sig cards, and Poley Walnuts in 2007, Kazuo Usuki, Sarah Palin Beauty Queen, upside down rookies in 2008), transition to reprints (2006 and 2007 inserts in Walmart rack packs, 2008 Topps Trading Card History insert set)
2009-present: continued practice of 660 card sets distributed in two series, many legends in insert sets, blasters have manufactured patches, three versions of the base set, expansion of parallels and reprint type insert sets, legend shortprint variations are prevalent, the online component grows (toppstown, 3D images, giveaways).
I think that if history holds, Topps will change the focus of the set once the popularity of the elements fades. Over the last 15 years, reprints and re-imagining of current players on past designs (and past players on current designs) have really taken center stage as what's driving the insert set elements. Interactivity also seems to be building. What's the next online element that can be offered to further the collection and collation of the Topps base set?
All in all, it's not an entirely bad thing that 2012 Topps has a similar structure than the previous 2-3 offerings. As semi-serious, constantly informed collectors, bloggers and such can be easily jaded by elements offered in a base set. For me, the base set must offer two major aspects: (1) collectability: is the set easily achievable through the purchase of one hobby box and some auxiliary pack purchases and trades? and (2) enjoyment: will I see the contents and like them? Elements that go into enjoyment are front design, information on the card back, reasonable insertion of insert sets (2-3 per pack is too much), the potential for a surprise,etc.
In terms of Topps sets over the years and where 2012 Topps fits in, it looks like there could be some transitional elements that could portend a positive direction for future Topps offerings. It's difficult to have a game-changer every year. I would submit that the only ones in the last 25 years were 1992 Topps, 1996 Topps, 2001 Topps, and 2009 Topps. They each significantly altered how the sets were collected and what to look for in a Topps base set.
Hopefully, the next gamechanger is soon because the time cycle is almost at hand. Plus, I would like to rip at least three packs before saying all the concepts are not worth it. Let's just say the mind will be open.