After seeing the discussions on this site regarding autographs versus selfies, as well as observing fan groups based both on autographs and celebrity photo ops, I'm prompted to ask revisit the question of whether autographs represent the best celebrity-related souvenir.
I myself am of an age right at the crossroads of Gen-Xers and Millennials. Fittingly, I tend to see both sides of this. People older than me tend to gravitate toward autographs while people in their teens and twenties are somewhat less interested. I attend my fair share of concerts every year, the majority being newer indie artists with a growing fan base. When there are fans waiting after the shows, most want a quick selfie or photo op and a chat with the artist. Autographs are not the most sought after collectible. I tend to be the only one a photo to be signed and, in some instances, an LP awaiting a signature. There are virtually never any rackers or professionals of any sort.
Granted, this is only one example. Go to a sports training camp, and autographs are probably still the rule - although much of this has to do with the size of the crowds of fans and the flow of player traffic. Sports collecting is an entirely different territory altogether. Even the RAAC community on Facebook recognizes this and exercises a rule excluding sports sales and topics from their posts. Ingrained in the world of professional sports and sports collecting is a culture of assigning monetary value to absolutely everything. Get something worth something, or it doesn't count.
If I was to start switching up my concert going to artists from the 60s and 70s, I think I would see a drastic change in the attitudes and efforts of the people seeking to meet artists pre-show and/or post-show. When I was in downtown Milwaukee a few days ago, I noticed a bit of a gathering by the Pabst Theater around mid afternoon. These were all men who appeared to be in their 50s or older, and they seemed to have items with them to be signed. I correctly guessed that an older musician was scheduled to appear last night (it turned out to be guitarist Robin Trower, who I'd honestly never heard of before).
I think the prime factor in this shift in interest is the advent of the internet in the 90s coupled with the explosion of social media over the past decade. Instead of impressing friends and visitors with what's on the wall of their home, people of a younger generation build their domain online, through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Impressing people isn't limited by what's hanging on the walls of your home but rather what's posted on your Facebook wall. Reaction and feedback is instantaneous, with your impressive feats of fan engagement reaching hundreds - potentially thousands online.
Media has changed dramatically in my lifetime. Celebrity/fan interaction isn't limited to good timing and good luck, or the hope that maybe your favorite star might somehow get your fan letter. Fans can speak directly with their favorite stars online, get their artwork seen and shared and their posts favorited, validation that their heroes know they exist. These are all things you couldn't dream of 20 - 30 years ago. Accordingly, they aren't exactly on the radar of many older fans.
I'm of course dismissing monetary value here, as I think that is best for a conversation about the fan experience. I'm talking about what people collect for their own satisfaction, not about making money. On that same topic, the volumes of people who ask established celebrities or "hot names" (who do carry a sizable value for their signature) for their autographs aren't fans at all, but rather professionals seeking to make money. Anyone who's been on AML for any length of time is more than familiar with this. I think this plays into whether actual fans even bother asking. Ask for an autograph - are you selling it? Ask for a photo op - well, there's no question about a capital-based venture, is there?
There are likely a number of other factors at play here, chief among them the decline in signature quality and use of handwriting overall. There are many celebrities I'm a fan of whose autograph I just don't even really want because of the ungodly scribble I'd likely receive. I'll take the photo op, handshake, hug or quick conversation over the embarrassing non-effort that passes for a modern signature. Of course this isn't the case for every celebrity or athlete out there, but it's much, much more the rule than it was a few decades ago.
Again, as someone born in the early 80s, I find myself seeing both sides pretty evenly. I really do like signed items and getting things signed myself. But it's not the end all of being a fan. If I end up with a nice photo op and no signature, I'm generally quite fine with that - this despite my towering legacy of looking awful and awkward in photos. A few weeks back, I nearly spit out my coffee when my favorite singer mentioned me by name in an interview posted on Youtube, a medium that's only been around for a decade. There are just many avenues to give and receive as a fan, and I'm still wrapping my head around it.
This isn't meant to categorize all autograph collectors as old or money-hungry, as I didn't especially hope to incriminate myself as such. I see teenagers asking for autographs and older fans ask for selfies. But I think the trends and reasons behind them are worth exploring.