I still really adore this idea, and would still like to see it happen, but there are several roadblocks keeping it from really taking off.
I originally thought I'd made them myself, and that's still an option. But it's an expensive option. I don't want to undercharge for the work it would be (always an issue!) and I don't have the big equipment to do the cards without lamination. Scale of economy is always a problem for me, especially when we're talking about orders for possibly a single card. Quality is a huge issue for me, too - I wanted more perfection than I was able to achieve easily.
I've examined a few alternatives, and even considered having any card design ordered bulk printed, and building a stock of available designs. Either the first customer would pay more, or their would be some kind of counter, where a customer pledges to a card, and when it hits a certain level, it's printed and shipped. But I'm not sure anyone would go for that kind of delayed gratification.
I've been keeping a half-hearted eye on Guild of Blades, waiting to see if they were going to open their print-on-demand card service, with no particular luck.
Thegamecrafter.com has been my biggest ray of hope. Let them do the order fulfillment end of it entirely, just generate the card images and order individually for the customers. There's still a lot of work at my end, coordinating the orders and generating the images, but... I think I could automate a fair amount of it. I have the usual worry that comes with working with suppliers, and these decks would still be VERY pricey, but... it's possible.
Second: Royalties and Pricing
I've spent years sending out nickel and dime royalties, and let's be frank, this could be another one of those projects where no one would really make enough to be worth their time. The lilypad could track most of those royalties, but with pennies accumulating, would it be worth the efforts of keeping tabs of those royalties?
Let's say we double the cost of a deck from the usual, to $40 per deck of 78. Suppose the cost of the deck is roughly $10. It will take some work to get the order placed, each one being so individual, and I honestly wouldn't want to make less than $10 per deck for my end of it. After paypal's chunk, we've got about $18. Divide that 78 ways (assuming a full deck), you've got .23 per card to give the artists. Raise that to an even quarter, and round the deck price up to $45. And that doesn't include a book of any kind.
Would anyone spend that? Is a quarter apiece good enough to pay artists and attract good talent? Will $10 per deck actually be worth the time I spend on each one? Well... that probably depends on how automated the system is...
If this was going to happen, it would be crowdfunded. I am not really interested in putting a project of this magnitude together for free, but I'm quite happy to work with the crowdfunding model that's emerging and treat it like a freelance job. It would need to be fairly comprehensive, and I'd have to experiment with how automated the image generation can get. If customers can build their OWN designs - choosing borders and text, etc... that could solve some of the problems. The site would also need to manage royalties, artist submissions, and provide searching/browsing features for customers.
I can't imagine completing a site this complex with less than $2500 in work, and it's really not set up to do little steps at a time like commission-control. It would be an all or nothing.
So, the biggest downfall of this idea is expense. An expensive startup cost, and expensive decks. It also relies on an outside source - which I am rather gunshy of doing.
Is it a cool and fascinating idea? Oh, yes. I still love it for that.
Is it practical for now? Not in the slightest.
This project retains its current status: not in the cards for now.