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TNI Editorial: Did Todd McFarlane Just Prove That The Big Box Retailer Is Obsolete When It Comes To Action Figures?

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Did Todd McFarlane just prove that the big box retailer is now obsolete when it comes to the world of action figures?

Todd McFarlane is largely attributed as the person who created the action figure collecting demographic in this country in the early 90’s, when he launched his little toy company now known as McFarlane Toys. A toy company that gained notoriety, not by making cheap toys for young kids, but by delivering highly detailed pieces of art in the form of an action figure. Something that would attract consumers both young and old. He proved that there was profit to be had for toys other than just catering to the now shrinking demographic of young kids and the parents who buy them. Even the larger toy corporations like Hasbro and Mattel eventually started to follow his lead to make stuff that was geared more towards the adult action figure collector.

Back then, there were a lot more options for these toy companies to sell their products. No longer was the selling of action figures just confined to the likes of Toys R’ Us and other toy-specific shops. Now you could find toys at various music and video retail stores, even in comic and specialty shops which were a growing and thriving business in the early 90’s.

Since those early days, the retail landscape has changed drastically. Most music and video stores are all but extinct, as are most toy-specific stores. Even video game stores seem to be on their last legs these days. Comic shops also have taken huge hits over the years, calling into question their chances of long-term survival.

Beyond a few smaller etailers, that really only leaves the big-box retailers like Walmart, Target and a few others to sell these things — meaning they dictate what gets made, how it gets made and what doesn’t get made at all.

These big-box retailers, and the demands they appear to place on the toy manufacturers, contribute to the biggest complaints most collectors have when it comes to collecting action figures. Cheap quality to keep the price down, the same big-name characters rehashed over and over, hard to find store exclusives, and limited availability of the things people actually want. To me it comes down to this. Because the manufacturers have so few options where they can sell their products these days, they have no choice but to abide by the demands that the big box retailers place on them. Perhaps that is about to change though, and the path to that change may be led by the same man who helped create the action figure collecting market all those years ago.

Yesterday, Todd McFarlane launched his very first crowd-sourcing Kickstarter campaign for a newly designed Spawn figure. A figure that pays tribute to the very first Spawn figure he did in the 90s. The Kickstarter has a funding goal of $100,000 over the course of 30 days. In just under 12 minutes of the Kickstarter going live yesterday, the figure surpassed that $100,000 goal. As I type this, the Kickstarter, which has been live for less than 24 hours, has obtained $716,034 in funding.

Now McFarlane isn’t the first person to look to something like Kickstarter to sell an action figure. He isn’t even the first major toy company to do it. In recent years, Hasbro launched their own crowdfunding website and sold several large and expensive type items straight to the consumer through it. Mattel tried their own variation of this concept for Masters of the Universe through their MattyCollector website, which lasted a number of years. Had Mattel put more emphasis on the customer service end of that operation, it probably would have been even more successful than it was.

Still when it comes to the world of action figures, I don’t think I have seen anyone have quite as much success with a crowdsourcing campaign as McFarlane seems to be having with his first. It really makes me wonder what this could mean for the future of how action figures targeted to the adult collector are sold. McFarlane himself has already touted if this first campaign was successful, it would allow him to get more of what collectors want into their hands by circumventing the big box stores.

Of course, until the final product is actually delivered into the hands of the consumer, it is hard to say how successful this will really be, but it definitely gives me some hope for the future of the hobby.

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My question is about the articulation. Ive seen other posts saying this figure was to have 20 points of articulation but nothing in these pictures show me anything other than the same statuesque pose that McFarlane is known for. 

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I've long thought the best way to "give collectors what they want" is to cut out the middle man and sell it directly to them. Hasbro tried something like this over a decade ago when they offered the last gasp of G.I. Joe at the time (what came to be known in the world of Joe collecting as "DTC" for "Direct To Consumer") through HasbroToyShop.com...and they apparently lost their shirt and had to clearance the stuff out. The problem is that toy collectors can be a fickle and cheap lot. If you make something readily available at a fair price, they tend to wait for clearance....and then pay ridiculous prices on the secondary market for it a year later. I don't know why they do this, but they do. It's goofy. So, seems like crowdfunding is the only way for these companies to cater to us specifically. They're essentially saying, "We'll do this for you, but only if enough of you prove you want it by prepaying."  Makes sense to me.

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Big box retailers has been obsolete since the last decade or so, here the only thing Big Mac has proven, if anything, is that the demand for the 7" is solid despite what the 6" cultists say...and that there are many people with more money than common sense, but this is just more or less like my opinion.

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Interesting points made all around. I think the direct to costumer method is really the only way to effectively release more detailed higher end figures. Companies in this way will not have to cater to the limitations of the big box retailers, they can offer a wide array of figures that would never be able to be offered through traditional retail through this avenue.


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I think the Four Horsemen proved this when they launched their Mythic Legions line through Kickstarter. Now they're 150+ figures in and have switched to a preorder model, but up to now, they were the most successful action figure kickstarter. Just proves your point that it most definitely is possible to circumvent the big boxes and still be highly successful.

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