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  1. I feel pretty confident in saying that if you were to ask almost any modern day G.I. Joe collector about their thoughts on trying to collect the new action figures from Hasbro’s once iconic brand, the response you would get is one of extreme frustration. While Hasbro owns G.I. Joe outright and always has, it’s a brand that in modern times has seemingly struggled to get a real foothold in the world of retail. Sure there have been a few times where we have seen a resurgence of the brand, most notably corresponding with the release of the two live action movies in 2009 and 2013. However, with neither of those movies catching on long-term with fans or kids alike, those resurgences were short-lived. Shortly after the release of G.I. Joe Retaliation, the brand appeared to go on life-support and essentially became a Toys R’ Us exclusive line, at least until the retailer here in the US went belly up in 2017. Then came 2020. Would this be the year G.I. Joe finally took back the limelight at Hasbro? A new live-action movie centering on Joe’s most publicly recognizable character Snake-Eyes was finally moving forward which gave Hasbro the incentive and leverage they needed to get retailers interested in carrying the brand on their shelves again. In the early days of 2020, I can honestly say collectors seemed genuinely excited for G.I. Joe again, even with word that Hasbro would be shifting its focus from the smaller classic 3 3/4” scale that made the brand so popular in the 80’s to the more modern day standard 6” one. During Toy Fair 2020, Hasbro officially debuted their new 6” G.I. Joe Classified line, and while not perfect, the overall response from fans was fairly positive. Sure there was a contingent of diehard 3 3/4” collectors in the fandom who were unhappy, which is why I am sure Hasbro attempted to throw them a bone with a limited “retro” line coming only to Walmart stores. Nevertheless, G.I. Joe was back at mass retail with a line that might even manage to rival the ever popular Marvel Legends brand. Fan optimism however for G.I. Joe was seemingly short-lived. We saw the initial wave of G.I. Joe Classified figures first start to hit retail in April 2020. Out of the gate, the big box retailers seemed to carry the figures in very limited numbers, which meant the figures were hard to find at places like Walmart and Target. Once word got out about how hard it was becoming to find these things at retail, the scalper and flipper elements of the hobby came out to quickly scoop up the limited supply to resell at what were often significant mark-up prices. Then in June, the first major mishap for the line happened mainly due to poor communication on Hasbro’s part. Fans where led to think an exclusive light blue version of the 6” Classified Cobra Commander figure was being offered through a relatively unknown (at least unknown in the world of action figure collecting) site called thentwrk.com. It turned out the Cobra Commander this thentwrk place was offering was the same dark blue Cobra Commander everyone would be selling in wave 2, and Hasbro for some reason decided to let these guys have first pre-order crack at it. Of course that info didn’t come to light until after thentwrk started taking pre-orders, which as I understand it didn’t go terribly smoothly in its own right. Later that month Hasbro officially announced the second wave of figures for the Classified line along with a few exclusives. We would be getting the Profit Director Destro that was released as a fan-channel exclusive and Arctic Storm Shadow which went to Amazon. By this time, word was starting to circulate that the Snake-Eyes movie which was originally slated for release in late 2020 was going to be pushed to a late 2021 release. This was due to the COVID pandemic that gripped the country shortly after the 2020 Toy Fair. With the movie now over a year away from release, that meant Hasbro would have a major gap in their product release schedule for the line as they shuffled to hold any planned Snake-Eyes movie-related products back to correspond with the new movie release date. Besides causing less product for Hasbro to release during the year, retail interest in G.I. Joe would also likely decline simply because now there would be no major entertainment backing the line for over a year. But it wasn’t until July 2020 that things really started to go downhill for fans when it came to G.I. Joe. Seemingly out of the blue, Hasbro announced late one night on its social media a new sub-line of Classified figures called G.I. Joe Missions: Cobra Island. These would be Classified figures with their own unique packaging that were sold exclusively at Target stores here in the US. Not only did this new exclusive line contain popular characters like Baroness and Beach Head, it also introduced the first army builder figure for the line with the Cobra Soldier. The very next morning, the figures went up for pre-order on Target’s website and instantaneously sold out, thanks in large part to scalpers who had found a way to use what is known as scalper bots to clean out a website’s inventory in seconds. While the regular release figures in the line continued to be hard to find at mass retail, these new Target exclusives were far worse and had become a scalper’s wet dream. Instantly, the secondary market prices on these figures skyrocketed. It’s now April 2021, and things haven’t gotten any better for Joe collectors. The regular release figures for the Classified line are still non-existent at the big box retailers. We’ve see 4 waves in the line released with the first wave even getting a re-release, and they are still non-existent at most Targets and Walmarts. The only saving grace with the regular release figures is that you can get them pretty easily if you are willing to purchase them from the smaller online etailers. However that usually means you have to wait longer to get them. For the Target exclusive Cobra Island figures, we’ve seen two waves released so far. Both waves included army builders and popular characters. Both waves have been nearly impossible to find at Target. If rumors are true then there is a third wave of Target exclusives coming which again will likely include an army builder and at least one major character like Major Bludd. This past week, Hasbro finally solicited its Snake-Eyes movie product as well as announcing the movie itself will be released a bit sooner than expected. The movie was slated for release in October 2021 but is now coming out in July. At first glance, you might think releasing the movie earlier is a good thing, but I am not so sure. It’s unclear if movie theaters will really be back in full swing by July due to COVID. A movie released later in the year is likely going to perform better at the box office than one during the summer this year, mainly because not as many people will have yet gotten their vaccine shots by July and therefore not yet feel comfortable going back into a movie theater. It seems to me Paramount took what they likely considered to be a more popular movie with the Tom Cruise Top Gun sequel and moved it from July 2021 to November 2021. They then took the Snake-Eyes movie and filled that hole in July left by Top Gun. So was this a move done because the studio has less confidence in Snake-Eyes performing well? Also announcing movie product when we have’t even seen a trailer is odd. There has been next to no marketing buzz created for Snake-Eyes up to this point. The new G.I. Joe movie Classified figures that Hasbro announced last week are still available for pre-order everywhere including Target. Target, where every non-movie Classified figure put up for pre-order has sold out in seconds, yet after a week all the movie Classified stuff is still available. Not a good sign if you ask me. Of course, Target probably ordered a lot more movie product than they did for any of the non-movie stuff. Hasbro invited a very small group of die-hard Joe fans to participate in a virtual Q&A roundtable this week, where they seemed to give very little in any kind of real info for the brand. They essentially punted the ball to June where said they would be making announcements in regards to Cobra Island figures and teasing the possibility of seeing some figures re-issued or re-released in some way. Rumors indicate that the next round of Cobra Island figures will include Major Bludd, Barbecue and possibly even the Cobra Alley Viper. They also said another round of 3 3/4” Retro Walmart exclusive figures were coming and teased the possibility of bringing O-Ring designed figures back if they were to see enough demand. Of course Hasbro has turned their backs on most 3 3/4” lines these days and can’t even bring back the modern designed 3 3/4” Joe figures beyond a few limited Walmart releases, so anyone thinking Hasbro is going put much effort in bringing back o-ring figures in any real way — I have some swamp land in Florida that Zartan no longer uses to sell you. Vehicles for the 6” line as well as a possible Haslab Joe project were teased as well in this Q&A. Of course, I would like to point out these are things Hasbro has been teasing since the line was first announced back in January 2019. Here is a thought. Let’s actually fix the problems with the distribution of the figures we already have before trying to tackle things like expensive vehicles or a Haslab project. As of right now Hasbro has released a total of 6 figures as Target exclusives: Beach Head, Roadblock v2, Cobra Soldier, Baroness, Firefly and Cobra Viper. They have released 12 non-movie regular release figures: Duke, Snake-Eyes, Scarlett, Roadblock, Destro, Gung-Ho, Red Ninja, Cobra Commander, Zartan, Cobra Soldier, Flint and Lady Jaye. They also released 2 versions of Snake-Eyes and Cobra Commander as Pulse exclusives: the Arctic Storm Shadow released at Amazon and the fan-channel Profit Destro. So out of the 24 figures in this line that have been released so far, half of them have been released as some kind of hard to get exclusive with more exclusives likely to come. We also have 5 Snake-Eyes movie Classified figures along with a bunch of other movie product for the kids coming that likely will be taking up limited big box retail shelf space for the rest of the year. This is all for a movie that, if we are being honest, is not showing great signs of being a strong box office performer. Yeah, me pointing these things out and questioning the limited info that is put out by Hasbro is probably why I don’t get invited to these Q&A sessions anymore. Because you wouldn’t want to hold an actual press Q&A with you know — press. Like all of you, I will watch with bated breath for whatever news Hasbro has for us during YoJoe June. But based on their current track record with this brand, I can’t say I am holding out a lot of optimism for things to get better. Maybe Hasbro will ask us to pay $50 premium membership fees to have a better chance at buying some of this stuff, then act like we should be thankful for that????
  2. The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by Chip Carroll in this editorial do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of TNI. Diary of a Toy Hunter By Paul Schifferli Some claimed me positively insane, and perhaps they were indeed correct. For you would have to truly be a man sinking into the depths of madness to attempt to hunt the game that I had set my sights on. Truly, the most dangerous and elusive of game: The NECA Summer Convention Exclusives… Day 1: My sojourn began on a day beset by rain. Some might have taken this as an ill-omen, but I refused to let the superstitions of weaker-minded individuals hold me back. I set out early during the day. The first spot where my quarry could potentially be found was a mere five miles from my home base. The locals there appeared unhappy and only begrudgingly welcomed me. Although, that is to be suspected of the people of Wal-Mart. They are not a contented people, and who can blame them? The conditions of their emporium were poor, filthy, understaffed, and as a result, understocked. But this was the only place where the elusive game could be found. In particular, I was seeking out the one that went by the name of “City Demon”. My first stop proved fruitless. There was nothing there of any interest for me. Well, a skilled hunter is one who maintains his patience and knows that the most highly prized game is usually not so easily won. I travelled to the next hunting ground, which was roughly a twenty-mile excursion from the previous one. My spirits were admittedly slightly lowered at my prospects. I tried to remain positive, but with all the troubles that plague a veteran toy hunter, it was difficult. Even standard game was likely to be poached by scalpers if they felt they could make a decent profit. But the game I had in mind… It was the proverbial Hope Diamond to scalpers, at least the most current one. My next stop was another failure, but it was not entirely in vain. While visiting my second stop, I did encounter both the Masters of the WWE Universe Undertaker and The Rock. Smaller game than what I was hunting for, but they were definitely within my purview. I secured them quickly, before any other hunter, or worse, scalper might lay hands on them. My spirits had been somewhat raised by my success, so I elected to visit the Target emporium directly across the street from the Wal-Mart I was currently in. I much preferred hunting within the confines of Target. The locals are far more pleasant, the area is cleaner and far more well-organized, and it makes for a more enjoyable hunt. The only downside is that they are far less numerous than Wal-Marts. And jubilation! My decision to embark into this territory, despite knowing I would not find the game I truly sought, paid off. I was fortunate to come across an Ultimate Flasher Gremlin, a lesser, yet still highly desired game I was seeking. Naturally, I claimed it as my own and decided to call this day a mild success. There were other Wal-Mart emporiums I could visit, but they were even further out of the way, and I was satisfied with the quarry I tracked down on this day. Day 2: Damnation! I had decided to wait two days until attempting the hunt again in earnest, and upon visiting my first Wal-Mart emporium, I discovered two of the Glow-in-the-dark Xenomorphs, part of the Summer Convention Exclusives. Naturally, I was furious with myself at my lackadaisical approach to the hunt. Naturally, there were no City Demons in sight. There wasn’t even a single Summer Games Stripe to ease the sting of my failure. The others were most likely claimed by scalpers, the bane of any toy hunter’s existence. Unlike the rest of us hunters, who have a true passion for our game, they only hunt for monetary gain. While this development did dishearten me, it also inspired me. If this location had received the Summer Convention Exclusives, then it was altogether possible that the other Wal-Mart locations might have received them as well. There may still yet be a chance! I decided to forgo checking the other hunting ground toy aisle in this Wal-Mart and hastened to the next nearest emporium. Alas, there was no Summer Convention exclusives there whatsoever. Either they had all been poached, or this location had not yet been stocked. I decided to question one of the locals, but received an ambivalent response. Not that I was surprised. As I had mentioned before, the Wal-Mart locals were a miserable breed and had no desire to assist travelers of any creed. I ventured out to the next Wal-Mart location, and the next, but always I found that the hunting grounds were barren. Could it be that I was destined to fail? I say nay! I will not be bested just yet. Today was an unfortunate failure, but tomorrow is another opportunity. Day 3: The first two Wal-Mart emporiums were again bereft of any meaningful game. However, upon moving to the third closest hunting ground, I came across a highly coveted specimen, in the wild. That’s right, it was the NECA Casey Jones and Raphael 2-Pack. My readers, let me tell you, it was truly a beautiful sight to behold in the wild. A pristine package, unblemished by any scuffs, tears or wrinkles, lovingly sculpted definition. A prime specimen, if I may say so. However, it was not the game that I sought. And I was no scalper. I would leave this one to its place and the wild. Unfortunately, that could mean that it would fall into the slimy, disgusting hands of a scalper, but that is sadly the nature of the hunt. I left it, hoping it would be found by a fellow hunter like myself, and continued my search elsewhere. Sadly, dear readers, it was not to be. There were no Summer Convention Exclusives to be found that day. I was beginning to lose morale rapidly. It seemed more and more that this was becoming a veritable Snipe Hunt. Day 4: Last Day of the Hunt. Jubilation! My dear readers, it would appear that the Lady of Fortune was with me this day. My first two stops were abject disappointments, as one might expect from this sort of hunt. But, and I know you are waiting with positively bated breath, it was on the visit to the third Wal-Mart emporium that I clapped eyes on them. Yes, my friends…Them… Standing there, majestically, in the open plains of the entertainment section of the Wal-Mart, was not only the City Demon, but also the Summer Games Stripe. There was only one of each specimen, and my friend, I can assure that I made absolutely sure that it was I that claimed them. So, to my fellow hunters out there that dream of great things… To you I say, never give in to the Specter of Defeat. You are only defeated when you say it so. My trophies are proof of what I say. And to all of you out there…except for you poaching scalpers, I say, Good Hunting! Contact: ppschifferli@gmail.com Author’s Short Story Blog: https://ramistobin.wordpress.com/
  3. Every day I look around, whether it’s on my own site message boards or various social media pages, what I generally see are a lot of frustrated and even angry action figure collectors. There are a number of reasons for this including the fact that the world itself just hasn’t been a terribly fun place this past year or so. Sticking specifically to the world of action figure collecting however, most of the things that seem to be frustrating collectors the most can be traced back to two sources, Walmart and Target. Now before we go any further, I want to note that I don’t have any solutions to these problems, and in fact we may very well be past the point of no return. My point for writing this article isn’t to tell you how we can fix these things, because I honestly don’t know. However I do want to try to help people understand how we came to this point based on my own observations having covered this industry, the toy manufacturers, and the people who make up the hobby for the last 20+ years. That being said, this is all just my own personal opinion, and while I have often gotten looks behind the current of this industry that many of you reading probably have not, I am still just someone looking in from the outside. One other quick point I want to state before we go on is that everything I talk about here is in regards to the US market. There are other factors at play that effect markets outside the US, and I know many of those who live outside the US have their own frustrations to deal with, but for today I am only focusing on those in the US. Ok, so next let me clearly state what I see as the number one cause frustrating most collectors today. Lack of product availability. The irony is that in the past couple years we are actually seeing some of the coolest action figure-based products being made by the toy manufacturers since I started covering the hobby, but that just compounds the frustration collectors feel when they can’t actually find the products on shelf. Now, I think it’s fair to point out that in some cases it’s not necessarily real lack of availability, but a perceived one. Or it’s a lack of availability only in some locations. For this point I want to use Hasbro’s G.I. Joe Classified line as a prime example. Setting aside the exclusives for that line, I often hear people complaining about not being able to find the figures, even the regular release ones. Well that’s just not true. Yes, finding G.I. Joe Classified figures on shelves at places like Target and Walmart can be a challenge, but those regular releases are easily obtainable online at the small etailers, even the army builder figures which retailers have the ability to order solid cases of. The biggest downside going that route however is you usually have to wait longer. Almost always, these things start showing up at the big box retailers even if only in limited capacity. Still, once something starts to show up at the big box retailer, you then start to see those who usually are willing to hit those stores up daily finding the items and then posting pictures of them on their social media. You’re sitting there waiting patiently for your pre-order to arrive in the mail and then you see all these other people finding the stuff in stores. Of course then you go to the store and all you end up finding is NOTHING. That in turn creates frustration. Eventually you are going to get your figure, but nobody likes waiting. Still, there are action figures that are truly almost impossible to get your hands on unless you are willing to go to extreme measures to get them, and generally those are the figures that have the word “EXCLUSIVE” attached to them. I would say the word EXCLUSIVE has become one of the most hated words in the action figure collector’s vocabulary. EXCLUSIVES have always been part of the hobby, but there is no denying in recent years they have become more and more common. Seems like more figures today get released as a store EXCLUSIVE than not. And if it’s not a straight up EXCLUSIVE then it’s a LIMITED EXCLUSIVE. A LIMITED EXCLUSIVE is when a certain store is given first crack at the product. They get to sell it for a certain period of time before any other retailer is allowed to sell it or even take pre-orders for it. In the past year this practice of LIMITED EXCLUSIVES has become more and more common, and not from just one toy manufacturer. Whether it’s Hasbro, Mattel, Jazwares, McFarlane Toys, or NECA, they are all doing it. And of course it’s not the small guy who gets these EXCLUSIVES, it’s Walmart and Target. I know most of you reading this probably look at this in regards to just not being able to get the action figure you want, which is a legit concern, but I look at the bigger picture. These tactics of having all these EXCLUSIVES or LIMITED EXCLUSIVES seem to have one primary purpose. Putting the small retailer out of business. Now I don’t think the toy manufacturers really want to put the small retailer out of business, but I do think Walmart and Target do. Where I fault the toy manufacturers in this, is that they seem perfectly willing go along with these tactics, which is probably because they don’t want to upset their biggest customers which are Walmart and Target. Now before we go any further, this is another point I feel needs to be made, because I see a lot of confusion about it. In general, you as the individual collector are not the manufacturer’s primary customer. When you buy a Hasbro action figure from a retailer, your money doesn’t go to Hasbro. It goes to the retailer you bought that action figure from. Hasbro’s customer is that retailer. The retailer buys the inventory they sell from the manufacturer. By the time you see that Hasbro action figure on shelf, Hasbro has already made their money. So keeping that in mind, which retailers do you think purchase the most product from the manufacturers? If your answer is Walmart and Target, then I would say you would be correct. Even though Walmart and Target aren’t carrying action figures in the numbers we the individual collectors would like to see, they are still ordering far more inventory than any of the online toy etailers. In fact you could probably combine the order numbers of all the toy etailers together, and my guess is that it would fall short of what Target and Walmart order. Also let’s not forget companies like Hasbro and Mattel make more than just action figures, which they rely on the Walmarts and Targets to sell. The only online store that probably comes anywhere close to being able to order as much product as Walmart and Target is Amazon. This grip Walmart and Target have had on the toy industry has gotten steadily worse over the years, but became even worse when Toys R’ Us went out of business. So now that we are clear on who is really the biggest customers of these toy manufacturers, when those customers go to the manufacturers and say we want all these exclusives or first access to your product, do you really think the manufacturer is going to say no and risk pissing off those customers??? Of course not. And yes, money talks and BS walks. Welcome to the world of business. Now that’s not to say the toy manufacturer isn’t doing everything within their power to try and convince Walmart and Target to carry more of their products. Anyone who really thinks that Hasbro doesn’t want collectors to be able to walk into their local Target and see their products overflowing on shelves is crazy. The more product those retailers order the more money that goes into Hasbro’s pockets. Look at NECA, we have definitely started to see some improvement when it comes to their TMNT Target exclusives. It’s still not great but has gotten better, which I am sure is thanks to NECA doing what they can to get Target to carry more of it. I do think the toy manufacturers are just digging their own graves long-term as they continue to blindly cater to Walmart and Target. Eventually Walmart and Target are going to have a complete monopoly on the toy market, and at that point in my view it’s ENDGAME, especially for this hobby. Other than the occasional lip-service, I don’t think Target and Walmart are ever going to truly take the adult action figure collector demographic seriously or be willing to cater to it that much. Walmart launched an action figure collector section on their website last year, but then shipped collector-oriented products out in bags or small boxes so they often get damaged in transit. That’s assuming you can actually buy them online. So the next logical question you should be asking yourself is, why aren’t Target and Walmart willing to order more inventory? Why don’t they take the adult action figure collector demographic more seriously? Why does it seem to be such a struggle for the manufacturers to get these stores to carry their stuff in greater numbers? Well the simple and most obvious answer to me is the numbers aren’t there. These retailers aren’t basing their order numbers on social media comments, they base them on sales data, and the unfortunate reality is that I don’t think the data supports ordering large numbers of inventory. I would say the data suggests that these retailers should order small, and then if a particular item shows an increased demand, go back and re-order more of it. This of course then takes longer time for the item to show up in greater numbers. From the retailer stand point, my guess is they think its better to order conservatively to ensure they sell through their initial inventory than ordering large numbers and being stuck with unsold inventory that collects dust and eventually goes on clearance. You know when you sit there waiting for stuff to go on clearance because you don’t want to pay full price. Well short term that may be a good strategy for your wallet, and we’ve probably all done it. Long term however it sends a message to the retailers that they shouldn’t be ordering larger numbers of the stuff. So why the exclusives? If there aren’t that many collectors out there, why bother carrying it at all, let alone to do it exclusively? Well keep in mind I didn’t say there wasn’t money to be made here. It’s probably a drop in the bucket for Walmart and Target’s overall bottom line, but that’s not to say there isn’t money being made. The main purpose of an exclusive is to get you in the doors of the store. It doesn’t matter if you find the exclusive or not. Once you are in the store, the general thought is you will likely end up buying something. That’s a sale they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. In fact it works out better for the retailer if you don’t actually find the exclusive, because that means you will be back to try and find it another day. Scarcity in its own right also creates artificial demand. If you as the consumer think something is easy to get, you are less likely to make it a priority to go out and buy. In fact if you think it’s going to sit on the shelf you may wait for it to go on clearance. When it’s deemed “hard to get”, you are out there hunting for it, sometimes daily, and the moment you see it you buy it. Sometimes you may even find your self buying something you otherwise would not, simply because it’s hard to get. How many times have you focused more on the hunt thinking it’s something you just have to have, and then after you finally get it, the item just sits there on the shelf where you barely think about it again? I know that has happened to me from time to time. Another factor of when the perceived value of something is artificially inflated with these tactics is that it brings out the scalper element of the hobby, which sadly I think has become a sizable portion of the collector demographic. I don’t want to go down the scalper rabbit hole in this article since that is a subject that can easily fill an entire article of its own. But I think it’s important to note that a sale is a sale in the eye of the retailer, regardless of what the final intentions of the buyer is for that product. As I mentioned above, I do feel many of these things long-term will have detrimental effects on this hobby and the manufacturers making these toys. Short-term from a business perspective I can totally understand needing to cater to your largest customers, but long-term I see it is just digging a hole that eventually the manufacturers will never be able to get out of. The more frustrating it is for collectors to find stuff, the more collectors will leave the hobby never to return. Instead of growing a small demographic into a large one, you are just making it smaller to a point where eventually there will be little to no one left.
  4. There is no denying that the hobby of action figure collecting is facing a bit of a crisis with scalping these days. More and more, collectors find it difficult to get their hands on the products toy manufacturers are producing at reasonable prices. First, let’s clearly define what a scalper is in the context of this problem. A scalper is someone (or someones) who buy all or most the product they can find at regular retail with the intent of reselling it at a marked up price for profit. The mark up is generally double the original price, although items perceived as high demand sometimes can be marked up even more. eBay is the most common place the scalpers go to resell their stuff. Scalpers have always been around and frankly always will be around as long as perceived demand for an item exceeds supply. However, as toy manufacturers turn more and more to store exclusives and technologies like online bots that allow scalpers to clean out website stock in seconds improve, the scalper problem is only getting worse. So what can be done about it? Seeing toy manufacturers quit giving stores so many exclusives would be nice, but such an expectation in today’s limited retail landscape is seemingly neither practical or realistic. Toy Manufacturers increasingly are beholden to their largest customers, which are the Target’s and Walmart’s of the world, especially when talking about the larger companies like Hasbro. Expecting them to turn their backs on the big box retailers is like expecting someone who has been wandering the desert for days to turn away a canteen filled with water. It would be suicide for them to do it. Seeing the big box retailers implement counter-technology on their websites to prevent the scalper bots from cleaning out inventory or putting in place policies that limit purchase quantities to one or two would be cool, but also is unlikely. First, implementing new website countermeasures means the retailer has to spend money to update the websites. Second, it’s really not in their best interest if something like an exclusive is easy to find. To understand why I say that, you first have to really understand why these stores want the exclusives in the first place. The primary reason for making highly sought items an exclusive is to pull you through their doors. They really don’t care if you find said exclusive. In fact, it’s counter-productive if you find the exclusive on your first trip. If you have to keep coming back to the store multiple times, so much the better. The idea is browsing - once you are in the store, you will buy something. Also, a sale is a sale, whether the buyer is a scalper or a collector. The whole psychological impact of the perception that something is rare and valuable is another bonus for them. In my view, collecting (really anything) taps into the addictive impulses of wanting something others don’t have. The harder-to-get something is perceived the more people want it, hence the increased demand for an item that might not otherwise be there. It’s not really logical, but it is human nature. Now I can’t sit here and tell you retailers are deliberately keeping inventory low on these exclusives so you can’t find them, but you certainly can see the benefit to them if something is harder to find, causing you time and again to come to them for what you seek. So if we can’t really count on the toy manufacturers or the big box retailers to fix the problem, where do we collectors go from here? Well, the answer is simple and difficult all at the same time. As I mentioned before, perceived demand of limited supply will always create profiteers. So the goal is simple. Don’t let them profit. If collectors quit buying toys from scalpers, the scalper will be left with unsold inventory. Like with any retail business, if your inventory doesn’t move then you go out of business. A scalper is only going to scalp something if they think they have a fair chance of reselling that item at a marked up price. If they are not able to sell an item for more than what they paid, they will move on. In fact, if they have to sit on lots of unsold inventory for any significant period of time, eventually they will be forced to discount the stuff just to clear it out. Now the tricky part is getting people to quit buying from scalpers. It sound easy, but it’s not really. No matter how many times you hear people say “don’t feed the scalpers”, there are always those who seem to do just that. Of course, there is no way to force people not to buy from scalpers. So once again, how do we go about fixing the problem? Honestly, I don’t think a silver bullet solution exists, and we will likely never completely fix the problem. But here are a few easy recommendations that may help reduce the problem. 1. First and foremost, remember these are just action figures. If you don’t get it, the world isn’t going to end. Yes, collecting can be an addiction, but don’t let it rule your life. Be willing to walk away if you need to. 2. Remember, you really do have the ultimate power with your wallet. You can’t stop a determined scalper from buying stuff, but if they can’t sell it at a profit they will have no choice but to stop buying it. It’s all about supply and demand, and while we have little control over the supply side of the equation, we do have significant control on the demand side. 3. As collectors we all are in this together - and as with anything, the more united we are, the stronger we are. Don’t let your frustration turn to anger. Look to each other for help in finding stuff. Create networks where you can share information like area reports or even obtain toys for one another at cost. If we make the hobby less about the physical items themselves and more about the relationships and friendships that can be built while collecting these things, it will bring the fun back even if you end up missing out on a figure here or there.
  5. While many conventions and event’s have already been canceled or postponed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we still await word of what will be happening with the largest pop culture related convention in the world, San Diego Comic Con. An announcement for SDCC is expected as early as next week, and it’s not looking good. Already the Anaheim, CA based WonderCon convention, put on by the same people as San Diego, was canceled. It originally was to take place this weekend. Honestly, if you have been following the pandemic and its effects on our society since early March, I think you could probably have figured San Diego wasn’t going to happen this year, despite the convention organizers trying to put up a positive front until recently. I am sure there will be plenty of negative impact on the various industries and local businesses that have come to use this convention for their various purposes, and certainly there will be many convention goers out there who will be disappointed that San Diego won’t be happening this year. First let me just say I do feel sympathy for all of them. However I will tell you, I am not one of those people who will be terribly upset if the convention doesn’t happen this year. From the standpoint of my own small business that tries to cover the world of action figures, I will even be a bit relieved if it is canceled. You see I have been covering San Diego Comic Con for almost 20 years for my small network of websites that mostly focus on the world of action figures and collectibles, long before the convention was the huge juggernaut it is today. After all, aside from the New York Toy Fair, SDCC is the biggest event of the year to showcase new product from the various action figure companies including Hasbro, Mattel and many, many others. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that covering SDCC has been a must for a business like mine. Covering San Diego Comic Con has never been a cheap endeavor. In the early days, I also worked another full time job. So that meant I had to take a week off from that job to fly out from the east coast to the west coast, which was expensive in its own right. Then of course you had to get a hotel fairly close to the convention center. Even in those days, that also was not cheap — it’s much worse now. Still it was worth the effort and expense to do it, because the news generated lots of traffic for the websites. Each year however, especially in recent years, I can tell you that the benefits of covering this convention have gone down while the expenses and hassle have gone up. First, getting a decent hotel in remote proximity to the convention at any kind of affordable price for a small business like mine becomes more and more of a challenge. Even things like renewing your press badge each year seem to get more and more difficult. Still if the benefits where there, the hassle and expense would be worth it. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. In large part, it’s the toy manufacturers themselves that have reduced the benefits of covering this convention. Each year they seem to take more and more steps to undercut sites like mine. Used to be the toy manufactures would release a few teasers of new product to the corporate media websites as exclusives, which was a little annoying, but understandable. There were still plenty of reveals to be had and opportunities for sites like mine to bring readers the detailed coverage those corporate sites weren’t willing to bother with, simply because it wasn’t worth their time. Each year though that becomes less and less. If it’s not the corporate media sites getting the exclusive reveals, then the manufacturers are putting it out on their own various social media platforms or websites well before we are given an opportunity to cover it ourselves. For the best example of this, just look at this past year’s Toy Fair where Hasbro exclusively live-streamed their panel product presentation on their Facebook page, not even allowing the stream to be embedded anywhere else. I honestly could have covered Hasbro’s Toy Fair reveals better and faster sitting at home at no additional expense than I was able to do sitting in their showroom. Even things like interviews can generally be done much better over conference calls than in the overcrowded and loud showrooms these conventions provide. I can tell you well before COVID-19 reared it’s ugly head and the possibility of SDCC not happening this year remotely entered my mind, I was seriously contemplating not attending this convention for the first time in 20 years. From a business stand point, I am sad to say that the cost of covering this event is no longer justifiable to the benefit it provides. I honestly can’t tell you what the overall impact of the convention not happening will be. I am sure it will be devastating to the local businesses in San Diego that depend on the increased foot traffic SDCC brings in. As for the product reveals and exclusives, I am sure those will still come from most companies. It just will likely be exclusively online. For those who don’t attend the convention, this probably will give them more opportunities to grab up those hard-to-get exclusives. As I said before, I truly feel for those who will be negatively impacted if SDCC doesn’t happen this year, but from the standpoint of my own personal business, I can tell you I am perfectly okay with not having to make the trip this year.
  6. 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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