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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.
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.
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.