I’ve been collecting action figures for close to twenty years now. Superheroes, movie characters, sci-fi, fantasy. It grew out of the love I had for comic books I had since I was four years old.
Now I’m starting to fall out of love with the hobby.
Why? Because I’m seeing the same type of dishonest business practices being applied by toy manufacturers, retailers, and toy licensors that made me stop collecting comic books almost twenty years ago.
Greed has now become the standard of business in the collector’s action figure market. While there were always elements of it from douchey Toy scalpers, and unethical comic shop owners, now these chicanerous business practices are creeping into the toy market on the manufacturing side. Instead of being about the characters, and making the best product possible, it’s becoming more and more about the money. Action figure waves padded with miscellaneous and insignificant characters to complete a build-a figure, spotty retail distribution, high prices ($20 for a single action figure is outrageous at retail) have me feeling that I’m just being jerked around by companies like Mattel and Hasbro.
This greed is what turned me off from collecting comics. The price spikes, the spotty distribution, and poor quality product all made me walk away from the comic book industry in 1995.
And now these same greedy elements are making me head for the door with action figures.
As much as I love these characters and their stories, I want nothing to do with greed. Greed sucks the fun out of a hobby. It makes collecting all about making money, not enjoying the characters. Moreover, when speculators enter a hobby it starts being about driving the price higher and not about sharing a pastime with friends and family and getting them to see what you enjoy from these characters and their stories.
The way I see it the collector action figure market is headed down the same bad road as the comic book industry in the 1990’s. That hobby was a lot of fun for me until publishers and retailers all started getting greedy and acting like a bunch of dicks.
At the height of the speculator boom back in the early to mid 1990’s comic book publishers saturated the market with more comic books retailers could sell and customers could possibly buy or care about. As they pandered to speculators looking to make money, readers like myself lost interest and moved on when we saw quality declining.
And just like I saw comics drowning the racks at the shops and the vendor tables, I’m starting to see collector action figure product drowning the pegs of K-Mart, Target, and Toys R’ Us on my trips to the toy store. Superheroes, Movie characters, Superhero movie characters, Sci-fi characters, and fantasy characters. None of this stuff is moving. Some of it has been on the shelf for a year. Some of it close to two years. And some of it has been there for three years.
Even on eBay collector toys like DC Universe Classics are starting to languish. I’m seeing collector figures go unsold after multiple repeat auctions or go for prices below retail carded and loose.
Long-term on this road I see retailers becoming alienated by collector toys the same way mom-and pop stores, supermarkets and drugstores were when they found themselves drowning in comic books they couldn’t return and couldn’t get rid of at the lowest of clearance prices.
And regular retail isn’t like the comic shop where product can languish for years on pegs while the shop owner speculates on whether their value goes up or down. Retailers like Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and drugstores like CVS and Rite Aid don’t want to sit on product for a year. They need product to move in a quarter. If product doesn’t move they clearance it.
And if it doesn’t move after that, then the next season they cut down on the shelf space for said types of product. Or they insist that manufacturers like Mattel offer different products in those slots they pay for that sell like Monster High, Barbie Ben 10, and WWE.
Or worse in the case of small mom and pop drugstores, they remove the toy aisles and replace them with stuff like Legg’s, pantyhose, coloring books, romance novels, craft items like paint, modeling clay, and glitter that appeal to women and smaller children.
Long-term this collector action figure flood could cripple the hobbled comic book industry even further. Licensing and merchandising was one of the bright spots of the comic book industry; it was the way conglomerates like Time Warner and Disney justified the losses they accrued on the printing of comic books. It was the way many characters gained any presence and exposure at retail outside of a comic shop or online retailer.
Now those revenue streams look like they’re starting to decline due to excessive product in the marketplace. And long-term with no licensing revenue to offset those printing costs, we could be seeing the end of an era when it comes to comic books and comic related products.
With the recent manufacturer product line padding, product saturation, and price spikes, it looks like things are coming to a close for me with action figures. And just like in 1995, I feel it’s time to move on from another hobby I once loved.
What’ll be my next hobby? This self-publishing thing is a lot of fun for me. Maybe I’ll do that for the next twenty years. At least I know no one will be speculating on the value of a book I publish.