TNI Editorial: Is This The End Of The Road For Action Figure Collectors?!?

by Jay Cochran
March 30, 2017
By JayC

More and more I find myself asking, “Is it the end of the road for of my hobby of action figure collecting?” I have been covering the world of action figures for almost 17 years, and if I had a penny every time I heard someone complain about the rising prices of action figures… well, I could probably afford to buy all the action figures I cover. Are we finally reaching that tipping point of the cost, however justifiable, outweighing people’s desire to own these figures? The reality is that the retail cost of these figures in today’s market is only going up not down.

There are many reasons why the cost for action figures has gone up so much. General inflation has always been a factor in almost everything we purchase. When I was a kid, I remember buying a comic book for $0.25, and those who are older probably remember buying them for $0.10. Nowadays a comic book can easily cost $3-$5. The same can be said about action figures. When Toy Biz first started making highly articulated 6” Marvel Legends back in 2002, the figures on average would cost $7-$9 each. Now they go for a minimum of $20 and other 6” collector oriented lines that don’t have access to big box retail stores can cost between $25-$30 since they have smaller distribution numbers. In manufacturing the more you can produce, the bigger the discount you get from the factory that produces them. Other things that factor into the rising costs are the cost of oil and plastic, shipping costs and just the fact that less retail stores are selling these figures than 10 years ago. The disappearance of most music and movie stores in the last decade had a big impact on that front.

Overall demand is another factor. While the adult action figure market has arguably grown over the last 10 years, the larger demographic of kids and their parents who would also buy action figures has continued to dwindle as more and more kids turn to electronic devices at a younger age for their entertainment needs instead of toys. Large toy companies, in a vain effort to retain some of that younger demographic, have moved to cheapen the quality of their toys by removing articulation, accessories and detailed paint applications. Of course this makes those toys far less appealing to the adult collector market, and whenever a company tries to offset cost with reduced quality, collectors are often quick to criticize and condemn the action.

So what is the answer? There likely will always be collectors willing to pay more money for high quality action figures, however many simply cannot afford to do so. So as costs rise, the overall demand likely will continue to shrink.

Many independent toy companies have turned to strategies like fan funding for their figures. Kickstarter campaigns have become quite popular in recent years, but in truth this is just another form of pre-order. Companies like Boss Fight Studio and the Four Horsemen Studios have become masters at it, but they are making very small production runs of mostly independent toy lines or small brands that don’t have hefty licensing fees like Star Wars, Marvel or DC lines. Larger companies would never survive on this small production size.

We have seen larger companies in recent years turn to direct product sales to consumers via in-house online stores. The most notable and biggest company to do this was Mattel with their now defunct MattyCollector store. For the first time, big name lines like Masters Of The Universe were circumventing mass retail stores and selling directly to consumers on a mostly pre-order basis. The figures would cost more than at regular retail, but fans initially seemed content with the price hike to get obscure characters in a line they grew up on. However, constant customer service mishaps with Mattel’s contracted shipping company plagued the store and the line from its inception. Instead of being a beacon of hope to collectors, Mattel often seemed to become the embodiment of their anger. It also was questionable how profitable the online store ever was for the company. My theory was that Mattel was willing to make MOTUC figures at cost or low profit for now in the hope a big-budget movie eventually would come, allowing Mattel to use the molds now paid for by collectors to make a highly profitable movie line sold at mass retail. The movie never happened and likely never will; now Mattel has sold off the Masters of the Universe license to a much smaller company in Super7. They to will be selling Masters of the Universe figures on a pre-order basis, but it remains to be seen how well the company will actually do with the line.

Could technology be the answer with 3D Printing? Every year, technology seems to become more and more user and cost friendly. Could we one day see companies sell the designs of their figures to collectors to print at home?

Or is the answer simply these lines and this hobby will cease to exist?


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