Thoughts on toy prices

As mentioned in our big birthday post the other day, we're continuing to work our way forward from the beginning of the site, updating old reviews so they look more modern. Reviews like Marvel Select "Origin" Wolverine.

Updating these reviews is about improving the pictures and the formatting, not re-writing them, meaning we have to see a lot of the dumb things we said years ago and which we may no longer agree with.

But what's really interesting is when we mention prices, allowing us to clearly demonstrate how inflation works. Usually it's in the context of "look at how expensive this toy is," and then we name some price that seems like a complete bargain today. Like the fact that KB Toys sold McFarlane's Alien Queen for a whopping $25 when it was new.

Which brings us back to Wolverine. While editing it, yo's comments about the relative prices of Marvel Legends and Marvel Select brought up an interesting comparison. Here, have a chart:

2003 2015
Marvel Legends $7 $20
Marvel Select $20 $25

In the past dozen years, ML prices have basically tripled, while MS has only increased 25%. That's a very inconsistent rate of inflation. Is Diamond doing something right, or were they overcharging us before? Or is Hasbro grossly overcharging us now?

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5 Responses to Thoughts on toy prices

  1. Noy Tazi says:

    They're two different markets. DST's specialty market has always had lower production numbers and larger mark-ups from those retailers. But despite the specialty retailer bust, DST has more retailers now than ever before. That's helped them stabilize prices over the years. And because online retailers don't pay mall rent, they're not marking things up as much. Specialty thus tends to be a better value now than a decade ago.

    Mass retail, though, is more or less "these people are selling a similar product for X, we can sell them for X as well." Mattel managed to get DCUC up to $20 before the line buckled. Hasbro took that price for Legends. Then Funko took that price for Legacy. It's not so much they have to charge $20. But if they don't charge $20, they're taking money off the table that they know they can get. It's perceived value inflation, not price inflation, which, ironically, is why a Legends figure a decade ago for $9 felt like it had a lot more value.

    Both types of manufacturers blame China up and down for everything. Blame oil prices up and down for everything. But they're still getting bargains on the production side relative to what they sell to retailers for, and what retailers actually charge us. I can understand small manufacturers being more cost sensitive and having to raise prices by a dollar or two every few years to manage costs and keep customers. But Mattel and Hasbro have absolutely no production-side reason to charge more other than their knowledge that people will pay that extra to get something they like from a popular brand. Yes, they have licensing fees, but they make so much on volume off something like Spider-Man that even 20% royalty demands aren't bad compared to the 80% they get to keep off sales.

    If it's popular, why not charge more for it? I think that, more than any other factor, is what's driving prices higher.

  2. Friginator says:

    At the risk of sounding snobby, I can't believe you guys are still buying Marvel Legends I mean, I knew Rustin was still buying them, and that yo bought a fair amount, but I just can't see it. Sloppy paint, very few sculpted details (depending on the figure, but mostly just paint, or in some cases, not enough paint), BAFs that are no longer the worthwhile pieces they were ten years ago, and reused sculpt after reused sculpt? Just to put this out there, I'd say off the top of my head my (new) toy purchases for the last few years has gone towards 30% NECA, 30% DC Collectibles, 30% Bandai "arts", 8% Diamond and 2% novelties and impulse buys. The last Hasbro product I bought was a piece of Ultimate Green Goblin off of eBay. Mattel or Hasbro--I don't care at this point. Overpriced stuff that doesn't deserve to be part of the adult collector market.

    • monkey boy says:

      At this point I'm almost only in ML for the BAFs. I usually just unload the BAF-less figures for half price on the bay. There are usually 1-2 figures I really want in any given wave…

      However, the recent Spider-man wave was almost all figures I really wanted. I think like 4 out of 6 were figures I was happy to keep. The Chameleon that you could turn into JJJ or Hammerhead, the awesome Kraven, the best Ghost Rider figure (that's saying something considering we got like 4 MLs and a movie line to judge)…every now and then they knock it out of the park.

      However, a lot of times it does seem like they're surviving on the strength of BAFs. 99% repainted figures I've never heard of with a new head…that's a lot of ML these days.

  3. Oldtimer says:

    I agree with Toy Nazi about production numbers being stable for Select but the change in production numbers for MLs makes a huge difference.

    They are, and always have been a niche product with low production runs. As a result the (relatively) fixed costs of toy making are distributed over a small number of figures. Lets say paying the sculptor, the factory to do the resculpt at production size, cutting in articulation, making molds, hiring lawyers for contracts, designing packaging, bribes, etc. costs $15,000. Lets also say that DST has a production run of 1,000 (then and now). So then $15 covers the fixed costs and $5 went to plastic, paint, shipping, packaging, and profit. Currently it would be $10 for those things- accounting for more expensive shipping and plastic.

    In the case of MLs, (as far as I know) there has been a massive decrease in sales numbers (usually blamed on lack of interest from kids in action figures). Lets say their fixed costs were also $15,000 (more molds, less time/attention from sculptors?). But they were selling, say, 7,500 of a figure; now they sell 2,000. Back when they were $7, the fixed costs ate $2 leaving $5 for plastic, shipping, profit etc. Now at $20 each, $7.50 goes to fixed costs and 12.50 goes to plastic, shipping, profit.

    So using these arbitrary numbers, the variable costs (and profits) per MS increased 100% while MLs went up 150%, which is not as crazy. No, you are right, this doesn't count for the loss of bases, shrinking BAFs, body re-use, or how "ToyBiz MLs were awesome and Hasbro MLs suck"

    TLDR: I blame videogames.

  4. BanzaiBoB says:

    Yowch. Believe me I feel the pain of increasing prices. Add a falling South African Rand and I'm hurting a lot more in the pocket than a year ago. My BBTS orders used to be around the $200 mark (with shipping) with the Rand at about 10 to the dollar. I need to close my orders at around the $150 mark now, but they still cost me over two grand locally.

    Thankfully I've filled in a lot of gaps in my collection, so aside from the new Ghostbusters figures, whatever Star Wars Black 6" stuff comes out, and a few odds n ends, my buying is starting to slow down anyway... (well, that's what I keep telling myself :P).

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