Q&A: First Dibs and Star Wars Licensing Gets Competitive

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, September 1, 2019

1. What does it mean...or how did it happen that Mattel which is obviously Hasbros direct competitor announced Star Wars Barbie? I can't wrap my head around how it can be? I'm not even sure what Im asking other than what's your take on it I guess.

What it means... is nothing. Hasbro has had competing 6-inch action figures in various makes and models from movie-accurate to model kits to Samurai-lookin' things for years, most of which are in the Asian market. There have been multiple competing 12-inch figure lines for years. Hasbro had Titanium Series and at the very same time, Mattel ran (and continues to run) its Hot Wheels Starships assortment. Mattel won out in the die-cast metal ship wars, 6-inch figures seem to be doing just fine at Hasbro, and Hasbro ceded 12-inch figures to its competitors ages ago - but it seems Sideshow and Medicom are done and Hot Toys more or less owns the market.

So what does this mean now? Probably nothing. Licenses are divided up by all sorts of things. It used to be product types, before that you could usually get a "master toy license." More recently the Disney clan have carved up licenses by things like outlet (specialty, online, dollar store, mass market, etc.) or size (under 12-inches, 20-inches and above, etc.) or even price point ($80 & up was a frequent exception from Hasbro's licenses for the likes of Funko and Diamond.) You need to find a loophole - and Mattel found a couple with its $100 price point, collector online-only focus, and also the fact that they're interpretations of the characters - not unlike the Tamashii Nations Meisho Movie Realization figures. Mattel made a product that isn't what Hasbro does, it isn't in Hasbro's place, and there's even precedent as Tonner Doll made Padme Amidala dolls for The Phantom Menace that were bigger, more expensive, and more elusive than Hasbro's 12-inch dollies.

While I was hearing whispers saying that we'd see a return to more "master license" agreements a few years ago at Toy Fair, I'd say the opposite is actually true. There are more divisions in toy licenses coming up that are going to surprise the heck out of you, and it's in the Disney/Marvel/Warner/DC/Lucasfilm best interests to make its licensees compete against one another. It's probably not good for the longevity of any hardcore collector line, but we're an increasingly rare animal. I'd say it's no longer possible to truly "Collect Them All!" in any of Hasbro's main figure formats, so they seem to be trying to make new collections more regularly with more fresh starts. Think of it like the comic book business rebooting with new #1 issues every few years.

You're going to see a lot more of this - and it's probably going to get bloody. Maybe we'll see Mega Construx Star Wars some day soon. Perhaps Lucasfilm will decide to carve up the 3 3/4-inch action figures into "new property" and "retro Kenner" licenses. A lot can happen, and I don't think it's good for the longevity of the kind of fan who likes to collect or to write about this kind of stuff. I've been overwhelmed enough to bow out of a few formats, even some of Hasbro's, whittling my Star Wars stuff down to mostly 3 3/4-inch and 6-inch action figures. I used to like Hallmark stuff, Galactic Heroes (old style, didn't keep up on new style), and a lot of other sizes too. It's too much, it's too expensive, and frankly my house doesn't need this much stuff in it. I think the Barbie dolls are great, but I don't need more large-size figural things to buy.



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2. I ordered the new Star Wars Tatooine Skiff via Hasbro Pulse on 2/18/19.

My order status shows as "unfulfilled" and my payment status shows is "authorized."

Other e-tailers have already shipped theirs, but Hasbro won't ship mine until at least 9/1/19.

Why can't Hasbro be the first to ship its own product from its own premium website that promises easy and quick access to order cool stuff like this?

What's the point of Pulse anyway, if they can't be the first with their own product?

In short: selling to end-users directly is generally not Hasbro's priority business model, but that can change and might depending on what their goals may be going forward. I work for a competing company from Pulse, so obviously, I have opinions. I'll try to check them at the door. It's complicated. For example, not all online stores have received all their inventory - some have a bit, some have a lot, and not everybody gets their complete shipments all at the same time. Sometimes they get a trickle, and just a few orders are filled at first. It's been that way for as long as I've been monitoring the business, and rarely does Hasbro give their own store first dibs.

There are manufacturers that transition to "direct to consumer" over the years. Sideshow used to sell in Target, Suncoast, and other stores - you rarely see stuff in brick-and-mortar, aside from the occasional comic shop today. It's a different business model, with different requirements, different costs, and so forth. I can't speak for Hasbro but I assume Hasbro Pulse is probably an experiment to see if there's extra business in the online space. Hasbro could just as easily look into branded stores, but this is a lot cheaper to try and they do have some existing infrastructure from HasbroToyShop.com to see if it works. In short, Pulse is basically a streamlined HasbroToyShop with some bells and whistles from Kickstarter (crowdfunding) and Amazon (prime) and BBTS/HLK/TFSource (imports) built-in.

In the post-Toys R Us world, Hasbro is experimenting. One of their biggest customers is gone. More people are moving online. Stores like Kmart and Sears and now possibly others are reducing their retail footprint, while some stores have less space - it's in Hasbro's interest to have an outlet to sell their stuff if there are no other takers. (And of course, their was, it was HasbroToyShop and it carried a lot more than collector stuff.)

In the 1990s there was a web site called "HasbroCollectors.com." They sold Japanese Transformers imports and a couple of statues and exclusive Star Wars figure 2-packs. At any given time, there weren't even 12 items you could buy and all of them are exclusive, non-competing-with-other-stores for that particular item. Legend has it the bigger customers (Walmart was what I heard at the time) found out about it and got angry, threatening to pull support of some brands. Before you knew it Hasbro shut it down. A few years later HasbroToyShop.com came up, and they generally didn't get stuff first - at conventions I've overheard Hasbro telling fans that it exists to help people get stuff when the stores in their areas aren't able to supply the goods. It's extra. It's not Hasbro's primary business, as the cost of doing manufacturer-to-customer fulfillment is a lot more expensive than manufacturer-to-retailer.

I like some of what Pulse is doing - if they can bring in rare items, convention exclusives (maybe in bigger numbers), Japanese imports, and crowdfunded items I think it could be a wonderful platform that makes every retailer happy by giving an added seasoning to a collection. The Sail Barge served as an excuse to give us tons of new Skiff Guard reissues and new releases alongside a new skiff. That's great! It's possible Unicron could be used to sell us new Arblus, Kranix, Hook, Line, Sinker, Ghost of Starscream, and so on. I would argue HasbroCollectors.com certainly did add to the mix, but if the legends are true, the marketplace of the 1990s would not allow for it. HasbroToyShop.com didn't add to the community so much as it moved stuff around (and added some items for sale that theoretically wouldn't have a home elsewhere.) Who knows how it'll work today? Who knows what will make sense going forward?





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When is there too much Star Wars? Because of the 1980s - and most of the 1990s - I didn't think it was possible. A few movies, a couple of cartoons, on-again off-again publishing programs, and about 8 years of minimal Star Wars of any kind I never got to a point where I felt that, overall, there was just too much. I kind of outgrew 12-inch figures (space, interest) concerns in the early 00s and comics I just left in the early 10s, but it's still mostly good stuff.

More movies - I can get behind. Streaming shows? This sounds like it might be the best possible move given what you can do and hopefully how long you can spend with those characters - and merchandise them accordingly. (You know, for more than 3-6 months.) A movie every year was enough that - when combined with the TV stuff - I didn't need the comics. Similarly, the theme park experience was a bit much for me, particularly now that they're augmenting it with themed cruises.

I'm still a fan - I still like the stuff - but we're definitely pushing to a point where it's too much to really digest and enjoy. While we've joked (and maybe been right) about the merchandising driving the narrative, making "destination vacation"-specific aspects of the expanding Universe is about where I have to not take part. I like toys - collecting is my real-world interaction with the really-fake space opera. There's certainly some marketing brilliance in LARPing as an officially sanctioned service, but the boat? The boat is too much. I like the general notion of what Star Trek seemed to do with "a convention on a boat," but, well, eh. I'll stick to my normal areas of fandom, leaving the house for a boat seems not the kind of thing I'd enjoy.

At the same time it seems the merchandise is changing, diminishing, and there's less of it. Maybe that's the point - they want us to move from "stuff" to "experiences" as our homes fill up, but I do enjoy seeing non-Star Wars stuff on vacations once in a while.

Of course, this may all be temporary - HasLab's success with the Barge, and struggles with Cookie Monster and Unicron, may mean there's more opportunity in those waters going forward. Disney seems to have a lot of big plans, and it's strange that after so many years there are definitely places that I just don't really care to follow my favorite childhood movie series. But streaming, I can get behind. It seems to be working for The Dark Crystal, hmmmm?

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit, and we're down to 2 questions per week until we get overloaded with questions to re-expand back to 3 or more.



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