Q&A: Jurassic World, Star Wars Distribution, and Exclusives

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, October 21, 2018

1. Not Star Wars-related but wanted to ask how you believe Mattel's Jurassic Park/World 3 3/4" line has performed?
I was tempted but passed since I already collected from the original Kenner line for the first three original films but I really admire how Mattel went all-in in terms of launching such an ambitious, to-scale line for all five movies. I hope the line has done well so that this model encourages companies to adopt a similar formula for other nostalgia-driven lines in the future.

While the line has done exceptionally well, but be sure you take a hard look at it first. Mattel's line is kid-driven with a dash of collector interest - in many ways, it's where Star Wars was around 1995-1997. Proportions are a little off, prices are low, and there's a lot of weirdness in a series that could just as easily appeal to today's children as fans from the original movie's theatrical run.

What Mattel did was make dinosaurs more or less in scale with some 3 3/4-inch action figures. It's pretty much what we saw for the second two Pirates of the Caribbean movies from Zizzle's toy line - there are a few vehicles, a couple of playsets, and a small quantity of humans. In the case of Jurassic, we only got three "classic" people and a smattering from the new movie - most of which are Chris Pratt, several of which aren't even specific characters from the films. Generic Mercenary is doing better business than someone you might recognize, and that's not something collectors and fans tend to want. We want Jeff Goldblum, and they're making us wait for him (although it seems he's just now hitting.)

I look at Mattel's line as a happy fluke - they copied what worked well from other lines like improved likenesses, enhanced articulation, and fun action features along with the 3 3/4-inch scale that worked so well for Hasbro until about 7 or 8 years ago. As soon as we saw Guardians of the Galaxy come and go without a 3 3/4-inch line of any significance, it was over - and it's over. Star Wars is really the last holdout at Hasbro for this particular scale, with a tiny smattering of Marvel figures per year. It is unlikely to flourish in the future. Like Mego, the 3 3/4-inch format is largely for a certain kind of collector.

Jurassic isn't just another 3 3/4-inch toy line because it's not about 3 3/4-inch humans - it's a line of movie monster dinosaurs. Mattel could make this line with no humans and no vehicles, and it wouldn't really lose out on much of anything. I can't say the same would be true of any other 3 3/4-inch scale toy line, and I'd go a step further and say there are very few movies big enough to warrant a successful toy line on the scale of Jurassic Park (which is having its 1990s-style Star Wars revival right now.) Maybe, some day, Marvel might decide to relaunch in a small size and do everything. Perhaps DC will take that approach with its movies at some point, but I doubt it - 6-inch is currently where the money is, unless you have to lean in to large vehicles and creatures. Then, you'd want the smaller sizes.

3 3/4-inch success in a new line after the year 2010 is generally a fluke. Star Wars and G.I. Joe ran with it, thanks to it being baked in to their pre-existing DNA. The number of billion-dollar franchises that appeal to children and could benefit from a large toy line are far and few between, and I doubt that any sort of nostalgia for the likes of Avatar will fuel a dream toy line. Toys aren't for the target audience for action figures as much these days - if you're a boy ages 4-11, you play with toys when your parents take away your internet devices. Dinosaurs transcend age, so the under-4 set wants these, collectors want these, and even some kids 4-11 are going to be excited for a cool dinosaur to play with. Mattel gambled on the size and won - most toy companies don't win in these circumstances.



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2. Instead of the ridiculous exclusive [distribution for 6-inch figures these days,] why can't Hasbro just make them all "inclusive" and sell them everywhere in case packs that won't have the same figure hanging on the peg months after its release? Hasbro's distribution problems only seem to be getting worse than getting better. I know a lot of collectors are still upset about the 3-3/4 vintage collection but by the looks of it the 6" figures seem more popular and are out preforming them and is probably why Hasbro seems to put more effort into them. I'm getting older and frequenting the stores is getting old on me too, especially since it almost always ends up in disappointment. The only way I was able to get the Gamorrean guard was to pay fifteen bucks more than it's worth. I've had to go online more frequently to get the figures I want for my collection, like Bespin Han, Grand Moff Tarkin or the rebel fleet trooper as recent examples. These have never showed up in any of my stores that I have seen. I always loved that feeling of getting the new figure at the store but that seems to be gone now and now it's just online buying to see who has it cheapest.

What is a middle aged collector supposed to do? I have to pay more money for everything because it's never available at retail. Forget about asking for help at any of these establishments everyone looks at you like you have five heads when you ask and never want to help you anyways. Is this the way it's going to be from now on, I have to pay more for my collection just to have it because it's never available? I can't be the only one facing this problem, can I? I'm seriously considering giving up on Hasbro and giving my money to Sideshow instead, it would certainly save on gas and the practice of insanity I'm currently sorting through, even if it is a little more expensive. Any advice or am I just SOL?

Distribution is the same as it ever was - for example, I've seen the Gamorrean Guard when it first hit. Well, one, once, I lucked into it - but a month or so after, I saw dozens more for a couple of weeks. Things come and go, and the unfortunate thing about new lines being "collectible" is that you have a lot of competition for new releases aimed at people in your demographic.

The basic assortments have had issues - real issues - which Hasbro is starting to address and you'll see how that shakes out in the coming months. The case mixes brought back a lot of figures that didn't make a lot of sense to us, specifically "new movie" figures, for more than one or two waves. There's nothing wrong with Jyn Erso, but she shouldn't be produced in higher numbers than Darth Vader or Chewbacca.

I tend to see the classic figures out there, but I go out a lot. Online stores sometimes offer pre-orders, and sometimes these figures ship in multiple salvos over time - you might not get it in March, but perhaps in June when the next delivery comes in. Over time, most figures are gettable at or near retail price (plus shipping) and sometimes that's offset by the figures you can pick up on clearance at or far, far below cost from the manufacturer. The notion of getting all of your figures in a store is long gone. Exclusives are always (ALWAYS) easier to get than main-line figures since roughly 2008, because Hasbro makes a store commit to a quantity that will likely show up in one big drop, all at once, but there have been a couple of exceptions here and there. (Sometimes the product gets dumped at Ross, or trickled out as some weird strategy, one can assume. Hi, Spinosaurus.)

Remember, Star Wars is over 40 years old. No other movie from 1977 or before enjoys as much product or as many collectibles - if you like Mego, you have a limited selection and it's all at Target. If you like Hot Wheels, the classic cars from the line's early days are mixed in with robots, dinosaurs, rats, and modern automobiles too - time moves forward, and generally the building blocks on which things are based will slowly be phased out in favor of what's hot now. LEGO fans can no longer get the original Castle or Space sets in stores, or largely at all, despite LEGO being hugely popular. They decided to focus on something else. It's kind of a miracle we get any classic toys these days, and those days may not last forever. Then again, for all we know Funko or Neca or Mattel might be giving us figures in a few years and it's a whole new ballgame. I've been collecting the modern line for quite some time, and my memory of the old Kenner days back in the 1980s was filled with challenges getting certain figures as well - it was different, but you still weren't guaranteed to get what you want when you wanted it.

At least today you have the option of going online, and the option of waiting it out. People dump their collections (sometimes at a reasonable per-figure cost) and you can swoop in later. Certain collectible stores have figures for at or near retail once the demand dies down, if it dies down. Your complaint about retail stores versus online, the tiring nature of hunting toys while your friends online find them first (or order them from a dotcom business) has been pretty steady since 1995 or 1996 - nothing has changed in a couple of decades, other than a reduction in outlets to buy things in the physical shopping realm. I hate to say it, but get used to it, or quit. The wave mixes will improve (I've seen things), but Star Wars just kicked retail stores in the shorts for two consecutive movies. Will Target and Walmart even pick it up everything going forward? It remains to be seen, they're certainly not betting big on it for Christmas this year.




3. With the Canadian Toys R Us doing all the exclusives (zuckuss, stormtrooper, etc) any idea when the Disney stores may be carrying them?

Disney Stores are an ecosystem that don't have a lot of transparency, and what I do hear I can't always repeat. All signs point to "very soon," though. After all, it's the holiday season!

Like pretty much every exclusive, I'd say keep looking and be patient. These things are generally made in decent quantities, so even if you miss it, there's a chance it could either go on clearance or be available at a fair price on some secondary ecommerce platform when someone decides to dump theirs.



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To say the last few weeks have been interesting would be an understatement. Plans for 2019 are swirling (and private) with the future of toy retail being waged in a way that's both public and closely guarded. KB Toys is likely not to be a thing any time soon. Toys R Us wants "Geoffrey's Toy Box" branded aisles, and assumes people will care - the older fans may remember some of Toys R Us previous efforts to brand aisles. Amazon's entire toy section was powered by Toys R Us in the late 1990s. Albertson's had a Toys R Us aisle, with high grocery store prices, in the early to mid 2000s. Petsmart still has a Toys R Us branded area. While Amazon's area was interesting, it was basically just ToysRUs.com - and the others were largely inconsequential. It's possible the seasonal pop-up things could be a real 365 toy business, but most likely the various new things popping up are not going to be constant sources of new product, likely vanishing just after the new year.

The toy business is brutal. Toys R Us used to be the big bad wolf in the 1990s, taking down regional chains that you don't remember and may have never heard of. Thanks to the proliferation of what were called "toy discounters" in the 1990s - your Kmarts, Walmarts, Toys R Uses, and Targets - a lot of stores lost a lot of marketshare due to the perception of "overcharging." The sad reality with the world of toy selling is that margins are tight, and the likes of Kay-Bee were charging MSRP. Other stores could afford to charge less because they also sold you apple juice, diapers, and pickles. While discount and clearance toys and collectibles are great for collectors, they're bad for the long-term health of the entire ecosystem with expectations of lower costs. Given what's going on in international trade these days, we may be living in "the good old days" despite the fact that a 6-inch super-articulated action figure costs triple what it did 15 years ago.

It's important to remember that nothing lasts forever, trends come and go, and Star Wars may well be a trend. We've seen almost every license have a fallow period in our lifetimes, even seemingly immortal ones will occasionally go away for a year here and there. New releases from Star Wars haven't been absent from retail for more than about six or seven months, and while the Solo line has been great I don't see a heck of a lot making me believe there's going to be a bright future for classic. That can change at a moment's notice, but the future is murky. I'm still unsure what Hasbro will do for Star Wars after 2020, so I hope they squeeze out some long-demanded fan weirdness in the next couple of years before anything severe does (or doesn't) happen.

Maybe we'll see a bunch of new stores come up and make a big fuss over Star Wars for the Episode IX launch - but I think fans are over that kind of thing, and so are retailers. Even the biggest blockbuster video games can't command a midnight launch every time now, but I'm someone that felt Star Wars earned a lot of cred by being coy about when stuff would show up. It kept me coming back to stores to hunt for the last 23 years, after all.

I've just been busying myself in Game Boy lore. (If you have old games, you should send/sell them to me.)

--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.