Q&A: Out with the Old, In with the New

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, July 7, 2013

Let's talk exclusives in Q&A this week, because for the first time in months there are actually things to talk about! And let's complain about Episode I since that's what came in the mail bag. We'll also revisit magazines, as this is the way of our people. All this and more - read on and send in your questions for next time!


1. So it's obvious there will be a Black Series Boba Fett with Carbonite Solo as a SDCC exclusive for $45. It stands to reason there will be a regular Black Series Boba Fett without the Carbonite Solo for retail price. It might also be reasonable that there will be a Black Series Bespin Han Solo with the Carbonite Solo, again for retail price. Couldn't Hasbro come up with something better for an exclusive, or just make it less expensive? And how did they arrive at the $45 price? Just "because collectors will pay any price we ask?"

Pricing in the toy market is complicated, which sounds like a cop-out but let me assure you - it isn't. Most prices are largely confidential, so I'm not at liberty to discuss how current pricing works. Thankfully, pricing in the 1990s got leaked and it works as an illustration. Back in 1995, SRP on a Star Wars figure was $6.99. That's what Kay-Bee Toys charged. The "Toy Discounters" (Target, Walmart, Toys R Us, Kmart) charged $4.99, or at times $5.99. Cost was reportedly around $4.25. That's not a typo - the big stores were not known for taking a large margin on these items, instead making their money on other products (diapers, food, light bulbs) and the magic word is "volume." Tons of transactions, at a lower profit, means the stores can still make money. Toys R Us sometimes charges more because they don't have the kind of traffic of a Walmart, and of course, other reasons.

So with that in mind, this kind of pricing is also not uncommon. Hasbro's Comic-Con G.I. Joe figures were usually $13-$15 for a single, carded figure no more complex than a basic $5-$7 figure. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that Hasbro is not a deep discount retailer. They have a profit margin to make, and while I'm fairly sure 99% of San Diego Comic-Con is for branding purposes, the HasbroToyShop.com booth is still a business and as such has to pay for the hotels, salaries, and airfares for dozens of workers. (Snarky me sez: and they could do it easily if they just upped the edition sizes maybe 20%.)

To use a more recent (and less sensical) example: last year Hasbro sold a big Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Bruticus toy. It's a complete combiner team, and the SDCC version has more paint applications, a gorgeous box, and just looked great. It was $100. The exact same toys with slightly different deco were sold individually for $15 each ($75 for the set) at Target, Walmart, and so forth. And the same 5 molds were sold again as a shared Amazon/BBTS exclusive, but at $60. Why the difference? It's tough to say - you can count the pennies on the paint apps and box for SDCC, but is it $40 more of toy than the $60 Amazon/BBTS version of Bruticus? Probably not. (And as luck would have it, the $60 version was my favorite.) It's the nature of the beast, prices and styles may vary.

So with that in mind, it's not uncommon for Hasbro to charge a premium for its products. Sometimes it sets an SRP that's low to the point of ridiculous, and sometimes it sets an SRP that's higher, and other times Hasbro says they don't set SRPs. With thousands of employees and infinite products, I can probably find you an example to cite pretty much any argument you'd like to hear, but the short answer is it's $45 because they can and will get it. As I anticipate they will underproduce the item and it will sell out in a hurry, $45 is probably the only thing preventing the item from selling out in the first three hours and being a de facto eBay exclusive. And if you guys don't pay it, it won't work.

It's also possible (and probably unlikely) there could be another hidden bonus accessory or gimmick with Boba Fett at SDCC. Considering that it's July, this is probably not going to happen - but Hasbro does like to slip surprises in there and it's not a mathematical impossibility that there's a Han Solo in that box to go with the Carbonite.



2. I really like the droids in the star wars universe. The way I see it, only 2 good things came out of episode 1....Darth maul and destroyer droids. Has Hasbro ever made a destroyer droid that properly transforms in to a wheel and rolls? If not, then why do they make the complex star wars crossover transformers but no simple transforming destroyer droid? I can't be the only person out there that like droids.

Back in 2000, I asked Hasbro a similar question and was told that the engineering would not allow for it. I think we might be at a point where it could be worth revisiting, but the recent Battle Droids have difficulty staying standing so... maybe not.

A Mega Action Battler 6-inch scale figure was released during Power of the Jedi featuring a Destroyer Droid that could sort of roll up into a ball. That's about as close as you're going to see for a while, I'm guessing.

The "complex" Transformers toys were... uh... not great, let's say. Some were pretty simple, but most were fundamentally not great toys - if they weren't trading on the strengths of two hot brand names, I doubt they would have been incredibly successful. Hasbro's regular Transformers toys are often fun, clever, colorful, creative, and rewarding playthings... while the Star Wars Transformers were generally floppy, chunky, and largely unpleasant by comparison. There's really no comparing the elegant simplicity of the 2006 Classics Starscream to the slightly awkward 2006 Darth Vader Transformer.


3. When it comes to aesthetics and figure designs, is there a copyright or intellectual property that seperates each in-house brand? Personally, I've found Hasbro's TVC and up Star Wars look more enjoyable/durable than their modern GI Joe (though still impressive) and 3 3/4" Marvel designs (too frail). Of course space armor and robes are different than military and spandex, but while I didn't collect them I thought the Indiana Jones series was a good example of cross-brand artistic style.

Hasbro once told us they were not going to share tooling between lines, and then abruptly started to share tooling between lines. Iron Man 2 Nick Fury uses Joe parts, and the Comic-Con Cobra Commander figure in a blazer is actually the body from the unreleased Indiana Jones Donavan figure. If they want to share, they will - they say they don't, but there's two examples of it happening off the top of my head.

From 2008-2012 it seems the major action figure lines were all steering toward the same goal - a $6-$8 figure with 12-14 joints, but now that seems to be stopping. Thanks for nothing, China's rising middle class and oil companies!


4. In my region clearanced figures seemed to be everything but the collector-intended line. Transformers except for Classics and Generations would be clearanced, Clone Wars and Saga Legends would be clearanced but not TLC or TVC, and back in the Jakks days of WWE, Targets, TRU's and Walmart would clearance the basic figures but not the WWE Classics figures. I can't speak for other areas, but Target's latest Star Wars clearance also has everything but TVC. My concern for this is I read that The Black Series will have the same UPC as TVC – though I can't find that article anymore to confirm the rumor – which leads me to think it will delay TBS out here, especially Wave 2.

Many issues! Let's address.

UPCs - UPCs are not shared between assortments with very few (I'd say "zero" but you might find one) exceptions. The new assortments use a new 5-digit SKU (except the 12-inch figures, those are carry-forward) so most of the Yoda line look stuff will be flagged as old and may be cleared out. Black Series has a different SKU, which means a new DPCI at Target. Very rarely do lines share a SKU/DPCI - the only exception I can think is the 85770 assortment, which ran from early 2006 (Black/Silver The Saga Collection) and, in mid 2007, continued under the same 5-digit SKU (and DPCI) as the coin-carded Saga Legends. This is very unusual, and as 3 3/4-inch figures go this is the only time this has happened in modern Star Wars since the early Power of the Force 2 days of 1995-1998. (In late 1998/early 1999, we got new 5-digit SKUs across the board.)

If that doesn't make any sense, do let me know - as someone who has a day job in the toy business, well, uh, you notice these things.

Will the old stuff all be cleared out? Maybe, maybe not. The Vintage Collection changed SKUs at the end of the 2010-2011 line, but Target stores have yet to clearance out those old figures in some locations - still! But to the systems, these were two separate items. To the stockers, they looked the same. Hasbro and Target have systems which should help to control inventory ordering, but - and I am not calling the employees names here - it's obvious that it is difficult to make a truly foolproof system, because anybody that is not you or me will see 50 Vintage figures and never, in a million years, guess that the 2012 guys come from a different DPCI/SKU than the 2010/2011 guys. The store employees often put similar (but incorrect) product on the pegs - it's just the way things are, and it results in things not selling or being replenished properly. They don't get that there are multiple assortments, they see a full aisle and shrug and go to the next aisle to restock educational toys or whatever.

I would have to assume that Target's inability to clearance The Vintage Collection is an internal oversight - someone is asleep at the wheel, and I have no idea why the chain continues to support the 2010/2011 SKU (or the 2012 one, for that matter) nearly three years later. It makes no sense, other than someone just isn't doing their job at corporate. It's not like the store can order more of the 2010/2011 stuff from Hasbro at this stage!

Now, wave 2 of The Black Series? Looking at Hasbro in 2013, many new assortments have been slow to be replenished. Wave 2 for any Iron Man 3 3 3/4-inch figures haven't hit big box stores. Not a lot for Spider-Man seems to be making the rounds just yet. And Transformers Generations deluxe, as of my writing this on July 1, hasn't had a new figure since December - except a new wave just showed up online in late June, finally. Having said that, the last few years - particularly with Star Wars Vintage - have a terrible track record and I would suggest keeping your eyes peeled for online options for wave 2. You may not need it, but most of what we saw in 2010, 2011, and 2012 makes me nervous and will probably make you have to shop eBay or Entertainment Earth (which is my day job, thank you for your support) unless Hasbro really shorts the distribution of wave 1.


5. I was just wondering if you know what has happened to Lee's Toy Magazine? I cannot seem to find any new issues in Canada. I have sent them 2 e-mails directly, but have not got a response. Are they still in buisiness? I look forward to hearing from you regarding any information you may have.

My research has been inconclusive - what have you guys found? I sent them an email asking where to buy a current issue a couple of weeks back and received no reply.




So yeah, Amazon exclusives! They're coming around August 15, and are they worth it? I'd say "kinda." The TIE Interceptor at $50 isn't great, but is (unfortunately) close to in line with recent releases against inflation. $35-$40 was more or less normal for TIE Fighters, so this is not necessarily surprising. The Boba Fett Slave I for $100 is very surprising. The ship is a repurposed 2010 Clone Wars jumbo Slave I, which was $109.99 - but included 5 figures and a Jedi Starfighter in the box. With prices continuing to go up for toys, often surprisingly quickly, it seems that Hasbro needs to think about Thailand or other countries for manufacturing in the future. I ordered both, but you know me - I'm stupid. I'll try to get a video or something for each when they show up in August. (Also feel free to order them, because, really, why not? Who needs money? I certainly don't need to eat.)

Right now it looks like a few new "Vader line look" items are hitting - last week it was lightsabers, and now Amazon has some of the Mission Series 2-packs. --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.

Lee's Magazine

I've always had Lee's on my pull list at the local comic shop (Campus Comics in Carbondale, IL, cheap plug). I've had 1 issue since the beginning of 2012 & that was in May 2012 I think focusing on Toy Fair 2012. The 2011 issues had started saying a yearly sub was 10 issues (down from the original 12). Issue #220 (the last one) said 5 issues for a yearly sub. So yeah, I think they're dead. Tomart's too it would seem.