Q&A: Star Wars Packaging, Costs, Pricing, Whatever

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, January 24, 2021

1. I am sure this has been asked before but is there a ceiling for Star Wars toys in terms of price a consumer will pay? When Vintage started back in 2010, you could, in some cases, purchase these figures for $4.99; it seems now the average price is between $12.99-14.99, with special figures (Carbonized) going for $17.97 and up. Is there a point where collectors say "This figure is not worth $14.99 or $17.99?" As a result, does Hasbro shift to the 6" line, which started at $19.99 and has risen in price but not to the extent the 3 3/4" has? Also, same question but with ships/playsets. You have the Skiff, a great toy, but is $15-20 less than when it first came out. Carbon Freezing chamber, you can get for $15.00 less than when it came out; same with the Imperial Transport.

I guess, in the end, do you think Hasbro feels that collectors will pay just about anything for their Vintage Package 3 3/4" product?

I have to take issue with your historical pricing - in 2010, you could not get Vintage figures for $4.99 unless it was clearance (and that doesn't count.) In 2004, Original Trilogy Collection basic figures were $4.99 and the vintage ones were $9.99. You could never buy a figure on a vintage-style cardback for under $9.99 in the 21st century unless it was on clearance - $10-$13 has been "normal" for quite some time. (And I firmly believe we were being overcharged in 2004, and fans flocked to buy them because it was a superior product in superior packaging and you can overcharge when you push the nostalgia button.)

Similarly, the 2019 Skiff is not the same as the 1985 (and 1998, and 2010) skiff - new mold, different tooling, more deco, lots more parts and pieces. Due to inflation the original mold would likely be marked up a bit - costs in China have been going up so the same toy with the same tooling would cost a bit more - but on top of that, this is a new mold. With Disney and Lucasfilm royalties. And a stand!

There's some room for prices to keep going up, but Hasbro could probably sell a lot more if it had Stormtroopers on-shelf when the Troop Transports were shipping, or Skiff Guards (or Lukes) with the Skiffs, and so on and so forth. Troopers sell, troopers with empty vehicle seats sell even better. And if you can sell a $300 Razor Crest with a couple of figures, why even bother with the fiction of needing shelf space or absurd mass-market minimums? We're in a changing world, and the world you want - kid-line prices - is impossible unless a) kids get interested (possible but unlikely), and b) Hasbro develops a line that inspires collecting while simultaneously ensuring product is available for non-marked-up pricing. Right now we've got a piecemeal line where it's rare that you will ever see 2-3 toys from the same movie or TV show for sale at a store at the same time. If you want to buy a vehicle with its pilot, that's not happening. If you want to buy a hero with his corresponding baddie, that's not how it's going right now.

Some toys do see drops below cost because that's what the market (or Amazon sellers) have deemed worthwhile - nobody wants stale inventory and ultimately everything that doesn't become collectible will probably go on clearance. Prices were not dropped at Hasbro - those who bought (and sell) the product are taking the losses much of the time. If you watch toys over the long haul, there's a pattern - toy comes out, toy sits on shelves, toy gets marked down, toy goes away. Toy then gets expensive on eBay. If you are a gambler, you can buy a lot of toys under retail - and quite often under their wholesale costs from Hasbro/Mattel/etc.

Since 1995, fans have proven they'll pay a premium if they're impatient or excited. Those original Power of the Force figures on orange cardbacks commanded a higher price on the secondary market, and as long as the perception was that the supply was short, Kay-Bee had no problems selling them for $6.99 - the actual suggested retail price - which was $2 over $4.99, the toy discounter price. (The current toy pricing system was largely based on what were once the "discounter" prices - what Walmart, Kmart, Target, and Toys R Us usually charged to be competitive.) There are products in the marketplace designed to maintain a price point, like Hot Wheels, and collectible toys are strictly what the market will accept. Is there an upper limit? Yes. Have we hit it for figures yet? Not even close. It's been almost 16 months and Hasbro hasn't come close to overproducing Mando or his pals. (Baby Yoda is another beast, given the countless products from multiple manufacturers - but even he's not hanging around much.)

With the popularity of The Mandalorian and Hasbro's too-tight supply, fans will happily pay $17.98 for a metallic exclusive figure because there's no alternative on the shelf. The standard $12.99 figures are impossible to find at big box stores, and if you look on Amazon they go for significantly higher than $12.99 - so a "smart shopper" may see $17.98 as a good deal, rather than $35-$40 online for an in-stock specimen from America's most-trusted online mass retailer. I don't think Walmart could get $17.99 for a carbonized Rey or Kylo Ren for very long, but if you've got something stupid popular without enough supply? You can charge more. Hasbro probably charged Walmart a premium too, but I don't know that for a fact as no one has mistakenly sent me their invoices. But if you'd like to, I'm interested.

Vehicles are a similar beast. "Kid vehicles" in 3 3/4-inch scale are a thing of the past - "collector vehicles" are the new thing. Hasbro charging collector prices for kid vehicles has proven to be a flop, like the last TIE Fighter, but there's a pretty good run in things like the Skiff and Troop Transport until the end of the line. There's a much higher piece count, more paint, and lower runs - and I would expect a slight mark-up as insurance against closeouts. (Word on the street was McFarlane Toys knew exactly how much of an item they could sell at full price, and how much would probably be left over and need to be sold at markdown to Kay-Bee, to keep profitable runs and costs in a safe place.) These vehicles could have been developed with that in mind - they're going to pre-sell a ton to hardcore fans, but is your average part-time fan going to see a $50-$80 vehicle at the store in an era where you can't even buy any companion figures for it, and pounce? No. And that last chunk might sell through at full price, and if not, there's a home for them on Ross' shelves.



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2. Every all-new sculpted figure released in TVC and Black Series in the past year or two (especially the TVC The Mandalorian figures) has been truly amazing in its character likeness, level of articulation, and aesthetically more pleasing articulation joints, in my opinion. I am all for re-using sculpts when it makes good sense, but don't you think the current price-points for both figure lines supports the releasing of almost all newly-sculpted figures unless it's an intentionally planned additional run of a relatively new figure? I feel like it should based on what we got years ago at those much lower price-points when re-using of sculpts was at a minimum (ex. the POTF2 1990s line). But I know that world has changed dramatically since the 90s and early 2000s, so maybe I'm wrong about that.

At current pricing, I'd love to see nothing but new sculpts - there was a big change in what we could expect in articulation during the run of Rogue One, with the addition of the thigh swivel. As such, anything pre-thigh-swivel is probably worth revisiting. Hasbro's new takes on Stormtroopers, Yak Face, and the like have all been - as you point out - top-notch and big sellers. Other than Snoke, it seems most newly-sculpted entries in The Vintage Collection have done rather well. The quality is there! But a lot of The Vintage Collection got expensive on the secondary market, and not only does Hasbro realize this, but they have the tooling to crank out a new run. As long as they pick the right figures, it's a win-win for them - save development costs, and appease a market that largely slept through the previous run.

Character selection is probably the single most important factor in success. Hasbro's re-re-release of The Empire Strikes Back Boba Fett in The Vintage Collection has been a boffo performer, and regardless of the quality, Hasbro is going to do well with him. And Darth Vader, and Stormtroopers - plain white ones. Other ones, they're up for grabs but as long as they're not Sandtroopers, they're doing fine.

I would love to see lower price points if we're getting reused tooling, but I'd much rather see figures that just plain sell. I winced when I saw the return of Attack of the Clones Anakin and Padme. They might be better - they might do OK! But they're not going to sell as well as anything featured in The Mandalorian, even if it's just the figures from earlier being carried forward in a new wave. The demand is intense and unmet, but I can see where Hasbro is coming from in some cases. The demand for Captain Rex is real. They could probably sell tens of thousands of Ahsoka reissues easily too. I can't imagine doing a mix of real fan favorites and all-new sculpts would be a recipe for success, but for all I know their balance sheet demands the sacrifice of slots to the reissue beast. Looking at previous years, Hasbro probably could charge a lower price for super-articulated figures and do fine - they just haven't seen the need to do so. The 3 3/4-inch line also isn't doing quite the business of the 6-inch line. I think it all has to do with character selection, but who can be sure? (People with better visibility in sales than any of us, that's who.)

Given fan desires for mega-articulation, I assume reruns are subsidizing the new guys a tiny bit. I'd love Hasbro to take the approach of Mattel (Jurassic World) or Spin Master (Batman) with 3 3/4-inch scale figures with only 14 points of articulation (rarely ankles or wrists) to get costs down to a $8 retail. Fans would buy more. Kids would buy more. Would collectors complain? Yes. But if Mando (the character) were on shelf right now for $8-$10, minis wrists, ankles, and thigh-cuts, they'd probably sell tens (or hundreds) of thousands more units. Provided, of course, they were produced in such quantities.

One last tangent here - I don't think "collecting" will come back until Hasbro shoves main characters in mass retail's faces again. Every kid on the planet that wants Mando should have access to one - without that, there's little reason to ask for vehicles or any lesser characters. It's sort of like having a DC Comics line with every one of Gotham's Rogue's Gallery, Wonder Woman, Superman, Blue Beetle, Sgt. Rock, and so forth - but no Batman. Right now Star Wars could be Batman, but you can't actually get Batman. If you don't believe me, take a look at Amazon seller prices for Mando - everything is at least twice the price of a regular retailer since the very first Mando came out in Fall of 2019. That first 6-inch Mando has rarely dipped below $30, which is expensive for a $20 retail product and shows the seemingly bottomless demand for the character.




3. What do you think about the idea of Hasbro re-releasing a few 3.75" figures on new TVC The Mandalorian cards (w/ new card photos) based on cameo or new appearances in The Mandalorian series? I know a ROTJ Jedi Luke was just released recently, but would it be overkill to give him a near-future re-release like this? Or maybe Luke's costume was slightly different from his ROTJ costume, and I just didn't notice. But there are also others like R5-D4. I mean I personally have plenty of R5-D4s, but it's been a while since he's been out for newer collectors, and I'd still buy a couple Mando-carded ones. There are probably other cameo's I'm forgetting now. Oh yeah!! Jawa's and Tusken Raiders could be great too. Do you think there's enough of a market for this, or should Hasbro just stick to new, especially never-before-released Mando figures? I would also welcome completely new sculpts of Jawas and Tusken Raiders as well (I think the last Tusken lacked modern-articulated elbows).

I doubt any figure which has been released recently - that is, since 2018 - has a ghost of a chance of a reissue on a variant The Mandalorian cardback based on the evidence so far. Hasbro has a perfectly good packaging template approved and ready to go, it would not be worth the hassle of creating a new one unless there was a deco or sculpt change which may require the product to be sent back for additional approval. R5-D4 has slightly different deco in The Mandalorian, so that would be a sensible one - but Hasbro could just as easily run the existing paint apps as-is and it would sell fine. (It would still require an updated cardback since it has been off the market for so long, the assortment, SKU, and UPC would need to be updated for a rerelease.)

I think Hasbro would be well-served to do more "greatest hits" waves solely based on The Mandalorian - changed cardbacks or no. Mando (first edition) hasn't shipped to stores in almost a year and the demand isn't close to being met yet. Mando (second edition) is highly in demand - as is the Remnant Stormtrooper, Cara Dune, the Rogue One Stormtrooper, the Rogue One Death Trooper, and others. It wouldn't be a bad idea to squirt out more of Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker - regardless of cardback - as well as R5-D4 and Tusken Raiders. And R2-D2. Also Biker Scouts. Hasbro has a vast library of great figures they could repackage (or reissue) and market as a "brand new" line for entry-level fans, rather than a scarce one where you'll never see them on pegs. If they want. (I don't mind them selling online either.)

Hasbro has a Jawa Chief in the works as a pack-in for the Razor Crest, and I would certainly welcome some sort of "Jawa trooper" using previous sculpts with new deco on a new cardback. Heck, Hasbro could release variant dirty Stormtroopers in every third or fourth wave and they'd sell like hotcakes - just change up the smudges and sell tons more with minimal fuss.

Unfortunately, changes mean approvals, and approvals mean delays. If Hasbro (or any toy manufacturer) has a previously-approved product and an extant licensing agreement, changing something merely because it would be cool costs time and money. I do believe variant cardback photos and logos would be a cheap way to get packaging completists to buy more of the same figures, while Johnny Walmart Customer would just be happy to buy a figure they want regardless of packaging, but that's me. It worked fine in the 1980s, and it would be nice to see again, but the closest we've seen to that was on The Mandalorian Carbonized Collection action figures.



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Be sure you send in your questions for next time. The mailbag is out of on-topic questions, so if you got some, send some in. We had some trickle in at the last minute this week.

Another week, another round of delays - Sony pushed Uncharted to 2022, while Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the next James Bond won't come out until later this year. (Or next year.) At this point I assume every big media company is looking at the calendar and is hoping not to blink. This means there are some toys that may be stuck in limbo a little longer, although I don't really grasp why. It wasn't unusual for toys to come out way ahead of the movies back in the 1990s and 2000s. A year or more might be a little silly, but at this point, why not? Storage isn't free, you know. Right now it seems like most of us can probably expect to write off spring and summer... and fall. But winter 2021/2022, well, there's some hope there. After all, reports are that we had a record flu season with the lowest number of cases in years. I'll take the good news as we can find it.

With Toy Fair 2021 off the table, we've seen Funko do its Funko Fair online and Hasbro will continue to announce things here and there throughout the year. I find it preferable to the glut of items launching around Valentine's Day, but your mileage may vary. Also there's probably more than a little bit of juice to squeeze out of the last couple of years, given a lot of The Rise of Skywalker-and-later releases weren't necessarily released to maximize demand. People still want those red Sith Troopers, and Mando's barely scratched the surface of what can be done with those toys.

So what's new to look forward to? New Hasbro reveals for Star Wars are real nearby. The Muppet Show is coming to Disney+, but how complete it is remains to be seen. And maybe we'll get new episodes of Dicktown if we're really lucky. (Have you seen it? You should see it.)

--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.



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