I’ve written before that I’ve kind of given up on collecting action figures for various reasons. First, nobody is really making anything that I really feel the need to have. Secondly, prices are rising, but quality is falling, a bad combination. Third, stores are stocking fewer and fewer figures and collecting just isn’t fun anymore. So is this the end of the road for action figures?
There was a thread recently over on AFI, where someone asked if we’re seeing the beginning of the end of the collector action figure world. After all, retail store space for action figures is shrinking dramatically and even in stores where they still sell figures, stocking has largely gone by the wayside. Target, Walmart and K-Mart usually have more empty pegs than full these days and popular lines continually get eliminated as they condense their sections with each successive reset.
To be honest, that doesn’t really bother me and my reasons are listed above. I’m not now, nor have I ever been a fanatical collector, I am not a completist, I don’t feel I have to have everything, nor do I want everything out on the shelves. In fact, I don’t understand people who feel they have to have a complete collection of every single figure that ever comes out. Those people have issues. Collecting, whether it’s sports cards or action figures or stamps, is a hobby, if it becomes an obsession, you should seek professional help. Unfortunately for the action figure industry, they have largely stopped producing things that I, as a consumer, have any real interest in buying. They could be doing better, they just aren’t. Want an example? For the first and second Iron Man movies, they produced a ton of action figures, well-designed, well-executed, wide-variety figures that came out constantly, wave after wave after waves and I bought virtually all of them, at least the ones that I could find. It was exciting the look at the stores to see if the next wave was out. When it came to Iron Man 3, they produced virtually nothing. The only series I was at all interested in, they produced one wave of 3 figures for and now, 4 months after the movie’s release, they are putting out a second set, I assume also 3 figures, although I’ve only seen 1 so far. I honestly don’t know if I’ll even bother with the second wave, I just don’t care anymore.
Then you have the increase in prices. Yes, I know that oil prices are up and plastic requires oil to be produced. I’m not complaining about that necessarily, although I will be honest, there is a cost-benefit analysis that goes on and there is a point at which a hunk of painted plastic is no longer worth spending a significant amount of money on. However, it isn’t just the price increase that’s a problem, it’s the dramatic fall in quality at the same time. Figures are being released with fewer and fewer points of articulation, fewer accessories, less interesting packaging, worse paint, it’s like the industry is just thumbing their nose at the fans instead of realizing that those people who are putting their money into the pockets of Mattel and Hasbro are essentially getting hosed by high prices and laziness. Is it any wonder people are giving up?
Third, you have the lack of availability in retail stores. Years back, Walmart single-handedly killed the independent toy retailer by expanding their toy selection and then dropping prices to the point that no one could compete. Retailers like Kaybee went under, leaving only a few large retailers like Toys R Us and the marketplace has never been the same. However, today, Walmart has scaled back to such a degree that today, in most stores, action figures take up less than a quarter of an aisle. As anyone who has read my stuff for a while knows, the biggest thing that has kept me going as an action figure purchaser has been the chase. Any idiot can get online, whip out a credit card and buy every figure that comes out and have it delivered to their door. Where is the fun in that? It’s the chase that matters, but today, there is no chase because most stores never receive any figures, or receive so few that they’re gone in minutes and never coming back into stock. For those of us who are not in this for the utter frustration that this system provides, why bother?
Based on these three things, some people have started to assume that this is the beginning of the end for the collector action figure market. It’s just too expensive and time-consuming to cater to the collector market, who demands quality, when you can just sell to the kiddies who don’t care. Personally, I’m not fanatical about it anyhow, I buy if they produce something I want to buy and if they don’t, I don’t feel obligated to keep buying.
So maybe it should be the end, or maybe just the end for me, until they come up with something worth buying at a price worth spending. If that’s never, so be it. It’s up to them to earn my business. They’d better start earning.