The End is Nigh!
ok, ok, maybe you were expecting that from me, being the resident AFi Conspiracy Theorist and all. Of course I couldn’t resist referencing the upcoming(?) Mayan Calendar Event. But within our hobby, there is another End-of-Days Scenario unfolding.
It’s the end of the (collecting) world as we know it…but do you feel fine?
Let me backtrack a bit. As I walked into a local Target last week, I had fond recollections of times past, hurrying towards the toy aisle with anticipation, hoping to run across the latest action figure de jour. My mind drifted to other toy runs, other times, other stores. A decade’s worth of exhilarating moments that defined this silly hobby.
Discovering the short-packed Trap-Jaw and Tri-Klops in the MOTU 200X line during the holidays at Walmart. Stumbling upon two chase Red Skull figures hanging in front on the pegged endcap.
Driving all day to multiple Tuesday Morning stores for the G.I.Joe Crimson Command Chopper, and finally finding one at the last store in town. Morning after morning, Target after Target, hunting down the yellow Stalker and Snake Eyes with black Timber in the 25th Anniversary G.I.Joe line.
Hitting all the Gamestop stores in Colorado in one single day, searching for the SOTA Street Fighter Round 2 exclusive variants.
The triumphant finds and devastating near-misses throughout the many years of JLU.
Cyborg Superman at Big Lots. Marvel Legends exclusive wave at Walmart. DCUC wave 3 variants at KayBee Toys. All the great stuff that turned up at Ross, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s.
Remember what it used to be like?
Walmart, Target, Toys R Us, the mighty Toy Hunt, heart pounding for the thrill of the chase, the eternal struggle of Collector VS Scalper!
Many times I came away empty-handed, but man…those rare finds made this collecting hobby fun.
That word seems very foreign to my action figure collecting these days.
I’m sure you have many of the same collecting memories over the past few years…but that’s all they are now – memories. Whether it’s being continuously upset at certain online services, or frustration from the lack of product to be found on shelves, or the sorrow from seeing your favorite lines unfairly die a slow and painful death, there doesn’t seem to be much joy in collecting toys anymore. How long has it been since you excitedly searched the aisle for some new treasure? Months? Years? Longer?
Is it still fun for you?
Like Boys II Men so eloquently stated – we’ve come to the End of the Road.
Here’s my prediction – within the next few years, the 6″ action figure will be an endangered species, and possibly completely extinct.
Overly-dramatic? maybe a little. But hear me out.
We all know that the collecting landscape has rapidly changed in recent years. Numerous and frequent price increases, business models moving towards subscription programs, less product overall being carried by retailers. Budgets are shrinking, corners are being cut in manufacturing, more focus on recognizable names and fewer fan-requested obscure characters, and less overall characters in general. But despite these cost-cutting practices, the prices keep rising. My rants on ‘corporate greed’ are commonplace on the forum, but I am also aware that overseas manufacturing costs have been kept artificially low for over a decade due to the influence of certain retailers. We have seen fifteen years of adjustments in just the past few years, and many collectors can no longer afford the action figures at today’s prices. Add in improving factory conditions, fair workforce compensation, additional regulations and safety standards, and, well, you begin to realize the days of cheap 6″ action figures are nearly over. And if 6″ figures go away, will 4″ action figures be far behind?
The recent (and polarizing) updates within DC and Marvel have certainly had an effect as well. Not to open up Pandora’s Box too much, but the wholesale changes made in the past year to both companies’ characters have influenced the habits of collectors. While these stunts have gained some new fans, many others have reduced their monthly reading, or stopped buying comics altogether, which creates a ripple effect on the community. DC and Marvel aren’t about comics and toys anymore – it’s all about licensing. By focusing on streamlining their properties for movies and video games (and also by chasing a non-existent young adult market), these companies have sent an unfortunate message that the characters and history and intertwined universes we enjoyed for the past 70+ years are outdated, irrelevant, and passe, leaving the loyal fanbase with feelings of disinterest, and sometimes anger. And if you’re feeling angry, then why give them your hard-earned money? For me, personally, I have zero interest in buying any comic books and associated action figures of DCnU characters that are devoid of any depth or inspirational qualities. As a DC fanboy for the past thirty years, I never expected that to happen, ever. And it carries over to other toys, as well – I look the lackluster efforts on some of the DCUC Subscription figures, wonder if I even care anymore. Are these action figures really worth $25 each, or are we fooling ourselves with rose-colored nostalgia?
One last contributing factor could be the biggest of all – Brand Exhaustion.
Is it possible that we’ve had too much of a good thing? Maybe. For the past ten years, we’ve seen all the Classic properties from our childhoods come back in a flurry of nostalgic updates – Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, G.I.Joe, Transformers, Marvel, DC, Voltron, Ghostbusters, ThunderCats…with all the sculpting, articulation, and details we all wished our original toys had when we were kids, and often with in iterations and variations. But is the ‘WOW’ factor gone? Is there anything left to achieve? Perhaps all the goodwill and excitement created from that 80s sentimentality has finally worn off, and collectors are finally satisfied. We literally have dozens of Spider-Men, Optimus Primes, Darth Vaders, Snake Eyes. We’ve all been unbelievably spoiled. Maybe we have taken it all for granted, and there’s nothing new left to make, nothing left to be enthused about, and nothing new that deserves our money.
So there it is.
The End of Days.
Oh, sure, there will always be vintage collections, there will always be fans wanting to track down all the different action figures that have been produced over the past 50 years and beyond…but it won’t be the same. The excitement for seeing new figures at NYTF and SDCC will be gone. No more adrenalin rush walking into a toy aisle and finding new items, no more arguing with JLU fans on the message boards. Just a bunch of old collectors arguing about old stuff…
…and, really, if the Maya have guessed correctly, then none of this matters anyway, right?