Mattel’s DC Subscription – Is It Time for a New Model‏?
September 16, 2013

Every year Mattel asks us to blindly sign up for 12 figures of which we usually know 3 or 4. Every year they say they need people who are willing to buy any character in the DC Universe. I think the problem with that is that fans of the DC Universe are fundamentally NOT like fans of Masters of the Universe. Why? Because Masters of the Universe is a very small set of characters. 50 at most. I am not an MOTU fan, so that number is a guess. The DCU by comparison has hundreds of characters with costumes. Even more if you count characters like Alfred and Gordon, Lois and Jimmy. The sheer number of characters tends to make people fans of certain areas of the DCU.

You might get someone who would buy everything Batman related. Or everything Superman related. If you look at the success of the DC Animated Movies, you can see that Wonder Woman and Green Lantern did not do as well as hoped, but the Justice League as a team does well enough that they continue to make movies based on the team. That is my area of the DCU, the Justice League. I also fall into the typical retail consumer who buys way more heroes than villains. I’m just not as interested in Amazo as the Atom.

Then there is the factor that I’ve been collecting for a long time. I bought DC Direct figures in a similar scale before Mattel’s DC Super Heroes line started. I already have a number of DC characters. There is also impatience. When Mattel seemed to not going to get to Wally West and the Elongated Man before the line ended, I bought the DC Direct versions. And then there is money. I cannot justify buying characters I do not want or buying again characters I already have.

Fire Arrives to Join the JLI

I think this picture of Fire arriving to join my JLI showcases the diversity of my collection pretty well.

Plain and simple, the current model of blindly buy 12 characters does not work for me. So what about another model? One where Mattel does not have to risk a lot of money investing in characters that not enough people want? What about a Kickstarter style model for each proposed character. Something like this.

1. Mattel comes up with a character and a version of that character they think has a decent demand. They have a pretty good feel on this.
2. Mattel mocks up a current sculpt with changes to make this new character / version.
3. Mattel submits it to DC for approval.
4. Let’s assume DC approves it.
5. Mattel puts up a picture and description of the character on a page and asks for orders giving a cut off date.
6. People go to the website and order the figure using a method like paypal which allows for payments which can be returned.
7. If enough people order the figure, the people get billed. Right then. Using the money collected, the figure gets sculpted, sent to DC for final approval, created and 9 months later it arrives.
8. If not enough people order the figure, Mattel moves on to the next figure.

This would minimize effort on characters without enough demand and allow the line to focus on characters with high demand. I may not be interested in Robin based on Stephanie Brown (I would be interested in her as Batgirl). But there might be enough other people who do want this to justify the figure’s inclusion in the line.

Erik Skov “superfriend”.

Erik "Superfriend" Skov
"Gathered together from the four corners of the universe." Oh, wait, that's the show, not me. Erik "SuperFriend" Skov never actually got to appear on the show, although he did watch it every week. Erik spent 6 years working for Hasbro in Pawtucket, RI before leaving for a job that paid more (Why else would a collector leave the company that was making Star Wars, Transformers, and while I was there Batman). I used to post all over the net. These days I tend to hang my hat at AFI.
Read other articles by Erik "Superfriend" Skov.





  • John Comer says:

    that is the greatest idea for getting dc universe in the hands of the real collectors.I love it this should be purposed to mattel/dc comics.

  • Brian says:

    Unfortunately, your suggestion makes way to much sense for Mattel to ever implement. Perhaps, if there were competent brand management, but alas.

  • Casimir says:

    Sounds like a variation on pre-orders, with a Kickstarter twist. It’s a solid idea. But as many of us have been shouting “PRE-ORDER” for years, I can guarantee that will fall on deaf ears at Mattel.


    • Nathan says:

      I think it is less the fact that consumers don’t want to buy every figure, and more the fact that Mattel is TELLING fans what they should want made and not LISTENING to actual demand from consumers. Yes, we have wanted a larger Doomsday for years, but absolutely no one besides the most hardcore Superman fan from that era was demanding Doomsday in his containment suit, yet we had to buy that hugely overpriced figure to get the one everyone wanted. That’s why subscriptions didn’t happen this year. That and the fact that the line has been replaced at retail by figures that look like they were made by Fisher Price. And this is from someone who has collected every single variant of every single figure from both DCSH and DCUC. It is sad to put so much time and money into collecting an entire line only to see it abandoned by a company not listening to its fans.

  • anonymous says:

    Thanks for your suggestion, but “their” no plans at this time. The sub was your best chance to get horseman style DCU, but with only 63% of tier 1, we could not move forward. We simply cannot make toys if demand is not there.

    • Darrell says:

      I am not sure if this is a legitimate response from Mattel representatives, or just a rehash of a response from another source (I do seem to recall a very similar response released at one point or another), but if it is legitimate, then I for oen am getting a bit tired of Mattel’s continual blame of the fans. I have purchased a sub each and every year, 2014’s sub included, and I have enjoyed about 90 percent of the figures released (honestly, NO ONE liked that Red Hood figure). Even so, the forums on this site and Matty Collector.Com and countless other sights are full of people who had legitimate (boy, I am using that word a lot today) complaints with the line. These ranged from quality issues to customer service complaints, as well as puzzlement over why some figures were selected over much more sought after figures. And yet alongside the complaints were suggestions on how to fix these problems. In black and white, the fans were telling Mattel how to address problems and how to keep the customers happy. And yet, none were implemented as far as I can tell.
      Follow that up with borderline condescending communiques and podcasts about how the fans should be grateful and how we ought to forget the issues and concentrate on the figures, blah blah blah … well, I’m sorry, I’m not surprised that some of the fans refused to say “Thank you, sir, may I have another.”
      I am disappointed that my dreams for a 6-inch Mattel Mera, Aqualad, Jericho, Gypsy, Vibe, Vixen, Crimson Fox, etc., etc., are dead in the water. Are the fans to blame for not supporting the line? Perhaps in part, yes. But Mattel should take a good, long hard look at their practices and realize that they have some of that blame to shoulder themselves.

  • Namen says:

    I prefer the system as is to the one listed in the post. Sorry but this is too much hassle to be bothered with and to wait 9 months for a figure to come along. The problems with the sub aren’t answered here.

  • j1h15233 says:

    I think it’s a great idea but the hassle of a pre-order seems to be more than Mattel can handle.

    • Nathan says:

      This would not be a preorder though. Preorders would basically be an individual version of the subscription model. Basically make a small commitment on a single figure then pay upon release. Definitely too much for Mattel to handle with how poorly they’ve handled subscriptions and advertising for them. But what’s proposed here is paying entirely upfront for an individual figure so Mattel would have cash in hand to make the molds and we as consumers would still have the choice that retail outlets (used to) provide. We just need to make it clear to Mattel that we don’t mind paying upfront and waiting as long as it takes for actual production, provided we get to choose which figures we buy.

      • j1h15233 says:

        That’s exactly what a pre-order is, paying up front for something before it arrives. The only difference between this and a sub is that the figures would be individually done. I don’t think it’ll ever happen though and even if it did, it would only take one or two failed figures for them to decide it’s not worth the money to pay people to set it all up.

        • Nathan says:

          No, preorders would be making a down payment then paying upon release, very similar to the subscription model. Very rarely do you preorder something by paying in full upfront.

          • j1h15233 says:

            It’s the same thing. Whether you pay 1 dollar for a figure or the full 30 or whatever these would cost you are pre-ordering it by putting money down on a product that does not yet exist. This plan he proposed is most definitely a pre-order and it’s a more effective way to do one (at least from our standpoint).

  • Troy says:

    This is a good idea. I’d also support a model where they alternate this kind of thing with a “line specific” subs each year, similar to Watchmen (Black Freighter). What I mean is this: Perhaps they could do what you suggest, but also offer, one year, a Batman sub that would include, say, Damian, Alfred, Killer Croc, etc. People would know what “family” they’re pulling from, and hardcore fans of that sub-group or larger DC fans in general would be interested. You could do the same with Superman, Green Lantern, or even Legion. I’d love to see a small Legion sub that accompanied the boxed set; I think the likes of Dawnstar or Blok might move that sub for casual fans, because they’d be striking figures. Anyway, I like where you’re coming from; this is just my extra two cents.

  • George says:

    They did a pre-order for Castle Greyskull, but they won’t do anything like that for DCIE. It’s a Tale of Two Toy Lines. Put out a pre-order on Matty Collector for a Royal Flush Gang 5-pack, have approved (DC) artistic renderings of what the characters would look like, the price & I’ll guarantee you a sell out by fans. Do a once a year, twice a year pre-order and continue the line that way. But in reality, that’s too much work for Neitlich & Mattel to do. The ship has sailed.

    • Lee in MI says:

      Wrong George…your Royal Flush Gang idea would never work! Why?

      …because Mattel would kcuf it up by making 3 members of the team from one of their animated series looks and the other 2 from their classic duds = classic Mattel Fail!

      And I have to agree with anonymous, here’s what we get for bright ideas:

      “Thanks for your suggestion, but “their” no plans at this time. The sub was your best chance to get horseman style DCU, but with only 63% of tier 1, we could not move forward. We simply cannot make toys if demand is not there.”

  • cutecult says:

    Great idea! They sort of basically did this with Greyskull and Miss Martian/Superboy but $50 was pretty steep for the two.

  • elvis8batman says:

    With the watchmen sub, buyers knew in advance the characters that they would be getting, and the look of each character, as it was based on the comic appearances. So they knew what they would get upfront.

    This model worked, and surely there can only be SO many Watchmen fans out there, (Mattel never release actual numbers) but I would be surprised if the 63% of DCIE is less than the number that signed up for the Watchmen sub.

    If Mattel suggested a list of characters for specific subs, did the subs as ‘teams or families’, polled fans to pick the six or 12 they most wanted from the list, announced the winning choices and made those then I could see this working. If they checked with DC/WB first on who they could offer up before running the poll, then we would be sorted.

    Imagine being given the chance to vote for the 6 or 12 characters/looks you wanted from Batman, or Perez era Teen Titans, or from the LOSH etc, then being told who the top picks were and given the chance to sub up for those? It would be awesome. You could run a couple of subs each month, the same way some collectors were getting a monthly MOTUC figure and a monthly DCIE figure, you could be getting a figure from each of the subs you had chosen to buy into from the DC line up.

    There is a fan base here, we do still want 4H DCUC figures to complete our collections, but we don’t want to be TOLD what we NEED to buy, we want to say what we want to buy. And character specific subs are the best way of letting us vote with our wallets (which Mattel always ask us to do).

    The only reason this can’t work is if Mattel does not want it to. And to not want to keep a customer base by listening to them on how they want to give you their money is ridiculous!!!

  • Bradley Sugg says:

    I loved the line for those rare one off characters that no one suspected. Kamandi got me to buy DCUC. Characters like the Metal Men, Uncle Sam, Forager, and Guardian were the highlights of this line. Your model won’t get more of these figures into my collection. The DC Direct line did get some characters of this type but they lacked possibility and their paint comes off so bad. I also don’t want many more Superman or Batmans and their figures will still find a way to the shelves. I want the rest of the DCU and I want them in a standard pre-52 house style. (Pre-Crisis if possible.) So I guess I’d rather say goodbye than have your model.

  • John Comer says:

    the “demand is there for figures we want not fillers the horsemen as great as they are gave us what they thought along with Mattel what we wanted.i say give the fans the opportunity to have the figures made that “WE” the collectors want not what you guys think would be cool.we the fans have wanted for years.from the silver,golden,and present would sell i don’t mind paying for figures that i want but come on Uncle Sam?batzarro? over a Damien Wayne or Metron over a Doomsday? I mean what the hell were you guys thinking.

  • demoncat4 says:

    mattel did try a pre order thing with miss martian and super boy did not take. besides this new way would mean scott and mattel would have to put almost as much work they put into the motu sub. and even if the thing got more buyers and fans investing like for that one character. pretty soon mattel would fall back to getting scared and decide better to have sales do batman and super man. or they will go can’t do doomsday or granny goodness not enough sales for the budget and tooling. but like the idea. including with fan demanded obscure characters who have yet to have a figure ever like max lord or amanda waller . plus they can also do sets this method like the royal flush gang. but sadly dcutoys are dead with mattel for a bit.

  • Tom says:

    I like the idea of a pre-order/kickstarter program. They can let us vote on which character we want in either half year short wave themes or quarterly 5 packs. I think figure 5 packs would be really cool. Groups like the Royal Flush gang, Flash’s rouges, Legion sets, Batman family members, DC civilians, Justice League villains could be gathered together for sales. If you didn’t like a set you can wait another 3 months. There would always be some easy repaint figures, but a little effort into some full sculpt characters could be added. Depending on how we vote on who goes in would effect the cost of the sets, but showing us sketches or mock versions of the figures (we know the 4 Horsemen already have some characters sculpted) would give us an idea of what we are getting. No more surprise caped Red Hoods and such. If I was Mattel I would start off strong. Do a Superman set with Atomic Skull, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Doomsday, Live Wire and a humanoid Metallo. You have a couple of simple figures and a female, who is a repaint with a new head. That leaves more budget for Skull and Doomsday. I think we all know which version of him we would vote for.

    Mattel and Scot only has another 2 years of MOTU left, then what are they going to do? DC can go on longer than that if they put a little effort into it as the do the MOTU stuff. Let us vote if we want a Batcave or a giant seahorse for Aquaman. jk

  • Ralph says:

    I dont think this is a viable option, companies like Mattel don’t green light a mockup sculpt for figures that might not sell, so Im pretty sure they’d kill this idea off just on that premise, this is the reason they asked people to subscribe for 12 figures showing only 3 or 4 (the money to make these probably was just left over from their profits from the previous sub year) to get people intrested that way if the sub didnt go through they wouldnt loose any money. Plus Im sure they would cancell the process if 2 figures in a row didnt get enough peorders to be produced.

    As I see it the problem began with the last 4 DCUC waves, these lines had a ton of figures that even collectors didn’t care much about, so Mattel lost Distributer interest in this line and had to move to Matty Collector (In my opinion in order to keep Mayor Distributer intrest companies have to release waves with mixed characters both popular ones that will sell all over and not as popular characters that collectors want) and as Scott “toy guru” has said several times Matty Collector ist really important to Mattel, they keep their subs as long as they dont cost them any money, any profit they make is good but they are not about to put money into the line (thats why enought people have to order the full 12 figures in order to keep the sub alive).

    I think maybe to make it safer for mattel I would add a step between 1 and 2 where they could have an online poll with a number of options of figures they got after step 1 for collectors to vote on, that way they would know for sure it would be a figure they would have enough people on board for that figure, because im not too sure if these people really know what fans want. If they did Im pretty sure they could have made an unleashed doomsday by now I know I would pay up to $50 for one if I know I was getting him, but I wasnt goint to pay for 12 figures to “posibly” get a containment suit one.

    I dont know. I just think with the global economy right now in the toilet; I see little hope for 6″ DC figures that are not targeted for kids (aside from collector’s companes like DC Collectibles) Also even though he denies it Im sure Toy Guru is biased towards MOTU, it just seems to me they put more effort to MOTU than they did to CIE.

  • Habib3000 says:

    Where can I place my pre-order for a Royal Flush Gang 5-pack?

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