Not getting as much bang for your buck lately when it comes to collectibles and action figures? (Or should that be “not getting as much ‘buck’ for your buck”?) Blame rising oil prices, says figureBOMB.com‘s Nick Saunders.
I would like to preface this week’s article by admitting upfront that I am neither a chemical engineer nor an expert in macroeconomics. What I present is a layman’s impression of the global state of the plastics industry, and how it is majorly cramping my style as a toy collector extraordinaire. I make no assertions as to the validity of any scientific or mathematical conclusions included herein, as I earned solid C’s in both subjects in college. However, in a not-so-unrelated aside, I earned many gold stars for guzzling 40’s straight to the dome and busting wack freestyles. Moving on…
Let’s play a fun game: In your left hand, pick up a 2003 Transformers: Armada Supreme Class Unicron. In your right hand, pick up a 2013 Transformers Ultimate Beast Hunter Optimus Prime. Take a few moments to give each figure its due hefting, then feel free to set them down. What did you learn from this brief endeavor as a human triple-beam? My guess is that the first thing you noticed was that Unicron is significantly heavier than Prime. The other thing you may have noticed is that he is also much more solid- there are few exposed cavities present, and the plastic is overall more dense with noticeably less flex. As a general impression you are probably feeling that Unicron is a much higher quality toy. You may also feel a deep guttural compulsion to devour entire planets whole, which is a scientifically-proven side effect of basking in Unicron’s greatness.
Fun fact: In 2003 the interstellar “Chaos Bringer” known as Unicron retailed for $10 less than what Ultimate Prime costs today (the figures retail for $49.99 and $59.99, respectively). Granted, if inflation is to be accounted for at 3% annually, Unicron would actually cost $67.19 in 2013 dollars. However, even if we take into account this 12% difference in adjusted present-day MSRP, there is more than a 12% weight difference between the two figures. In fact, using the shipping weight estimates from Amazon and Big Bad Toy Store (Full disclosure: The Comixverse is sponsored by Big Bad Toy Store) as reference, Unicron weighs 10.3 pounds in package versus 3.5 pounds for Ultimate Prime. While the correlation between the figures’ shipping weight and actual weight isn’t fixed, the comparative difference remains as staggering as this writer’s intoxicated gait after consuming the malt liquor previously referenced in the first paragraph.
What are the implications of these observations, and why should anyone care? The above comparison of Unicron and Ultimate Prime is a microcosm of the impact that skyrocketing sourcing costs have had in the global plastics market. Given that plastic resin is produced using crude oil derivatives, logic dictates that the higher oil prices continue to climb, the price of resin will proportionately follow. Additionally, as crude oil is a highly finite resource that we are outstripping year over year (per a UL IDES article on this subject, oil consumption is rising at 2.3% per year while oil production is decreasing 8%), this conundrum will continue to escalate as a matter of pure scarcity.
Decreasing the size and plastic quality in their toys is not the only way manufacturers have tried to cope with the constricted availability of plastic resin. A simpler solution has been to include less accessories and increase the retail price of the item. At the advent of the Marvel Legends toy line in 2002, figures retailed for $9.99 on average, and included a reproduction comic and a detailed diorama-style figure stand. Later waves abandoned the stands and began including limbs to a much larger “Build-A-Figure” that would stand about 16 inches tall. Eleven years later, current waves of Marvel Legends are priced between $14.99 and $19.99 depending on the retailer. There is no longer a pack-in comic, and if a BAF piece is included at all, it is for a miniature figure such as Rocket Raccoon. Again, this is due to a combination of inflation and the elevated cost involved in plastic manufacturing.
I sincerely hope that no one interprets this week’s article as bashing Hasbro, or any other toy company for that matter. As businesses, to remain financially solvent they need to find ways to keep manufacturing their products in a manner that allows for a profit to be made. It is only rational that measures will continue to be taken to make toy manufacturing a viable enterprise. So brace yourselves, and prepare to be continuously broke like Batman’s back if you wish to keep collecting into the foreseeable future.