Hasbro's Action Figure Business Model is Hostile Toward Fans

The business of selling toys ought to be simple. You make toys. You sell them to people who want them. Capitalism 101. But for some reason, this concept is lost on the brain trust at Hasbro, who make the predatory practices of the comic book industry look like amateur hour, and take it from a person who has spent over a decade complaining about those practices: that's really saying something.
Hasbro recently launched a new branch of its Retro Collection line of action figures, bringing back the classic O-Ring design, which was a welcome change if you've bought any of their previous Retro releases (great for people who like a Duke whose hands constantly fall off for no reason, but not so great for anyone else). But the line is exclusive to Hasbro Pulse, and worse, many of its offerings are restricted to limited-edition pre-order sales that sell out within hours of being announced.

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Credit: Hasbro

The goal, one can only assume, is to create demand through artificial scarcity, which is a tactic familiar to anyone who has trafficked in comics before. Rather than create demand by producing a product people want to buy, you create that demand by convincing customers they are going to miss out if they don't buy, preferably multiple copies (after all, you have to keep one in the box). As with E-X-X-XCLUSIVE variant covers and UNIVERSE-SHAKING super-mega-crossover events, it is with Hasbro Pulse-exclusive limited-time preorder releases.

The latest release to come and all too quickly go on Hasbro Pulse is the Retro Collection Cobra Stinger with Cobra Officer, announced via an Instagram live stream on Wednesday, but long sold out by the time I learned about it on Thursday morning. This marks the first O-Ring figure that I've missed the pre-order for, though not the first recent GI Joe release. I also missed out on the Walmart pre-order for a Retro Collection Scarlett figure, and that one never came back into stock, and currently sells for $100 on second-hand markets. And the only reason I don't collect the Classified figures is that I didn't even learn they existed until it was far too late to have any hope of buying all of them. I want to buy every GI Joe Retro Collection release Hasbro puts out. Why won't they let me?

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Credit: Hasbro

You would think that Hasbro would want to sell toys to someone like me — someone who is both willing and able to pay what can only be described as outrageously inflated prices for plastic dolls and accessories on an ongoing basis indefinitely– but the evidence demonstrates the opposite. By creating artificial scarcity, Hasbro guarantees that all of their toys will be bought by scalpers so they can be resold at a five-times markup on eBay. That's a five-times markup for their MSRP, not taking into account that at $20 for a 3.75" GI Joe figure, Hasbro is already marking the price up at least double what it ought to be, even with inflation.

In Hasbro's business calculus, selling out every pre-order to scalpers must be viewed as financially more desirable than ensuring actual fans of the product can actually get their hands on them. It's a myopic business strategy once again all-too-familiar to comic book fans, but that doesn't make it any less offensively stupid (almost as stupid as making a Snake Eyes movie where Snake Eyes is constantly talking). It also guarantees GI Joe will remain a niche franchise with an aging (and eventually dying) fanbase that never grows because its products are totally inaccessible to anyone who can't make following Hasbro's livestreams a full-time occupation.

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Credit: Hasbro

Yes, we may be middle-aged nerds paying inflated prices for a fleeting sense of nostalgia, but remember, we are also middle-aged nerds with obsessive collector mentalities that will sooner drop collecting an entire line of toys than suffer a gap in their collections. With that in mind, it's time that we demand Hasbro make some changes if they want to retain our customer loyalty. Here is a three-point plan to make Hasbro's sales model friendlier to fans:

  1. All pre-orders for toys that won't ship until six months from now should remain open for at least a week, with Hasbro increasing the manufacturing run to match the demand. If you're selling the toys months before you produce them, there's no excuse not to make enough of them for everyone.
  2. Pre-orders should not begin until at least a few days after they're announced. The GI Joe fanbase has got to be at least 99% middle-aged adults buying for nostalgia purposes. Kids aren't paying twenty bucks for a Baroness action figure. This means that Hasbro is selling to people who have jobs and therefore are not always available to watch a live stream on Wednesday morning and immediately pre-order a toy before it sells out. Give people a few days for the news to propagate around the internet.
  3. All toy scalpers are to be loaded onto a full-scale replica GI Joe Defiant space shuttle and launched directly into the sun. The ship should be equipped with heat-resistant cameras so that people still on Earth can watch and enjoy their screaming, fiery deaths on the next Hasbro Instagram live stream. Who wouldn't buy into that Haslab?
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Credit: Hasbro

If Hasbro makes these changes (or at least the first two), it would make collecting their toys a far less frustrating, and more rewarding, experience for fans. Failing to do so continues a practice that is outright hostile toward the very people who supply the company with revenue. Of course, as long as Hasbro is making money, they have no motivation to change, which means that if fans want change to happen, they must stop buying toys that are released through this predatory method.

We've got the willpower to resist those limited edition pre-orders, right folks? @#$%. We're screwed, aren't we?

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Credit: Hasbro

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About Jude Terror

A prophecy claims that in the comic book industry's darkest days, a hero would come to lead the people through a plague of overpriced floppies, incentive variant covers, #1 issue reboots, and super-mega-crossover events. Unfortunately, nobody can tell when the comics industry has reached its "darkest days" because it somehow keeps finding new lows to sink to. No matter! Jude Terror stands vigilant, bringing the snarkiest of comic book and pro wrestling clickbait to the undeserving readers of Bleeding Cool.
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