Gomek

My Case Against Artificial Rarity

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Every once in a while Lego makes a curious decision to create artificial rarity among some of its products. I would like to appeal to my fellow collectors to be a little more vocal against these practices and not so accepting of this ‘status quo’ practice in the toy industry. These practices do NOT benefit us.

First, I’ll start off by admitting I’m on the older side, so I’ve seen some of these practices evolve. The value of anything is, of course, based on supply and demand. Back in the day the collectable toy market came about by the natural attrition of toys. Kids played with (and damaged) toys and parents through them out and thus they became ‘rare’. The ones that were sought after then became valuable. Fair enough.

Some industries, in particular the comic book industry, benefited greatly from this. All of the sudden it was acceptable to collect comic books because they were ‘valuable’.

Then some marketers got a ‘great’ idea to incentivize retailers into buying more product by including ‘chase’ items which the retailer could charge premiums for. This is important because it needs to be made clear that this is not a practice invented for the benefit of collectors. It’s a practice meant to exploit collectors. The same collector who would have been perfectly happy to collect #1 to #16, now felt the need to collect a special #10a and pay a premium to a dealer to get it. Of course other collectors who would have also been otherwise happy with their collection now had a hole because they were not willing to pay the unnaturally inflated prices.

Still other markers were too impatient to wait for the natural attrition and increased value of their product. They purposely created artificially rare products to increase the value of their products and create hype. Again, a practice used to manipulate the market and to get the highest possible price from collectors.

There has also arisen a very vocal minority who winds up benefiting from some of these scenarios. For instance a convention goer who is given a $200 dollar minifigure will defend the practice to no end because he or she has benefited from the practice. It doesn’t matter that the same figure could have easily been a poly bag that they could have picked up at Target for $4. They are perfectly happy to be a pawn of the marketing game for their own self-interest and self-entitlement, despite the fact that their own collecting community gets price gouged on the secondary market the very next day.

The whole ‘golden ticket’ fallacy is another instance of artificial rarity that I find deplorable. A great market scheme (I guess) but it does not serve the community in any way. We all love Charlie and Chocolate Factory but in the story we all got to follow Charlie as he gets the golden ticket. How many of us would have been happy to read the same book where Charlie does NOT get the golden ticket. Yet as collectors that’s where 99% of us found ourselves after getting ‘The gold finger’ from Lego with “Mr. Gold”.

Lego collectors will also find themselves susceptible to other secondary issues because of artificial rarity, as Lego is not all that difficult to counterfeit. For the most part counterfeiters have been very good about identifying their products as such, but as these items move into the marketplace that will not continue. If a collector gets fooled into buying a fake version of a $3 Ironman figure it’s no big shake. Paying $100+ for a fake version of a figure one thought was real is another story entirely. And again had these figures been released at numbers that equaled their market demand, this would not be an issue.

So, in closing I just want to make it clear that I love Lego. Mostly I feel the Lego Group does a fine job of developing products that interest both me and my children. Artificial Rarity however is NOT a beneficial practice for anyone and should never be supported.

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I have to say I do agree with you. At one point I was 1000% a Lego purist. Everything that was not genuine Lego found its way to the trash or a garage sale. I am a collector as well and I can spend a reasonable amount of money to complete my collection.  The artificial rareity you described drives me crazy as well. Because of that, if I find a reasonably priced, acceptable quality knockoff I am willing to buy it. I would prefer to buy Lego brand exclusively but when they make decisions as a company to create ridiculously, stupid, unnecessary rare, expensive items I will gladly buy a knockoff. 

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Yeah, I definitely remember artificial rarity opening the door for the knockoffs. Specifically the Green Arrow figure was the first one I remember coming out of China where AFOLs were actively buying the knockoffs as a infinitely cheaper alternative to the real thing. And that initial support of course opened up the whole can of worms with the knock-offs.

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Hello Gomek, I agree fully with your concerns and TLG's steps into creating artificial scarcity by themselvss, like the retro policeman is as well. I think it doesn't fits to Lego's original philosophy and I hope such things remain outliers really.

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Agreed. Mr. Gold was a snafu and a perpetual scar on Lego in the eyes of many fans. They went down a similar path recently with S18 classic police officer and are repeating that with whatever one figure per box character in the upcoming Harry Potter CMF.

On the other hand they brought back the Taj Mahal, a heavily third party scalped set. Really those are the only ones who benefit from rarity, third party resellers. It seems for most every other fan of Lego; the builders, fans and collectors; intentional scarcity is rather off-putting.

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Posted (edited)

A really interesting discussion topic. The concept of a chase minifig completely ruins the concept of blind bags, not to mention the buying experience of most of us. As we all acknowledge, the only people who win are the eBay scalpers and gougers, a plague of genital lice on both types.

I'm also still bummed out by the whole convention-exclusive debacle, particularly in the increasingly popular Brickheadz. For example, Lego may have partially pacified Boba Fett collectors, but I'm still getting the frozen-in-carbonite middle finger :hmpf_bad:

@koalayummies  good point re Taj Mahal, but I'd love to know the rationale behind the rerelease. I don't think it was to deter scalpers as there's plenty of other non-licensed highly-sought-after retired sets that would benefit from that policy if so, and we've seen no signs or rumours of it being anything other than a one-off. Maybe testing the waters, if we're prone to straw-clutching?

Edited by Lucarex

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1 hour ago, Littleworlds said:

Hello Gomek, I agree fully with your concerns and TLG's steps into creating artificial scarcity by themselvss, like the retro policeman is as well. I think it doesn't fits to Lego's original philosophy and I hope such things remain outliers really.

I don’t mind os much stuff like the police officer as that was the same price as other minifigures and he wasn’t that rare. Things that do frustrate me are the ‘Con Exclusives.

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I don't see how things like the CMF police officer benefit Lego.  It is not like the benefit from the people selling them at $30 on the secondary market.  There is no scenario that I see where limited releases do anything for Lego's bottom line, it only hurts them.  Of course I'm no marketing/business expert, but if there is high demand for an item, meet that demand.  If you are creating an artificial demand for a product by making it limited, then capitalize on it by making the price comparable to the demand.

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17 minutes ago, RyanMe said:

I don't see how things like the CMF police officer benefit Lego.  It is not like the benefit from the people selling them at $30 on the secondary market.  There is no scenario that I see where limited releases do anything for Lego's bottom line, it only hurts them.  

LEGO benefits by selling more CMF bags in total. It is not a new concept, and LEGO and other companies wouldn't be doing it if the numbers didn't show increased sales. So as much as we dislike it, it is a business decision - simple as that.

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I concur with the OP predominantly because my DC collection will always be short of a growing number of figures, and characters that I like, too.

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1 hour ago, LegoFjotten said:

LEGO benefits by selling more CMF bags in total. It is not a new concept, and LEGO and other companies wouldn't be doing it if the numbers didn't show increased sales. So as much as we dislike it, it is a business decision - simple as that.

Do they?  I have only bought 16 instead of 17.  I will only buy the 17th when I finally find a police officer

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I guess I don't really understand what the gripe is, are you against companies making limited edition stuff. You would rather have them saturate the market to the point of them not being able to even sell items at mrsp then waiting 50 years or so then it becomes rarer. Hard to run a business like that.

Personally I like getting a hold of limited edition stuff at mrsp. I do not feel I need anything bad enough to pay collectors prices though and if that is the only way to get it I just do without. 

Also I know there is a huge difference between a rare items value and what someone will actually pay. 

All in all I don't feel slighted in the least because some company didn't make available to me something I feel I absolutely can't do without. Simply because that item doesn't exist to me anyway. 

Maybe an actual example would help me understand better, other than Mr. Gold. 

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1 hour ago, RyanMe said:

Do they?  I have only bought 16 instead of 17.  I will only buy the 17th when I finally find a police officer

In the days of the chase figures vendors absolutely ordered more so they could get exclusives that they could turn around and sell for 10 or more times the value of any of the 'common' items. In Lego's case they believe people will but more figures (by mistake?) looking to complete a collection, which is now twice or three times as hard. While some of us are good at feeling blind bags others are not and frequently wide up with doubles.
 

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24 minutes ago, Gomek said:

In the days of the chase figures vendors absolutely ordered more so they could get exclusives that they could turn around and sell for 10 or more times the value of any of the 'common' items. In Lego's case they believe people will but more figures (by mistake?) looking to complete a collection, which is now twice or three times as hard. While some of us are good at feeling blind bags others are not and frequently wide up with doubles.
 

Interesting. Maybe it is a bigger deal outside of where I live, but out side of secondhand resellers, I’ve never seen a store selling the chase figure (I.e Mr Gold, police officer) for anything other than MSRP. 

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2 minutes ago, RyanMe said:

Interesting. Maybe it is a bigger deal outside of where I live, but out side of secondhand resellers, I’ve never seen a store selling the chase figure (I.e Mr Gold, police officer) for anything other than MSRP. 

Well, like I said, I'm old, so this started long before Lego was considered "collectable". This was a regular practice with action figures and comic books and they were called 'retailer intensives'. Like I mentioned, it was really just a way to take advantage of collectors. And of course I believe there were also a number of products that probably were under produced by mistake, but when manufactures saw what kind of hype the secondary market could generate, this led other companies to do the same thing on purpose. I can tell you Nintentendo is often accused of doing this, though honestly I'm not really involved enough in that market to have real opinion of their marketing.

 

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12 minutes ago, Gomek said:

Well, like I said, I'm old, so this started long before Lego was considered "collectable". This was a regular practice with action figures and comic books and they were called 'retailer intensives'. Like I mentioned, it was really just a way to take advantage of collectors. And of course I believe there were also a number of products that probably were under produced by mistake, but when manufactures saw what kind of hype the secondary market could generate, this led other companies to do the same thing on purpose. I can tell you Nintentendo is often accused of doing this, though honestly I'm not really involved enough in that market to have real opinion of their marketing.

 

Nintendo is terrible about it. A couple years ago they made retro Nintendo’s. They sold them for $60 and the most I ever heard about any single store around me getting was 10. They were selling on he secondhand market for $200 the day they were released. Many like myself, never got one (I would have for retail if I could have ever found one). The thing I don’t get is if Nintendo is intentionally doing this, why would they sell them for $60 when there was clearly a supply demand situation that warranted a much higher retail price. Their strategy, while allowing them to sell out, kept them from maximizing there potential income. Why not retail them for $150. The same goes with the CMF.  If lego wants to maximize their profits why not make it so that the chase figure is sold retail for a higher price?  

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1 hour ago, Johnny1360 said:

I guess I don't really understand what the gripe is, are you against companies making limited edition stuff. You would rather have them saturate the market to the point of them not being able to even sell items at mrsp then waiting 50 years or so then it becomes rarer. Hard to run a business like that.

Personally I like getting a hold of limited edition stuff at mrsp. I do not feel I need anything bad enough to pay collectors prices though and if that is the only way to get it I just do without. 

Also I know there is a huge difference between a rare items value and what someone will actually pay. 

All in all I don't feel slighted in the least because some company didn't make available to me something I feel I absolutely can't do without. Simply because that item doesn't exist to me anyway. 

Maybe an actual example would help me understand better, other than Mr. Gold. 

"Am I against limited edition stuff" is a good question. I'm an old school collector so the model has always been that things are available for a limited time. Be it Lego, Comics or toys in general. So to a degree I guess I do very much support "Limited edition" merchandise. I mean almost everything Lego produces is a limited edition to an extent.

Personally I feel if you have good market research and a good marketing team, you should be able to roughly gauge the interest in your products and determine your production runs. Will there be mistakes? Absolutely. But I also don't believe vastly under-producing an item at the expense of consumers is something that is imperative to the success of a business.

My gripe is basically Lego is trying to appeal to the collectors market, and to a certain extent the completists, and then they are turning around and supporting marketing practices that exploit them. You can certainly say "it's just business" but it's a business and marketing model that is not there to help collectors, and being a collector, I don't think it's something to feel good about.

 

 

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Okay I see, I am a collector, I collect Speed Champions have about 70%, LEGO The Batman Movie about 92% and just parts about 20%, also a few others, not so much minifigs although I have well over 600 of them. Do I ever expect to achieve 100% on any of them, highly unlikely. I guess I am not a completist although I know there are many and those are the ones being exploited 

To me the three main reasons for collecting are personal satisfaction, bragging/coolness rights and monetary gain. I do it for the first two reasons, although I do like to believe it's all worth something. 

Now to me it would be pointless to collect if those reasons were easily achievable, so I understand why a bit of forced rarity is necessary. There is certainly a fine line between collectable and unobtainable which there are a fair share of sets and parts of the former and I actually have them listed as such on my wish list. I am okay with that though, others not so much. 

That's where the secondary market kicks in and I just flat refuse to deal with that. Certainly TLG knows about this and exploits it to gain recognition and boost sales and I am glad they do, again otherwise collecting would be pointless from an AFOL perspective. Of course they don't always get it right and the scalpers make a killing on the people that must complete their collection. 

Not sure what TLG could do about that though, I certainly understand why they want a certain amount of forced rarity though. All in all I think LEGO does a decent job of it, sometimes they do screw up though. Sometimes it's just too hard to judge the whims of the collector and greed of the scalpers. 

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To me personally, I don’t have a blanket issue with artificial rarity, exclusives, or the like. It all depends on what the character is and the inherit across-the-board value of that character.

On the side of artificially rare figures that I think are just fine, I’d list the following and give the reason as to them being fine:

-Chrome Gold C3PO: just a cool version of an available figure.

-Mr Gold: not a very desirable figure apart from the fact that he’s rare. Just a kitschy design really.

-Retro Police Officer: again not a very desirable figure in and of itself. Also the actual old version can be acquired for not too much money.

-CW SDCC figures: these border on being desirable characters, and I get that they actually are for some people, but I’d argue that that group of people is fairly small and the appeal of these particular character designs even less so.

 

On the other side, here are the ones I think are pretty unacceptable:

-Con-exclusive minifigures of iconic characters like Phoenix, Shazam, Bizzaro: the fact that LEGO made so few X-Men sets (just 2 proper ones?) which BOTH included Wolverine and Magneto, and made an iconic character like Phoenix a con exclusive, is absolutely a slap in the face. Comic/Marvel/X-Men fans across the board are made unable to obtain an important character who would go beautifully along Wolverine, Cyclops, and Storm. Likewise with Shazam (who I know we might get now) and Bizzaro, and even the first Green Lantern fig when it was made.

-Percival Graves: this is another character who has general appeal and desirability among kid and adult fans alike. If you’re trying to play out the first Fantastic Beasts film, you need him. He’s a generally desirable and important character/design, so making him ultra rare is in appropriate.

My opinion boils down to the thought that artificial rarity is fine as long as the item is just an interesting variant (ex. chrome C3PO, black suit Spider-Man and Superman, etc), a total novelty item (ex. Mr Gold and the police officer), or something else with very narrow and limited appeal (ex. CW superheroes). The Harry Potter CMF rare fig could’ve been the invisibility cloak Harry but with trans-clear head and hair. That would’ve been cool and desirable to be sure, but ultimately just a variant.

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7 hours ago, Johnny1360 said:

I guess I don't really understand what the gripe is, are you against companies making limited edition stuff. You would rather have them saturate the market to the point of them not being able to even sell items at mrsp then waiting 50 years or so then it becomes rarer.

2 extreme ends of a spectrum.  Somewhere in the middle is better.

2 hours ago, Clone OPatra said:

Chrome Gold C3PO: just a cool version of an available figure...

 black suit Spider-Man

I disagree about these 2 in particular.  C-3PO is a chrome gold character, so the chrome gold minifigure will obviously be in high demand.  And Spider-man with a black suit is a highly desirable variant of a very popular character, and is in fact the only Spider-man I have any interest in personally.  So in my mind, these should have been more widely available.

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I don't mind comic con ones at all. They are there as an incentive for people to go to the comic con (not cheap) and engage with LEGO there. If it was a figure that was just going to be put in a set six months later (Bilbo, Azog, Bard, etc) then there is little incentive to get it aside from the packaging. Maybe having them as a variant of an existing figure is better, but then ones like the Deadpool ones are not going to appear in sets anyway due to the nature of the recent movies but will appeal to the type of adults that attend comic cons. Does it anger me that someone has something that I don't? Not really. There are plenty more minifigures to collect.

Similarly, chase figures don't bother me. I think it would be better if the packaging were more tamper-proof / harder to feel the figures but that is another matter. How many people would actually want the Classic Policeman if he was 6 to a box?

 

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8 hours ago, Johnny1360 said:

Maybe an actual example would help me understand better, other than Mr. Gold. 

Here's an example that ultimately worked out in my favor (I guess) but was really was messed up.

When Lego opened up the store in Leicester Square they created a mascot for the store which they promoted on all their materials. Then someone got the bright idea to only produce 300 of the physical minifigures and give them out at the store opening. I thought the minifigure was really cool so I followed it on Ebay. So what happens when you create an ultra rare figure that is highly publicized, yes, it starts to go for stupid money. Several went off in the $2000 to $3000 range. Way to rich for my blood and not even by a little.

So then someone at Lego realized that this was a pretty big mistake. They now have a mascot and no physical minifigure to sell. Horrible wasted opportunity and they reverse they the decision and start selling them in the store. Now I'm not going to condemn that second decision because that's what I'm talking about, and I eventually had a nice collecting experience swapping for said figure.

But what about the collectors who paid $3000 dollars for a minifigure that's now worth $6. You can certainly say "You shouldn't be paying $3000 for a minifigure" but I take the approach of 'there is just absolutely no reason for a global company to be doing things like that in the first place'. What is the point of creating a $3000 minifigure? Just don't do it.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Clone OPatra said:

On the other side, here are the ones I think are pretty unacceptable:

-Con-exclusive minifigures of iconic characters like Phoenix, Shazam, Bizzaro: the fact that LEGO made so few X-Men sets (just 2 proper ones?) which BOTH included Wolverine and Magneto, and made an iconic character like Phoenix a con exclusive, is absolutely a slap in the face.

-----

My opinion boils down to the thought that artificial rarity is fine as long as the item is just an interesting variant (ex. chrome C3PO, black suit Spider-Man and Superman, etc), a total novelty item (ex. Mr Gold and the police officer), or something else with very narrow and limited appeal (ex. CW superheroes). The Harry Potter CMF rare fig could’ve been the invisibility cloak Harry but with trans-clear head and hair. That would’ve been cool and desirable to be sure, but ultimately just a variant.

And this is maybe why the lines are a little hard to draw, and maybe why I don't think they should be doing these limited runs. With the amount of variants Lego puts out they have broken me of my completist nature a long time ago. I would even argue that's for the best.

But I grew up reading comics in the 80s. The Black suit Spiderman is my Spiderman. My collection literally started at #252. To me that is NOT a needless variation and a HUGE slap in the face as a collector. Then I get to be told the figure is not meant for me and I have no right to want it? Are you kidding me? If I have a right to want any figure it's that one.

So luckily, said figure is EXTREMELY easy to counterfeit, so all in all, mostly Lego's loss and a huge wasted opportunity of a figure that could have anchored a mass market set.

But again: Why do it? Why "slap collectors in the face"?  and even when I'm not slapped in the face (for instance I could not care less about CW superheroes) I know that these things still have a far greater appeal than their limited run is going to support. What would really be so bad about just releasing them as a polybag and meeting market demand?

Edited by Gomek

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31 minutes ago, Gomek said:

Then someone got the bright idea to only produce 300 of the physical minifigures and give them out at the store opening.

The reason they only made 275 was due to the number of Bowler hats they had in stock at the time, not because of some bright idea.

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