I’m almost striking after the iron’s cold, but last week the DCUC collecting community exploded into rage when it was revealed that Gleek, the Wonder Twin’s monkey mascot, would not be available for sale online but only as a pack-in with purchases of the WT set at the San Diego Comic Con (SDCC).
Collectors started a campaign, “No Monkey=No Money,” saying they wouldn’t buy the Wonder Twins set online if Gleek was not included.
In a note on Facebook, Mattel tried to head off the tide of anger. Unfortunately, they went a little too far in trying to offer fans a rationalization for it.
Yes, Gleek is only available at the show. He is not in the package with the Twins but rather will be poly bagged as a “gift with purchase”. Why did we do this? Well simply, in years past we did not have online distribution through my awesome website Mattycollector.com. In years past the ONLY way to get any of the exclusives was at the show. Now that we have online sales, we wanted to find a way to still reward fans who come out to the show with an exclusive only at the show, and Gleek will only be a gift with purchase in San Diego. Will everyone be happy with this, maybe not, but at least the main items are online. In years past you couldn’t even get any of them without being at the show, now at least you can get the Twins online even if Gleek is not with them. This is why they are called show exclusives, because they are only at a show.
As many collectors have noted, this is basically saying, “In my day, we couldn’t even get convention exclusives if we didn’t go to the convention, so be happy for what you’ve got!” Anyone with even a passing familiarity with fandom–particularly toy collectors–should know not to even bother with this sort of thing. On a PR level, I think Mattel should simply have reiterated that Gleek would only be sold with the Twins at the SDCC and stopped at “San Diego.”
(And don’t get me started on the “awesome website” line…OK, let me get started. While I really appreciate Mattel’s attempts to communicate directly with the fans, the whole “Matty” thing is like a teenager’s dad trying to hang out with his son’s friends to prove he’s “hip.” Everyone knows Scott Neitlich is Toy Guru is Matty. I don’t mind Neitlich using the “Toy Guru” handle–after all, it’s not like my real name is Poe Ghostal–but I think most collectors find the “Matty” thing demeaning, as if we’re being treated like children. And if we collectors are insecure about anything–if there’s anything we don’t want to be reminded of–it’s the idea that we’re childish. Mattel should rename the website Mattelcollector.com and have Toy Guru serve as the point of contact.)
But I digress. The real issue here is the idea of convention exclusives. Let’s examine the concept at its core: why do toy companies do convention exclusives? There are a few reasons, I think.
- To help cover the cost of renting space and creating a booth for big conventions like SDCC;
- To offer the convention producers a selling point to draw people to the con (not really an issue for SDCC)
- As a PR gimmick to drum up more collector interest in the line
- To produce a figure that would either be too expensive to mass-produce, or is too obscure or unpopular to merit a wide release.
I think the only reason most collectors care about at all is the last one, and that’s arguably the same reason Mattycollector.com exists.
What’s really the question here is: why offer convention exclusives at all? As I wrote elsewhere, I think it’s based on an outdated understanding of the toy industry. Fifteen or twenty years ago, action figures weren’t the collectors’ market they are now. If there was a bonus figure at a convention, a majority of collectors might not even be aware of the toy’s existence, so a toy company could get away with offering this nice little “bonus” for those who went to the convention.
Now, however, any collector can instantly know everything about a toy line via the Internet, and many of them are “completists”–people who like to own every single figure–and variant–in a toy line. So rather than being an added bonus for the few people who can afford to go to the convention, an exclusive figure–even just an accessory, like Gleek–becomes a hole in the collection of countless others.
Finally, Mattel’s explanation still doesn’t get at the real question: why are they rewarding fans who go to a convention? I think the only real answer is that many toy companies have become entrenched in the idea of convention exclusives as a tradition, and aren’t bothering to examine the concept within the context of the current market to see whether they still make sense.
It’s a question of value. Obviously, if Mattel offered Gleek online with the WT pack, they would make more money (and God help them if they charge the same for the Gleek-less WT packs–that’s just a rip-off, plain and simple). So by not offering Gleek online, they lose money.
So what do they gain by offering Gleek at the convention but not online? So far, they’ve gained a lot of negative publicity and no doubt lost a few sales of the WT pack online, never mind the few collectors who are mad enough to quit the line altogether. So how does offering Gleek at the convention make up for that?
Call me a populist, but I think it would be better not to make any Gleeks at all than to offer them only to convention attendees. (Note that this doesn’t mean I won’t have my SDCC-going buddy get one for me–if it exists and it’s DCUC, I’m probably going to get it.)
Here’s the other thing, too–I think there are plenty of collector who don’t care much about Gleek, and wouldn’t care if they didn’t get one. No doubt a good number of those casual fans will be at the SDCC–but they’ll still get a Gleek that might make a more hardcore collector much happier.
Here’s my proposed solution to the problem. Mattel should not offer Gleek at the SDCC, but rather sell him online, separately, on Mattycollector after the show. That way, any collector who got the WT set at SDCC can get one, while fans who couldn’t go also get a shot–and anyone who doesn’t want a Gleek doesn’t end up taking one out of the pool (or worse, scalping it on eBay).
Of course, convention exclusives aren’t a problem isolated to Mattel, and they’re probably too entrenched in the industry at this point. Mattel does deserve a lot of credit for offering the exclusives online at all. But I still think there’s no reason to “reward” the fans who go to the convention with anything other than getting the figures first and not having to pay shipping fees.
As it happens, it’s likely I’ll be able to get a Gleek because of a good friend of mine who always goes to SDCC. But if that falls through for some reason, I would probably get the WT set minus Gleek from Mattycollector. Even without Gleek, I would like to have the Twins and their cool accessories.
While I’d like to say I wouldn’t buy them online on principle, I know myself and it’s all too likely I would anyway. At this point, I do think Mattel is already in enough of a shitstorm to think long and hard about pulling something like this next year.