Interesting article about the action figure industry

There’s an interesting article up on, “Back in the Fight,” which provides a fairly in-depth look at the state of the action figure industry. I’ll write up something longer about it later, but for now, I highly recommend you check it out. Michael Crawford contributes some quotes to the piece.

Here’s one eyebrow-raising tidbit that surprised me–and I’ll admit I appear to have been flat-out wrong on this issue; such are the results of paying too much attention to one part of the elephant (though I think the industry’s reluctance to release these numbers deserves a bit of the blame):

NPD’s Frazier pegs online accounts for about 4 percent dollar sales in the action figure/accessories supercategory versus 70 percent at mass/discount and 20 percent at toy stores.


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  1. izdawiz

    sounds like a pretty cool guy…

  2. dayraven

    yup, didn't you know iz… tower records totally abandoned music and magazines and posters, and personal stero equipment and memorabilia… and JUST sold mcfarlane toys, which todd sold to them for 13000 per figure. yup, that was todd, slayer of women, devourer or children, raper of motor vehicles, winged bastard of the deepest recesses of wayne gretsky's colon and owner of mark mcguire's two favorite balls!!!

  3. izdawiz

    Todd's ego destroyed the chains? Wow! I didn't know the dude was that powerful….

  4. Another point is that the data is only for toylines from TIA members. Companies like Toynami, Underground toys, Bandai Japan, Kotobukiya, Hot Toys and more aren't counted at all and so lower the 'online' total. The numbers are a comparison of 'like' toy sales, not all toy sales.

    And Todd a big part of the reason that most of those chains went under is… McFarlane Toys and your ego.

  5. jestergoblin

    The data is gathered using standard marketing research methods. No, they don't poll every single person. I have a marketing degree, I'm willing to bet Mattel and Hasbro know who they're selling to.

    The part about sales being 4% online – that probably doesn't include or other big box websites.

    Here's the big question – how many toy collectors don't interact with others online? I get the impression adult toy collecting is online centric.

    There are approximately 30 million boys between the ages of 1 and 14 in US currently. I would say almost all of them at one point get some sort of action figure or toy. Meanwhile over a QUARTER of homes in the US STILL don't have internet.

    I've worked in toy retail – the collectors are very far and few. We'd get maybe 5 guys a day, they go in and check the one they're looking for, if it's not there they leave without making a purchase. If a parent with or without a kid comes into the store and doesn't find exactly what they want: they will buy something else. A Transformer is a Transformer and a Spider-Man is a Spider-Man, they don't care about the production run change that gave Spidey a different shade of blue tights.

  6. Gottlieb did an article a few months ago with data claiming adults (over the age of 12 in this instance) buying toys for themselves was about 15% of the market. As an average, I think that's probably about right, because some lines it's much, much higher…and some it's almost non-existent.

    If you consider that average, and if you consider that even die hard collectors perhaps make half or so of their purchases online, I can see where the 4% number doesn't seem all that far off.

    I'd be interested to know if LCS' get lumped into that other 20% though, or where they fit.

    BTW, I thought that most of Todd's comments seemed…bitter. We've all known things have been rough for the company for awhile now, but this is the first time I've seen the pressure showing so clearly in his tone.

    Oh, and I like Mighty Muggs. Yes, I said the quote they used, but I also pointed out that they were a great way to introduce kids and others to the vinyl market, but they didn't include that.

  7. outburst

    I don't know. Almost every time I'm in a big box store (WM, TRU, etc.) there's at least one other middle-aged dude looking at action figures, without a kid in tow.

    While I'm not saying they're all buying for themselves, I think our numbers are bigger than they think. And how do they get their numbers anyway?

  8. dayraven

    those stats aren't hard to explain. i bet you money they're reporting who's buying a line based on who the perceived target audience is… so for example, DCU is targeted at kids, so every DCU sale is a sale for a kid's line. every sale of say NECA's gears of war line, which is tageted as a collector's line, counts as a sale for an adult line. while completely inaccurate to the reality of who's doing the buying, it would explain easily the odd variance between the data and our perceptions.

    of course, i've long held that the online community has a vastly delusional sense of self-importance. it would not at all surprise me that the stats are dead on accurate, cuz thruthfully, there simply aren't that many of us. and we're not buying a lot of toys, really. look at your current collection… if you can. you may have to conceptualize a few boxes, or shelves in four different rooms. now, do any of us have 10000 figures? now even close, i bet. my collection now is likely hovering around 1500 to 2000 pieces, collected over 25 plus years of collecting. that's less than 20% the presumed production run of motuc He-Man. that's a TINY percent of a year's worth of production of one figure from a small run collector's line. even if you have 10000 pieces, that means you own less than 10% of the optimus prime's sold THIS YEAR. we have an over-inflated sense of importance cuz we talk to 10 other guys like us two or three times a day.

  9. Emerald

    The fact is cashiers don't have a survey next to them to check off what they believe to be a collector when a "collector's item" is purchased. There simply is no sure way to measure the impact of collector's on the market in bigbox stores or even online — The vast majority of toys sure, but most non-collectors (including industry "professionals") couldn't tell you what in a toy isle would be considered "collectible" and what wouldn't. To them there all toys for kids first and foremost. So how in the world could they possibly get an accurate statistic on this?

  10. 2500 figures selling in a single store during one week? Somebody's never worked retail. That figure is way off, even on popular items.

  11. Geoff

    It doesn't surprise me in the least that the online sales are such a small portion of the market. Virtually all kids buy toys; only a small, small minority of adults do (and even then, do so at least partially at brick and mortar stores). You know how a MOTUC figure goes through 2500 copies in a day? That could be a week for a busy Wal-Mart… and there's THOUSANDS of those stores.

  12. nerdbot

    But while adults support action figures' long tail, kids still rule the action figure aisle. The slice of the collector dollar is still smaller than the kid demographic. It's the reason why "kids and moms will always remain our main focus at Mattel," Neitlich says.

    I have no problem with "kids and moms" being the focus at Mattel; it is a toy company after all. I just wish Neitlich would either acknowledge that kids and parents do not buy the bulk of every line, or show us numbers to back his claim.

  13. nerdbot

    I'm off to read the article now, but I too am surprised by those figures. Like Newton Gimmick, I suspect the on-line sales are higher than 4%. And yes, the companies being all secretive about these and related numbers definitely factors into our not having a clear picture of the industry. I guess they want it that way.

    Perhaps the article covers this, but where are the other 6% sold? Drug and grocery stores?

  14. The article was good (oddly enough I was going to link to it on my site, but nice to see someone did) and there were some interesting parts.

    Of course it was written so as to appeal to the mainstream and I tend to think some of the industry's numbers are skewed. I think collectors are a much bigger portion of the pie than they claim and I'm not so sure if that's willful ignorance or that there is no way to accurately gage that sort of thing. How do they know who's buying the toys? Surveys? It's outdated information.

    I think online sales account for a bigger part of overall toy sales as well, but the measuring stick they use doesn't always jive. They're only accounting for big box retail or toy comapny online sales, when there are tons of independant stores out there.

    And finally, LOL at everything McFarlane said. Even when he had a point, his arrogance muted it.

  15. dayraven

    more thoughts later, but i really liked that article.

  16. RageTreb

    That article kind of over-simplified. When talking about the arising of the action figure collector in the mid 90's, it says: "Many re-launches followed—12-inch G.I. Joe, He-man and the Masters of the Universe, Transformers…"

    Masters of the Universe did so in 2003, and Transformers never left. There's been a steady stream of them from G1 to G2 to Beast Wars and beyond.

  17. misterbigbo

    I'd never heard the term "nerd Hummel" before. That's brilliant!

  18. finkrod

    You lied, that wasn't interesting at all. That was like reading a newspaper article or something. Now my head hurts. I try to avoid reading anything that doesn't involve word ballons or very large pictures.

  19. V interesting. Last week I wrote a similar post about the 20-year-rule and 20/30-somethings not wanting to grow up. Take a look!

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