The effect of inflation on action figure prices

He-Man.org member Mermisto has written up an interesting post examining inflation and it’s relation to the action figure industry. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do but never got around to it, and I think Mermisto did a better job anyway because he had access to the old Sears Wish Book catalogs.

I’m not going to blockquote what he wrote (it’ll screw up the page after the “Read More”). His post starts with the quotations.

“When the MOTUC series was first announced, I thought the $20 price tag was a little much for an action figure, but since I have been collecting vintage toys over the past decade, I am used to paying over $20 a piece for dolls and action figures anyways, so it did not bother me too much.

However, I was recently curious as to how expensive the toys I grew up with really were. I know a lot of times nowadays I tend to look at prices at Target and Wal-Mart with vintage goggles on, as I remember back to the 1980’s when I could get She-Ra or Catra for $6.99 at K-Mart back in 1985.

So, using a handy price inflation converter, I looked up all the prices in my vintage Sears Wish Books, and converted them into current prices. (I rounded the current prices to the nearest dollar, or five dollar increments if they were over $20.)

1985

Toy / Original Price / Price If Sold Today

Castle Grayskull / 29.99 / 59.99
Snake Mountain / 44. 99 / 89.99
Night Stalker / 8.99 / 17.99
Spydor / 24.99 / 49.99
Bashasaurus / 13.99 / 29.99
Fright Zone / 28.99 / 59.99
Hordak / 5.49 / 10.99
Thunder Punch He-Man / 6.99 / 13.99
Modulok / 7.99 / 15.99
Land Shark / 11.99 / 24.99
Crystal Castle / 32.99 / 69.99
She-Ra / 6.99 / 13.99
Enchanta Swan / 17.99 / 34.99
She-Ra with Swift Wind / 14.99 / 29.99

1986

Toy / Original Price / Price If Sold Today

Crystal Falls / 19.99 / 39.99
Starburst She-Ra / 6.99 / 13.99
Crystal Castle / 29.99 / 59.99
Starburst She-Ra with Crystal Swift Wind / 14.99 / 29.99
Scratchin’ Sound Catra with Clawdeen / 13.99 / 24.99
Sea Harp / 14.99 / 29.99
Butterflyer / 11.99 / 24.99
Eternia / 99.99 / 189.99
King Hiss / 4.99 / 9.99
Multi-Bot / 7.99 / 14.99
Horde Trooper / 4.99 / 9.99
Blaster Hawk / 17.99 / 34.99
Monstroid / 19.99 / 39.99
Fright Fighter / 19.99 / 39.99

Likewise, a MOTUC figure sold today worth $20 would have been $15 10 years ago, and $10 back in 1984. Battle Armor He-Man was 4.99 in the 1984 Sears Wish Book, which would be 9.99 today. Would MOTUC He-Man have been worth twice as much as a regular 5 1/2 inch He-Man?

With a good 2 more inches in height, several more points of articulation, better paint applications, and more accessories, if the MOTUC figures had come out in the 1980’s I believe they would have still been well worth the extra $5 back then. Likewise, today, a regular MOTU figure would be worth anywhere from 9.99 to 13.99 due to inflation, depending on whether it’s a regular or Deluxe figure. I now think the MOTUC figures are well worth the extra $6 to $10, and now I can’t really imagine them selling for any less, regardless of whether they are sold in stores or online.

I also converted the prices from the 1983 and 1984 Sears Wish Books as well. (Remember, I rounded off the current prices.) If anyone is interested?

1983

Toy / Original Price / Price If Sold Today

Castle Grayskull / 24.99 / 49.99
Attak Track / 16.99 / 34.99
Point Dread and Talon Fighter / 14.99 / 29.99
Faker and Man-E-Faces / 9.99 / 19.99
He-Man and Trap Jaw / 9.99 / 19.99
Ram Man and Skeletor / 9.99 / 19.99

1984

Toy / Original Price / Price If Sold Today

Battle Armor He-Man or Skeletor / 4.99 each / 9.99
Orko / 4.99 / 9.99
Castle Grayskull / 27.99 / 59.99
Snake Mountain / 42.99 / 89.99
Roton / 9.99 / 19.99
Dragon Walker / 19.99 / 39.99
Stridor / 7.99 / 15.99
Road Ripper / 6.99 / 13.99

I realize that today’s MOTUC figures also include shipping as well. The 8.70 for shipping would have been 4.25 twenty-five years ago.”

Poe here again. So, according to these estimates, a MOTUC figure would have been $10 in 1984. Of course, Sears catalog prices were always at least a little higher than what you would have paid at a big box store back then–it was the “online store” of its day. But if a deluxe figure like Power Punch He-Man sold for $6.99, then $9.99 for a MOTUC figure doesn’t seem unreasonable at all.

But that’s just my opinion. Do you think the larger size and improved sculpting, articulation, and accessories (but minus the action features) would have been worth that price back then?

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10 Comments

  1. PrfktTear

    @monkey boy: Hey… I'll admit, when the comments get up around 50 or so, and you're new to the thread its hard (and time consuming) to read everyone's replies. I hope I didn't come off being too righteous or anything there. So no harm no foul.

    I'll be honest. I do not believe these are $20 figures, but I do not feel ripped off. That said, these should be $15 at most.

    With the revelation of the MM line for $20 a pop, I feel those are a rip-off, but I still may seek out a couple figures to "complete" my TDK characters.

    I still don't think I'm an apologist (and I'm not trying to internalize or make this personal either, I'm just using myself as an example), I'm just trying to understand why Mattel is doing what they're doing.

    I know the line is not all roses & cherries. My Man-At-Arms' right arm is messed up. It won't turn all the way at the shoulder, and the bicep is a bit loose, and I know I'm not the only one. My Hordak's left foot is loose. My Beastman's leg is very loose as well, it takes great effort to get him to stand.

    By utilizing little tooling per figure, it certainly does enhance the nostalgia feeling. It also makes them appear to be more uniform and makes them look like they belong. The savings they reap on easy re-paints and re-uses of molds they can hopefully apply to giving us unique characters that they will not be able to get much use out of. I don't know if that’s rationalizing it or not. I actually prefer the look as it does lend to the nostalgic value. In other posts we've been speculating abut what other characters we may be getting based on what other parts we already have or we know are getting. For instance, with Trap Jaw's legs, that opens the door up for Man-E-Faces and Roboto.

    I guess now to get personal; I don't feel the need to justify these purchases to myself. I like them and I'd like to continue to support the line for as long as I can and as long as they make it. I just enjoy taking part in conversation regarding something I enjoy.

  2. Lovable-Bill

    This kind of argument kinda relates to a discussion I had with some people a while back. Someone was trying to argue that the MOTUC and DCUC lines cost too much comparing them to the fact that Mattel can make a 10" Barbie with cloth outfit for $10 but has to charge so much for DCUC and MOTUC figures. My response was "When the day comes where little girls are buying nothing but MOTUC and DCUC we can complain about the prices." This is a collectors' line and I personally find the prices to be very fair and accurate for a 1-2 figure a month set up. For those that constantly bring up Toybiz and Marvel Legends I must honestly say a great majority of those figures are nothing spectacular. I do have many of them but there is a point where too much articulation takes away a lot from the figure on top of the fact that their articulation was never consistent. With MOTUC and DCUC their articulation is constant across the entire lines. I collect both MOTUC and DCUC and have yet to be disappointed with any of the figures. My only complaints were with the way MC.com sometimes ran but they have be constantly working on everything and are taking it all in a great direction by offering better MOTUC figures and even starting to carry the DCUC waves on the website.

  3. dayraven

    and now they're charging 20 for the movie masters 6 inchers… and motuc (by comparison ONLY) looks like a bargain… why? because the bucks were already made for the mass market incarnation and they're much smaller than the motucs.

  4. Thomas B

    @George: just because they were clearance t o3.99 doesn't mean that is what they cost to make. they could cost 5.99 to make but decided that they can afford to lose 2 bucks and sell them for less or lose 6 bucks and not sell them at all.

  5. George

    I think Mattel rips everyone off, Lets take a look at when DCUC wave 1 hit, it was $9.99 per figure at a retail store, a couple of months later They took out their Online exclusive and they sold it for 25 dollars for 2, (that's 12.50 a figure) people paid for that. Some time went by and the announced the figures would be 13.99 each/online exclusives are there to test prices; if people bite and they sell out,then they increase the price, if they don't then they get greedy and cancel the line and move on to another line. Inflation is bullshit-40% increase in a little under two years, give me a break. (By the way, remember some time back when the Mattel warehouse had a sale and had the DCUC wave at a clearance price of 3.99, its costs 4 bucks to produce the a figure, why sell it for 14.)

  6. monkey boy

    i didn't mean to dismiss anyone's comments. and actually, i DID read through a good lot of them. i was mostly just not able to read every single word of every single comment. however, i did peruse the previous comments, and did not dismiss them off hand, and i apologize if it seemed that way.

    but really, after further examining the replies, i stick by my original statement. i'm sorry, but a lot of you seem to be reaching and grasping at any straws not to feel ripped off. there is a lot of apologizing for mattel's tactics and saying "oh it makes sense because THIS and THIS and THIS" when in reality there really isn't another line in the same scale that costs the exorbitant prices MOTUC does. in reality MOTUC is only competing with itself, until mattel releases other matty-only lines that will no doubt be comparable in their outlandish prices.

    i cited many specific examples of toys that are in a similar scale with similar effort put into them (maybe some not as articulated but with nicer sculpts or accessories, etc.) and nothing comes close to what mattel is charging for MOTUC.

    the bottom line is if you buy them, they're worth it to you. just say "well i like them and i'll pay the current price" and be done with it. don't justify it as a fair price based on the current market because it's not. people are talking about the quality of the toys, but not so long ago there were numerous complaints about shoddy QC in the MOTUC line, with mis-matched parts and breaking joints…when did everything start coming up roses?

    also, this is a line that often utilizes very little unique tooling per individual figure. that may be to enhance the "vintage" nostalgia feel of the original shared bodies in the old MOTU line, but it's also got to be saving mattel quite a bit of money.

    you could also say "oh, well they're limited" and i would agree to a point, but in that case i think this whole inflation argument goes out the window. if mattel is jacking up the price because they're limited, then just suck it up and say "well if they're limiting the numbers it's going to cost more per unit" and have that be your defense. even though mattel sets the numbers, and the demand for the figures seems to be more than the small amount mattel is making per figure, seeing as how they all sell out. and, to be honest, it's not like mattel is producing 200 of each figure. while they are "limited" there are still several thousand being produced of each figure.

    i'm not saying people are foolish for buying MOTUC, for some people it's a dream come true and they'd pay anything. i'm just saying to keep seeing new and convoluted arguments as to why the exorbitant price makes sense is kinda grating at times. stop trying to say "oh, it's so simple, by adjusting for inflation, clearly MOTUC is not a rip off at all!" the current action figure market seems to nullify that argument immediately since i can't really think of any comparable toy line that is comparable in price with MOTUC.

    and i'm not trying to attack poe here, as he said he's just posting it as passed along food for thought "information" and he's not saying it's scientific proof or anything…but you really can't look at the MOTUC line in a vacuum, and only compare it to the MOTUC line. and it seems like a lot of people try to do that.

  7. Reverend Ender

    test

  8. edc

    said it before, say it again; in australia, we get slugged 17.99 for a gi joe.

    remember that. if I want a covergirl, I have to part with a $20 note.

  9. PrfktTear

    My Stinkor still has a faint odour.

    I can't legally "date" Miley Cyrus, thats all I know… 😉

  10. dayraven

    trust me PT, out of the box, moss man was piney fresh. though, his pine smell was nowhere near as potent as stinkor's reek… i have two stinkor my kids now play w/ and they BOTH still smell… and those figs are what now, drinking age? stinkor can't legally "date" miley cyrus, that's all i know. 😉

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