Fire for Effect: What’s love got to do with it?

This is the improbable eighth salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Without any further ado, take it away Mike…

As most of my readers (all eight of you) already know, “Fire for effect” is the specific command one utters in order to summon a large (or at least decisive) amount of artillery fire against an enemy who’s exact location and disposition are known.  In this respect, I am wandering slightly afield with today’s fire mission.  Today’s installment would really be more accurately characterized as “counter battery fire”.  When enemy artillery fire comes in on your position, you try to identify the source of the hostile fire, and then to direct your own artillery fire against it (by use of task built radar systems).  I’m calling today’s fire mission “Counter Battery” because, I am inspired specifically by the work of another author.  I dedicate this fire mission entirely to him with all due respect.  His work was topical, relevant, and touched a nerve in me.  Even as I call for fire, I want him to know that it is only with the utmost respect that I offer this counter volley.

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Back in July, I read an article written by one very pissed off Australian AFOL called Jay.  Jay (who runs a very nice blog by the way) was angry because every year, TLG distributes “Exclusive Minifigs” via some kind of random draw system at the San Diego Comic Convention (SDCC).  Specifically, he said he was angry because he really, really wanted some of these figures, but he could not secure them at the price he wanted.  The title of the article was basically his thesis: “San Diego Comic Con exclusives are terrible and LEGO needs to stop them.”  Here is a link to the article itself:

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I liked the article.  It lacked structure, but the author took refreshingly unambiguous position.  Sure, in the comments, I fault him for not providing supporting arguments, to reinforce some of his underlying assumptions… but overall, I liked it.  More importantly though, I was taken with the other readers responses.  The empirical evidence suggests pretty clearly, that his thesis resonates with many AFOLs.   Out of 73 comments, 25 were statements of absolute agreement with the author’s thesis.  That’s a lot.  Only 6 were clearly statements of disagreement.  The remaining 42 comments were either unclear, impertinent, or they were the author responding the comments of others (also a pretty cool practice in my opinion).  25 to 6.  Most commenters were basically saying: “damn right TLG needs to stop!

The readers gave a lot of minutely different reasons for disapproving of this practice.  But when you boil it down to gravy, the majority of people were complaining that they couldn’t get the figures and this  makes them angry.  Here is a quote from the author that sums up many people’s feelings on the issue:

“I am continuously disappointed that LEGO are still engaging in this awful practice. Please stop screwing over your most passionate fans while you enrich resellers and scalpers. It’s anti-fun and anti-fan behavior.

I read this and thought: So what?  This question leapt to the forefront of my mind in an instant.  So what?  I repeated the question allowed this time, speaking to nobody in particular.  Flinging the question directly out into the dimly lit smoke-filled lounge where I was sitting… and then, the incredibly talented Mrs. Tina Turner put a reassuring hand on my shoulder and with one of her trade mark fleshy smiles, she and asked the musical question: What’s love got to do with it?  Then she sang and danced a bit.  When she was done, we sat in silence, sipping our drinks… and again, I asked myself: What’s love, but a second-hand emotion?

The author suggests in this quote that he (and AFOLs in general) somehow matter “more” because we  are passionate (or dedicated, or committed, or whatever) to the product.  He (and many others) suggest that their opinions should matter BECAUSE they are big time AFOLs.

And THAT notion is the fulcrum on which his thesis and my counter thesis pivot.  The notion that AFOLs matter to TLG was the spark for this FFEs thesis… right here… ready? It’s really short, so don’t blink…

AFOLs don’t matter to TLG.

We don’t matter one at a time, and we don’t matter when we gang up and get ready to rumble (cue the Warriors trailer, but instead of the Warriors, picture several morbidly obese bearded AFOLs running from the baseball bat wielding gang!) I’m not buying it.  If you try to collectivize it, and say that AFOLS as a population… passionately… consume a whole lot of Lego… and TLG knows it… and that make our opinions more relevant… you’re still deluding yourself.  Our eclectic and factious little tribe does not constitute a large enough share of Legos annual sales to actually influence TLGs marketing decisions.  Many AFOLs, like Buzz Lightyear, have an exaggerated sense of self-importance.  I’m with Woody on this one:

Just to be clear, I’m not saying I’m glad TLG does exclusives.  And I’m not saying it isn’t annoying that they do exclusives.  In fact, I’m not really talking about the “SDCC Exclusives” question at all here.  Jay’s article is an illustration of a larger, and more important assumption that many AFOLs share, and THAT assumption is what talking about here.  I’m talking about a prevailing belief amongst AFOLs that TLG acts (or should act) on the opinions of AFOLs.  I think this assumption is silly.

My argument today is what most scholastic debaters would describe as analytical in nature, as it does not rely on specific published information.  There are no detailed statistics or pie charts and there are no quotes by published experts.  It is not evidentiary.  This is because (honesty in lending here…) I rarely do any actual research in these diatribes.  This will be at best, a description of a research project that might be interesting if anybody actually did the research.  This argument, like almost everything else I have written here will be a prima facie deal.  I will offer a series of basically mundane assertions, each of which should appeal to you, constant reader, because they correspond with your own observations and experiences.   I am going to try to jockey these limited assertions into something vaguely resembling a syllogism because… it creates clarity and forces me to be logical even if my initial thought process is not logical.  Or phrased differently, if I cant make the syllogism work… it might be the universes way of telling me that “my dog just don’t hunt”

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So… here is a list of my assumptions.  These are all the basic assertions that I believe, and that when linked, will support my thesis:

  1. TLG is an ethical organization, but, the single strongest influence on their decisions is profit.
  2. TLG profit is massive. So massive in fact, that TLG is forced to consider not simply specific numbers, but larger concepts like “market share” and “strategic trends
  3. TLG knows that adults purchase, and have always purchased, more Lego than children do.
  4. The term AFOL is separate from the notion that adults purchase most Lego.
  5. TLG can only identify a small number of AFOLs as being separate from other adult Lego buyers.
  6. There is no accurate data source for AFOL numbers or activities.
  7. Because the AFOL market share is not KNOWABLE… it is foolish to assume that TLG acts upon it.

I will develop each of these points in a second, but just so I don’t lose you, here is a quick list of negative assumptions (NAs) that I DO NOT DISPUTE.  I won’t develop these assumptions, but I don’t deny them.  They are part of the landscape, but they are not germane to my assertions.

NA1.      AFOLs do buy more Lego than most adults… but only on a per capita level.

NA2.      TLG does know AFOLs exist… they just don’t care, or regard us as uncontrollable distractors.

NA3.      TLG does pay the AFOL community some small attention, because that is an inexpensive way to create the image of a socially engaged company (an artificial image is pleasing to the larger non-AFOL but still adult Lego purchasing population).

NA4.      Most of us… people… humans… everyday… have an exaggerated sense of self-importance (but this is extra, extra true when discussing Goldman!).

Still reading.  Really?  Well I can’t throw stones… I mean hell, I’m still writing so really, what am I going to say about you still reading?  I’ve wasted even more time than you so far!  Let me develop my assumptions while you jab holes in them… I can hear the hiss of escaping air even now!

Assumption 1. For as long as I have been paying attention, Lego has always come across to me, as a highly ethical company.  They held out against the sirens call of “war toy profit” for ages!  Lots of other lousy brands went to the low hanging fruit of military themed building toys… but Lego?  They made limited concessions, but they held tough to “no modern war themes” even in the face of almost certain loss of market share.  That’s commitment to an ideal dammit!  I just don’t see much of that.  Hell yes I would buy Chick-fil-A on a Sunday if they were open!  They are losing profit… in the name of a moral value?  Astounding by today’s standards.  So ETHICS?  Yep, TLG has, in living memory demonstrated a strong ethical element in their decision-making.  But ultimately, that lesser god, ethics, is subordinated to the oldest and strongest of the gods of the market place pantheon: PROFIT!

I give TLG props for holding out as long as they did… and I call them out… for selling out… with the introduction of the Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Arc franchise action.  The Star Wars guns… Oh thank you TLG for those!  Modern, vicious and menacing in appearance.  But at the same time, it was kind of the end of innocence.  Gone were the days of “romantic violence”… you know, medieval weapons that are only used of impaling, cleaving, and hacking.  Gone were the happy days of black powder weapons and the marginal cruelty of low velocity irregular iron projectiles.  The era of fully automatic directed energy weapons had arrived… along with the affiliated profit margins!  Those kits all sold like gang busters, and still do (even as TLG attempts to back away from the cruel guns and replace them with those tragic spot light looking devices).  The point being that it is PROFIT and NOT ETHICS that ultimately directs TLG’s decision-making.  So for example, hurt feelings don’t matter to them…

TLG is going to engage in marketing behaviors based on impact of profit in terms of market share, and not on the notion that some ill-defined subset of the adult purchasing population disapproves of their actions.

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Assumption 2. Again, I own it… some really soft math coming up.  Hell, I better just get away from the word “math” all together here.  I got NO numbers for you.  NONE… so let’s go with relative amounts instead.  If you read Jays assertions regarding amounts of money he considers relevant to this discussion, he applies some decidedly dicey math (hey… it’s more mathy than my own thinking!) and derives an amount of 60K in on-line sales (its down in the comments below his article).  He hangs his assertion of relevance on this amount.  I counter with the entirely subjective assertion that this amount is paltry (no Keith, not like chicken.  That’s poultry).  Double this amount.  Multiply it by 10… it’s still chicken feed (or poultry feed).  I offer that these numbers… when compared to the galactic numbers TLG deals with (and which I haven’t even tried to locate) are infinitesimal.  The decision to offer or not to offer “exclusives” is not about immediate profit.  They are “promotional” items.  They are meant to get people’s attention.  Introduce the product to people who might not otherwise think about Lego.  Maybe to increase brand exposure or some other “non-immediate” agenda.  Like advertisements, these exclusive offers COST TLG some cash… and they MIGHT generate profit… but only indirectly.

So what?  How does this assertion relate to my thesis?  It’s about scale.  I’m saying that the tiny derivative numbers generated by counting the sales of exclusive figures on-line after the moment of initial distribution, falls short of the significance of profit residing in “market share” level numbers by orders of magnitude.  Why is TLG giving stuff away at SDCC?  It’s not because it’s an efficient method of distribution!  SDCC is TINY!  The largest fan driven comic event in the world… is TINY!  I don’t know WHY TLG does it… but I think its more likely to be about marketing than direct sales.  Maybe they are giving away Lego at the COMIC event in order to make MORE comic book consumers recognize and consume MORE LEGO.  Maybe it is an attempt to make comic industry players recognize and like Lego as a product.  Maybe they are trying to cook up a buzz at a gigantic week-long commercial marketing event.  All of these possible agenda are only relevant in terms of “market share” or “market demographics”.  Big strategic numbers… where tiny glacial movements can still result in massive amounts of revenue.   Of course, in fact… I certainly don’t know why TLG does it (again… no reliable data) but I’m saying that it’s NOT to make an immediate profit.  In fact… don’t they literally GIVE the stuff away?  Or at least sell it for even tinier prices?

The endorsement (or even the opinion) of the AFOL community does NOT enter into TLGs decisions regarding these low density high effort marketing maneuvers.  Further, those opinions SHOULD NOT MATTER… because we don’t buy enough Lego to matter… the profit AFOLs contribute is not MASSIVE, and TLG looks at MASSIVE numbers.

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Assumptions 3 and 4.  Adults buy most Lego, AFOLs remain mostly invisible as a separate demographic.  Kids with money buy Lego.  Yes.  Seen it.  True.  Proclaim!  But… go to the checkout stand (any checkout stand Keith!  It doesn’t matter!  Gosh!)  Upper end venue, the Lego Store, FAO Schwarz… all the way down to Wal-Mart.  It don’t matter.  Watch the point of purchase.  Mostly grownups paying.  Yeah, often purchasing the kids choice… but at the actual point of purchase… it’s the adult.  That is the adult who swipes their own credit card.  That is the moment of data generation.  Reports don’t read: “Billy likes the new Star Wars kit”  Reports read: Mr. William T Conklin purchased item number 123456 at a cost of 65.99 at 4:36PM at Wallmart at such and such address… and then TLG cross references William T. Conklin with all the other data bases they have bought access to.  THAT is the vast majority of trackable, usable, hard data.  Yep, TLC takes surveys.  Yep, TLC wants kids to hang out on their website (and generate trackable data).  And yep, TLC has OTHER sources of data (play testing, market analysis, testimonial… and many other awkward slow-growing data sources) But the moistest fastest, newest, data?  Digital, gathered at the point and time of purchase.

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To TLG eyes… MOST sales are made to adults.  I can’t quote a source here… but I believe this, and I believe the same was true 10 years ago… and I believe that the same will be true 10 years in the future.

That said… HOW does TLG separate AFOL purchases from non-AFOL purchase?    Short answer, they really don’t.  Why not?  Because they can’t.  Not QUICKLY or EASILY at any rate.  Yes, they could track patterns on say… Bricklink?  It’s a large data source, and it’s sort of “open.”  Hell, if they really cared, I bet TLG could simply “BUY” all the specific data they wanted directly from the Bricklink guys.  But, I’m saying I don’t think TLG cares enough to do this.  They COULD acquire and maybe exploit detailed knowledge of a “More AFOL pure” population by acquiring and analyzing Bricklink data… but I’m saying there is no compelling evidence to suggest they do… and the general mood of casual indifference shown by TLG in regard to the AFOL suggests to me that they DON’T.

What’s the relevance of assumptions 3 and 4?  We as AFOLs understand the difference between our purchasing habits and those of normal toy buying parents… but TLG simply CANT understand the difference because it does not manifest in ways they can consistently track and understand.  We are invisible to them in terms of tracking how much money we (all AFOLs) actually spend.   They literally cannot see us as a separate group because our credit card purchases don’t have an “AFOL Identifier Code”

TLG is aware that we exist… So lets indulge our imaginations for a bit and jump from the concept of “awareness” to the concept of “understanding”.  Lets pretend TLG watch AFOL behavior and expends the resources necessary to analyze AFOL behavior (as if we were a real “market” of our own).  After studying us… I doubt they would regard us as a single population.  Our behavior (specifically our buying behaviors) are as diverse as we are!   Many buy from Lego.com… others buy from Bricklink… still others buy kits from retail outlets… our opinions and actions do not fall into easily categorized large chunks (the way it does when counting the millions of small purchases happening in retail outlets every day).

WARNING! WARNING! BRACE FOR IMPACT WITH SANCTIONED NON SEQUITUR! 

Jay talks about TLG, and I talk about Jay and TLG, and on and on it goes… but TLG is where our Venn   diagram overlaps.  And, after a sustained search effort that lasted for at least… 6 minutes… I did find this bit of TLG rhetoric on this topic.  OK, almost on this topic.  It does sort of address the notion that TLG looks at more than the narrow data streams I describe… mostly I wanted to add this link just to create the illusion of inclusion.  TLG is NOT talking to me, and TLG does NOT endorse any statements by any people mentioned on this ghetto little blog.  But… TLG does engage in limited public rhetoric on the topic of how they develop their understanding of their customers… and here is a tiny scrap of that public rhetoric.  Just between you and me… I don’t buy most of this message.  It looks to me like a message designed to appeal to an audience… as opposed to a genuine description of a process.  It’s a bit of shiny wrapping around what is basically a black box.  Still, I recommend you all take a gander. It’s interesting.

END OF SANCTIONED NON SEQUITUR… MOVE ALONG.  END OF SANCTIONED NON SEQUITUR… MOVE ALONG…

Assumption 5: TLG can only identify a small number of AFOLs as being separate from other adult Lego buyers.  Keeping on the theme of what TLG CAN DO… sure, TLG knows who Sean Kenney is.  Or who built the life size house out of Lego.  And maybe they know some big names from the on-line community.  Many of their employees are interested in on line activity.  Some of their employees actually are AFOLs.  But all of those names… 100… 200?  2000?  They still don’t add up to more than chump-change in terms of consumption.  The AFOL is at best, a source of FREE PRODUCT EXPOSURE… and even that free advertising is fraught with peril in the eyes of this privately owned company.  AFOL efforts are a classic double edged blade.

AFOLs build MOCs that communicate political commentary.  Social satire.  Adult humor.  The horrors of the modern world.  Humanities dark side.  Terrible terrible things… through the time tested and generally excellent lens of Art.  It’s powerful, relevant, unbridled, volatile… just like music, poetry, painting, ceramics, film, theater… it’s Art (well… some of it.  Ok ok… A tiny little bit of it is Art).  Aside from the powerful Art… there is also a lot of powerful crap!  Tons and tons of vile, inappropriate, “totally not cool for kids or soccer moms” crap!  Offensive.  Callous.  Cruel. COUNTER to the messaging agenda of TLGs marketing experts!  Lego WWI? Lego WWII? Lego in guerrilla wars around the world?  Lego in the global war on terror?  Lego nuclear holocaust?  Lego racism? Lego sexism?  Lego school shootings?  Lego imperialism?   Lego Zombies?

Good topics?  Sure!  Adult topics? Hell yeah?  Topics kids are into?  Often, yes!  Socially redeeming topics?  Easy now… I’m not going to take this diatribe to that level… that’s a question for all 4 of you guys still reading this shit to decide for yourselves!  You control the action!  Point is that on some level it’s all good stuff… but…NOT TLGs chosen themes for their product!  TLG does not want their beloved product associated with these harsh themes!  (I know, Star Wars features push button genocide… but we both know… it’s not the same as historical genocide!  So don’t even start!).

Oh, and before anybody jumps down this rabbit hole… a word about the Certified Lego Builders program.  That program is absolutely focused on a tiny niche in a global market.  It may be cool, and those builders may be good, and most of them are in fact adults… and TLG does have an official and meaningful relationship with them… but this is an incredibly specific, limited topic which is discrete and separate form the topic of AFOLs in general. Certified Builders: Commercially Relevant, and a super tiny group.  NOT the same as AFOLs.

So what? TLG knows about some small number of AFOLs, but we can’t be an influential group because our behavior is as much a threat to TLGs messaging campaign as it is a help.  Guys who do great AFOL stuff, big highly visible stuff… Like Kenney and MOCpages, or even immediate practical beneficial stuff like Nannan Zhang’s annual charity drive… do not constitute a reliable source of public influence.

Assumption 6: There is no accurate data source for AFOL numbers or activities.  Some overlap here with 4 and 5, but this is an interesting stand-alone notion.  Where would an accurate count of AFOLs come from?  Rosters of popular on-line sites like flickr or… the Manifesto (Hey piss off!  Snakes on a Plane could totally happen in real life!)?  Activity levels in busy market sites like ebay or bricklink?   I can’t see that being the answer.  Again, not all AFOLs are active on line… how many are not?  Don’t know… cause… there not…active?  How do you count the people who are not there?  And… not all active online participants in any activity are there for the same reason.  Some talkers don’t build.  Many builders don’t buy.  Many buyers don’t build… again, once you leave the massive repeating and perfectly formatted numbers of the checkout stand… how do you assess the data your looking at?  There are lots of conversations about this topic all over the place, here is a link to just one.  I liked it for the number of serious attempts to derive actual numbers… but what it really illustrates is the genuine dearth of real knowledge out there!  Quick shout out to Island AFOL Kyle Vrieze for really trying to bring some mathematical logic to this discussion!

This assertion matters (that nobody knows how many AFOLs there really are) because it gets us past the myopic hazard of focusing on TLG as the end all be all answer for this question.  TLG may be the LAST people to actually know how many AFOLs there are… but if not TLG, then who DOES know?   And I assert that the answer is NOBODY.  Nobody actually knows.  The answer is not known… and maybe not even knowable.  Read the thread and you will see one of the big problems.  What are we really trying to count?  Much of the observable universe is definable.  Molecules in solution are definable, and even countable.  Maybe we can even define bends in time/space and other crazy stuff.  But the AFOL?  That is some nebulous shit right there man!  Is an AFOL defined by age?  By behavior?  By motivation?  Are merchants the same as builders?  They both might buy lots of Lego right?  What about merchants who build?  What about kids who are merchants?  What about kids who buy like adults?  What about adults who totally act like kids?  Are these criteria mutually exclusive?  Do they overlap?  We, they, you, or TLG… nobody is trying to count exactly the same thing.  The thing we all call “AFOL” (in this discussion) is not really clearly defined.  Maybe not even definable.  How long is a piece of string?  Ok… if you’re caught up on the string thing…or if none of that works for you, how about a Sting thing?

I love Sting.

Assumption 7 sort of snuck up on me and turned into a conclusion.  Because the AFOL market share is not KNOWABLE… it is foolish to assume that TLG acts upon it.  In fact, at this point, I add that it is also foolish to say TLG “should” act upon it.

Well, my syllogism never did come together with the Aristotelian clarity I was hoping for, but I’m pretty sure all the parts are laying on the floor here someplace.  Let me try to actually assemble it correctly.  Based on the assumptions I have argued above…

FACT: TLG only bases its marketing decisions on metrics that it believes are measurable or consistent or predictable.

FACT: AFOLs are not measurable or consistent, or predictable metrics.

CONCLUSION: Ergo TLG does not base its marketing decisions on AFOLs.

That’s a pretty rough cut.  I don’t think Ill be taking home any blue ribbons from the annual syllogism competition at the state fare.  But… I came in talking about syllogisms… so I guess I better go out that way.

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“That’s some pretty thin shit Rutherford!” – Aristotle

This is the single greatest point of contention between me and Jay.  He says TLG should listen to AFOLs because we matter.  I say TLG shouldn’t listen to us because AFOLs don’t matter.  Now, of course we matter on some level.  We are people, and all people matter (well, duh… yes… if you shoot an AFOL it matters… cause we are all people, and you can’t shoot people.  Yes… in that way, we all matter!).   But I say we don’t matter in terms of a force that should influence a large commercial endeavor.  All of our super cool, dynamic, creative, socially relevant MOCs, all of our charitable acts, our fests, our public displays in libraries… all of that “more than kit buying and building” stuff that we do… does not and should not affect TLGs world view.  If you think it does… say so, and jab me in the eye with your arguments!  Everybody except Keith because he thinks that TLG should actually base their actions on his opinions, and his opinions alone, which is obviously crazy talk.

So now, let me count… looks like at least three of you have read to this point.   And looks like at least one of you is perturbed.  You have my grid.  You know my disposition.  Take a moment to gather your thoughts, push the button on your handset and order your batteries to open up on my position.  Remember, it’s a radio, so yelling into the mic on your end doesn’t make you louder on the other end.  Fire!

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51 thoughts on “Fire for Effect: What’s love got to do with it?

  1. You make some interesting points, and I am still digesting them, but one thing I wonder is whether information TLG gathers from Lego Ideas gives them any better window on the AFOL market than the basic point-of-purchase data that you cite. Since one must be an adult (I think) to submit a proposal to Lego Ideas, it might serve as a better means to assess the interests of AFOLs, based on the content of the project proposals. I am certain, though, that many of the submissions are done by adults on behalf of children. How else could you explain the dreck that shows up there on a regular basis?

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    1. Well, I have no idea and that’s for sure! TLG in general is pretty opaque. They push a lot of info about narratives they want us to believe, but I wouldn’t exactly call TLG a transparent organization.

      Lego Ideas seems like a big low cost filter mechanism to me. It allows TLG to filter through a billion tons of chaff at little cost to them, and then to pick out the small number of viable grains that are mixed in. Good leveraging of social media and the properties of the internet to generate “good will”.

      I say good will and not “good kits” because they are almost always produced in small numbers and sold at high cost (and now I guessing..) which means the products generated by this process never equate to a very large portion of their sales. However, it is a chance for AFOLs to “perceive” an opportunity to contribute. It creates a notion, however fragile, that the AFOL and the MEGA-CORP actually cooperate. It’s a pleasant fiction for both parties, and it enhances TLGs image as a “porous” entity, and not a stone obelisk.

      I regard “Lego Ideas” as more of an image campaign or a messaging program than as a viable product design system.

      But as you can tell… I’m pretty cynical in my assessment. As for how they actually use the data the effort generates? Good luck ever finding out from this tight lipped company!

      Cheers man!

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  2. So, the break had you make up for it and write a novel, eh?

    Finally an article dealing with the dark side of this debate. The realistic one. The fact that TLG doesn’t give a flying fuck about your Bantha.

    Unpopular opinion time – I like exclusives, they appeal to the collector and snob in me. It doesn’t matter that I can’t afford or am unwilling to pay the price for some; they’re something I can look forward to getting sometime (even if it’ll never happen) and makes the entire ordeal more fun. In fact, once I get my hands on them, much the magic fades; the chase is indeed better than the catch.

    Why do they make exs? I don’t know. It’s a matter of marketing every big company does. The resut is it makes for good advertising and fuels 2 of their markets – collectors and investors. Which leads me to how I see the 4 big classes of tlg consumers (this refers to the end consumer, adults buying for children go into the children side, wives buying for their afols go into the afol side an so on) – children, afols, collectors and investors. Side note – I won’t include the collectors that buy sets to keep them boxed into afols, I’m only including people that actually use the parts.

    And here’s the thing – despite the general opinion (shared among among afols, naturally) that afols are the white knights of the hobby, the worthy, the ethical, the whatever – in the grand scheme of things we are just as relevant as the others. And from a profit point of view, we’re probably the least profitable than any of the others. Which is a bit of an irony, I’ll get to that later. Heck, we’re not even good advertising, since it’s the preacher preaching to the preachers.

    I will focus a bit on the 3 minor groups – don’t even feel the need to mention the kids one, there’s no doubt that’s the biggest group as far as profit and advertising is concerned.

    The way I see it, spending habits are pretty much like this:

    Investor – logical. The biggest profit maker for tlg, one guy may buy in a single batch more than 10 afols spent during their existence. Some may argue that they’re cutting into tlg’s profit – what a joke! A) they already made the profit from the items they buy. B) it’s just dust in the wind for them, the numbers rolled by and investor over a year may not even reach the numbers rolled by tlg over a minute. C) they help stores clear shelf space on items they want to get rid of – which basically turn a loss into a gain.

    Collector – logical/emotional. Will most likely be the one to spend an idiotic sum on a single item. The downside is that item may or may not come from tlg, so the profit will not necessary go to them. But in the end, they’re the guys who will buy everything in a theme and mostly be willing to pay retail. So where does the logical side come in? There’s things that need to be considered, like space and how item a or b fits the collection. But in the end I believe there are more collectors than afols, so my guess is this is where the second profit maker spot goes.

    Afol – emotional – (scene at 2:20 mark, sorry couldn’t find the isolated scene. And I just HAD TO include it :)) )

    Yes, we’ll buy a lot of crap without thinking too much about it. But we’re also the true professionals of the hobby (yep, I said it, us, not the investors) – we know where to find the good stuff and find it cheap. We also have the advantage of lugbulk and other means of acquiring the goods. And as is the case of collectors, a part of that profit (brickling, etc.) doesn’t go to tlg. I can say from personal experience I spent more on my collection (the polybags, sets and ex’s gathering dust) than I did on the parts I use constantly. And the bigger part of that amount went to third parties, not tlg.

    So in the end, give the spending habits and the smaller number of afols, I think this is where the least profit comes from. Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know – I’m just pulling number out of my ass here and speaking from my own experiences.

    I’d say we should be happy we get any advantages at all. Not many companies bother to reward a niche group of customers this way. Because we’re nothing but a speck of ink on their paycheck, and that’s all they care about.

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    1. TLG doesnt give a flying fuck about your bantha… Very succinct.

      Yes, i plead guilty to the charge of novelizing this fire mission. But in my defense, i thought Jays article was a good launch point for a fairly broad topic. As i wrote my way into the artical, i kept tripping over specifc concepts that needed to be addressed. Like the certifide builders and the notion of benefits for TLG by AFOLs.

      Regarding your categorization of AFOLs, i think your taxonomy should include a catagory for merchants. Like the Bricklink guys. They buy lego hete, there, and everywhere… But lego cant spot them in the crowd. Some merchants are AFOLs selling their surplus, while others are toy hustlers who never build… But… Merchants buy a lot of lego either way. Talking small time guys here. Not retail companies. Not franchises.

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      1. I included those under investors (wasn’t referring to companies, there are lots of “hobby sellers” that actually have bigger stock than smaller companies) mainly, they pretty much fill the same gap. The categories are just meant to give a rough view on the niche markets, many fans fit in more than one category or even every single one of them, parents included.

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  3. This last BrickCon, I think it was during the keynote, there was a slide with a pie chart showing the estimated portion of sales to AFOLs as compared to total Lego sales. It was a very tiny slice of the pie. It would be interesting to see whether visiting a con during public hours makes people buy more Lego for their kids. There’s probably not enough cons around to make a big difference, though. Yeah, I pretty much agree we’re a niche market.

    I mostly buy my bricks on the second hand market, so why should Lego care what I think? Heck, I don’t even really care what goes on with the Lego company as long as they stay in business and keep making bricks.

    ComicCon exclusives, don’t all the toy companies do stuff like that? I see that more as Lego joining an existing trend, or maybe even Marvel/DC having a say in it, and I bet toy collectors love exclusives.

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    1. Yep. As long as TLG keeps making bricks….im ok.

      But as Jays article, and the responses to that article point out, AFOLs often buy into the notion of enhanced significance. Do you think MOST or only a VOCAL FEW buy into this notion?

      Think its different in Europe than in the U.S.? Jays Australian, and that is different perspective, but i think AFOLs all over buy into this delusion.

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    1. Ok…that may be true.
      But even if it is true, the fact that its a standard operating procedure doesnt really address Jays assertion that the practice will hurt TLG.

      I agree…its a market place norm. But if i were Jay, i think i would say: maybe so, but its still wrong.

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      1. The issue is Jay’s point of view is from an emotional afol side. Which is the exact opposite of a good business practice. It didn’t become a market norm because the biggest companies don’t have a clue what they’re doing.

        And the article loses me here instantly – “But I promised myself to not support the scalpers and resellers.”

        Sure, don’t support them, go support a multi-billion company. Make the rich richer, if that makes you feel nobler. Bleh. The company feels the same way about you, oh most valued and holy customer.

        For me resellers offer a service – the chance to get retired items, parts, minifigs and exclusives I wouldn’t be able to otherwise (especially in my area). And anyone imagining someone’s piling truckloads of money from selling these comicon exclusives is deluded; they obviously have no idea what costs attending involves.

        And the best part – nobody’s forcing you to buy anything. It’s not your holy right to own everything. It’s a commodity, a luxury. I myself would very much love to have a Patek Philippe, and the biggest fan in the whole world, but those bastards won’t give it to me for a price I can afford. Damned scalpers. And I totally deserve it, because I’m one of the “most passionate fans”.

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  4. I’m mostly in agreement with Pascal. Don’t care too much about what TLG is doing other than I want them to keep producing sets with new parts and colors to keep things interesting since I fancy myself a builder (who hasn’t built much) and not a collector. And really, once a collection gets sufficiently large buying sets becomes unnecessary with BL available.

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  5. Jay’s argument is invalid. The pricing on these exclusives is determined by the market and irrelevant to TLG. Just last week, a piece of old canvas with some colors brushed on it sold for $450,000,000.00 Did Leo see any of that sweet green? Nope. Jay also proceeds under the false assumption that we AFOLs are somehow like shareholders in a privately owned and operated company and can influence and direct their VERY successful business model that has existed longer than any of us. Nope. Jay assumes that TLG is creating exclusives specifically to screw us over when in fact it is a pure goodwill gesture and encouraging advertisement to get more visitors into SDCC. Which means more free advertising for TLG which far outweigh any costs incurred for displaying there or producing the exclusives. And even if TLG was privy to the over inflated market values of these exclusives, it wouldn’t explain why they only charged $2.99 for Mr. Gold in a CMF polybag when he clearly goes for much more. The argument is illogical as price and value are not the same thing. And the argument is unsound in thinking that TLG would fix the market and not take a bite out of the pie.

    The most important flaw in Jay’s understandable rant is that he dismisses his own desire for the exclusives. Of course he wants them, we all do. TLG knows this and manipulates us into this conspicuous consumption ON PURPOSE. It is after all called business for a reason. If TLG catered to this Studebaker-esque business model and produced exclusives for AFOLs only, what sort of fucking mess would that create for a company that has steered clear of controversy and confrontation forever? It’s a totally absurd notion to think TLG would consider the irrelevancy of an anomalous cult over the actual numbers and profit margins.

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    1. Yeah… The SDCC Exclusive question is sort of open and shut… Or at least moot.

      But what about my assertion that MOST AFOLs suffer from slightly delusional levels of our signifigance in the eyes of TLG?

      Do most, many, or few of us, think we matter to TLG?

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      1. Yes. We are delusional and we matter.

        However…

        We, AFOLs, are a simple anomaly, nothing more. The collector/investor market is post sale, TLG has no effect on the value outside production. And even then, there is no worth above offsetting the costs and making a marginal profit. They are two different markets using the same product. Thinking that we AFOLs are important OR unimportant to either is absurd and it will in no way affect TLG or their successful business model. We are the variable in their constant equation, and our influence over the resulting sum is irrelevant and insignificant but always a factor. LEGO has been selling products longer than there have been AFOLs, just because some of us are willing to pay thousands for a minifig doesn’t mean that we control the market. It just shows that we aren’t the brightest bricks in the six-pack. Deadpool Duck will likely sell for thousands, TLG likely spent less than a dollar each to produce and then give away, they lose nothing and gain tons of advertising. That’s money VERY well spent. And aren’t you just a wee bit curious about what the NEXT exclusive will be? Just a little? Speculating perhaps? Hoping for a Star Wars exclusive Prune Face minifig? If I were TLG, I’d be sitting in a nice comfy chair laughing too.

        TLG can only rely on the hard numbers from direct sales, not the aftermarket fluidity. What are the sales receipt totals from Wal-Mart compared to what some fool paid for an exclusive that cost them forty cents to produce. ANYONE buying Lego is not interchangeable with AFOL, and the former has more buying power than the latter. We don’t have enough zeros behind us to have any influence. However we can be included in both, which only adds to the adults buying, not the AFOLs. So, we do matter, just not in the way we would prefer.

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  6. Yeah… The SDCC Exclusive question is sort of open and shut… Or at least moot.

    But what about my assertion that MOST AFOLs suffer from slightly delusional levels of our signifigance in the eyes of TLG?

    Do most, many, or few of us, think we matter to TLG?

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  7. Jay’s article thinly veils another attitude from that facet of the AFOL crowd: “If I can’t have it, no one can.” He implies (and many other collectors openly assert) that it would be better if the exclusive minifigs didn’t exist in the first place. Way to take the “adult” out of AFOL with such a childish view of things. “How dare a company do something that’s not in the best interests of my self-imposed, special-snowflake buying habits. How dare something exist that I can’t own.” Sorry if this sounds mean-spirited, but I can’t help but laugh at the absurd level of consumerist entitlement here. You have every right to value your collection and be frustrated if you can’t complete it to your standards, but that’s no one’s problem but your own. I don’t give a shit about your precious collection and neither should TLG. As others have said, there’s exclusive swag from every company at Comic Con. The fact that some people happen to collect the ones from TLG is the onus of those collectors, not TLG. Also if you’re enough of a maniac to try and obtain every figure a company has ever put out since the 70’s, I seriously doubt the exclusivity of a few figures is gonna change your blind devotion to that company. I’ve heard similar complaints about exclusive figures being in expensive sets.

    Investors and scalpers I at least respect for operating by basic logic and the rules of economics. They only thrive because of what some collectors are willing to pay. (Except for those scalpers who deny shit to little kids and their parents in stores. Fuck those people.) Plus they don’t really affect me since I buy parts more than sets these days anyway. I’m with Pascal in that I’m mildly invested in TLG’s success because I would be shit out of luck if the tools of my craft suddenly ceased production, but other than that I don’t really care. Sometimes I wish certain parts were cheaper or more readily available, but I suck it up and do what I have to do to keep building and I don’t insist that TLG’s set design and part choice conforms to my building style.

    There was a time when I saw the store exclusives and thought, “Wow, Lego really cares about us,” but in reality they’re just giving an appropriately thin slice of the production pie to anyone with the nerd cash to blow half a grand on a plastic spaceship, or rich parents with spoiled kids. I’ve heard stories about how the adult fans supposedly “saved” the company when it was tanking in the early 2000’s and what they do for mega fans and LUGs is a form of gratitude for that, but the numbers there are as iffy as anywhere else and it smells of the same kind of AFOL hubris exposed in the article. If most AFOLs think they matter to TLG, then TLG has done an outstanding job on the “good will” front.

    I primarily use “AFOL” as a term of contempt these days because I like to think that builders aren’t as fanboy-ish or entitled as collectors, who are the real “fans” of Lego imo. Chalk that up to my own hubris, but the vibe I’m getting from the comments here confirms that suspicion. Then again we’re only a small percent of a small percent, most of us with 10+ years of experience in the hobby. Plus I think people are more likely to comment in agreement on an article if they know the author will respond since arguing is more time-consuming than high-fiving. Both this article and Jay’s are also preaching to a choir of devoted readers who likely agree with some core premise of the blog. So yes Mike, I’m criticizing your math in that part (or at least your interpretation of it) 😛

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    1. “builders aren’t as fanboy-ish or entitled as collectors, who are the real “fans” of Lego imo”

      I have to say, I didn’t think about this, but I guess you’re pretty much correct, this attitude is more widespread among collectors. I guess the ability to build what you want plays a role here (you want a bantha, you build it, instead of moaning for it to be released – sure, won’t do much for ex minifigs, but it’s still half solved), as well as diminished interest in the sets themselves (aside from some ucs jewels, sets are inferior to the the most generic and mediocre mocs).

      “Both this article and Jay’s are also preaching to a choir of devoted readers who likely agree with some core premise of the blog.”

      I don’t think this is true here, I myself can’t wait for Michael to write something for me to disagree with, it’s getting boring being on the same page. :)) But on a serious note, I believe the reason we’re mostly on the same page is that we’re all pretty much realistic and able to use a bit o’ the ol’ brain (well, not me, but I do my best to fake it). So when it comes to objective/factual matters we tend to agree mostly and disagree when it comes to tastes and subjective matters.

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      1. The real sad thing about this is that even if I was at an event where an exclusive fig was being handed out for free, and even if I knew the projected value that fig would have, I really find I can’t care whether I get my hands on it or not. You both nailed it by pointing out that any fan of Lego isn’t necessarily a fanboy nor are they an investor. They can be, but there definitely needs to be a classification difference for the intention/motivations of the individual that occupies a specific market. This also excludes TLG as any sort of entity with any influence outside production numbers. And if by chance they remotely aren’t, TLG is not anywhere near the levels of Disney when it comes to “exclusive, limited time only, opening the vault to rerererelease Dumbo on Blu-ray at a ridiculously inflated price because even though we know the movie sucks ass our brightly colored sparkly commercials during cartoons will cultishly manipulate your hairless monkeys to pester you incessantly until days’ end or you just throw it in the damn cart at checkout to shut them the fuck up” creation of the pie, hoarding it, creating a demand, then feeding the public crumbs marketing genius. -whew-

        In short (XD) if I get one, great; if I don’t, it’ll just be another fucking Tuesday. So what? Besides, if I go to SDCC again, I’ll be too busy laughing at the cosplayers and wonder how this damn convention got so far away from comics. It’s a free market out there, supply and demand are still the only factors that matter. Whether a fan of Lego, a zealous fanboy of Lego, an investor of Lego, or just a parent buying Lego to shut their rat up, buys it at the normal average of $0.10/piece at retail has nothing to do with the absurdity that follows. TLG made their money off them. Done. And calculable for projected budgets and revenues.

        And I don’t know of many choirs that argue as much as we do with the preachers, makes me think that there is actually a god and she’s laughing maniacally at all us in approval. amen.

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      2. “You both nailed it by pointing out that any fan of Lego isn’t necessarily a fanboy nor are they an investor. They can be, but there definitely needs to be a classification difference for the intention/motivations of the individual that occupies a specific market.”

        I’ve heard Chrome go on about something similar in an episode of Bricks & Beer. About how the builders are kind of a different crowd from the collectors. I think he and a few others use the term “AHOL” (adult hobbyist of Lego) to describe what we do in contrast to the general FOL population. But there is of course a lot of overlap with collecting given the level of nostalgia inherent in the initiation process. I think most builders only go after one or two treasured childhood sets though; the rest is just too tempting to cannibalize for the next MOC.

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      3. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been called an A-hole.

        The nostalgia is a variable in the equation that is often overlooked. The intensity is not something that can be easily gauged and is certainly not something to be overlooked. By nature, Lego feeds that as it has had a presence in our lives to some extent. I think to some level that they actually bank on it.

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      4. Shut up Vitreolum! Who asked you?

        I would only say that we should be careful about this notion: “the reason we’re mostly on the same page is that we’re all pretty much realistic”

        You can see where this thinking can lead if you turn your back on it. For example, People who disagree with our consensus are NOT realistic? Or, we agree with one another because we are correct, and disagreement constitutes incorrect or poor thinknig? I’m trying to make your words more sinister than they are. Doing it on purpose. Extending your assertion past what you meant. (not putting those words in your mouth… that stuff is NOT really what you said) But I think it’s a kind of self reinforcing perception trap we could fall into for want of genuine disagreement.

        See what I mean? It could slip away from us. On the surface I’m inclined to agree with you (damnit with the agreement again!). Building vs collecting… invention vs acquisition. I dig it. But if it were Christmas and I could really get what I wanted? I would want Jay and folks from his site to come over here and contest my assertions. Challenge them with assertions that can only come from people with different perspectives.

        Not argument for arguments sake, but more like… shaking the hell out of each and every assertion to check it’s true strength. Maybe its like… never trusting your own assertions… but trusting a process that really aggressively scrubs your assertions.

        Geez, I leave the blog for like two days and THEN people come in with this kind of thinking. Good shit man. Thanks!

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      5. Yeah, I get what you mean, I guess I forgot to add something here (and it was all so clear in my mind, dammit) – what I meant is we’re all realistic when it comes to ideas that can be easily backed by facts, as is this case. We may all have different ideas regarding the ethics of each practice, and may or may not want exclusives; it doesn’t matter. Everyone so far sees them as typical business practices and takes them for what they are, nobody sees the darkly evil evilness that keeps collectors away from their deserved items.

        So, yeah, in this respect, there’s nothing realistic about Jay’s article, his ideas simply don’t apply to the way the world works. He’s got no arguments beside “I want, I want” and resellers are evil. They’d be right at home in a utopia. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind living in a world where I can get whatever I want for being a fan, I’m just that kind of lazy bastard, but there’s nothing realistic about it.

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    2. Dude, you nailed one of my own misgivings with this line:

      “Plus I think people are more likely to comment in agreement on an article if they know the author will respond since arguing is more time-consuming than high-fiving. Both this article and Jay’s are also preaching to a choir of devoted readers who likely agree with some core premise of the blog. ”

      Remember my blabbering about “consensus poisoning?” That schizophrenic notion that even as we begin to agree with one another we also begin to pander to one another? As I wrote this FFE I was thinking about how much more likely people are to comment if they agree with the author on any given point… regardless of the climate of discourse we strive to maintain on this or any given forum.

      The annoying fact remains: It’s easer to agree than to disagree. It’s not about back bone, or honesty, or any of that other good stuff. It’s just about ease. Climate and respect and candor and honesty all play a part sure… but ease of execution is a mother!

      Thanks for the feedback man. Makes this drivel worth writing!

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  8. “TLG is not anywhere near the levels of Disney when it comes to “exclusive, limited time only…” Even more so, calling out TLG for helping scalpers is a joke; the whole idea of scalping is impossible, due to the way they distribute exclusives, namely 1 per customer (or maybe 2-5 in case of more common ones). So nobody can buy the entire (or a huge part of the) stock and flip it. Those complaining about this probably have no idea what scalping is and just like using the word due to the common hate associated with it.

    Sure, there may be those that offer a small sum to convention attendees for their wins and make a nice stock, but that has everything to do with human ignorance and stupidity (I hope every single one of them finds out what they gave away for 5 bucks when they get home; you’re at a comic/toy convention surrounded by prices, not a corn cob fair; you should have a slight idea there’s value in toys even if you’re an ignorant parent, so there’s no excuse); blaming tlg for this is just dumb, they already did their part to avoid it.

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  9. I guess it’s not really a crucial consideration in this discussion, but has anybody else noticed that in this discussion, we all refer to the sale, re-sale, hording, longing for, and whatever else regarding these exclusives from the Lego consumer perspective? But SDCC is not about AFOLs or Lego. It’s about weaving all kinds of consumers together and trying to increase net consumption isn’t it?

    What about the guy or gal who wants the Lego exclusive Wonder Woman figure NOT because they are a Lego fan… but because they are a Wonder Woman fan? A comic fan? A comic figure collector? The draw for them is the character itself. They buy the Wonder Woman Barbi doll, the WW bendy fig, the WW plush toy, the WW comic book, lunch box, playing cards, car air freshener… and and and…

    I think a big part of this market is about crossing the line from one source of interest to another. Creating new Lego consumers from other pools of consumers (and vise versa… Getting AFOLs to buy more comic related products).

    But here on our Lego focused blog… all discussion has been TLG and AFOL centric.

    Am I on crack, or does this coin have two sides? Are we ignoring the larger market, and does that larger market really define the entire effort?

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    1. Obviously, that is why they make comic related exclusives and not nexo. If it wasn’t for that, It’d make much more sense to advertise their original themes, instead of those that already have a huge following. My guess is that’s their primary aim there.

      We’re focusing on the lego market, because that’s the one market we all know.

      It’s funny that you mention this, I’m also a member of a statue forum where most members are comic fans and there’s a little thread for lego collectors (it’s truly weird for me to see lego as the tiny thread under general convo :)) ); and as little as I browsed it, people are collecting minifgs, brickheadz and licensed sets that tie in with their comic/movie interests, but that’s about it. So yeah, they may make a WW fan buy a minifig or even a set, but it’s going to be a very rare case where they convert into madmen like us. So I don’t think we’re ignoring much of a market in terms of casual buyers; I think it’s too small to matter.

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  10. the darkly evil evilness that keeps collectors away from their deserved items…

    It’s that naked emotion in his position that touched off my reaction to his article, and made me wonder: How important do you real think we are. Pretty much the reason I wrote anything at all. And not so much to Jay himself either. But to AFOLs in general.

    That said, I am still hoping Jay comes over here and put a stick in my eye.

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    1. I’d love to see some comments for the other side as well, because I fail to see how they can be backed up in an objective, non emotional, non moralistic manner.

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  11. TLDR

    Hi Mike, first time caller, long time listener. My question is this: how do you expect counter fire from Jay when you don’t leave him a link to follow? All of this presupposes that you didn’t email him privately or alert him via Facebook, but that seems to be beyond the scope of your online abilities. I checked your comment on his article and a line at the end of Jay’s reply stuck out:
    “if they lose the collector market they’re in big trouble.” That made me laugh out loud and points out just how delusional these people are.

    I’m pretty much in violent agreement with the article so I don’t have much to add other than the notion of AFOLs having an inflated sense of value to the company goes back to the earliest days of the AFOL scene. I can vividly remember Brad Justice, the first community outreach guy from Lego telling the crowd at BricksWest 2003 explicitly that we represented less than 2% sales and not to expect any new “track geometry” or “classic space” sets because our desires really don’t matter in the broader scheme of things. He was snarky and clearly irritated with the fans but quite accurate. Of course he also said Lego would never produce LOTR sets because they were too “dark” and “violent”.

    What the company wants most for AFOLs is free labor and free marketing. Although they have improved relations with the fanatics in the decade plus since The reign of Brad Justice, I doubt we’ve gone much past that 2 percent number they loved to throw around back then.

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      1. I did precisely that, since you lack the intestinal fortitude to do it yourself. I’m really surprised you didn’t do it to begin with, it’s not like you to shirk counter fire. You can’t fall back on your hackneyed “but I’m computer illiterate!” schtick either, because you managed to post in his comment section before, so the proof is out there. Sure you wanted counter fire…sure you did. I hope Jay does respond to your clear invitation to the dance.

        Dance, monkey, dance! That is if you’re not too bloated from thanksgiving.

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    1. This is so true in just about every aspect of manufacturing of any sort nowadays. The fact that diversification in product lines with Lego is still with its primary product and not toilet seats or lawn sprinklers makes it a greater insult to the AFOL egos. Decades back, I went to the Briggs and Stratton factory for training, a company that began business manufacturing small engines and still does. Briggs engines are everywhere, mowers, generators, farm equipment, you name it and it likely has a Briggs. We go there and find out with ALL that product out there, it only amounted to 5% of their business (at the time.) They even told us directly that we were essentially a costly nuisance when it came to repairing their engines (extra part production, packaging, storage and flooring, shipping, distribution, and especially staff and training.) Their main product was a “side” company that was called Strattec, which happens to make EVERY door and ignition lock for EVERY American auto maker and their foreign affiliates in addition to Westinghouse home securities and Bolt product lines. That’s humility by hammer, something AFOLs in general could use. So like Pascal basically said, just be happy that TLG is still producing actual Lego, exclusives or not.

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      1. ” So like Pascal basically said, just be happy that TLG is still producing actual Lego, exclusives or not.”

        Absolutely, but unfortunately this rationale applies mostly to us, who can build whatever the heck we want with the parts. Most collectors are stuck with the existing sets, at most they mod some minor details. So if tlg puts out crap (which is true for 90% of the sets), they’re stuck with it. Superheroes collectors have it worst, the line’s pure garbage and nonsense (hulk buggy and spiderman trike are two of my favorite sets ever!) aside from minifigures. And they’re the ones hit by the ex issues as well. So I can’t say I don’t see where their bitterness comes from. I can understand that. It’s the sense of entitlement and lack of rationale (or knowledge how things work) I can’t get behind. And most importantly the fact that they’re collecting TOYS and expect them to be adult oriented collectibles.

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  12. The objection being made in the self-described rant by Jay can be boiled down to frustration over the fact that TLG is not responding to the profit motive claimed in assumption #1 here. You seem to have missed Jay’s point entirely by focusing on a different issue that frankly doesn’t make sense. I’ll break it down assumption-by-assumption.

    1. TLG is an ethical organization, but, the single strongest influence on their decisions is profit.

    If this assumption is true, TLG would respond to prices. When the second-hand prices of products they make go up, they will re-release those products to claim the profits available, instead of giving them away to the re-sellers. TLG generally does do this (hence the many re-releases). But it remains an open question about why they do not release products similar to their convention exclusives. There is, at the time of this writing, no other way to get The Collector or Jean Grey except for their Comic-Con exclusives. That is silly, and I think that was Jay’s point. He made that clear when he noted that anyone could, if they wanted, build their own versions of the Detention Block Rescue. TLG *isn’t* basing their decisions on profits in the case of these exclusives.

    2. TLG profit is massive. So massive in fact, that TLG is forced to consider not simply specific numbers, but larger concepts like “market share” and “strategic trends”.

    This is actually a reason to pay more attention to AFOL. The profits over at Disney are also massive, and they are going to make a billion dollars guaranteed on the next Star Wars movie. But they still offer free screenings to taste-makers, and they will still spend a huge amount of money lobbying for Academy Awards. The AFOL are why TLG *does* convention exclusives. That convention exclusives exist entirely undercuts your argument that TLG doesn’t care about AFOL. They clearly do. They are making products exclusively for adult collectors.

    3. TLG knows that adults purchase, and have always purchased, more Lego than children do.

    Agreed.

    4. The term AFOL is separate from the notion that adults purchase most Lego.

    Also, agreed.

    5. TLG can only identify a small number of AFOLs as being separate from other adult Lego buyers.

    I would characterize it as a small *share* of buyers, not a small number. Lego can almost certainly distinguish which of its customers are buying for their kids, and which are buying for themselves. If they can’t, they really only need to go to Business School to find out how they could.

    6. There is no accurate data source for AFOL numbers or activities.

    TLG probably keeps in-house data which is both accurate and can speak to AFOL numbers and activities. They absolutely respond to those numbers. We could also make inferences through AFOL database websites like Brickset, if we wanted to know about it ourselves.

    7. Because the AFOL market share is not KNOWABLE… it is foolish to assume that TLG acts upon it.

    This is a common misconception about business. All that matters is whether or not the marginal revenue of catering to AFOL exceeds the marginal cost. TLG doesn’t even need to be aware that AFOL exist. They can end up catering to them simply by trying to maximize their profits. Even if AFOL comprise a small share of overall revenues, they still provide enormous revenues. Individuals may fall for framing biases, but major corporations typically do not. TLG definitely doesn’t, as they cater to, and respond to AFOL all the time because they generally do follow the profit motive. Just not in the case of the convention exclusives, which was Jay’s point.

    AFOL may have an inflated sense of self-importance. They, like most people, probably have a lot of ideas about how to “fix” TLG’s “problems”. But that was not ever Jay’s point. His point was that he wants Deadpool Duck, and he is willing to pay more than what it would cost TLG to produce it. For most other products in the world, that is all that is required in order for someone to produce that product for you. It is how we get bread and furniture and clothing. Your response to him seems to be that you don’t think TLG should care, because they make more money from people who are not Jay. But that doesn’t matter. The milk industry gets way more money from moms with lots of kids than they do from me. But I can still go to a store and get a gallon of milk. They don’t need to know what demographic I’m in or what my concerns are. All that matters is that I am willing to pay more than what it costs. So they produce more milk, and they sell it to me. Convention exclusives, by their very nature, defy that economic wisdom. And that practice is indeed anti-fun and anti-fan.

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    1. “The AFOL are why TLG *does* convention exclusives.”

      That’s a pretty hefty assumption there. Just what does TLG gain from giving away free minifigs to a specific subset of people (who are already hooked on their product) at a more general convention? There’s “good will,” of course, but as others have already pointed out, they’re likely for promotional purposes to reach a larger market and possibly even a requirement at this point for events like SDCC (enforced or not). If they were really for AFOL, then TLG would give them out at AFOL conventions instead of comic cons. They also wouldn’t show clear preferences for handing them out to kids over adults. You can find several other articles similar to Jay’s complaining about that in particular.

      “His point was that he wants Deadpool Duck, and he is willing to pay more than what it would cost TLG to produce it. For most other products in the world, that is all that is required in order for someone to produce that product for you.”

      Except it really isn’t. One person or a vocal minority cannot dictate a large production run. Even if we’re talking AFOLs, the die-hard minifig collectors who are upset about convention exclusives are an even smaller subset of that small group. There are custom minifig sellers who will cater to whoever wants a Deadpool Duck or whatever other obscure character no one cares about, but the business they do is small potatoes compared to TLG, and TLG can put their resources to better use. They aren’t some omnipotent company that can just make anything and everything they can imagine if the price is right and the profit margin seems somewhat safe. They have to allocate their production wisely and every business decision they make has a varying amount of risk.

      “The milk industry gets way more money from moms with lots of kids than they do from me. But I can still go to a store and get a gallon of milk. They don’t need to know what demographic I’m in or what my concerns are. All that matters is that I am willing to pay more than what it costs. So they produce more milk, and they sell it to me.”

      False equivalency here. You aren’t demanding that a special kind of milk is produced solely for your small demographic that the rest of the milk-drinking world doesn’t care about. You’re welcome to drink the same milk as everyone else, just as you are welcome to buy the same mass-production sets as everyone else.

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      1. Chris,

        Did you invoke the notion of small potatoes just now because of that picture in my article?

        Tell me that’s why you said it!

        That photo was a stroke of understated genius! A picture of small potatoes… pictures become words! And I get nothing from you people!

        Standing on my shoulders you bastards!

        cheers man.

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      2. I haven’t looked at the article since it was posted a month ago (honestly once is usually more than enough). But perhaps there is something subliminal going on there. GET OUT OF MY HEAD RUTHERFORD

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    2. Welcome to the Manifesto Brian, I don’t think I’ve seen you post here before. I may be wrong, often am.

      Valid points; however, I have to wonder pragmatically if TLG were concerned with the over inflated prices of the aftermarket, then why don’t they reproduce certain minifigs that fetch prices over $100 each. I mean to say that if they want a piece of that action then it makes sense to place Jango Fett back into circulation at a price of the current stats over on Bricklink that he’s fetching. But paying TLG that much money for a fig is never going to happen in reality. It’s almost an impossibility for them to interfere with the aftermarket as any producer would change the value by their mere presence/interference. Almost Heisenbergian in that observing it alters the outcome. And perhaps this is Jay’s point as well as Mike’s, the separation of TLG from THAT market is actually vital for that market to exist. In essence it is a ripple, a sort of causality that TLG understands and may in fact be testing and manipulating. In which case it then is a wash, and it is reduced to more of a good faith gesture towards advertising and the cons themselves, and nothing more.

      There is also the notion of the word exclusive, limited edition productions just to fill a certain niche market. And not even that, they just exist on their own with no market share or demographic satisfaction. I cannot say with determination that TLG is specifically manipulative, but I can assume that to some extent they are curious. I think that is where their numbers kick in more than any algorithm barfing out production strategies that tell them Deadpool Duck will be worth $1000 in the aftermarket THEREFORE they should produce more at that retail price. To them and any manufacturer there is only cost of production plus a bit of profit. Exclusives are counter to any business model in general. I can’t think that they are specifically screwing AFOLs in order to inflate the market to which they do not participate anyways.

      I feel Jay’s frustration, but I think it is directed at the wrong entity. TLG produces something rare, after that the market determines the value. They have no say in determining any value after retail or to whom the product goes to. And any freebies are even less controllable, even though they likely have an idea that certain values will be determined by variables outside their purview. The most notable variable is the buyer shelling out a grand for a damn minifig. It is only worth what the last sap paid for it, same can be said for these exclusives. But seeing that TLG gives them away for free and doesn’t even touch the other rare one-setters in reproductions without asking exorbitant prices knowing that it would only kill the sale, I can only blame the aftermarket.

      I blame Simon, too.

      Should TLG make exclusives available to AFOL only? I think that’s where Mike’s argument is irrefutable. They can’t. And won’t. Should TLG make more exclusives so that they are available for everyone that does not attend SDCC? Sure, but what does that gain TLG? Advertising is pure money and this is a zero net gain in that respect. It’s out there and there are more of them, can it be called exclusive at that point? If they’re going to cater to the AFOL community, then it would be in their best interest to cater to them all. The price would then level out to a base number of cost plus a bit of profit and nothing more. After word gets out that Deadpool Duck is an exclusive at SDCC, what is the market strategy for TLG regarding any further production? More of them with a high price to cash in? That goes against the law of supply and demand. And TLG has proven that they are well versed in the nuances of that principle.

      I wouldn’t mind some hard numbers to explain their decisions in this matter as all I say are my own assumptions, but I have to apply a non-evil, simplistic supply and demand, cost loss versus advertisement gain economic mentality of a company that has kicked ass since 2003.

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      1. rowntRee,

        I’m giving you FULL CREDIT for using the word “Heisenbergian”

        It was better than when… uh… I cant remember who… just described Goldman’s stuff as Afro-futurist. Had to look it up. Totally a thing. And Goldman totally is one.

        Next time you write, I want you to use “Lagrangian”

        Hey, I’m going to L.A. man!
        See you there Mo-frak!

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      2. With you going to LA, the Lagrangian relaxation of an approximation of dudes talking shit is easier to explain than some jackhole from the two dimensional splendor of Kansas simply talking out his retired ass. 😀

        Mo-frak beyatch! You bringing Demeter? I still have to see you wear it like a hat while roaring like Rodan just as you promised.

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    3. Welcome to the blog Brian, I appreciate anyone who comes into this dive bar and claps back at Rutherford. I know he appreciates it too and will respond to your comment soon. Agree or disagree with the article, I do hope you take a look around the Manifesto and become a regular reader, we’re always looking for new people to join the conversation. Cheers!

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    4. Brian,
      Welcome! Thanks for taking the time to challenge my position in this discussion! More than that though, thanks for framing your response is a structured manner. It takes time to do that. It’s the kind of writing we see less and less of on line. I’m not being remotely sarcastic when I say that I’m honored you took the time to contest my assertions. Hopefully, you will see a number of offerings here that capture your attention similarly. I’m especially pleased because you stopped by not to yell “Hear hear!” but for quite the opposite reason. And to that I say right on man!

      You say:
      You seem to have missed Jay’s point entirely by focusing on a different issue that frankly doesn’t make sense. I’ll break it down assumption-by-assumption.

      By the numbers then:
      1. TLG is an ethical organization, but, the single strongest influence on their decisions is profit.

      In your rebuttal to this assertion, you equate a profit motive to a very specific courses of action. Specifically, you mention that you can only get Jean Grey as a CC exclusive, and that this is silly, and you say “TLG *isn’t* basing their decisions on profits in the case of these exclusives.”

      But I stand by my assertion that profit rules TLGs decision making… I say TLG is a business, not a charity or aid agency. But a “profit first ethic” does not equate to specific courses of action. They may make decisions that WE don’t think will generate profit. We might do things differently (maybe better even)… but we are only in a position to offer commentary (mostly uninformed commentary) on TLGs decisions. Like Znaps… boy that was a total shite product. What was TLG thinking when they threw money at that crud? Or Galidor? Or Lego Universe? All specific decisions I question… but I don’t doubt their motives. Always profit. Same with these exclusives. It might seem lame to AFOLs, but TLGs motive, however indirect, is profit. In this case, I think the profit is long term and indirect. They seek to increase their market (eventual profit) by introducing their product to a broader consumer base (comic fans), not the same as direct sales. Sales is an example of immediate profit. The SDCC stuff seems more strategic to me.

      2. TLG profit is massive. So massive in fact, that TLG is forced to consider not simply specific numbers, but larger concepts like “market share” and “strategic trends”.

      You rebut with the observation that “The AFOL are why TLG *does* convention exclusives” and that “They are making products exclusively for adult collectors.”

      I dispute both of these assertions for a couple of reasons. If TLG were targeting AFOLs with these exclusives, I think they would distribute them at AFOL conventions. A Lego fest is a much more Focused venue and TLG reps are frequently in attendance. In contrast, the SDCC is not about AFOLs. It’s about publishing, and literature, and product placement, and cross over opportunities and market expansion. It’s a commercial event, not a hobby event (not sure what it used to be… but I’m sure of what it is today). TLG might (have to say might… because Im dammed if I know)… might be targeting comic publishers, comic artist, and or other industry players… OR… they might be interested in getting comic fans to become Lego fans. I don’t KNOW any of this… but it doesn’t sound too farfetched to me. And is sure as heck isn’t “anti-fan”. At worst, is illustrates a casual disinterest in the emotional welfare of a small fan group: “AFOLs” (who are a small group of their already built consumer base). SDCC exclusives are exclusively for AFOLs? Again, it sounds so self-important.

      Points 3 and 4… yep and yep

      5. TLG can only identify a small number of AFOLs as being separate from other adult Lego buyers.

      You say: “Lego can almost certainly distinguish which of its customers are buying for their kids, and which are buying for themselves. If they can’t, they really only need to go to Business School to find out how they could.”
      I don’t doubt that TLG can distinguish… I merely doubt that they do! Why would they. Or, more empirically, what evidence is there that suggests that they bother to distinguish? I offer that as far as observable evidence goes… there is no reason to believe they do.

      6. There is no accurate data source for AFOL numbers or activities.

      You say “TLG probably keeps in-house data which is both accurate and can speak to AFOL numbers and activities”

      I say what? In house data? Brother, what does that even mean? Like numbers from “deep files” or numbers they keep “up at headquarters” or maybe data streams from the hidden genome scanners at the checkout stands… I bet you believe that large organizations usually predicated important decisions on a deliberate and disciplined review of recent and verified information. God, I wonder what the world would be like if that were true! You sound like one of those guys who thinks the CIA knew all along that the Berlin Wall was about to fall… (They didn’t).”

      As for numbers and activities… while I really do love that phrase (no really. I love it!)… I think that is giving TLG way to much credit! Hells bells man, J Edgar Hoovers boys tried really hard to track “numbers and activities” of commies in Hollywood… and they wound up investigating Ronald Reagan for crying out loud! (Maybe the Feds should have asked TLG what was really going on!) Numbers and activities… Former KGB, and current Iranian and Israeli intelligence services… they probably track numbers and activities. Oh, and Netflix… them too! But most of the world, to include TLG? They just extrapolate from historical trends, and make their best guesses sound really plausible.

      Nobody. Nobody is tracking AFOLs numbers and activities. More attention being paid to bees, and whales numbers and activities than to AFOLs. We are an invisible nation (about the size of Luxembourg, but without the NATO membership).

      7. Because the AFOL market share is not KNOWABLE… it is foolish to assume that TLG acts upon it.

      You respond in part: “All that matters is whether or not the marginal revenue of catering to AFOL exceeds the marginal cost. TLG doesn’t even need to be aware that AFOL exist. They can end up catering to them simply by trying to maximize their profits.”

      And I agree with that part. It even meshes with the question as to why TLG would bother to track AFOL numbers and activities (we have detailed files!).

      But then you say: Even if AFOL comprise a small share of overall revenues, they still provide enormous revenues. Individuals may fall for framing biases, but major corporations typically do not. TLG definitely doesn’t, as they cater to, and respond to AFOL all the time because they generally do follow the profit motive.

      And that part I disagree with. We are a small number of people who buy a small number of bricks. It’s relative sure. So while we buy “a bunch” of bricks… it doesn’t matter to TLG when compared to parents who are buying “a bunch plus a trillion” and then giving those bricks to kids. You mention that TLG responds to AFOLs all the time, and they do… but only in superficial ways. Lego ideas, fan designed kits, sending TLG reps (in black polo shirts) to AFOL fests. Peanuts! By way of contrast, look at TLGs backing of Mindstorm and First Lego League events. Now that’s meaningful engagement.

      Jays point was that TLGs behavior makes him angry, and that this will eventually hurt TLG. His support or lack of support for this thesis is in his excellent article. I used his article as a departure point for a broader question (do AFOLs have an exaggerated sense of self-importance?) This wasn’t because I missed Jays point, but rather because I found that his reader’s response to his assertion begged a larger question. He is an AFOL writing about “right now” stuff. His opinion is clear and it reached a lot of other AFOLs. That is fertile ground. Lots of AFOLs agree with him… THAT is interesting! Much more so than the narrow focus on this or that TLG marketing decision, or angst about difficulty in acquiring the duckman minifig.
      But all that said, I feel comfortable with these assertions:

      1. TLG is a commercial monolith. It crunches forward with both market savvy, and a carefully crafted public narrative. The market savvy is evident in their overall marketing decisions. They know what kids like, and they sell that. Warring factions, weapons, adventure, struggle (pirates, knights, ninjas, space cops, films… eternal conflict). Their public narrative emphasizes education, the environment, excellence, and social justice (all with no mention of violence, struggle, or even adventure). Slick glossy publications showing children playing with bricks while kindly experts look on, with clip boards in hand, and knowing smiles. Everything is apparently… awesome.

      2. Any discussion of TLGs motives is a “black box” discussion. We have no actual knowledge of what’s in the black box. No hard data about TLGs sales, how they actually generate customer demographics. We have only TLGs claims about this (claims designed to make them look like real experts in this stuff!) and our own best guesses or theories. We prop these theories up with arguments that appeal to notions of what is “likely” or “probable”. We both argue from positons that stem from observable facts and then launch directly into our conclusions. Nobody in this dialogue (or any dialogue about TLG) EVER has detailed data. I poke fun at you for saying TLG tracks “numbers and activities” of AFOLs… but I do have a healthy respect for TLGs notion of information security. They are buttoned up TIGHT when it comes to providing detailed information to external sources. They don’t generally answer questions. They only publish shiny observations about themselves. But lets not kid ourselves for a second: We are all in the dark about the real numbers, and TLGs motives regarding specific decisions.

      3. Alright… I don’t have a third point, but everybody works in threes! Even the Martians rom War of the Worlds. Also, the Illuminati. Further, as Brain pointed out in the film classic Escape From New York, the mines on the 69th street bridge are laid out in groups of three. So I figured I would make up a third assertion just to hold to that rule!
      Thanks for posting man, and don’t take any guff from anybody on this site! I hope we hear from you again in the future!

      Attack!

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    1. And your comment is far too short and betrays your lack of critical thought. Why bother to say something that makes you look like a simpleton? This isn’t the blog for you, I suggest something with more pictures than words.

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      1. Keith,
        Your too harsh. This blog needs needs simpletons just as much as it needs those stricken with ADD.

        Matt brings both gifts to the table!

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    2. I’m convinced, Jay’s post wins!

      Thank you Matt for that brilliant insight. I hope you return here more often to offer such well thought out arguments and criticism. Your full understanding and grasp of the topic at hand shows a level of genius that us mere mortals should genuflect towards while casting our lowly eyes upon. You have certainly wiped the ass of ingenuity with your clever statement and have made all of us bite the curb of logic while you stomped our mealy brains into submission by your size 12 viewpoint. And to think, we wasted all that time, and thought, and logic, and validity, and truth, and example, and ideology, to provide you with so much material to NOT read in order to bellow brevity our way to put all that effort and work to pure nonsense. Our sincerest apologies for wasting your time as someone so insightful as yourself has proven by merely showing up here that you are an intellect of the highest order and your importance should not be dismissed as what Keith and Mike call “simpleton”. No, good sir, if I dare project to be so humble as to address someone so noble as yourself in such a familiar manner, please find it in your majestic heart to forgive the mortal ramblings of us peons as you are Prometheus, your words are fire, and we are eternally indebted and blessed by your sacrifice and presence. Well done!

      no really.

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      1. I think your extra mad because he has the same name as you…

        I feel the same way about sharing my name with Michael Meyers

        https://www.timesunion.com/entertainment/article/Scene-Heard-6543866.php

        and ever worse about sharing my name with Mike Meyers!

        https://www.yahoo.com/news/is-that-you-mike-myers-austin-powers-star-is-084342980.html

        But it’s all good in the end cause I get to share my first AND last name with Michael Rutherford!

        I just wish I had been named Duran Duran!

        Like

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