Saturday, 8 September 2012

Rubbish 'Update'

Yep, after another long break, I'm back with another text-only update.

The good news is that the quiet time coincides with intermittent employment, so I've actually had some income recently. The bad news is that while I've been working, I've been even less inclined to update any of my blogs.

This post is a bit of an opinion piece, for those who may be interested, and it's come about because of a similar post on a blog I read. Specifically, it's about the Official TransFormers Collectors' Club and their new 'Figure Subscription Service'.

I joined the club in 2006 (if I remember correctly - at least, my first membership exclusive was Landquake, and my renewals come up in January) largely because of the preview shots of Timelines Airazor, based on the Energon Slugslinger mold (long-time readers may be aware of my affection for the quirkier molds) and the BotCon 2006 set, Dawn of Futures Past, which I picked up at Memorabilia.

The idea of 2 premium exclusives, plus one free 'membership incentive' figure per year, and a bi-monthly newsletter sounded cool. The BotCon discount may yet prove useful one of these years and, while I'm not a massive fan of forums generally, the dedicated Club forum was one of the few that I visited with any regularity.

Sadly, after this year's much-publicised security breach, the members site was taken offline and, while the Club shop is back up and running, the forums are not... and there's no news as to when that might happen.

Furthermore, the bi-monthly newsletter has never quite managed to live up to its potential - partly because, being only bi-monthly, any 'news' it features can be two months out of date before the magazine arrives in members' letterboxes, and partly because more content is supplied by Club members than by Hasbro. So much for being the Official TransFormers Collectors' Club...

So when this new Figure Subscription Service was announced, I was in two minds. Of the six figures announced, only a couple interested me. Ultra Mammoth appeals to my sense of humour (plus, shell-former or not, it's a cool mold), and Slipstream uses the TFPrime First Edition Deluxe Starscream mold that is, by most accounts, superior to the Voyager in almost every way (and has a new head sculpt). Jackpot will have a new head sculpt, but I already have TFAnimated Jazz and the BotCon 2011 repaint, Dead End. G1 Breakdown will be the Club's billionth use of the Classics Sunstreaker/Sideswipe mold, and it's third version of the Stunticon (it's previously done the G2-coloured version in this Classics mold and the BotCon 2011 TFAnimated homage). Axor repaint Circuit (an update of a G1 Action Master, of all things!) is an eyesore - literally, those colours hurt my eyes - and Scourge/Nemesis Prime has been done at least a billion times already (and the BotCon 2012 Shattered Glass Ultra Magnus was a far more original use of that mold anyway).

Considering the Club offered people only a little more than three weeks to sign up for the FSS, I decided to play it cool, thinking long and hard about my financial situation versus my desire for this motley selection of exclusives. Looking back over the years, the Club has had few real successes. A good deal of their choices, be they for BotCon toys or Club exclusives, have been disappointing. Considering the variety of continuities they've plundered for characters, it's impossible to determine what their intended demographic is, other than "those people who are willing to pay premium prices for the most esoteric toys". The worst part is that the Club exclusives rarely bear any relation to the BotCon set, when it would have made sense to launch something like the FSS with something similar to the BotCon attendee exclusives... though even they don't always connect with the boxed set.

I read this blog posting a couple of days ago, and pretty much agreed with it all. The 'Club' part of the TransFormers Collectors' Club has been steadily eroded over the last year or so, and really wasn't much good to begin with. The fact that it's run from the United States means that heinous shipping charges are inflicted upon members elsewhere in the world. BotCon sets - including the attendee exclusives - have been getting steadily bigger and more elaborate, while the Club exclusives have been fairly disappointing - the last few have all been Deluxe-sized, but priced higher than a Leader class toy on the high street. Sure, they come in good, sturdy display boxes... but this FSS is doing away with those, too. Furthermore, while they're saying that 'some' of these figures will 'probably' be made available via the Club store, they're (a) not guaranteeing that any specific figure will be available and (b) intending to offer them at a higher price than they would be as part of the FSS package. The club store actually goes so far as to suggest that the FSS package is your best bet if you want any of the figures, and that those you don't want should simply be sold off.

Does that seem cynical to anyone else?

International membership costs about US$80 (UK£50). The FSS is an additional US$280-odd (UK$175), plus almost US$120 (UK£75) shipping to the UK (that's about US$20/UK£12.50 per figure). All things considered, I was pretty close to the point of calling it quits with the Club and ignoring the FSS altogether, until Big Bad Toy Store announced their preorders for the FSS toys. How they're getting stock, I know not - either they're hoping to score some rejects from members who don't like certain figures, or their staff are members and will be purchasing stock - but their prices are typically extortionate. In fact, were I to purchase only the two figures I'm particularly keen on - Ultra Mammoth and Slipstream - from BBTS, the cost would be startlingly similar to the price of all six figures in the current FSS.

So, screw that.

I signed up for the FSS package earlier today. I already know that ParcelForce are going to add their blackmail extortion handling fee to the existing cost - probably on each delivery, too - but, honestly, the price of the FSS in UK money isn't too bad (thanks to the current exchange rate) so about UK£250 plus shipping for two cool figures, three lacklustre figures and one very dull figure isn't too bad. I do feel that, by releasing one Classics-style Stunticon, they're binding themselves to the idea of doing the rest sooner or later (OK, TakaraTomy have already done Drag Strip, so the Club really need only do Dead End, Wildrider and Motormaster)... but the Club frequently creates only part of a continuity, and leaves the kitbashers to fill in the gaps.

I'm determined to not regret this...

Let's face it, in this 'internet age' of ours, the idea of a 'fan club' is rendered obsolete, because there are already fan sites for almost everything. The magazine is rendered obsolete by the nature of its content, and would only become interesting and worthwhile if they carried more behind-the-scenes information about the brand. I can't see why Hasbro aren't falling over themselves to provide Fun Publications such content, but I guess that's between them and Fun Pub.

Ultimately, they call it a Collectors' Club for a reason: the toys are where the money is, both for Hasbro and the Club. Shorter runs mean higher costs, which are then passed on to the customer, who gladly pays because of the perceived prestige of owning 'exclusive limited-edition figures'. As fans, we're our own worst enemies in that respect. One look at the second-hand market for any kind of 'exclusive' proves that.

What I'd like to see from the Club in future is:
  • More behind-the-scenes stuff - and I don't care if it's written up by members or 'professionals', just get it in the magazine
  • More proper news - exclusive announcements from Hasbro coming to the Club and its members first
  • More continuity between BotCon and the Club exclusives - pick a theme for the year, hint at it with the first few FSS toys, go into full swing for BotCon, then follow up and conclude with the final couple of FSS toys
  • Switch the magazine to an online format - common these days, and more cost-effective than print for something like this. The club comic could then come out as one or two pages per week, rather than a bunch of pages every two months... and, since it would still be put together in the same way, Fun Pub could still publish it, collected, in print, at a later date
  • Bring back the bloody forum. Sure, there are already dozens of TF forums out there... but the Club will have its own stuff to talk about, right?
In other news, I was planning to do another queued-up set of proper updates, probably focussing on motorbikes (having recently chanced upon TFPrime Arcee in a branch of Tesco - come on, Hasbro, what happened to Wave 2? You've announced Wave 4 is available in the UK, but all I see on the shelves is Cliffjumper!), but haven't had time (or the inclination) to make a go of it yet. Plus, glancing through my Photobucket accounts, I realised I'd failed to take photos of Energon Arcee and Superlink Arial Paradron Type, so I had to fix that little problem.

Not sure when 'normal service' will be resumed, but watch this space...

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