How Star Wars Collectors Have Changed in the Last 20+ Years

March 27, 2017 – Adam Pawlus, a toy-industry insider and a longtime avid Star Wars collector, has recently posted some very insightful comments on the changing Star Wars collectors community.

Just as the toy line has evolved over the last 20 years, so have the interests of fans.

Pawlus’ observations point out that collectors have spread out into different (and sometimes competing) sub-lines of Star Wars while others have simply lost interest and quit collecting altogether. Meanwhile, the significance and influence of hardcore collectors have receded over the last 20 years vis-à-vis the casual fan or toy purchaser.

Key excerpts from Pawlus’ commentary are republished below. We have added sub-headers to help group the thoughts. You can read the full article HERE at the end of Adam Pawlus’ weekly Q&A session.

A Look Back at Star Wars Collecting in the 1990’s

“One of the queries I’ve had pop up is if collectors as a group are important or not to how this line progresses. They were a lot more important – back in the 1990s, we as a group were louder and bought more stuff. There were variations, and people furiously catalogued them and tracked them down. Collectors would not only grab a figure to keep in the package and one to open, but multiples – frequently. Speculators and dealers were also lumped under “collectors,” as “collector” meant “not a child” to a lot of folks, and those guys would buy dozens of things. When the modern line in 1995 was only a couple dozen products, it was a lot easier. There were also fewer competing products – high-end collectibles were rarely a thing – and kids bought the same stuff as the collectors, most of the time. This was pretty much the case until 1999, except for some items from Icons, Galoob, Illusive Originals (I think it was), Screamin’, and other companies that you don’t remember. In the “off season,” we’re doing a lot of heavy lifting when Lucasfilm isn’t big on the marketing and Hasbro doesn’t have a new movie from which to work.

“Unless you’ve got a big house or a storage space, you probably can’t afford to collect everything. Space isn’t cheap, with repacks being less and less important. Back in the 1990s, people were going bonkers for holographic stickers, or comma variants, or stickered choke hazard warnings. You could easily end up with over six different R5-D4 figures in 1996 and 1997, the grand irony being that collectors of that era hated that first rocket-firing “Attack” R5-D4 figure.”

The Toy Line Diversifies as Collectors Splinter into Different Groups and Interests

“For a time, the adult fan – that is to say, the person making the purchase outside the boys age 4-11 demo – really did do a lot to support Star Wars, thanks in part to rampant speculation and fear of high secondary market prices. And the fact everything was new once. This didn’t last forever, and the line changed. Collectors still buy stuff, but today’s 24 year old that buys a few 6-inch figures isn’t the same kind of fan as the 24 year old in 1997 who was buying 3 3/4-inch figures. The original Star Wars Generation has largely grown up and moved on, with collectors having to scale back how much they buy – quantity, variety, variations – just as a matter of being able to keep from drowning in this stuff. I’m still drowning in this stuff. Back in 1997 people were going bonkers to get their hands on a $5 Yak Face. By 1999, it was on clearance for as low as $2, and they were no longer interested.

“With multiple lines competing for dollars today, it’s a different market. You could treat adults as a single community from 1995-1998, as we’d all buy Kenner figures. Today? Sideshow. Medicom. LEGO. 3 (or more) flavors of Hasbro figures. Funko. Gentle Giant. It goes on and on – they’re making different products for each and every kind of collector, which means lower runs and less unification on what we as a group want. We’re not all the same person, and we never were – we just had fewer options 20 years ago. That meant the Kenner line, the default, achieved great success by merely existing first and being fairly prolific. But you knew that – you didn’t think people bought the super-muscular 1995 line because they loved the sculpting and articulation and likenesses, did you? People were starving for Star Wars, and that was virtually the only game in town. Micro was Micro, and JusToys Bend-Em’s are… well, they sucked. And if you forgot about those, good on you.”

The Shrinking Influence and Importance of Hardcore Collectors

When we’re a sliver of the interested pile – and we are, by my guesstimates the hardcore collector is in the lower thousands these days – we’re not as important as those passive fans with spending money.”

“The easy thing to forget is that not every customer reads fan sites or forums – sometimes they just go to the store or for news. If that customer doesn’t see an item, that customer may not have the interest/time/patience to use Google to see if an item really existed. They just want something right that moment. When we’re a sliver of the interested pile – and we are, by my guesstimates the hardcore collector is in the lower thousands these days – we’re not as important as those passive fans with spending money. Millions of people see the new movies, and of them many are potential customers for products for themselves, for kids, for nieces, for nephews. Back in the 1990s, when we screamed out for Grand Moff Tarkin getting a release before some new Ewoks? That happened. And for a good long time, he sold really well – we stepped up to the plate to buy the first-ever Peter Cushing action figure. When we did the first Fan’s Choice poll, we got the first Duro figure – we didn’t quite step up to the plate as much. Maybe Hasbro made too many, maybe too many of us left in a huff after being offered Ric Olies for too long – but we’ve seen things directly specifically at us change a lot over the years. Their numbers certainly decreased in terms of production while our number similarly receded.”

The Uncertain Future of the Collecting Community

“Collectors – the collector media, in particular – offer a lot to Hasbro, but you do hear some whispers and eye-rolls at events about some product that not only seems collector-unfriendly, but somewhat deaf to the needs of the market at large. (Star Wars Command, for example.) We still go, smile, and take pictures – but the lack of newness in the shadow of Disney’s new movies and a genuine lack of anything aimed at the original three movies that’s new has pushed a lot of collectors away. I like the new movies so far, and I’m sure you do too – but Hasbro doesn’t seem to want to push for older stuff right now. There are some exceptions in 6-inch, which is great, but that’s pushing away from the reason this column exists in the first place and why so many of us are a part of this hobby. It’s good stuff, to be sure, but it looks like the day where we may not be able to expect any new 3 3/4-inch figures from the original trilogy may be here, or may have passed a year or two ago and nobody bothered to tell us. When that group fails to be engaged, I assume we’ll see a few more of the big collector sites collapse completely or merge as the line doesn’t inspire new sites because how the heck can you start a new site with 22 years of thousands of figures in your spare time these days?

[I]t looks like the day where we may not be able to expect any new 3 3/4-inch figures from the original trilogy may be here, or may have passed a year or two ago and nobody bothered to tell us.”

“New ‘classic’ characters keep me loyal – I’ll keep collecting because I love those original movies. But it has been a couple of years since the last honest-to-goodness completely new original trilogy figure came out for any scale, and if we start getting movies we don’t like, I doubt any of us will feel obligated to stick around for much longer. Although if we get more droids and aliens from The Force Awakens, I’ll be pretty happy.”

Read the full article HERE.

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