Editorial – October 2015: Do we really need this? by GF Willmetts.

Are we expected to buy every last tat that comes out related to SF??

Hello everyone

Age does funny things to merchandise. My age, that is. Not necessarily the age of the merchandise. Mostly, there’s more of it and you have to become selective, deciding what is the good stuff you want to own and the rest that is simply a marketing tool to sell you products like shampoo. You have no choice as there’s just so much of it that you haven’t got the space or money to own everything and that’s just talking about the good stuff.

Star Wars: Remote control BB-8 droid toy looks likely to wow.
Do we really need this?

A few decades ago, there wasn’t much merchandise. You might see an advert for merchandise related to a SF TV series or film and either ponder on how to get it or think the price is out of reach or both, especially in the UK when we saw what was available across the pond. That slowly changed although there are still some things you need to order in from the USA or even Japan. The Internet has changed availability across the world and if you want something, it’s just an order away, although don’t forget to use the Net price conversion software for it and postage.

The ownership of any film or TV related merchandise is equivalent of showing the world you want more than a vehicle, doll, poster, novelisation or video/DVD/blu-ray of your favourite. You have something that can stand out on a shelf or whatever as a symbol of connection to anyone who visits or just to please yourself that you own it. The more you have, the more it affirms your taste. It gets awkward for people like me who have a wide range of likes, so I learnt to be very selective.

Choosing is a lot more difficult sight unseen or merely by the look of a photograph on the Net. After all, unless the item is photographed with a ruler, you’re never 100% sure of the size and even given measurements, especially in centimetres, you can always get the scale wrong.

A lot of the time, even when you do finally see said merchandise, the compulsion to buy can either play tricks with your eyes, equivalent to those who indulge in alcohol and develop bottle-end glasses where everything is beautiful, and buy regardless or realise that it wasn’t worth as much to you as you thought. Been there, done that, got the Mego doll.

A lot of people also consider the merchandise’s potential future value, just in case you have to sell it on. These days it would be foolish not to, even if only for insurance, although thankfully, you don’t hear of too many collectors’ houses burning down. I suspect, if anything, we’re a better insurance risk than most because we don’t take silly risks.

However, these days, there’s so much merchandise, even the discerning fan must realise that there is also a lot more tat than quality around. Even when there’s quality, you have to consider quantity, which means too much on the market and the price will never rise. That’s why the cardinal rule is buy what you actually like rather than looking for dollar signs. It’s when investors come in that prices get badly inflated and become a false economy, often putting real fans off. It certainly did some damage to comicbook collecting back in the 1980s.

From an investment point of view, no one has any idea what will become valuable, so no one takes chances and I suspect some even double up, so they have a spare to sell at an inflated price later, presuming they can find a buyer. However, what is likely to happen is a lot of merchandise will never be worth more than its retail value or even less unless there is some production flaw that makes it singularly unique. That would probably explain that early Captain American basque I own with a flawed painting on its leg, not because I chose it but I had obligations to others to sell them the perfect versions. Hopefully, more of you will think of just enjoyment than investment, especially this year when a certain film franchise gets back in the swing.

I doubt if the feeling of any merchandise could be worth a lot more down the line would have entered any of our thoughts at the time when my generation were young. All right, granted a lot of the merchandise called ‘toys’ wasn’t targeted at adults but children, whose only desire was to play with the contents and thoughtful parents throwing away the useless boxes, regardless of their condition, because it took up space. It’s how the 1970s ‘Star Wars’ boxed or blister-packed toys became so hard to get or rather so few in number to the number of collectors who wanted them when the fanbase went through the roof. There was media merchandise before ‘Star Wars’ but never the escalation that went on afterwards, especially with other franchises like ‘Star Trek’, the Anderson shows, ‘Alien’, ‘Terminator’, ‘Predator’, Disney, Marvel and DC Comics amongst others. The realisation of how valuable they could become and then prices escalating when demand out did availability happened much later or as the fanbase grew bigger than availability across the board. Then we have where we are today and the play value is almost forgotten or if it exists, one is bought for play and the other for storage. Didn’t I just say that?

With many fans doing that now, the value of most desired merchandise isn’t likely to become high in price as I pointed out it’s already owned and too much is around. No doubt this is where manufacturers decided to make limited editions and let fans scramble for it on the secondary market, assuming fans will still want them further down the line. A manipulation of our fan desire to own anything related to our subject. Are those ‘Star Trek’ painted plates worth much anymore? Would you actually eat off of them, let alone risk any getting cracked and damage your collection? If anything, it’s manufacturer manipulation of the fan ethic.

Also, in the old days and how to look really old, if you had the money then you could probably afford everything related to your hobby that you wanted because there wasn’t enough of it. If you were sassy enough to get them when they were first released, the price was still cheap. You didn’t have to pay over the odds in the secondary market. You still don’t. How many of you have seen people on Amazon having massive prices on the ‘Used’ list when the original is still there at the lower price, although I do wonder if this is done to encourage sales of the originals.

It’s a lot easier to limit your bucket list to what you particularly like than want or have everything. After all, you can’t put everything on show and much of it will be hidden away in the attic or, as in the case in America, the basement as well.

I do wonder if people enjoy the hunt for an item any more when finding what you need off the Net is so easy these days. For me, with a small budget, the chase becomes getting something at a low or reasonable price and if I miss something, wait long enough and it might come around again.

These days, you are also far more likely to quickly switch from buying everything you can afford to focusing on one aspect and get all related to that. At least you then have a claim to fame than looking like all the rest of the collectors out there. That’s the ultimate geek experience after all. Unfortunately, it then becomes more like a scavenger hunt for ownership far more than the hobby of enjoyment because something appealed to you.

Thrown into this mix is some companies selling pre-packed goodies that you don’t need to open. I commented back in the late 1980s, when the Todd McFarland Spider-Man # 1 bagged comic was released with cover variants that unless you opened it to look inside, for all you knew, Marvel could have easily have had ‘Millie The Model’ reprints inside. Actually, they had more spare copies of ‘Night Nurse’ at the time. Before you go into a mad panic, it didn’t, incidentally, because I opened one copy to read when it first came out. The Gold Edition stayed in its bag. I’m not totally stupid. Of course, with so many sold, the prices didn’t rocket anyway because quantity exceeded demand. Ergo, the message from this is the belief or representation of what a piece of merchandise is is more important than the content. Odd that, isn’t it?

I should point out that there is a difference between an unintentional merchandise best-seller going up in price compared to an item deliberately sold to become one. Look at how quickly, the love of an object has switched to what it represented. All limited editions has done is develop envy if you missed something that went up in value later. All that really does is make a rush to get these things regardless and I suspect unhappiness when you weren’t fast enough. Mind you, do you get a wry smile when there is no increase in value and realise you made the right decision.

Anyone claiming to have everything associated with any aspect of our SF interest is now less likely. There’s simply too much so there’s more cherry-picking and hope you’ve made the right choice and bought at retail price. If anything, it’s gotten just a little too exploitive. When was the last great story you’ve related about buying a piece of merchandise that didn’t include how much it cost? That tells it all, really, doesn’t it?

Look at all the recently released ‘Star Wars’ toys that went on the market in September. I didn’t realise Darth Vader was in these new films but up he pops. Granted the Dark Lord of the Sith is still a valuable commodity to ‘Star Wars’ fans but he’ll still cast a long shadow over any villains from the new films. You’re also going to know more about the imagery of the new film before it comes on screen in December. In that respect, you can’t really blame the manufacturers because all Christmas toys are released about now and to ensure that there’s less of a chance of them running out in a mad panic over Yuletide. Whether that will happen or not depends on the film itself. Certainly, these toys are going to be amongst the have-to-have for kids and adults alike, irrespective of what the film is like. Whether any of it will keep its value let alone become valuable is anyone’s guess. With so much out there, I’d be inclined to say less. This isn’t 1976, after all. The size of the fanbase is known or at least the manufacturers think it’s known.

Where it becomes more weird is the imagery stuck on everything from washing products to lunch boxes, the latter more an American phenomenon than British. Some merchandise is obviously designed to target relatives and friends who will unknowingly buy something they deem cute or what their relatives ‘might’ like. If you want to influence manufacturers, don’t buy the tat and they’ll get the message. If nothing else, it’ll show we do at least have taste and do you really want a ‘Star Trek’ cuckoo clock that doesn’t even have a digital dial?


Thank you, take care, good night and how much did you say that was again?


Geoff Willmetts

editor: SFCrowsnest.org.uk


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