This week, Medicom unveiled the next figure in their 6-inch scale MAFEX line, Wolverine. Fans growing up on ’90s-era Marvel Comics will instantly recognize the MAFEX Wolverine figure’s classic yellow jumpsuit with blue trim. While the product photos suggest Medicom has designed a great looking figure, even nostalgia is making it difficult to justify the ¥7,800 price. This begs the question, have we reached a breaking point on the price of action figures?
Based on today’s exchange rate of ¥109 to $1, which is consistent with the ¥105 – ¥115 range we’ve seen the JPY hover between in the last two years, Medicom’s MAFEX Wolverine will ring in at about $72. If you’re buying the figure from a domestic retailer, expect to pay more as Medicom’s most recent MAFEX figures start at $95 on popular e-commerce shops.
Here’s where things get interesting. From its first MAFEX offerings in mid-to-late 2013 to Wolverine today, MAFEX figure prices have jumped 105 percent in 5 years (in JPY). The MAFEX N0. 002 The Dark Knight Rises Batman figure sold for ¥3,800 ($38 if you factoring an average ¥100 to $1 exchange rate in 2013) when it was released in 2013. That’s a pretty drastic jump when you consider the quality of the figures has stayed relatively the same: meaning if you compare the MAFEX Batman figure to the Wolverine figure it wouldn’t be like comparing a 1984 Mattel Marvel Secret Wars figure to a 2019 Hasbro Marvel Legends figure. But it isn’t just Medicom raising prices, other companies who use a premium/collector moniker when marketing their figures are following suit.
Below is a comparison of average basic figure prices for a cross-section of popular toy companies offering 6-inch scale figure in 2013 (when available) and today (2019)grouped by SRP in their domestic currency.
What does the data tell us? The most significant action figure price hikes are from Japanese manufacturers with the Medicom MAFEX, Tamashii Nations S.H. Figuarts Marvel, and Good Smile Company Figma lines seeing the steepest price increases. If you’re in the U.S., you get a bit of a break on these price increases if you’re importing since the exchange rate of the USD to the JPY is stronger domestically in 2019 versus 2013. However, if you’re buying from a domestic authorized retailer, you’re feeling the burn, too.
As noted, Medicom’s MAFEX line saw a 105 percent increase in JPY equivalent from 2013 – 2017. Tamashii Nation’s S.H. Figuarts Dragon Ball line saw a 26 percent (15 percent for U.S. customers factoring the favorable exchange rate) price jump in 2013 versus 2019, but their Marvel line is up 83 percent in that same time. The S.H. Figuarts Star Wars line, which launched in 2015, has had a modest 5 percent bump since its inception. Finally, the average cost of basic figures in Good Smile Company’s Figma line is up 74 percent in 2013 versus 2019.
Looking at U.S. manufacturers, price structure has stayed relatively consistent and within the perceived U.S. consumer $20 spending “sweet spot” for both Hasbro’s Marvel Legends and Star Wars Black Series figures, as well as the current incarnation of Mattel’s DC Universe figures. NECA’s Reel Toys line follow closely with a $24.99 SRP and while NECA did have a significant price jump in 2019 from 2013, I’d argue their figures were under-priced at $14.99 in 2013 and could have easily been priced at $19.99. The outlier in the group is Mezco, whose One:12 Collective figures are an anomaly in that they challenge the notion that a 6-inch action figure should be constructed of all-plastic with their form-fitting, soft-goods tailoring. Mezco’s popularity has grown tremendously since their first One:12 Batman figure in 2015, but their prices crept up 23 percent, as well, with basic figures now selling for $80 versus the $65 of 2015. At that rate you’ll be paying $90 and up in the next year or two.
Taking the import vs. domestic comparisons into consideration, Japanese figures are getting into a price range that’s making it difficult for them to compete with U.S. manufacturers. Gone are the days when you can justify spending $35 on an S.H. Figuarts figure that included more accessories and was of superior quality to its U.S. counterpart. Today, that Japanese-designed figure can cost you double sometimes triple the cost of one produced by a U.S. toy company. While the price of figures produced by Japanese toy companies has increased, U.S. toy companies have managed to keep their figure prices constant with only marginal increases.
Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series line, for example, has improved leaps and bounds in a short four years thanks in part to their upgraded articulation system which now includes double-ball pegged necks, and cleaner paint applications as a result of their move to tampo-printed character portraits. The Hasbro-branded version of Tamashii Nation’s Digital Coloring Technology has matched if not exceeded the technology first used by the Japanese manufacturer, all while maintaining a $19.99 price-point. A case-and-point is Hasbro Black Series Princess Leia Hoth figure. Some will argue that the plastic quality on Hasbro’s figures isn’t as good as the plastic used by Japanese manufacturers, but plastic quality is a steep price to pay for nearly three times the cost.
There are a number of factors one can attribute to the rising cost of figures including increases in manufacturing costs; higher franchise licensing rights; cost of labor increases in China; more overhead to research, design, and market the toys; and most importantly a commitment to shareholders to meet or exceed stock price expectations. That pursuit of perpetual growth is why certain toy lines are no longer deemed profitable (G.I. Joe), why prices rise when margins shrink, and why action figures are becoming more expensive. Action figures aren’t just parent’s satiating an impulse buy for their kids in the toy aisle, they’re a multi-billion dollar business and are being treated as such more than ever.
In my opinion, there is no reason a basic 6-inch scaled action figure should ever cost over $50. I’m even hesitant to pay over $25 for a figure now because there are so many lines out there that struggle to sell at full SRP and get marked down to make room for new inventory. In fact, many of Medicom’s MAFEX figures can be purchased at half their original SRP on Amazon. This stings to anyone who paid full price for these “collector” items. Even figures from domestic manufacturers are susceptible to markdowns. You can buy the Hasbro Black Series Bespin Han Solo figure, which I highly recommend, for under $15 on Amazon, right now.
As you can imagine, I find $95 for a 6-inch scale action figure disconcerting. Between the domestic and import manufacturers there is so much variety that even if a definitive version of a character is released at a premium price, I have faith a domestic manufacturer will produce that same character in a comparable quality (especially if it’s well received by collectors and selling through at retail) at a lower SRP because of the fierce competition for your dollars (or yen). Even if they don’t, there’s a good chance it will be marked down. I’ve become smarter about what I buy and how much I spend as I’ve grown with this hobby and that’s where we come to a crossroads.
At some point, premium-priced collector figures are going to become so expensive to the consumer that the business model won’t be sustainable (I’m looking at you Square Enix Play Arts Kai). It’s then that the competition that propels ingenuity among the manufacturers becomes stagnant due to a lack of rivalry. It’s no coincidence that despite years of complaints from collectors that their figures suffered from poor paint applications on character portraits, Hasbro only instituted face print tech after Tamashii Nations began to challenge Hasbro’s dominance among collectors with the S.H. Figuarts Star Wars and Marvel lines. The competition forced Hasbro into action and that’s great for the consumer. But as prices of MAFEX, S.H. Figuarts and Figma figures rise, the number of fans who can afford their figures declines and that hinders these import manufacturers’ ability to innovate and do business. In the end, the toy aisles and ecom sites will stock what collectors are willing to support, but as we become smarter about our spending habits on action figures, we can expect some casualties in the form of lines, licenses and even companies, along the way.
Have your spending habits changed as figure prices continue to climb? What’s your spending sweet spot for 6-inch figures and at what point do you say enough is enough? Leave a comment below and let us know.