So far, 2007 is proving to be a very controversial year for the Transformers line. Certainly the movie is creating waves of comments, whether positive or negative. However, there are other things happening which makes you wonder sometimes if Hasbro is truly working for (or against) the fans. I just thought I would reflect on what I've personally seen and give my take on it, based on lines:
Originally done with Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, we started seeing 3" and 6" Titanium figures crop up on store shelves last fall. However, if you visit a store lately (at least in Northern California) you would think Titanium is over with. That's hardly the case. There are still figures due for release including Sunstorm (based on a WW design) and WW Megatron. Heck, I have yet to even find WW Fallen at all. You will, however, find a plethora of 3" statuettes on the shelves wherever you go. If you think they're just out of stock of the 6" figures, think again. I haven't seen anyone besides TRU even dedicating much space to the 6" Titanium line.
Why is this? Were people put off by the original quality control issues with the first wave? I will admit that it was disheartening to get sloppy joints on WW Prime. I won't even go into GIJ Megatron, that just depresses me. The paint quality was also lackluster, looking like it was done by a kindergarten class. However, the latest offerings for 6" Titanium figures shows there has been improvements made. The paint is better applied, the joints are much tighter and the overall feel is more pleasing. There is less die cast being used for sure, but I don't think that has anything to do with quality. It has more to do with raw commodity. Let me explain
Working for a commodities trade, I keep regular track of raw ores such as copper, steel and zinc as it helps me keep my prices in line for my customers. Zinc is the main ingredient used in die-casting. In 2003, Zinc was trading around 35cents per pound. It was relatively flatline. However, Zinc is also used as a coating for steel pipe to help resist rusting. As worldwide demand for steel piping increased (think 2008 Beijing Olympics), so did Zinc prices. By December of 2005, Zinc had more than doubled in price to 75cents per pound. A year later in December of 2006, when Titanium was ramping up for the TF line, Zinc was trading at $1.90 per pound, a five-fold increase over 2003! Needless to say Hasbro faced a decision. Increase the Titanium pricepoint or use less zinc. I think they made the right choice.
Alternators has had a good run. Remember that the line started way back in Winter 2003/2004 with Smokescreen. That's 3yrs now, a ripe old age for a toy line series. While people have been disappointed by the lack of original Decepticon molds (which has been addressed with the recent Ravage/Rumble Walmart exclusives), overall there has been some great product put out there. However, the later the series got, the harder it was to find product. I have yet to see many Mirages out there.
Why are stores lackluster on stock? A lot of times, it has to do with distribution on the store's end. Hasbro will send shipments to major distribution points for the retailers. In my area, Walmart has a distribution center in Red Bluff, a good 200mi north of me. Meanwhile, ToysRUs has a distribution center in Stockton which is a stone's throw away. From there, the stores that do the best job of turning items (turning is a term for the ratio between stocking the shelf and selling the item in a 30day period) will get the better product. A store that doesn't get much support for the TF line therefore will always have, for the most part, older stock and less chance to get the stock people want. Which is why it pays to shop around. I find that one Target on the east side of town will do better at having desired product than the one on the west side of town.
This has been a 'quirk' in the system. It certainly has been shortlived. It started with a bang, offering modern takes on G1 favorites such as Optimus Prime and Starscream. But mysteriously, the offerings turned to repaints and now seems to be fizzled out completely. Is this a sign of a failed line as many believe? Perhaps.
Classics, like Alternators and Titanium, have had no media support. That is to say, there hasn't been an anime or comic to support them. They have sold based solely on their desirability factor. That's great for fanboys and collectors, but how does an 8yr old know what's out there? Obviously, they don't check out store stock on their own (and most parents don't invite the chance for them to either). To say Classics has failed is shortsighted. If anything, Hasbro failed Classics by not offering more support. Whether that meant there was no TV show, that IDW Publishing (or Devil's Due for that matter) wasn't given opportunity to draw for the line or that this was simply a 'filler' line, you can't blame the toy itself for bad sales. If anything, the fact that Hasbro has had such a good quarter sales-wise with only Titanium and Classics on the shelves should speak some good. It's all about marketing, after all.
I won't spend long here, this is touchy. There has been good designs and bad designs. My worry is with saturation. For certain figures, you have... let's see here... Legends, Basic (Fast Action Battlers), Deluxe, Voyager and Leader class figures. Come on, do we REALLY need the same character 5 times? Of course, there's also the one offs like the $90 automated Bumblebee and the Optimus Prime hand blaster. I just hope there isn't a glut of all classes. Otherwise, they might try to stretch the wallet further than one would care to.
So far, all we know of is Heroes. This looks to be a Chibi-style animated series to be produced by Cartoon Network. We also know that the initial offerings are of statues. Beyond that, it's anyone's guess. Will Alternators come back? Is Titanium going to roll on? Will there be a reprisal for Classics? Is there something in the works we don't know about? I do know this. If TF is to survive past the movie, we need something more than non-transforming figures. Think Actionmasters... remember how well that line went? Exactly.
Perhaps BotCon will answer some of the questions posed above. I feel that Hasbro is walking a tightrope right now and is banking on the success of the movie to dictate their next move. That could prove dangerous, but in any case I only hope Hasbro doesn't squander their fortunes and make a fatal decision that could cost both them and the fandom.