I personally think that this is an extremely unfair comparison. Just from a business model standpoint, Hasbro and these other companies are completely different animals.
First, licensing. Star Wars is a license that is paid from Hasbro to Lucasfilm Ltd. So right off the bat, Hasbro is operating at a loss. The SW license cost them plenty, including a 10% stake in the company that George Lucas now owns.
Differences in companies doesn't necessarily make an unfair playing field though Nick. That's a tad shortsighted. So we're to assume that Hasbro's licensing fee means they're in a weaker financial situation right off the bat when compared to a company like 21st Century Toys, BBI, or Dragon?
Come on now... We're talking about a public corporation, muliti-national, and with a capital reserve that makes the small private companies like Dragon, BBI, and 21st look like a mom & pop general store up against Wall-Mart.
Licensing is not the big crutch everyone claims it to be...
Tack onto that the fact other companies DO pay licensing fees too (Though smaller), and it's hard to say Hasbro's licensing issues are a solid excuse as to any shortcomings within the Star Wars brand.
I will agree with you that we're comparing 2 very different company styles, but I can't help but laugh when anyone gives the "unfair advantage" to the smaller private companies who struggle financially. Hasbro has a distinct advantage as a large corporation that helps negate licensing as a real issue (If we're doing comparisons here).
So, they've got to try to bring something to market that meets several levels of expectations: marketability to the retailers on a mass scale, a broad based appeal to the fans, but first an approval from Lucasfilm's licensing division. Oh, and did I mention that they also have to try and pay back their licensing fees AND generate a profit?!
And every other company putting toys out on a mass basis has most of the same issues Nick, as well as combatting the fact they're a fraction the size of production companies like Hasbro.
BBi's new deal with TRU means their toys must be in direct competition with other "military" toys that have an established market. Namely, BBI's matching up against G.I. Joe who have a strong kid and adult market built up behind them already. They have to appeal to kids, adults, and TRU buyers.
So BBI, a private company, must prove their product at retail (Which BBi's reporting their 1:18 line is expected to grow immensely in the coming years after their warm reception of the initial waves at TRU). As an exclusive, their product is ALSO being limited in sales through a single retailer... Yet another "battle" the company faces as a small private toy company trying to make it in a large fickle market.
LFL's personal approval process can be compared to anything within any other company as well. For 21st Century, their process relies on the strictest historical accuracy in deco or details... For Dragon, their approval process is reported to take up to 20 different tries at a single figure before the heads of Dragon say "OK, now it's ready for production".
LFL's maybe strict, but let's face it... Some of what we've seen isn't exactly amazing in accuracy sometimes so how strict can their approval process really be? They stamp it as "OK, you didn't cross our guidelines" likely and they Hasbro starts cranking it out. Star Wars, by its very nature, is going to have more leeway in that regard. It's fiction, and as such some things can be compromised. The companies working on military product tend not to have that luxury.
The smaller companies making military lines don't have half of these concerns. Do they have to pay licensing fees? Probably not. Likeness rights? Nope.
Yes... The Patton Family. The Rommel Family. Chrysler, Ford, GM, etc., etc., etc... The list certainly goes on.
Do they cost what the SW license cost? Probably not, these companies are small and aren't in the running for the SW license even... But on a relative scale one could make the argument that it's just as large a cost for these small companies to pay out licensing rights that aren't cheap by any stretch (The rights to Chrysler for instance were rumored to be quite high in particular for 21st Century) to them as simply an entity that's a mere fraction the size of Hasbro.
Do they have to go through a long approval process with the Pentagon? Nope. If they did that, you would probably never see these toys.
No, they have in-house historians that strictly monitor the approval of prototypes as they come to light. Or that's how 21st Century Toys does their approval process... Then they request the rights (for a plane for instance) to the plane's markings should they be registered (PutPut Maru variant P-38 for instance), and the pilot's name should it also be covered.
See, it's not as simplified for these smaller companies as you make it out to be Nick.
The fact is, the small companies like BBi, Dragon, 21st Century, etc don't have anywhere near the cost factor. Let's face facts: it's far cheaper for these companies to do business than it is for Hasbro. As a result, they can offer a somewhat superiro product at about the same price points.
No, there's no "fact" to that at all.
Once again, you negate the fact that these are dramatically smaller companies with much higher production costs than Hasbro due to capital restraints. You don't recognize their own licensing fees, and the fact that they're working under the same pressures and overhead that Hasbro is, and doing it from a much smaller company's standpoint.
To say they're able to put out product cheaper than Hasbro is simply misinformation... Some of these companies, even with very high sales, are struggling because their profit must be turned right back into the company for its own growth. 21st Century continuously makes profit but has financial issues because their overhead bogs the company down, even with good sales.
So they're somehow still able to make things cheaper than Hasbro does? That doesn't really make any sense unless you're looking at it black & white in that Star Wars is just a huge license and 21st's brands aren't. Not a fair analysis by any stretch, but then you'd be correct I guess.
Regarding GI Joe: GI Joe is able to make more money than Star Wars because Hasbro owns all the rights to GI Joe. As a result, they don't have to pay any licensing fees, and has free reign over this property. A very different business model.
Actually it's the same business model since it's Hasbro producing a toy line (Even same markets, trying to balance between older and younger/newer collectors). It has a distinct overhead I'm sure, with a lot of similarities too, but you're right there's no cost for licensing...
Of course, does licensing suddenly become the key overhead cost t hough? No, so I don't think one rather small overhead variance is what makes G.I. Joe more profitable than Star Wars.
Again, isn't that a bit shortsighted?
From sales of the past year on G.I. Joe 2-packs I noticed they generally moved better in my area. Of course individual #'s aren't available but that's how it seemed in my area... They still move. Joe vehicles tend to move better as well, as have the playets. Vehicles and playets have long been staples of a "hot" action figure line that had interest from a young market, so I think it's possible that G.I. Joe is moving well for reasons other than they don't have a licensing fee... Call me crazy there, but I have never once in the history of the toy industry seen where a licensing fee was the deciding factor on a product making it big at the time of the sales sheets being printed.
Another thing to keep in mind is Star Wars didn't even MEET projected sales at retail for the last 2 movie years. So is it still a licensing issue that holds Star Wars back? Really, that's just not realistic.
Bearing all these factors in mind, the savvy collector has got to realize that Hasbro cannot do everything perfectly. We can't get an entire line of Ephant Mon's, otherwise Hasbro would drop the SW license to save their skins, and some craptacular company like Mattel would make terrible toys. We've got to settle on some pieces that are sub-par, some that are alright, and some that will be great. Expecting greatness from every single piece while considering the business agreements that Hasbro has to operate under is frankly unrealistic.
No company is perfect by any stretch, I agree, but Hasbro's Star Wars line has run hot and cold since its onset. With POTJ it ran hot, but with a limited product line-up... Saga it's run mostly cold in my book, and retail hasn't done anything but back up my opinion there. 2003 (since the throne-room wave at least) and the forseeable future seems like they're going to run on a hot streak again. This latest wave pictured seems to reinforce that too... But as a consumer they're open to lots of criticism that's pretty well warranted considering that Hasbro's always in competition in the toy industry, where opinions/tastes change on a monthly basis.
They cannot afford to have so many "Sub par" products as they have had in the past year I don't think, and I believe even Hasbro's realized this at this point and aren't arguing it, considering they've stepped up their quality a notch it seems.