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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Where is everyone going? The Exodus

I've become aware of an ever increasing trend in the Transformers community lately: longtime prominent collectors scaling back by orders of magnitude, or getting out of the hobby altogether. I must admit I am not immune to this recent trend as I have recently written about on this very blog. But why are so many collectors seemingly abandoning something they have spent years of their lives working on and obsessing over? I don't know for sure, but I have a few theories.

First I'd like to focus on the people who aren't getting out entirely, but scaling back their collections. I could list over twenty of my fellow collectors just off the top of my head who have started, or completed this process. I count myself among them, so I'll offer my reasoning first.

The primary reason I began to scale everything back was a combination of a "clutter factor", in which I had so much stuff displayed it was difficult to see each individual item, much less appreciate them; and the revamp of the Masterpiece figures beginning with MP-10. Prior to that figure, MP's were more of a novelty than an actual series and I treated them as such, but once it became clear that TakaraTomy and Hasbro were attempting to finally create the original Transformers in cartoon accurate form, it made so much of my collection superfluous.

When it was full....

Ever since Generation One I have been chasing the dream of vehicle and robot accurate G1 characters in toy form. As far back as Beast Wars even, when I bought Transmetal Waspinator because he turned into "a jet kinda like Starscream". Or RID where we got real-world vehicle modes with poseable robot modes. "Hey, RID Prowl kinda looks like G1 prowl in car mode, not really in robot mode but hey, that's the best we have." Even in Armada and Energon: "Wow, look at Energon Downshift, he looks almost like Wheeljack in both robot and vehicle! I'm definitely getting him!" Perhaps the best example is Alternators/Binaltech. Real world accurate vehicles, scaled together that transformed into our favorite characters. Although it still wasn't quite right.

But then the new MP line came along. And all of a sudden I realized I didn't need a Sideswipe that turned into a Dodge Viper if I had one that could turn into a Lamborghini. Or a Prowl that could turn into a Acura when I had one that turned into a Datsun. I had been chasing that dream ever since 1990 and now that it was finally in my grasp, everything else seemed unnecessary. I no longer needed the entire series of Alternators, or RID, or Armada, or anything else because I had what I had really wanted all along, those other figures were all just placeholders.

All gone, and not a one missed.

The second part of that reasoning, the "clutter factor" I think just comes from me getting older. As I age and accumulate more and more I find that I only want less and less, as things themselves aren't as important to me anymore as my relationships with people, the memories I make or when I am doing something fulfilling. All that clutter is nothing more than a distraction and a stressor in my case. I hate things that aren't clean and orderly, so a lot needed to go. I used to want to have all the Transformers and up until 2000 this was probably an obtainable goal. But now there is so much (in my opinion sub-par) product out there, I am really happy I'm not trying to buy all of it. It feels good not to waste money on something I know I'm probably not going to enjoy *coughmovietoyscough* and I don't regret any of it. In fact, I couldn't even name half of the items I have rid myself of, and that is confirmation to me that I did the right thing because obviously they didn't really mean that much in the first place.

So now, with a much more streamlined collection I am able to appreciate each piece a lot more and if I find myself glossing over something then it will immediately go. I would rather someone who would really appreciate it have it rather than just trying to accumulate more and more.

Something I definitely appreciate more than Armada, Energon or Cybertron

So these are my reasons for scaling back, but what about everyone else? Why have I seen so many collectors of late doing the exact same thing? First of all I believe a big part of it are finances. I truly think that many of them around my age are experiencing a revolution with these MP figures as I have. They are the new "hot thing" and perhaps because they are costly, other items must go to make room financially. I also believe third party companies are contributing to this issue. With so many different choices out there I think everyone has to be a lot more selective these days on what they buy, and when they look back at their collections they just can't measure up to the quality or should I say awesomeness of today's figures (Feral Rex I'm looking at you). I mean honestly, who wants a bunch of Armada toys sitting around when there are so many great figures out there, both official and not.

Not even the Japanese G1 figures were safe from the purge.

Secondly, there may be a type of entropy going on here in the sense that many of my peers may have collected everything they have planned to collect and find that there isn't anything left out there that interests them. And with the "hunt" over and done with they might find they don't necessarily need to keep all these items around them all the time. I believe this also applies to the people getting out altogether. I feel most of the fun of collecting comes from the chase and with that element removed, it may lose its appeal.

Thirdly, and I believe this applies to both groups as well, people just grow out of things. I myself am 33 years old and have found sometimes things just become stale over time. There is only so much nostalgia can do for you. It may be the case that many collectors are looking to move on to that next phase in their life and that may not include collecting or displaying toys from their childhoods.

Not nostalgic enough to keep.

Now let me conclude this by saying most of the people I see scaling back or leaving are people close to my own age; collectors who grew up in the 1980's, with the original show and who have been fans ever since or who came back sometime before the 2007 movie ushered in a whole new set of fans. We tend to be the forerunners, the early adopters of trends in the community so I wouldn't be surprised to see this same type of exodus occur in a few more years with RID and Armada fans who grew up with those shows and toys.

I would certainly like to get more opinions on this matter, is anyone else seeing this trend or am I just drawing conclusions from coincidences? And if you're one of the people who find yourself in this position I would love to hear about why and how you think it will be affecting you going forward. I know personally I am much more selective about anything I buy nowadays.

I know this is long, thanks for taking the time to read.

See also:

Giving Up TFSource Article by Maz


  1. I've eluded to my reasoning of selling certain toys or purging stuff on my own blog, but for me it comes down to finances. Having to support a family of four basically on my own for the last 5 years has been trying to say the best. I've had to sacrifice a lot of items for the sake of my family, but I'd gladly do it again if I had to. There have been times where I've sold X to acquire X, but generally that isn't the case for me.

    You brought up a lot of good, valid points and I can relate with just about everyone of them. As we age our interests, priorities and tastes change. You yourself have mentioned before that now a big part of your collection is presentation. I love how your set up has morphed and changed over the years. Your room is starting to look more like a museum versus a typical guy's "man cave".

    What is left in my collection are the items I like the most. The majority of the collection are the toys and characters that I grew up with...that being G1 and Masterpiece. However there are still some more "modern" lines that I simply adore such as Robot Masters. I've also had a little re-kindling to certain Beast Wars toys, but I've already been there and done that so don't expect my small BW collection to all the sudden expand.

    I'm not sure where my collection is going. I hope that I'm not one of those that leaves the hobby entirely. I actually hope my daughters take an interest and I can share with them some of the memories associated with the hobby that have brought me enjoyment. At the end of the day though everyone will have a different answer as to their actions. Hobbies are fun, but if not kept in perspective they can spin out of control and make you their slave. Perhaps some fans are just tired of the ongoing TF brand? I've spoken to a few G.I. Joe fans and they are kind of happy that the onslaught of new toys is coming to an end. It makes it easier for them to define their collections and not be tempted with new product every month. Do TF fans feel the same way, but just aren't willing to admit it?

    1. I would almost say your predicament is enviable because it has forced you to focus only on what you need allowing you to get rid of everything you don't. Of course the reasons behind it probably weren't enviable, but perhaps the result was. And that is a good point about G.I. Joe fans, if there is an end in sight then it is much easier to define your goals whereas if it is theoretically infinite, it makes wrapping your mind around the task much more difficult.

  2. I think you've hit the nail on the head on a lot of this. While I'm certainly not a prominent collector, I too have suffered from a lot of collector's fatigue this past year. Part of that stems from that the thrill of the hunt is has essentially disappeared for me. For a bit, it seemed like a job, and I already have one job, I don't really have time for another. I haven't bought a vintage figure in quite some time. There's just so much new product coming out now that searching for deals on vintage has just taken a backseat.

    I'm also suffering from clutter. I've recently unloaded all of my extra parts, and doubles and triples of figures that I had just sitting around. It didn't create a lot of space, but it still created some. Next out the door will be any boxes, decals and paperwork I have lying around.

    Another point that I've been thinking about recently is that I feel we're on a bubble that's about to pop, kind of like the 90's comic book scene. There's just so many more people buying now that I don't think the market can sustain it much longer. Why do I think this? Facebook. Every time I'm on there, there are countless people asking how much a figure is worth, even if it's new. I think people buying for value over want is marching the market towards disaster. I think a lot of these prominent collectors that are getting out are sensing that and striking while they can, and I can't blame them. I remember people buying multiples of The Death of Superman thinking they'd be paying for their kid's college tuition, and I think that's what a lot of the younger crowd are doing now. I could be wrong, but my gut is making me stay away from buying anything vintage until it seems safer.

    1. So you are definitely suffering from an excess of product, as I think many people are. There's just so much out there it makes it difficult to focus on any one thing. That's a very interesting point about the bubble, I hadn't thought of it like that but you're probably right. And I imagine it is a bubble held together by the popularity of the films, as soon as those go away, it will pop.

  3. I have seen it a lot, when collecting is finished, people drop the hobby and the friends they've made while in the hobby, or store the figures away. There are a lot of people collecting now for worth, but mostly the vintage US market stays pretty stable, Japan on the other hand, has ballooned, and i don't know if it will stay there.

    My thoughts on the matter were:
    a) lack of the hunt, finished their g1 collection, or hit a wall with figures like Black Zarak or Roadblock where it's hard to justify something that isn't able to be handled.

    b) lack of interest.

    c) overwhelmed by the sheer onslaught of new figures (3rd party, mps, etc) that they can't keep up, and instead of picking and choosing they give up.

    d) pressure from the significant other to sell out.

    e) change of interest

    1. You have some very good points, I have seen all of them except the pressure from significant others. Is that something you're encountering a lot of? That seems to me like a change that may not stick as much as the others, in other words someone in that situation is more likely to come back to collecting than the others.

  4. Wow, I am so glad you wrote this piece and it was a pleasure to read. Good post.

    Fully agree with you and I am seeing this trend too. In fact, I myself have purged large sections of my collection and the purge includes not just Transformers (my entire MASK MIB unused collection has been sold; 99% of my MISB and MOSC Masters of the Universe collection is also gone).

    I guess there are many reasons and the common one seems to be that collectors who grew up the 1980s are now purging – your observation is spot on if you ask me. For people in our early / mid 30s, I don’t think finances are a key reason for exiting or purging (finances might have been a reason when we were mid-20s?). It’s probably due to other factors.

    My reasons are as follows, more or less:

    (1) Tired of sub-par Hasbro / Takara products – in the last decade, Has/Tak has pumped out so much sub-par product compared with G1 (let’s face it, everything TF related will inevitably be compared to G1!). Like you, I got to the point where I don’t even know the names of the characters I am buying. Anything that fell into the sub-par or “I don’t know you” category has been sold or will be sold.

    (2) Clutter – same reason as you, there is just too much around. At one point, I had toys in Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong and it was getting ridiculous. In Singapore, I have nearly 60 regular sized tote plastic storage cartons full of G1 MIB TFs. These have sat there more or less for the last decade. Like you, I have come to the view that less is better.

    (3) in my heart or hearts, G1 is the *only* true Transformers line – I think Sebastian (G1-Junkie) has said this before, but to me, I find that I don’t really want to collect Transformers in general, I actually only want to collect G1. All the other lines and manifestations are mere distractions. At the end of the day (quoting G1-Junkie), I am a G1 collector, not really a ‘Transformers collector’. So, 90% of any non-G1 TFs has been purged or will be purged.

    1. Heroic, you hit it dead on, and I hadn't realized it until now, I'm a G1 collector, not a Transformers collector. And you're right, anyone from our era is going to compare everything to G1 no matter what, but newer fans probably don't even care about it and love the Movieverse. Not to say there is anything wrong with that, it is what they've grown up with and what they enjoy, but they probably couldn't care less about G1, similar to how many GI Joe fans that came into the hobby in the 80's didn't really care about the 60's GI Joe figures.

      The only reason I mention finances is because for many people, especially in middle class America struggle just with the day to day expenses, not to mention extraneous purchases. While it is true your 30's are the beginning of your top earning potential for a lot of people all of that money is going to try and sustain a family, house, cars, etc which may have not been there in their 20's where even though they were making less they had fewer responsibilities and expenses.

  5. I loved this piece, and the responses to it, thank you for sharing Eric. For me, I have been sad every single time I have sold my good stuff. Unlike many of you, I didn;t cut out the chaff, I had to sell what I loved because it was worth the most. Sometimes it was a spiritual need, sometimes it was financial, and occasionally it was because I was trading a toy line for a different approach and focus.

    What selling rare toys always makes me feel is that I couldn;t find a way of affording to keep them, and that brings me down. If I had the choice, I would have kept every variant, Diaclone and proto I ever owned. None of that stuff ever got sold out of a lack of love or interest, and because I always kept my collecting super-trim - due to budget and mega tight space constraints of London living - the clutter factor didn't come into play.

    Now that I have sold expensive vintage and variants and amassed a near complete Animated collection, clutter is definitely creeping up on me.

    I will say this though, paying $40 shipped and getting about 10 to 12 top quality deluxe class toys that I can't put down is not to be scoffed at, it sometimes beats a $1000 toy that sits in a glass cabinet behind a sun-cover and never gets touched, seen or appreciated having been written about and photographed.

    If I had the large house and display room I'd enjoy them more, but I can't have that without selling the rare toys.

    Oh, what fun we have.

    All the best

    1. I know we've talked about this before. I've sold off so much in the last year that I originally thought I'd never sell, but as my family's needs increase combined with an ever changing collecting scope it's become a little easier to part with that figure (or group of figures) that I know will bring in big chunk of change.

    2. That's an interesting perspective Maz, I'm curious what your plans are regarding the clutter. Since it has never been an issue do you have a plan to combat it?

  6. Great article. Came across this blog from another toy blog which by now I've totally forgotten about. LOL.

    I think it's only natural that we collectors sell our beloved items from time to time. Be it for any reasons whatsoever, we all had our moments. Given the chance I would have loved to keep 'em all but I had different reasons to sell when situation warranted me to do so. I'm in my mid 30s as well...and in the past couple of months or so I've shaved off two toy lines (yup, completely sold them off at one go)....but I never regretted doing so. We all just have to move on ya a new line or sometimes to quit it altogether.

    Great article by the way bro.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I think you're absolutely right. Everything has its time and place in our lives and sometimes it is just best to let go. Amazingly, that is something I never thought I would hear myself say :)