Convention Exclusives Go Mainstream: Will We Ever Get Our Legitimate Exclusives Back?

Convention season is one of the most exciting times of the year. Why? Many manufacturers attend conventions like San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), New York Comic-Con (NYCC), C2E2, and many others … with exclusives!

The past couple of years have given us some really decent exclusives, like Funko’s generous offering(s), Hasbro’s Boba Fett and Jabba, Doomsday, Filmation Hordak, Ahab Predator, Legacy Power Morpher, Galactus Mini Bust, Deadpool Corps, the G.I. Joe vs. Transformers sets, and the list goes on. This year, however, the San Diego Comic-Con Exclusives (where most exclusives are offered) are lacking, and they are lacking hard.

The problem with convention exclusives isn’t just that they are starting to suck recently, but the fact that many manufacturers offering these exclusives are using deceptive marketing tactics that are completely defeating the purpose of offering exclusive merchandise.

What Exclusives Typically Are

Convention exclusives are typically a special item that would be too expensive to produce for a mass retail release. They can have special paint applications, use special manufacturing techniques, or even have special packaging that can indicate what it’s exclusive to with a sticker, and sometimes even the edition number. The price is usually more than their retail counterpart (if they have one), but it’s understandable since there is so much additional work that went into it to make it special.

For example, Hasbro’s Star Wars Black Series exclusive last year was Jabba the Hutt, but unlike his retail release, came with Salacious Crumb, a hookah accessory, and special packaging.

Exclusives are meant to be exclusive to a certain retailer, certain convention, or other event. They are “exclusive”, exactly as their name implies.

Exclusive, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “limiting or limited to possession, control, or use by a single individual or group”. Alternatively, exclusive also means “restricted in distribution, use, or appeal because of expense”.

Put in a more simple form – exclusive means that it’s not available to everyone.

What Some People Think Exclusives Are

Some people seem to think that convention exclusives, and other exclusives, should be available to everyone in the whole world. They think that just because someone else can buy the item, they should have an equal chance at getting it too. In a sense, I guess you could say that some people look at exclusives as just another retail release, and what’s worse is that some companies are falling into that very trap. They are offering their exclusives almost identically as they would a retail release, still calling it an exclusive, but in reality the exclusive has such great distribution it should be classified as a normal release.

I can totally see where these people are coming from. They are collecting their favorite line for several years now, then there is a SDCC Exclusive, which of course they are going to want because it’s from their favorite media property. Unless they are able to afford the cost of attending the convention so they can wait in line to obtain the item, they aren’t going to be able to get the item without resorting to everyone’s favorite auction site – eBay.

And you know what? That’s exactly how the collectible market works. Exclusive merchandise and limited edition items are obviously targeting a vast market, but in realty only a small percentage of said market is going to have the chance to obtain them. That’s just how things work.

Downside to Exclusives

There are obviously a lot of reasons why people could hate exclusives, but it seems that many people share the same invalid opinion:

Scalpers

People that don’t personally attend the conventions to get the items they want are left at the mercy of scalpers. A scalper is someone who knows what items are going to be in high demand, buys them, and resells them on eBay solely for making a profit on someone who couldn’t attend the show for whatever reason. They are pretty much the reason people hate exclusives.

Here’s an example of people scalping the 2015 exclusives before they are even released and in their hands:

[phpbay keywords=”hasbro sdcc 2015 exclusive” num=”3″ siteid=”1″ sortorder=”BestMatch” templatename=”default”]

Now I don’t want to defend scalpers, or say that they are good, but just think about this. Exclusives are meant to be exclusive to a certain event, so they shouldn’t be sold anywhere else. There are legitimate reasons why someone can’t attend a convention, such as they are sick, don’ have the money, or just don’t want to go. So in a sense, scalpers are offering you a service by putting convention exclusives on eBay. The difference between the SRP and the price you have to pay on eBay is the amount you are paying the scalper for standing in line for countless hours.

If you think that’s too much for their service, consider this – attending San Diego Comic-Con costs you $2,000+. Depending on what part of the world you are coming from, the price of the convention could be much more. You need to pay for a flight, hotel, SDCC tickets, and food at the minimum, and if you want anything additional just add-on the $$$.

Why People Like Exclusives

People tend to like exclusives for the same reasons – they are unique, one-of-a-kind, add a special touch to your collection, they give you stories about the hell you went though to get your hands on it, and ultimately people love them because not everyone else on the planet has it, only a select few.

What Goes Into Getting Exclusives

Before we get too far into the sketchy marketing tactics that companies are starting to employ on their convention exclusives, you need to understand what exactly goes into getting a San Diego Comic-Con exclusive and maybe you will appreciate why people like them so much. Unlike what many people think, it’s not nearly as simple as walking up to a manufacturer’s booth and saying what you want (depending on the manufacturer this is possible, but not for large manufacturers).

Let’s talk about Hasbro’s SDCC booth. Hasbro usually offers some of the most in demand exclusives that are available at the show, so it should give you a good picture of what actually happens if you want their items.

Hasbro has a rectangular shaped booth, which has a line that goes all the way around the back side of the booth (this line takes approximately 1 hour). They have ropes that guide customers around, and to actually get into this line is much harder than you think. There is usually a crowd of hundreds of people standing on the edge of Hasbro’s booth, which they won’t allow you to step on the booth’s carpet until you have a ticket. To get a ticket you need to either camp out over night, or wake up very early (many, many hours before the convention floor opens for the day) and stand in a line to get a ticket to stand in another line. What? Yeah, you need to stand in multiple lines just to have the privilege of standing in the HasbroToyShop booth.

As an educated guess based on my personal experiences, you need to stand in some form of a line for 3-5+ hours if you want a single Hasbro SDCC exclusive.

Other booths, like Bandai, have legitimately limited edition items (usually only a few hundred are made) and to get one of these you kind of have to get lucky. You basically have to be lucky enough to get a ticket in the Sails Pavilion, or else you aren’t getting an exclusive because their line is full and capped (no one else will be admitted into the line). This is because their exclusives are so limited edition that they have to put daily caps on the number of exclusives they can sell, otherwise the would run out in the first minutes and not have anything to hype for the remaining days of the show.

R.I.P. SDCC Exclusives

I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but this year’s San Diego Comic-Con Exclusives suck. One can only hope that this trend doesn’t continue in future years, but in the end I think that it will. It’s not even just the exclusives that suck, it’s the practices manufacturers are using that will inevitably destroy convention exclusives in the future.

All of the people who complain about exclusives don’t have a valid point. The item is exclusive, so it shouldn’t be available to everyone. It should exclusively be available to the super fans who spent thousands to attend the show, not Jon Doe who thinks he deserves the exclusive item just because other people had the exclusive opportunity to buy it. You are wrong.

As you can see in the above sections, people like exclusives because they are exclusive and make you feel special. If everyone can buy it, there is nothing to feel special about.

NECA

This manufacturer actually inspired me to write this article, as I don’t agree one bit with how they are treating exclusives. They aren’t actually SDCC exclusives, but rather “convention exclusives”. Whether they are a convention exclusive or a San Diego Comic-Con Exclusive, why are you releasing them at retail?

I got it. You want to make sure all your fans can get your items. Great, but don’t do it with exclusives or you are completely defeating the purpose.

Let’s also not get into the fact that it’s probably considered false advertising. The only place that you are letting people know that these figures are eventually going to appear in retail is Twitter, not your website, which knowing the fast nature of Twitter, probably only a very small percentage of your fans will ever find out.

Even after fans that know the difference between exclusive and nonexclusive point out what they are doing is wrong, they stand by what they say when they call their items “convention exclusive”. By all means offer these amazing items to all your fans, but don’t call it exclusive when it’s clearly not exclusive to anything.

Nickelodeon/Playmates

In 2013, Playmates Toys offered Limited Edition Shredder action figure with more paint and details that the retail version. You bet I wanted him, but this is what happened.

This item was solicited as limited edition and the packaging even confirms that, but just how limited edition are we talking here?

To get the item I had to go directly to their booth once the exhibit floor opened. I did this for a couple of days and before I could get to the front of the line, it would sell out for the day (similar to how Bandai’s booth works). On the 3rd or 4th day I was able to get my hands on him, and shortly after the exclusive sold out again for the day.

So just to recap, 20 min into the day the exclusive was sold out until the next day. By the end of the convention they were completely sold out.

Guess what happened though? Several months after the convention that very exclusive was being offered at Toys “R” Us in Asia (I am unable to locate the source at this time). It’s unclear if this would fall in the fault of Playmates or Nickelodeon, but either way it’s not right.

Marvel

Last year Marvel offered exclusive hoodies, which later appeared on ThinkGeek with slightly different designs. Their exclusives also made an appearance at NYCC, which is probably because it wasn’t a good exclusive and they had too much product left over.

Since exclusives tend to make people feel special, and I really think that they need to be special. If it’s not, no one is going to want it.

Funko

Last year, this manufacturer had a whopping 86 exclusives, the most out of any company that attended San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. They offered their exclusives for pre-order, but there was a catch – you need to pre-order all 86 exclusives, even if you just wanted one. Even though they offered pre-orders and sold out most everything at the con, many of their exclusives popped up in retail.

Funko appears to be rectifying the issue this year, as they have stated that they won’t be offering a pre-order so there is more stock for attendees.

Entertainment Earth

In the past, Entertainment Earth has offered their exclusives for pre-order. They still do, but they now state on each of the product pages that your order is only going to be filled if there is remaining stock not purchased by attendees.

I think this is a fantastic way to treat exclusives, and I applaud EE for doing so.

Mattel

Mattel offers pre-orders on their exclusives too, but they do it in a similar way Entertainment Earth does. They allow pre-orders for attendees to pick up at the convention at an offsite location, then if there is still remaining stock after the show they will sell them to non-attendees.

Some fans still do end up getting burned this way though, as they open pre-orders early if you are subscribed to the MattyCollector.com subscriptions. Sometimes items sell out before attendees without a subscription can even access the sale.

All The Rest

The above are just some examples of how manufacturers are failing to keep exclusives exclusive. I’m sure myself and many others could come up with many more examples of these practices, which of course are welcome in the comments section below this article.

Potential Solutions to Make Exclusives Once Again Exclusive

The thing with coming up with different solutions to make this as fair as possible is that many people are probably going to disagree with them. These people are likely ones that don’t understand the true definition of exclusive, as noted above. Some of these solutions are farfetched, but they are nearly as fair as they can get for attendees and non-attendees alike.

As noted in previous sections, there are legitimate reasons why people can’t attend conventions and one of the biggest problems these days is that people can’t get tickets to Comic-Con due to the number of people who want to attend. For this reason, a fair way to sell exclusives would be to offer them for pre-order online, but you have to physically pick the item up at an offsite SDCC location. Non-attendees are still going to be coming out on top because they don’t have to pay for the price of a hotel or Con tickets, just the price of a round trip flight. If convention attendees have to physically pick their items up (and spend $2,000+ to get them), so should non-attendees. This idea is the most farfetched and outlandish that I came up with, but is also what would be really fair to all fans.

An alternative solution would be to offer them to everyone, but convention attendees get special pricing, or even special packaging. For example, an action figure is sold at the con for $40 and sold online after the con (if supplies remain) for something like $60. This would still make people feel special and also allow everyone that wants one to have one at a decent price.

Offering pre-orders like Entertainment Earth is one of the best ways to keep exclusive as exclusive as possible, while also eliminating risk of the business having unsold stock after the show. If you think about it, there’s really two sides to this exclusives equation – the manufacturer/retailer and the consumer/fan. Compromises need to be made so both parties are getting something of value. Selling the exclusives off site for pickup would take away the hype surrounding the booths. Offering pre-orders could eliminate lines if they allowed them for pickup at the show, still make people feel special they got an exclusive item, and allow manufacturers/retailers to pre-sell left over stock while the hype is still strong (pre-SDCC).

Wrapping It All Up

In reality, there is not really a solution to make it fair for attendees and non-attendees, but to offer the exclusives ONLY at the show. After all, they are exclusive.

People like exclusives for the fact that they are exclusive. Nothing will make an attendee more mad than seeing the exclusives they spend 70% of their time at SDCC trying to get pop up at other outlets, like retail stores. The sad thing is that some of these exclusives are “sold out completely for the show” during the event, leaving attendees, the people who spent thousands probably for that very item, no way to get the item besides eBay. The attendee has to pay eBay prices because the item was supposedly completely sold out, but then appears at retail/online some time after the show? Tell me that’s fair.

The sketchy tactics these manufacturers are using deceive the customer, making them think that they got an exclusive when in reality they just got an action figure with misleading stickers tacked on the packaging.

It’s not right and you know it.

We shouldn’t be supporting these practices because they are destroying one of the most rewarding things about this hobby – getting exclusive/limited edition items to add to our collection that not many others have.  Some companies have a tendency of just ignoring legitimate complaints or inquiries, but SDCC is just around the corner. If you’re going to be attending, let the manufacturers know that you don’t support that and it’s wrong. They can’t ignore you if you show up in person.

I want my legitimate exclusives back!

By Bryan Stewart

Bryan first discovered an appreciation for action figures at an early age, setting up elaborate GI Joe ant hill attacks, complete with firework pyrotechnics. Due to the high injury rate for the Joes, replacements were a constant necessity.

6 comments

  1. Well thought out. Great read. Thanks for using my tweet. Amazing that there are so few exclusives related to favorites, like SW or GoT. NECA’s items are garbage this year, and everyone else seems to have barely tried. Oh well, see you there! I’ll be the leming in the long line.

    1. I’m surprised there aren’t more exclusives from big licenses either, but I guess that’s what happens when you let the mouse take control of damn near everything.

  2. As a long time collector of many lines and things, I think this is one of the best write ups on this I’ve read in quite a long time, and essentially is on mark with much of how I think about it. I know there are exclusives out there that some companies make and if I make the effort to hit certain shows and buy these exclusives, it does sicken me to see them made available later to others through other channels. Much of what you covered could really have a book or two written about it, as many people collect for many reasons, and I don’t know if there is a great solution to provide for this sort of thing.

  3. Sorry but as a UK collector I completely disagree on this. It is difficult enough and even more expensive to obtain even non-exclusive items outside of the USA. I feel this article is a little selfish / short sighted when considering what it is to be a collector in other parts of the world. I only wonder if the same stance would be taken if there were exclusives released for a convention taking place in the UK or another part of the world that were not released in the US? Also, if I did spend the £1000’s necessary to attend SDCC one day (something I would love to do) I think I would consider the money well spent as I’d had the privilige of achieving an ambition from my bucket list and having an amazing experience. I wouldnt consider it some hardship I had to endure for the sole purpose of picking up an exclusive item. I think companies like NECA are just being considerate to their fans and are seeing the bigger (worldwide) future. These items should be available to all and the joy of being a collector should be accessible to everyone. Spare a thought for those less fortunate than yourselves.

    1. Hi David,

      Yes. My stance would remain the same, even if there was absolutely 0 conventions to attend in North America.

      Everyone is obviously going to have their own opinion regarding exclusives, however, the point of this article wasn’t as much about people’s opinions, it was more about showing how exclusive doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to anymore, particularly in the toy industry.

      If something is exclusive, it is only supposed to be sold at one location. Not online, at the con, at retail, and wherever else these companies think they can get a quick buck. There is no arguing the fact of what exclusive really means.

      Companies are misusing the term however, probably as a quick grab at our cash. I have no problem with what NECA is doing by making their “exclusives” available to everyone, but then they aren’t exclusive. Take that sticker off the packaging and just call it a special release or something along those lines. Their products can’t be called exclusive when it’s clear they aren’t. This is deceptive to the consumer.

      Also, just because you can’t attend a convention doesn’t mean you are being left out. Everyone has access to eBay, which is where I am forced to go to buy exclusives from Asia and other conventions I can’t afford. I don’t cry because I can’t attend the convention. I don’t cry at all because I know that’s how the collectible market works.

      There should be no crying about exclusives. They are exclusive, and don’t have worldwide distribution. If you want the item you are just going to have to pony up and buy it on the secondary market. If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. There was a limited number made, and I’m sure there are thousands of other people who can afford it and will buy it.

      Finally, you mention that exclusives are expensive because you live outside the USA. Ok, but would you rather pay a small markup on eBay or thousands to get the item in person? I would rather pay a small markup when I buy exclusives from outside the USA, but hey…

      – Nick

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