Monday, November 21, 2005

Open Letter to Fun Productions re: The Official Transformers Club

In recent times, I've failed to post pretty much anything related to Transformers. I have been remiss. Hopefully, this will go toward rectifying that error. For some background to this open letter (which I intend to actually send to Fun Productions after it has sat public for a little bit, so as to generate comments that will enable me to add/edit/delete comments and make the letter as effective as it can be), I encourage folks to read my other comments on the subject. However, I should emphasize that my comments here will be dedicated to the club, and not the convention, as those comments were.
To: Brian Savage, owner of Fun Publications
Re: Suggestions for The Official Transformers Collectors' Club

It has been almost a year since the announcement that Fun Publications would be the new licensee of the Transformers collectors' club. In that time, we have gotten a club that has largely met its deadlines, and delivered on most of its promises. This is in stark contrast to the previous owners of the club who, while having grand dreams, made a lot promises that they were not able to keep. As I'm sure you're aware, this has caused a fair bit of frustration in the Transformers fan community. I recognize that you have already gotten a fair amount of mail from fans who would like to see things done differently, and can speak from personal experience that, when I myself have sent such mail, you have been diligent to respond to each letter personally. This is greatly appreciated. Likewise, the efforts of Pete Sinclair to respond to threads on some of the more popular message boards is appreciated.

Nonetheless, there persists a sentiment in the Transformers fan community that, when legitimate concerns have been articulated, the response received has been one of indifference at best or outright contempt at worst. I'm confident that this has not been your intention. But the point remains that fans seem to feel that concerns are being dismissed without adequate attention or reflection. It is my hope that this perception may be overcome as positive changes are seen in the coming year.

I recognize that some of the things fans would like to see are simply not economically feasible. We are all very aware of the economic failings of the previous license holder, and no one wants to see a return to that situation. Nevertheless, I feel that there are a few aspects of the club that can be improved without detriment to Fun Publications. I should also make clear that I will keep my comments confined to the collectors' club, and not the convention, which I see as a separate entity.

With regard to potential improvements to the club, I would like to address the following issues:
  1. Shipping for items from the club store;
  2. Cost of merchandise at the club store;
  3. The Master Collector magazine; and
  4. Club exclusives.
1. Shipping for items from the club store: When I recently ordered the 2005 Botcon program from the club store, I paid over $6 for Priority Mail postage. This is an item that could have safely been shipped in a "Flat Rate" Priority Mail envelope for only $3.85. An option for First Class shipping would have been even cheaper. Since that time, I note that you have changed the option on your web site to encourage buyers to telephone a customer service representative to get a more reasonable shipping rate. But this is something that should be encoded into the web site itself, rather than causing potential buyers the inconvenience of having to telephone a representative after having already visited the web site. I am under the impression that other members have found shipping prices to be unreasonable, as well. I cannot speak personally with regard to international shipping, but have read several posts on the message boards that international rates are well above what it actually costs to ship the items being sent. It seems to me that, if Fun Publications actually is having to pay these higher shipping costs, then it is incumbent upon Fun Publications to explore other shipping options. If lower-cost shipping options risk lower quality shipping, Fun Publications can make these risks clear to the consumer. However, the consumer should be given the option of taking such risks.

2. Cost of merchandise at the club store: I do not expect Fun Publications to "take a loss" in selling merchandise on their site. It is to be expected that prices for toys purchased from the club store will be, at best, only slightly less than purchasing from another online source, even for club members. But the non-member prices are simply absurd. Rather than pay the membership fee or the exhorbitant non-member prices, non-members will simply spend their money at another online site, and that means lost revenue for Fun Publications. I'm curious as to whether any items have ever been sold from the club store at non-member prices, the prices are so high! To at least some extent, purchasing merchandise at a reasonable price should be one of the benefits of club membership, but when members are almost as well off to buy from another store, and non-members are definitely better off to do so, there is little incentive to become a club member or to shop at the club store.

3. The Master Collector magazine: This is highlighted as one of the benefits of club membership. But the magazine is basically just a collection of classified ads, and I don't know of any fans that find it valuable. In fact, I have read many comments on message boards that consider it a waste of paper. If Transformers fans wish to sell something, we tend to find we are better off using the message boards, or even eBay (despite the costs involved in using that particular service). Although Master Collector is the featured publication of Fun Publications, I would suggest that fans would be served just as well if they were only sent the bi-monthly Transformers Club magazine. This would result in saved shipping costs to club members (only having to send every other month) and presumably lowered printing costs (as you wouldn't have to print so many Master Collector magazines), thereby freeing up funds for other club benefits without damaging Fun Publications financially.

4. Club exclusives: I have saved this for last because I feel that it is the most easily dealt with, and in fact might be taken care of anyway now that Fun Publications has dealt with the struggles of the first year of running the club. However, I have been extremely disappointed not to be given the opportunity to purchase any club exclusives this year (besides the "freebie" exclusive I got for joining, which I am very happy with). While I am aware that creating an exclusive is a costly endeavor, it seems to me that Fun Publications could have made one more recolor out of one of the molds already being used for the Botcon exclusives and set that recolor aside as a club exclusive. This would have satisfied my own desire to see at least one exclusive this year, while costing Fun Publications far less than if the exclusive had been made out of a mold not already being used. Ideally, I would hope to see two or three exclusives per year (again, not counting the annual "freebie"), but I would be satisfied with one annually.

I trust that you will find these comments to be reasonable as well as to represent the kind of changes that may be implemented without damaging Fun Publications' bottom line. I truly do wish the club to be a success. However, if changes are not implemented, it is difficult to state that I am getting $40 worth of value out of the club in a year's time, and I would therefore be reticent to renew my membership in the future. I'm quite confident that I am not alone in my opinion.

Thank you for your time.

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