Monday, October 23, 2006

Wheeling But No Dealing

Although I enjoy collecting Transformers, I live under a significant financial crunch. It would be wiser not to buy any new Transformers at all, but under the often proven dieting philosophy that cutting things off "cold turkey" is a strategy doomed to failure, I have maintained a discipline of budgeting only $25 a month on Transformers toys. This is occasionally supplemented when I do an "odd job" outside of my normal 40-hours-a-week job, but even then I only put up to half of any money earned in such endeavors toward new Transformers, the rest going to ease financial burdens. However, any and all money earned by selling Transformers is fair game to getting new TFs! It sounds like a complicated system, but it really isn't. Suffice it to say, I've thought a lot about how to discipline my spending habits in a realistic way.

Since I'm trying to be wise about how I spend my Transformers dollars, I'm always rather keen on keeping an eye open for any sales or clearances that might be happening. This is especially the case right now, as the current "Cybertron" line is starting to die out, being replaced by the "Classics" line that will fill the gap between now and when the toys dedicated to the upcoming Transformers movie come out. When a rumor surfaced that Target was starting to clearance "Cybertron" toys in this way, it seemed as though the right time had come.

I had a (mostly) free day yesterday, so I drove around Southern California to the various stores that might sell Transformers, paying specific attention to Targets. I must have visited at least 5 different Target stores in my area. None of them are starting to clearance any Transformers yet! In fact, very few of them have even started stocking the new "Classics" toys in any significant numbers. I'm sure that "Cybertron" won't start hitting clearance until these stores have something to take their place.

But what was even more annoying was what I found at a couple of Toys R Us stores I visited. They're starting to repackage some of the "deluxe" toys (i.e., the size sold for $9.99 at Toys R Us) in 3-packs. I found two versions available, both filled mostly with toys that have no appeal to me anyway, but what was really surprising was the discovery that the 3-packs (with the label "Super Value" on them) are being sold at $29.99.

$29.99 for three toys that are already pegwarmers (i.e., no one wanted them the first time they were on the shelves. That's why they're getting repackaged.), that were originally sold for $9.99 apiece. Do the math. That means I'd be paying $29.99 for toys I could have already bought for $29.97. Far from being a "super value," I'd actually be paying 2 cents more to get the 3-pack! Someone needs to have their head examined.

Long story short, there were no "deals" to be found yesterday. For all the driving around I did, I bought no Transformers at all. (We won't talk about how much gas I used up in this endeavor) Still, it beats staying around the house all day....

Monday, October 16, 2006

"Collector's Items"

This past weekend, I participated in a flea market sponsored by the international students office here at the seminary. I brought a bunch of toys and comics that I'm trying to clear out. Nothing too special, mostly Happy Meal toys and similar small items, but I did have a few Star Wars figures that I never got around to taking out of their packages that I got before I realized how badly Hasbro was flooding the market for Episode One figures.

I tried to keep my prices low. Happy Meal toys were a dollar. Happy Meal toys with custom boxes were two dollars. Some Transformer PVCs were on sale for fifty cents. Comics were a dollar apiece, with discounts available if the purchaser took sets.

More than once, people came by, saw what I was selling, and proclaimed how these items were collector's items, and a few expressed amazment that I could part with them. I explained (honestly) that the stuff I had for sale was stuff I didn't care too much about, and that I had plenty of stuff that I was keeping at home, but that I needed to clear out some space.

Overall, the experience was a bit of a disappointment. Although many people had respect for the items I had, it seemed that few had any interest in getting such "collector's items" for themselves. While I sold enough to make back the money I paid to get the table in the first place, I didn't make much extra. Of course, the money I paid the get the table from which to sell my items was donated to charity, so even that wasn't really a "loss." But I really did hope to get a bit more extra cash with which to ease current financial burdens, and that really didn't happen. No one even looked at my custom boxes, which was particularly disappointing.

But that's been my experience with "collector's items" my whole life. Once in a blue moon, I can sell something that gets more money than I paid for it, but usually, the value of these items is only in what I place on having it myself. Other people almost never place the same value on them that I do, and if they do, the odds are I'm not looking to part with it in the first place.

This even seems to be the case on the recent BotCon exclusives I got a couple of weeks ago. I sold three of the ten that I got, but the only one I made any money on (as opposed to what I paid for them in the first place) was the "Attendee-only" exclusive. While people may wish they had these items, they generally don't want to pay what they're worth. And I'm really no different. I almost never buy even Transformers for the regular retail price, almost always waiting for sales, taking the risk that they may no longer be available when the sales finally come around. "Collector's items" are just that: they're for collecting. Trying to make any money off of them really misses the point.

Having said all that, if you're interested, a few of the items I was selling are back up for sale on a web site I set up for the purpose (including several items that weren't available at the flea market. If you're interested in GI Joe or Star Wars stuff, be sure to check out the link at the bottom of the page).

Friday, October 6, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 4

I've written a lot about some of the specific events, but I really haven't said much about the convention overall, and here it is, the end of the week. Well, now's the time to get everything out, no matter how long this entry gets!

First, the Dealer Room was pretty good. It didn't strike me as quite as large as Anaheim in 1998, or Pasadena in 2004, but there definitely was a lot of unused space in Pasadena, so I expect that the Pasadena Dealer Room may actually have had fewer sellers. I can't be sure. Either way, it definitely had a good variety of folks there, although I was surprised that no one seemed to have the Classics figures (which had been reported as just now beginning to show up in some stores) available. Maybe they just sold out before we saw them. We were also surprised not to see a booth from the Reprolabels folks, who were (to the best of my recollection) at both of the other conventions I was at.

While there wasn't a separate art room at this convention, as there had been at the other BotCons I attended, there were definitely a fair number of pieces on display. My favorite was this huge Devastator, with lots of "easter eggs" scattered across its massive form. You'll probably want to click on the picture for a larger image from which to search for all the Transformers toys on this guy. No one was surprised to hear this piece announced as one of the big winners in the art contest.

Also worth noting was the Menasor created using Alternators vehicles that someone else had done. I think this one also won a prize, although I'm not sure. While I was present for the announcement of who won the art contests at the dinner/casino night on Saturday, I couldn't remember many of the names the pieces were given, and I don't recall anything specifically "Menasory" about the names I heard announced as winners. Anyway, if this one didn't win, it should have!

One of the dealers had a whole bunch of original G1 art on display that you could buy, if you had enough money on hand. The cheapest stuff was listed at being $650! Needless to say, I had to settle for taking pictures like this one. The same guy had a bunch of boxed figures with their original toy store stickers on them, but no updated price tag, leading my brother to joke "yeah, I'll buy that one for 10 bucks!" If only!

One of the highlights of the Dealer Room was the large booth from which the Hartman brothers were selling off their legendary Transformers collection. As promised, they kept prices manageable, and I expect that most fans who wanted to get something from this booth were able to find something in their price range. My brother picked up a loose Ratchet from the Hartman booth, which he is now proud to call his own. I was tempted to pick up a loose Seacon with its card for about $25 (a fair price for such an item, especially given the minor bragging rights of saying "I have a piece of the Hartman collection"), but couldn't quite make myself do it. (If I had, I'd no doubt be looking to get the rest of the set! Best not to get started on the Seacons until I'm financially able to deal with getting all of them together.)

As is typical for many fan conventions, there were a few folks who came in costume. These two, dressed up as Soundwave and Starscream, were especially good.

I was a bit disappointed that there was no "script reading" this year. This has been something of a tradition over the years BotCon has been around, whereby the various voice actors get together and read a sktech especially prepared for the convention in the roles they made famous in the cartoon. It's always rather tongue-in-cheek, and often hilarious, but we were told at the dinner/casino that the venue just wasn't appropriate for it this year. Well, I agree that they couldn't do it at the dinner/casino, but they could have had a forum specifically for the purpose, like they did in 2004 (all other "script readings" were indeed during a dinner, but there was no dinner at BotCon 2004).

Not being the most social of people in person, I nevertheless did get to talk to a couple of online friends during my time there (you know who you are!). Also, I'm glad to finally have a face to put on Brian Savage's name, despite the fact that I did not speak with him personally. I do still think that there are a number of problems that Savage's organization (Fun Publications) needs to work on that other convention organizers were better at, but it definitely does seem clear that the convention is in solid hands nonetheless. Although Savage has, historically, not responded as well as might be hoped to criticism in his immediate comments to fans, it is clear that he does actually listen despite the appearance that had been created a year ago.

In that vein, it's worth noting that the news that next year's convention in Rhode Island will be in the summer may be more related to the fact of the movie's July 4th release date than in response to the fans requesting a summer date, but you can be sure that Brian will be looking very carefully at the numbers of fans that show up at the 2007 convention. If you're one of those who want to see conventions in the summertime in the future, BotCon 2007 will the time to put up or shut up. The numbers that came to the convention this year were quite high. If we can't beat that next year, we have no reason to expect Brian to see any purpose in holding BotCon in the summertime ever again.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 3

They say brevity is the soul of wit. Unfortunately, I've found that I simply cannot be as brief as I would like in my reflections on BotCon this past weekend. I had originally planned just to do one entry on this matter, and now I find that I can't even fit it all into a regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday week of posts! Ah, well. It's my blog, I can break my own rules if I want to!

Saturday night was the combined Casino night/dinner. Since the doors to this event didn't open until 7 pm, yet everything else was closed at 5 pm, my brother and I found ourselves with time on our hands. I expect that this gap was intended a) to allow Brian and the Fun Publications staff to finish getting all the preparations ready while not spreading themselves too thin, b) to allow convention attendees a chance to go up to their hotel rooms and change into dinner clothes (the dinner had a dress code forbidding t-shirts and shorts, although I did see a few people wearing such in line, and don't know if anyone was turned away). But my brother and I were commuting from Louisville, a little over an hour away, so we couldn't go back home during the break. We just had to stick around.

Perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing. By a little after 6 pm, we'd realized that a line was already starting to form outside the ballroom where the dinner was to be held, and decided that we had nothing to lose by taking our places in line. As it got closer to 7, the line was stretching all the way around the rather large mall area outside the ballroom. There were LOTS of people at this event. It's a little hard to imagine that FP wasn't prepared for so many, since anybody attending the dinner had to be pre-registered, but there were clearly more people coming than they had expected.

By the time we got inside, it was clear that there were tons of people trying to get to the food, although the buffets were set up so that there could be multiple lines (rather than just one or two for all items), which helped a bit. My brother and I just went to the very last buffet tables (those featuring salad and California rolls, which apparently few people wanted) and got some food there, expecting to come back later when the lines had died down. Brian had specifically said that the food would be replenished throughout the event.

After getting our food, we quickly found that there weren't anything remotely close to enough tables to sit at and eat, but we found a couple of chairs on the sides and ate there without tables. I was a bit confused when it came to the matter of drinks, as well. I didn't see the table on one end of the room for tea and water, seeing only a couple of tables on each end for bar drinks. I've never gotten into the habit of drinking alcohol, myself, but thinking this was the only option, I went up to one of the bars and asked for some grapefruit juice. I was given a very small glass and charged $2.00! Although I thought the price outrageous, I coughed it up, but didn't leave a tip in the glass jar set aside for that purpose. But not seeing the "free" beverages may be my own fault as much as anything....

We finished our salads pretty quickly, and so decided to start playing games. Since most of the hordes had not yet gotten their food, there were very few people playing the games at that point, so we sat down at one of the blackjack tables and played a few hands by ourselves. Starting with 100 credits, we left with 110 credits, but no one had yet started awarding prizes at these tables.

Getting up to see what else was available (it was at this point that I finally discovered the water), we quickly found out that the bingo games were free! So we joined in and stayed there pretty much the rest of the evening. I got up one more time to try to spend some of my credits, but didn't win anything in the effort, and quickly rejoined my brother at bingo. I also tried to get some more food during one of the breaks between bingo games, but found that the buffet tables were mostly depleted. I got a little bit of fatty roast beef, but that was about it. My brother didn't find anything at all when he did a similar search a bit later. So much for "replenished throughout the event."

Bingo was pretty fun, although I felt that the person calling the numbers needed a sedative. I really hate it when they try to force enthusiasm by making everyone scream real loud between every game. Just call the numbers. If I win, I'll scream then. ;) (My brother did, in fact, win a Transformer by winning a bingo game) Having played the free bingo games for most of the evening, we ended up giving our now-practically-worthless credits to a couple of folks at the card tables with about 5 minutes left to spend them. If it did them any good, I'll be surprised, but glad to have been of service.

All in all, we were glad we went to the event, despite the obvious problems. Between my brother and I (I won a prize by having my number called during the raffle they called numbers for every half-hour), we won about $30 worth of free Transformers! We also got to be there for the live announcement that next year's BotCon would be in Providence, Rhode Island, the week before the new Transformers movie comes out (i.e., the either the end of June or the beginning of July, but definitely in the summer!). Happy, but exhausted, we left for home, and I caught a plane for Southern California the following day, my 2006 convention experience at an end.

I actually still have some overall comments on the convention, particularly in regard to the Dealer Room, but this is more than enough for readers to slog through in one sitting, so I'll deal with that tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 2

I pretty much only got to talk about the game show at BotCon on Monday, and even that took a fair bit of space. Let's see if I can cover the other aspects of the convention with a bit more brevity....

The other main event my brother and I attended on Friday was the TCC Newsletter and Convention Comic panel, where we got a couple of insights into how the club is being run. Of particular interest to me was the fact that, although Fun Publications has been pressuring Takara to complete the production of Astrotrain (the promised first club exclusive), the folks at Takara tend to shuffle their feet for small runs, hoping that the group seeking such runs will eventually give up (note: this doesn't seem to be a problem for Japanese companies like eHobby, or for the "Lucky Draw" exclusives, of which very few are ever made. One can only assume that the fact that Fun Publications is an American company is a factor.). FP hasn't given up, but this attitude has contributed to the delay in getting Astrotrain to club members. FP currently expects pre-orders to be available in November, with the toy shipping around February or March.

Since we were commuting from Louisville, and since most of the events we wanted to see were on Saturday, my brother and I actually left the convention by dinnertime, although we did spend some time in the Dealer Room (which I'll talk about more on Friday's blog entry). On Saturday, we arrived around 10 am or so to see the line of walk-in hopefuls waiting to get in. It was very long, and we were glad we had pre-registered. I was also glad I had made the extra trip on Friday to pick up my exclusives, as they were already sold out by the time we'd arrived on Saturday.

After a short time in the Dealer Room, we went to the Hasbro product unveiling. Although there were a few new revelations, including the expected repaint of Classics Bumblebee into Cliffjumper (but apparently without bothering to remold the head), but most of the stuff they talked about had already been revealed online. They also showed a brief video clip designed to hype the upcoming movie, but it really wasn't anything special, and didn't show any Transformers (at least, not as robots) at all. It could have a been pretty much any summer movie. Lots of explosions and cars flipping, but nothing much else. Still, the crowd seemed to be pleased, and asked for a second viewing. Since this was the end of the forum, my brother and I skipped out of the second viewing to get in the line for Peter Cullen autographs.

I've already shown off a picture demonstrating that I had gotten to the end of that line, but here's one with my brother, who had Cullen sign his re-issue Optimus Prime, followed by a close-up of the signed box.

Unfortunately, the autograph line was very long, and so we were unable to attend the Transformers Club Roundtable, which wasn't too big a deal to my brother, who's not a club member, but I really wanted to be there. Ahh, well. I guess that's what we get for choosing not to go to the first Cullen signing, which would have required that we arrive by 9:30 that morning.

Part of the reason we chose not to do that is because we knew that Saturday would be our long day, culminating with the Casino Night and Dinner that evening. I've got plenty of comments on that, too, but it seems that I've already written for quite a long stretch, and I've got quite a bit to say about this, so I'll just close with this picture of the line waiting to get in to the dinner, and promise to continue my BotCon reflections with a bonus entry tomorrow, finishing with more general reflections on Friday.

Monday, October 2, 2006

BotCon 2006 part 1

Well, this year's BotCon has come and gone. While I was not able to spend the entire weekend at the convention, I spend a good part of Friday and most of Saturday there. Lots of stuff to talk about, but here are a few highlights for right now.

After collecting my box set of toys and securing the extra souvenirs (at a whopping $150 more for those four figures!) on Friday, the first thing my brother and I got to see was the "Faction Feud" game (or, at least, the first rounds of it. We didn't get to see the ones they played on Sunday). While these first games were plagued by a bit of technical difficulties, and some confusion that is perfectly natural for the first time doing a particular kind of attraction, the basic format of the game worked well, and I think was a lot of fun for all concerned. I like to think that I had a hand in getting that idea off the ground when I first suggested doing a "game show" event at the top of the year on the club message boards, and although the game that was played was not quite as I had envisioned it at the time, I think that it was very successful, and has tremendous potential for future conventions as they work out the kinks. One suggestion: Don't make the third round worth so much that it invalidates the previous rounds put together (in this case, it was 1000 points per question in Rounds 1 and 2, and 10000 points per question in Round 3). Rather, I would suggest 1000 points each in Round 1, 2000 points in Round 2, and 3000 points in Round 3. It's perfectly fine for later Rounds to be worth more, to make it possible for a team behind to catch up if they rally. But the point system used here was excessive.

I'm spending much of today catching up at work, making up for the days I took off to attend the convention. I'll have lots more to say on Wednesday when I've got more time to devote to typing it all out. In the meantime, I will close by adding that it was a privilege to meet Peter Cullen (voice of Optimus Prime), who was kind enough to stay beyond his previously-agreed autograph time to make sure that everyone that made it in line got a chance to see him. While I'd gotten an autograph of Cullen in 2004, that was part of the pre-registration package, and I did not actually meet him at that time. This year, I corrected that oversight. Here's a picture my brother took while I was getting my program signed (click the picture for a larger version).
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