While I don't really suspect that the Transformers fandom is any different than any other in this respect, it's become something of an in-joke among those of us who are Transformers fans online that we seldom agree on anything. We can be regularly expected to get into arguments about any of a number of different aspects of our increasingly diverse (after more than 20 years, what do you expect?) hobby.
But, yesterday, a thread at TFW2005 proved a rare instance of almost-universal agreement on a subject. It seems that HasbroToyShop.com had started selling AFA-graded specimens of a particularly hard to get toy. Now, I've commented on this practice in the past, so it should come as no surprise when I say that I'm not a fan of AFA grading, but I was still somewhat surprised at the outrage that followed. Given that Hasbro has distributed a survey about AFA grading some months ago (the survey itself is gone, but it was apparently done in April), it would seem that they were making their intentions clear enough some time ago.
One of the things that made this practice especially galling was the fact that, for HTS to have specimens (I'm not clear on how many, but they definitely had at least two) to sell in an AFA-graded edition, they must have had them when they were selling these toys a few months ago, when folks were practically melting the HTS server trying to buy them while they were still in stock. This would mean that HTS purposely held a few back in order to grade them in hopes of selling them at an even higher price!
Of course, there's nothing illegal (that I'm aware of) about such a practice. The market should determine the price, and if an item is in high enough demand, and Hasbro can find a way to get people to pay more for the item, it obviously makes economic sense to sell the item at that higher price. But for Hasbro's own online venue to participate in an AFA sale seems to be a conflict of interest. AFA doesn't produce toys. They grade them (taking a fee for their trouble) so that collectors can say that their particular specimen of a toy is in particularly good condition, driving up its value (as I've said before, this only works if the collector agrees never to so much as touch the toy again, leaving it in its graded plastic box!). For Hasbro to hold back toys so that they never even reach the public so that AFA can grade it, get it back to Hasbro, and then for Hasbro to sell it, would artificially drive up that toy's value. That's not cool.
And, so, yesterday saw the creation of a thread that ran for nearly 15 straight pages in less than half a day. The thread's still ongoing, but I expect that some of the furor will die down now that the items no longer appear to be on HasbroToyStore.com's site. Some folks in the thread say that the items have been canceled, which may be true. The original link certainly no longer points to the items. But the fact that the page has been taken down may mean that the toys were sold very quickly, and assuming HasbroToyStore.com has no plans to put more on the site, why keep the page live? So we may have an example of Hasbro's responsiveness to fan outcry, but we can't be sure.
In the interests of full disclosure, I do own a few shares of Hasbro stock. Even still, I have no interests in letting Hasbro make a profit if it's at the expense of the goodwill of Transformers fans. Usually, when Hasbro-bashing occurs online, there will be a number of people come on to speak in the company's defense. Most fans have little idea what goes into the production of the toys they love so much, and can sometimes make unreasonable demands. If anyone came up in Hasbro's defense on this matter, I still haven't found it.
EDIT - 12/20/07: HasbroToyStore.com has since put the AFA-graded toys back on their site. So much for "listening to the fans."