Saturday, December 26, 2020

Collecting in 2020: This is the Way... Five Trends Affecting the Vintage Star Wars Hobby

Pete writes:

 Things have changed and they will never be the same again…  

Well that is a little extreme, but without saying something to that extent we’re really undermining the effect that the pandemic has had on day-to-day life. Like most macroeconomic events, this has had a direct effect on the hobby, impacting peripheral things such as the value and limitations in connectivity. The difference between this situation and other major macroeconomic events in recent history, such as the economic recession of 2008, is that the social implications of the pandemic outweigh the significant economic impacts in the near term. 

The question remains however: what has really changed in the long term, and when will we see normalcy again? Although I cannot answer those questions with my magic eight ball Yoda, by all accounts 2021 will not be much different than 2020, at least here in the United States. Social distancing will continue, kids still will not be in schools in parts of the country, and the return to the workplace will be slow going, especially with larger corporations reassessing longer term flexible working conditions.   

When it comes to Star Wars collectors, we will always find new ways to connect, collect and contribute to the hobby, even given all of these overarching restrictions on how and where we can interact. The fact remains that aspects of the hobby have been significantly impacted by the pandemic and will continue to be impacted into at least the first part of next year. With this in mind, let’s look at 5 trends in the hobby that have directly come out of or have been significantly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Connecting in a Socially Distanced Environment

Who could have imagined so much would change in such a short amount of time? Think about it, as we entered 2020 it was the start of another great year in the hobby. New shows were popping up, we were seeing an uptick in the marketplace, and our Tri/Bi/Semi-Annual event Star Wars Celebration was planned for another iteration in August. A few months later, all these events and more would be cancelled, with Celebration being rescheduled for 2 years from its original date -- a move that at the moment looks to be extremely well planned.

As the pandemic grew in scope and more people isolated themselves, a new norm started to take shape socially with an all-out move to digital interactions. With Social Media so present in the hobby over the last decade, it’s not hard to understand the migration to using the platforms for all types of interactions, chat groups and video rooms. Services such as Zoom and Skype moved out of office settings and became part of every-day vocabulary amongst the masses, leading to large scale adaption of the tools being leveraged for meet ups and get togethers. As much as the "Birthday Drive By" and distance learning are examples of showing how we adapted as a society, in the world of collecting, the computer screen with 30 collectors on it talking over each other is a great example of how we’ve adapted as well. Although limited as a singular narrative amongst a group, it still can invoke happiness, frustration, laughter and other emotions in new ways for those of us who long to connect with our collecting compadres.    

With every cloud there is a sliver lining, and as much as this environment has been challenging, the digital medium has opened up our worlds in new and exciting ways. As much as it’s limiting in one way, the medium opens up the potential to see and do things that we couldn’t before without traveling. Speaking for myself, during the pandemic I’ve seen and learned more about other collectors’ collections than I had in the previous 3 years, including 12 flights to multiple cities across the globe.    

The digital tools themselves have evolved in the several months as usage has increased. With that we have seen smoother functionality and another round of expansions in options available. Specifically, this is being dominated by Social Media platforms such as Facebook Rooms, but stretching into many other platforms as well.     

The video platforms have brought us together during these times and will hopefully be a tool that collectors use in the future to continue to strengthen and build relationships in the community.

2. Marketplace

One of the bright spots of the 2020, at least from a certain point of view, is the uptick in the market.   After a bit of slump over the past two years, the market has picked back up across the board -- at least for those of us that can get to the market that is. While digital platforms are seeing monumental growth, it has been at the expense of the overall limitations of the pandemic environment. Lack of in-person shows and cancelation of large-scale events has created stronger demand in the digital marketplace, and these limitations have pushed the upper boundary of what that market may be able to bear in the near and long term as prices in many segments hit highs over the last year online.

In addition to growth in Facebook groups and the ominous void that is eBay, the growth in the digital channel has come from another avenue that’s seen growth over the past few years in the hobby, namely private auction houses. With the first quarter auctions by Hake’s and Prop Store occurring on the fringe of the shutdown (depending on what part of the world you’re in), both were finishing their sales at times that we were really seeing some fear in the economic outlook in the States and globally. In light of that, both sets of auctions saw good but mixed results for the time frame. Coming into the back half of the year, sentiment was positive. We had new content coming with vintage characters involved, a new set of auctions via performed well, and the first set of in-person toy shows in large markets in the last 10 months took place. This has led to interesting results in the price appreciation in the Vintage and Modern Star Wars collecting hobbies.

Much like any market, not everything is on fire at-the-moment. Some segments are doing better than others. Here’s a quick breakdown on how things are shaking out in 2020. 

  • Loose Figures +++
  • MOC ++
  • MIB/MISB ++
  • Rare Production (3 Packs, Multi Packs, Special Offer) Flat to Slightly Up

The market increases in the three core production categories (Loose, MOCs and MIB/MISB) are more easily explained and have to do with one half of the function that we use to explain the market: demand. Though the pandemic led to the adaption of digital platforms, it also reduced the touchpoints that collectors have with each other. Cancelled shows and postponing Celebration were a few of the big impacts, but that just scratches the surface of how the pandemic impacted the marketplace.   

So what does one do when they have no other outlets than eBay and Social Media for finding their toy fix? Things get interesting…people become more aggressive online, auctions end with ridiculously high values (looking at you Loose $1,500 Pop-Up Lightsaber R2-D2), and in general we start to see prices lean towards the lunatic fringe. Not too surprisingly, this trend is more widespread than Star Wars with GI Joe, MOTU and other lines of the era seeing incredible high points in prices across the board.   

This has led to some interesting psychological effects within “active” collectors that I’ll speak to in our 2020 MarketWatch recap.    


Although not synonymous with collecting, the concept of the “fear of missing out” has been ever present in the Vintage Star Wars toy community ever since items hit shelves in the late 70s. Thus, long before it became the catch phrase to describe the psychological phenomenon associated with the era of instant gratification that we live in, FOMO was part of the Star Wars collecting psyche.  Limited supply, multiple selling platforms, and lots of time have led to the phenomenon manifesting at an all-time high in the hobby. In the wake of the pandemic with limited access to non-digital channels for collecting, we saw a swell in the concept. The additional stress involved in hunting online and limitations in terms of in-person avenues created the perfect storm to feed the “fear” part of FOMO. Throw in a dash of working from home and the additional time and access that creates for some of us, and it’s really become a battle.

Although oversimplified, the graph below shows the growth in the core concept that drives the FOMO effect: the sense of urgency.  

The effect has varied over time, due in almost totality to the tools that we have at our fingertips. For example, certain parts of the country in the 90s had the benefit of getting Toy Shop a few days early and were able to jump on those awesome deals from The Earth and other vendors that would post in the periodical. Thus, if you were a die-hard collector you measured the days in which it took to get Toy Shop or other periodicals of the time.

Fast forward a decade and eBay is the standard and we’ve move from weeks/days and to minutes and seconds. With standard week-long auctions we have the ability to plan and predicate a strategy. Thus in many ways eBay was just the digital evolution of the traditional auction house. When you throw in 3 day auctions, BINs and make an offer, the dynamics change and the sense of urgency increases.

Taking another leap forward in time we have Social Media which enhances the effect, as unlike eBay it can be more unpredictable and tougher to navigate from a buying perspective. Not only is this less predictable and trackable, it is also relationship based, which adds another layer -- the concept of not only connecting with the seller, but having a reason for them to respond to you. This can prove to be tricky when you’re not directly connected to the seller. Some groups like the Imperial Commissary have taken on a claim format to help ease the aspect of sending an IM/PM/DM or whatever acronym you want to use for Facebook Messenger messages. However, this has its challenges as well given issues with follow up from folks that are quick to “CLAIM” but don’t follow through.   

In this day and age Star Wars collectors are hit with FOMO in a trifecta of volatile elements that lead to the explosive environment that we live in:

  • Star Wars FOMO = Limited Supply.  (Can I get what I want?)
  • Auction FOMO = Limited Time. (What time can I get what I want?)
  • Social Media FOMO = Limited Connections/Visibility. (Who/where do I need to be connected, to get what I want?)

The effects of this type of phenomenon on the psyche and human body as a whole can be significant. In short, stay healthy both physically and mentally as the cabin fever syndrome mixed with FOMO can have a negative effect on your overall health and ability to make sound judgements.  

4. Digital Divide

One of the more interesting but unfortunately negative outcomes of the pandemic and the move to digital-only interaction has been the ongoing divide around Facebook and other Social Media between social issues, generational gaps, and friendships in general.  

Several platforms have learned to feed on the negative interaction of its users in hopes of perpetuating forms of angst and predictable behavioral responses. This is ever present on Facebook, and has made its way into other platforms that are being adapted by die-hard and casual collectors alike.

In an election year in the States, emotions run hot. This was more present as we moved closer and closer to the election. Reactions to major macroeconomic or global events have led to dissention amongst collectors, leading to some of the most accepting collectors in our hobby distancing themselves from friends and associates in the hobby. It’s a sad turn of events when you can’t be friends with people that have other beliefs, but this has unfortunately become the way.

The digital divide has also created an even larger gap between collectors on another dimension: New vs. Old collectors. Whether you’re quick or slow to respond to IMs, a seasoned veteran of Rebelscum or new to hobby, it doesn’t matter -- oh wait yes it does, to some extent. The way in which active collectors today collect and how the collectors of generations past collected are two completely different mindsets. The slow burn vs. the quick kill, those that wait for years to find items, and those that can’t wait for 5 minutes. Culturally and emotionally these two mindsets are diametrically opposed, and thus the behaviors that are exuded and the rationale that’s used to justify each group's opinions are seen as even more brash, leading to individuals not connecting and a growing divide in the hobby.

With collectors becoming more separated by age, political views and goals, it’s been a dark time for the hobby in many pockets. With so much positivity under the dark cloud that is COVID-19, the fact that groups of individuals are growing even further apart due to petty differences is the one black eye that the Star Wars hobby will have to endure in 2020.   

5. Strength of Regional Collecting Groups

Leaving our last topic with a bit of a negative undertone, let’s parlay that into one of the silver linings of the pandemic when it comes to the challenges of connecting: the growth in strength of regional collector groups. Regional groups have always had a unique DNA to them. First off, they’re not common. In the 50 states we only see a few markets large enough to make a Vintage Star Wars group sustainable. Northeast, Southeast, and California are a few examples.

This has been a bright spot for many in a very dark time. In concept, it’s really a bridge for the communities and one of the only ways to have real, honest, and open conversations. In an era where negativity runs ramped on Facebook, this takes us away from posting and waiting, and allows us the real time interaction that humans need.

The groups step outside of their boundaries and bring in other collectors from a far. Being in MN and having friends in Canada, it’s always fun to see that we’ve landed on weekly calls with one of the groups from the southern part of the United States. But that’s the great thing about it. No one’s together so whether you're across town or across the country you have the same interaction.    

These groups have also found new ways to bring us together in this time. A group out of Georgia expanded their reach this past summer with a Virtual Collector’s Showcase. Utilizing some more advanced AV capabilities provided by fellow collector Mark Rusciano, the group was able to coordinate an entire weekend of virtual events, including panels from collectors on key topics, integration of podcasts, and other socially relevant activities.  This could lead to others following suit over the next 9 months as things start to normalize.

In closing, it has been an unprecedented time in the hobby...

It's been a time of growth, adaption, and inevitable change. Things are looking up and the outlook continues to get better as we come further away from the initial onset of the pandemic. Smaller groups have led to segmentation in the hobby but have strengthened relationships both near and far in other ways. What doesn’t kill us makes stronger, and in times like this we find ourselves further apart but in many ways closer than ever.  

Until next time.

Wampa, Wampa,

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