Monday, 3 January 2011

Ah yes, the whole pricing issue...

Well, here's a thorny one for this early in the year. The cost of miniatures. Thorny... and complicated.

There's no doubt that minis are a lot more expensive than they used to be. At the time I joined the hobby I was paying Mr Citadel £1.50 for a pack of three Chaos Warriors or five elves (for example). I remember disgruntled mumblings at the time as, not long before, it'd been 99p for the same packs. We'll split the difference somewhat and call that around 40p a figure when I started. Nowadays, if we talk about metal and resin as plastic is it's own little ballpark, we're looking between £2.00 and £15.00 for a single 28mm figure. That's a wide price bracket and is a vast increase over the prices of the mid eighties. Much further than inflation would suggest but there are other things to consider. Some obvious, some not so much so...

Material costs - Metal prices are skyrocketing, and by a lot more than inflation. Every other day I seem to hear tales of casters paying increasingly huge amounts for raw materials. It adds up though metal is still not the bulk of a minis final retail value...

Retailers - We like our miniatures to be easy to obtain so it's good to have them available at multiple outlets rather than just direct from the manufacturer. This is good. Isn't it Well, it's a two edged sword. On one hand it increases your audience but, on the other, a manufacturer will sell to the retailer for typically 30-50% off the retail value. So, Mr Manufacturer is getting a whole lot less. Margins-wise it's easy to say that the retail cost has to have a profit margin immediately more than the discount they give to the retailer and also the cost of the raw casting (materials and labour, usually shipping too). And you need to make a worthwhile profit on the retailer figures too of course. Figure price inflates. It's easy to say that this is made up for by volume of sales and this would hold true except that retailers are mostly a lot more conservative in their buying than they were, say, ten years ago. There's a lot of stuff for a retailer to carry and they typically can't afford to buy in 25 of each figure at a time. Better to order 5 and reorder when needed. Easy to say just not to use retailers and this, again, seems like wisdom except for the lack of foresight when you suddenly realise that you need retailers because you can't handle it all alone. A good problem to have perhaps but not a good time to suddenly increase your prices by 30% because you need to cover this. Even if you don't plan to use retailers you need to be in a position to change your mind.

Sculptors - We've got to pay them and it's a big investment. Sculpting isn't cheap and, to be fair, most sculptors should probably charge more than they do but it's not practical to do so. It's easy to say that we can play the long game waiting to pay off a figure but the marketplace is so bloated with new figures that you need to be pretty sure you can make that money back and in the short term or, at the very least, the medium. A few of you are probably noting that I sculpt for myself. This is true but I still have to be paid for my sculpt. A sculpt I do for myself is a sculpt I didn't get paid by someone else for.

Making money/Salary - And here's a biggie. We have to make money. Hmm... you know what, there's an issue here that needs to be addressed. In the modern world, many of our mini companies are of the boutique variety and run by individuals. Some are sculptors and some not. But there's a more major issue.

Mini companies as a hobby versus as a career.

A lot of the small boutique companies these days are run as a hobby by people who have a normal day job. These people don't necessarily need to make a large profit so have the option of lower costs. In some cases it's simply a case of someone wanting the figs they want so getting them sculpting and selling to pay for the costs.

Unfortunately some others can't work this way. Some of us made it a career choice and we need to make our money. And life, as you will all be painfully aware, costs. And costs big time. So, we need to cover all our costs, and then some, and then some more. And then we make a pittance. There are very few people making a decent career out of this. And by that I mean more worthwhile than working in a shop or something.

So, a few snippets of info about figure pricing and a final thought to end on...

There's a lot of talk about mini prices but something occurs. Most of the truly successful ranges of recent times aren't the guys cutting every corner to keep the costs minimal. They're the guys who spend the cash to produce the amazing figures and then charge the large amounts for them. It's hard for us entrepreneurs to come to any conclusion other than the decision whether to buy a mini is not made with a customers wallet but with their eyes and heart. It may irk some to see the higher prices but, in the real world, it's these companies that are currently thriving. And for anyone who thinks otherwise I offer them Kingdom Death as an example.

As to whether this business model is to be successful in the long term then who can say. The world has changed before and it will certainly change again. As a famous sci fi scouser once said, 'It's going to be a laugh finding out'.

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