Pokémon collecting proves difficult, expensive
|This is an editorial by Argy.|
Argy is the former editor in chief of Bulbanews, a style editor at Bulbapedia, and an administrator at Bulbagarden forums.
When Pokémon USA announced that it would be closing its online store, PokemonCenter.com, on Jan. 31, it assured customers that Pokémon merchandise would be available through nonspecific “retail partners.” Instead, collectors outside of Japan have been forced to seek Pokémon merchandise through a sort of expensive black market that includes communities such as eBay and LiveJournal.
The decline in availability of Pokémon merchandise began in 2005 when Nintendo converted its physical Pokémon Center store in New York City to one focused on Nintendo in general, reserving one section for Pokémon.
However, the online store remained open with a fairly impressive stock list. Most of the merchandise available was imported from Japan, meaning American customers could purchase, relatively inexpensively, a few of the same high-quality goods that were or had previously been for sale across the Pacific.
First PokemonCenter.com raised its prices. Poké Dolls, possibly the most collectible series of Pokémon plush toys in the world, were increased to about $10 each. Because it was still cheaper than importing the same product through a third party, American collectors were happy with the site's ever-increasing inventory of Pokémon available in doll form. Also readily available was a large assortment of TOMY's popular Monster Collection figurines which provided detailed, entirely on-model, standardized representations of each Pokémon in PVC form. PokemonCenter.com sold these small trinkets for about $5 each, but in the eyes of some collectors, they are a necessity.
Since PokemonCenter.com closed, the only practical means of obtaining Pokémon merchandise originally released in Japan is by entering the often-expensive "Pokémon black market."
Some clarification may be necessary. Pokémon USA still sells Pokémon merchandise to Americans not in the New York area, but it is through licensing arrangements with American toy manufacturers, most notably Jakks Pacific. While Jakks can be credited with reviving the Pokémon toy market for American children (mostly boys), who appreciate action, light and sound features and aren't as picky if figurines or plushes are slightly off-model, most of the company's offerings are simply unacceptable for serious collectors of Pokémon merchandise.
Serious collectors want the same goods Japan gets, and this is evident with little search effort.
LiveJournal's Pokémon Collectors community is a good place to start when observing the buying habits of serious Pokémon collectors. Many of its members will readily shell out big bucks for rare, Japanese merchandise.
Among the most sought-after commodities on LiveJournal are TOMY's Pokémon Zukan figurines, which feature detailed, 1/40-scale representations of each Pokémon evolutionary line. Also popular are Pokémon Kids, small finger puppets that, when unopened, come with a piece of Ramuné candy. Pokémon Kids are inexpensive in physical stores; collectors with access to Asian import stores such as Seattle's Uwajimaya can find them for as little as less than $2 each, but in limited availability.
Both these series of figures can sell from collector to collector on LiveJournal for more than double, triple, even quadruple (and more) their retail value.
The most practical place for Poké Doll collectors is now eBay, where dedicated collectors will furiously compete to be high bidders on what they can't get elsewhere. An especially desirable Poké Doll can sell for as much as $50. It's obvious by looking at some of the multiple listings on the auction site that some sellers purchased large quantities of PokemonCenter.com's stock before the site closed. These sellers then turn around and offer the now-unavailable dolls for more than double their original investment of $10 per doll.
Pokémon USA sees none of this revenue, and when it comes to choosing between collecting Pokémon goods or paying the rent or tuition, such inflated prices are simply out of the question. Yet, the few collectors who do have surplus income snap up what few goods are available for prices that are out of reach for the average fan. What ensues is a cycle of selling and reselling that results in prices that grow with each transaction.
It is doubtful that this is what Pokémon USA intended when it decided to close its online store, but the difficulty of obtaining Japanese-quality Pokémon goods has compounded whether or not the company wants to admit that its “retail partners” such as Jakks provide no suitable substitute for what serious Pokémon collectors outside of Japan really want.