Friday, October 30, 2009

Breyer and the Fidelity Swap

In case you haven’t caught the clues, I haven’t exactly been on board with these BreyerFest-by-invitation only events. I haven’t even entered for any of them - the original in 2002, the VRE, or the LSE. I can only afford one big even a year, and I have to go with the one that gives me the biggest all-around payoff, emotionally and financially. And that’s BreyerFest.

I have been trying my best to avoid the LSE discussions; I have better things to do than moon over models I'll never hope to own. Unlike the very vocal minorities trolling the boards, I actually like most of the specials that have been announced. Chestnut is very flattering on the Roxy mold, the Halloween Horse is very clever, and I try not to think about the Smart Chic Olena too much, because I had been hoping that a(n affordable) leopard appaloosa release would be in his future someday.

I like the Peruvian, too, but he is a bit too close to the Cobrizo and the possible future Collector’s Choice Roan, but that could just be Reeves’s photography getting in the way again. The possibility of him being even more awesome in person is also something I’d rather not contemplate.

What I’m finding yucky is the sight of hobbyists falling over each other to step to the mike and proudly, defiantly proclaim how much they dislike all of the releases so far. Just a few years ago, most hobbyists would have been rolling around on the floor in paroxysms of joy over a model like Mudflap. Now they can barely contain their glee over their disdain.

Some of it is just a self-defense mechanism: better to rationalize a reason not to want something, than mope about it being unaffordable or inaccessible. (You know, it’s perfectly okay to mope every once and a while, too. Being happy all the time isn’t any better than being a perpetual mopey-dope.)

But I think an interesting new theory called the "Fidelity Swap" might explain what’s going on here.

As theorized by business writer Kevin Maney in the recently published Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t, businesses have to decide if their product or service will focus on Fidelity or Convenience. Fidelity is about quality, exclusivity, snob appeal, and bragging rights. Convenience is about affordability, availability, and ease. The tension between these two competing idea is the "Fidelity Swap."

The most successful products and services are either high in Fidelity or high in Convenience, but not both. Companies that try to achieve both are less likely to succeed: it confuses and frustrates the consumer. Consumers who prefer Convenience will be disappointed when the company produces products they find unaffordable and/or unavailable, and the consumers who prefer Fidelity will be disappointed by the lack of exclusivity or higher quality.

Sound familiar?

It’s pretty obvious I’m in the Convenience camp: of course I want my horses to be of better-than-average quality, and I am not immune to the snob appeal a rarer or prettier-than-average model brings to the herd. But I am very frustrated when models become so limited in distribution, or so expensive in price, that any hope of achieving those models approaches zero.

And there’s been a lot of those kinds of models lately. A lot.

Part of the appeal of the hobby to me was in its affordability: I could have the ginormous herd of my dreams with minimal expense, little acreage, and no vet bills. (My teenage fantasy ranch, by the way, was located in Wyoming. I’m not sure why: it just was. Oh, the elaborate facilities I drew up!) So when I see people forking over enormous sums of money for these models - and complaining that a 100 piece SR isn’t exclusive enough for them - well, it runs counter to what my notions of the hobby are.

There really aren't that many hobbyists out there that can afford the high fidelity models, and that's part of the problem: having a special class of folks who end up with the majority of the rarities is a recipe for resentment.

The second thing that might happen - that is actually happening with the Connoisseur models at this point - is model fatigue, or boredom. Connoisseurs aren't perceived as being rare or exclusive enough anymore. Any SR that breaks three digits isn't rare or exclusive enough anymore.

Honestly, I can’t see anything that would make them happy, short of giving them all test colors and made-to-order factory customs. And here I thought we had at least all agreed to make fun of the Peter Stone business model, not admire it, right?


Sara said...

GREAT post! I really enjoyed reading it, and very insightful. I admit, I was one of the people carried away in the initial Peter Stone frenzy. I watched them go through the same struggle of trying to balance mass-produced runs with the event/exclusive SRs. It was ugly for quite a few years. Breyer appears to be in a similar struggle right now.

Peter Stone eventually chose the Fidelity route, and it actually appears to be working out very well for the company and it's consumers. More evidence for the theory. I whole-heartedly agree that you can't do both (and I'm definitely going to check out the book).

I share your hope that Breyer ultimately chooses Convenience. The release of super-exclusive models is getting out of hand (I count nearly 30 this year alone), and they are very close to shutting off the secondary market altogether. Unfortunately the primary market thrives on an active secondary market, and they will quickly find themselves unable to sell out much of anything.

Tehana said...

The general attitude of the hobby is getting me down, I had my significant other pulled over to the computer just going over a few selected members, which I'm sure you recognize without having to drop names, posts just making sure I wasn't going insane about the negative attitude.

I'm of the camp "If I don't like it, I don't buy it". I hate Peter Stone, and I am vocal about that, but I think virtually punching your fan base in the gut deserves a bit of vocalization.

I'm thrilled that I've gotten lucky enough to add some fairly rare models to my collection in the past couple years, models I never thought I'd have. From my two TR's from this past year and the really funny looking pegasus that I'm thinking is an AP showing up at my door yesterday (I need to email you about this guy, get your thoughts if you haven't seen him on blab yet) I've gotten some really great models with patience and hard work.

If people want wonderful models they need to do the legwork. Work out trades, search ebay for HTF models at great prices, search dealers for rare variations, hell, take the lottery chance when it comes to Breyer Grab Bags! Those suckers are filled with "Odd" pieces.

I'm sick of whiners in the hobby that just complain, do some leg work, foster the hobby and good things will come to you. I don't think Breyer needs to change much, a few under 200 runs a year are a good thing, but I'm not liking 12+ runs like this a year.

ANDREA said...

For a variety of reasons, I simply can't hate Peter Stone. Maybe it's because I've known him for such a long time that I'm able to forgive some of his faults, like one forgives the faults of a crazy uncle you only see a couple times a year anyway.

And he's also given way more to the hobby than he's given credit for. So I do feel I owe him at least a fragment of respect.

Some of my fellow hobbyists ... yeah, them I could do without. (I think anyone whose been on Blab for any extended period of time knows who we're talking about.) Kinda wish they'd take up knitting or gardening to work off all that excess energy they seem to put into posting the same gripes over and over.

There's been way more than 12+ runs (unless you're just referring to the LSE) Seems more like 25-30 micro runs, if you include all of the live show prizes, contests and raffles.

With most of the same people getting the majority of them in the end. (Am I the only one getting deja vu reading the LSE reports?)

Anonymous said...

I've been Moping about the LSE. I didn't get picked for the third time. And I really like several of the SR horses. I know it is unlikely I'll find them for sale at prices I can swallow.

I'm also moping that there are people attending for the third time. And it makes me wonder how they have such wonderful luck.

I have been able to attend Breyerfest for the last few years and I do have some very nice and expensive models. So I can't mope too much. But I can still be hopefull that someday I'll be picked to attend one of these things...

ANDREA said...

It's not entirely luck, m'dear.

Some of it has to do with the fact that the people who chose to enter for these events are self-selected: not everyone can afford to take the extra time or money out to attend. And the actual pool of hobbyists who can do that is relatively small.

The rest of it has to do with the limited time window. There's always going to be a certain number of people from the initially selected group who will have to drop out for whatever reasons, and they will have to be replaced quickly: first by people on the backup list, and then by either (a) local entrants who don't have to make extra travel/hotel arrangements, or (b) people they know will attend the event no matter what, and on extremely short notice.

(Which is also a very small, select group.)

This I think is the Achilles Heel of these events: the process is creating what appears to be a select class of preferred hobbyists.

It's not what it was designed to do, but that's what it appears to be doing. And that's definitely NOT a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I agree wholeheartedly. I get that some models are really special, and there are only say 25 made. I can understand that, if they do that for a few models. But now it's become more and more common, it's really starting to take the joy out of the hobby, especially when you see one of those 25 produced pop up on eBay for roughly the same amount of money as a real horse! It kinda makes me sad that those who somehow win or get a hold of the "one of 25" horses instantly turns around and just sells it for a ridiculous sum.

I've been out of the hobby for a few years now, (so I'm sure my models aren't as "cool" haha!) but geeze! I've hardly heard of this LSE but it really sounds pretty elitist...

Latter-Day Flapper said...

(I can't believe I didn't find this blog sooner! Where have I been??)

(I've been collecting since 1982 and showing since 1989.)

While I am continually irritated that Stone releases so many high-priced special editions, it does seem to me that:

1) Unless they are quite extreme, they drop in price quickly as Stone saturates its own market with similar-looking horses (Illini/Chrystalline Cross/Miss Brick Countess, for instance). I get them after the novelty wears off and the frenzy of speculation has died down. It doesn't always work, but I've scored some seriously price-reduced models that way.

2) Stone has raised the bar for Breyer. Let's face it: Breyer circa 1990 was pretty dismal, both in the quality of the sculptures and the colors. Think Khemosabi and Rugged Lark. I don't love all the new molds and colors, but they are a vast improvement.

I don't love or hate Breyer or Stone; they're just businesses, out to make a profit. I do find the obsessive focus on high-end OF's and artist resins stressful, though. I don't actually want to leave the hobby, but I'm definitely a "grouchy beatnik" of the hobby, having dropped out of mainstream collecting with her herd of carefully-preserved 1980's OF's.

(That would put me 99% in the convenience camp. I definitely want realism, but I don't care if it's rare.)