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The Black Series Through The Years - An Overview

Since the 6 inch scale Black Series was introduced in 2013 the line has changed a lot. The figures have improved in many ways and the releases have become much more numerous. In this article I want to focus on how many regular releases, exclusive releases, rereleases, repaints and kitbashes there have been each year. And while the numbers may not surprise any collector they are still quite eye-opening. This will be a lengthy examination and discussion of the line. So click through for the Black Series overview!

Black Series figures from 2014, 2017 and 2021

Black Series figures from 2014, 2017 and 2021

A few caveats before we proceed: I only consider 6 inch Black Series figures, since 3.75 inch figures are their own thing. I also ignore the Centerpiece Figures, instead I focus on the actual action figure releases. The numbers for 2021 are tentative. Figures that should have been released have not been released yet, some figures are available here and there, but not everywhere, so assessing the number of actual releases for 2021 is somewhat difficult. I tried to include figures that should have been released in 2021, but that still leaves things ambigous to a certain degree. Just because someone on YouTube got hold of a figure from Asia does not necessarily mean it was actually released. And by released I mean released in the US. It’s VERY different in other parts of the world where many, many figures have been delayed for months already, I am two Black Series waves behind in Germany, for example, and figures have been delayed for months and months here. All that being said, I believe my numbers for 2021 still give an overall picture of the line, even if the numbers may vary depending on what you consider a 2021 release. For example, I did not count the newly revealed Holiday Troopers or the new wave of Credit Collection figures (although Beskar Mando was available here and there).

Then we need to talk about kitbashes… I considered a new character/figure that is using parts from different figures a kitbash, if it’s 100% reuse it’s a repaint though. Also, I usually only count the first appearance of a kitbash. So when Hasbro made their first R5 astromech it was a kitbash, all other R5 droids are technically speaking still kitbashes, but I consider them repaints. So the absolute total number of kitbashes is somewhat higher, but together with the number of repaints I think this still gives a pretty good picture about how much reuse there is in the line.

With all that out of the way let’s begin by looking at how many sets have been released in the Black Series so far.

Click to enlarge

So what do we see here? The blue bar represents the total number of sets released in a year. The green bar is the number of regular mainline sets and the red bar is the number of exclusive sets. For example, in 2013 the total number of sets was nine. One set was an SDCC exclusive (Boba Fett with Han in Carbonite).

So what do we see here? There was a steady increase of releases until 2017 but then something curious happens, the number collapses for 2018. Incidentally 2018 is also the worst year for Hasbro’s Star Wars toys in recent memory. At that time Hasbro had reported a decline of sales for several quarters already, retailers were ordering less and less, The Last Jedi didn’t exactly set the toy ailes on fire and Solo crashed and burned at the box office. 2018 is also the only year (2021 would have had about the same number of exclusives as 2020 if things had been normal) where the number of exclusive sets declined, once again indicating much reduced demand by retailers for the line.

Things turned around in 2019 again, and the number of releases actually skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021 (considering the Covid delays the numbers for 2021 would be even higher if things had been normal). Whereas the number of actual mainline releases has remained more or less constant since 2017, 25 figures +/- a few here and there.

The huge increase in total releases is due to the inclusion of the Archive line and novelty lines such as the Carbonized and Credit Collection.

You can also see that Hasbro’s overall strategy for the line changed a lot after 2019. They put much more focus on exclusive releases. To get a better feeling for this change let’s look at the percentages.

Click to enlarge

So what do we see here? The green bar is the percentage of mainline sets each year. The red bar is the percentage of exclusive sets. And since a set can have several figures the blue bar tells you the percentage for figures that were available in an exclusive set.

You can see immediately the development the line has taken over the years. Hasbro has greatly diversified the Black Series and actual mainline releases are now in the minority. Less than 1/3 of all sets are regular releases in 2020 and 2021. We have now reached a point where roughly 2/3 of all released figures and more than half of all sets are exclusive.

While collectors usually dislike exclusives with a passion they are a great deal for Hasbro. Also, it’s usually a good thing when a retailer wants an exclusive, it means there is demand for the line by retailers.

Let’s look at how the situation is with repainted and rereleased figures.

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What we see here is the distribution of how many figures in total were released in a year compared to the number of exclusive, repainted and rereleased figures. Note: an exclusive figure can also be a repaint and a rereleased figure can be a repaint as well. One good example for this are the photoreal updates in the Archive line. Whereas the various clone troopers are traditional repaints.

So what do you see? As expected the brand new Black Series saw very little reuse, the number of repaints and rereleases was pretty low in the first few years. The numbers began to skyrocket in 2020 though. Indicating the change in brand management and overall strategy. While the number of mainline releases is more or less constant, as we have seen above, Hasbro tried to increase sales and thus revenue and profits by greatly increasing the number of repaints and rereleases. Things like the Archive Line, Credit and Carbonized collection are indicative of this change in approach. These things have comparably low production costs since zero new tooling is required.

Also, look at the extremely high number of figures Hasbro released in 2020 (and 2021 would have been similar without Covid). 2019 has inflated numbers because of the First Edition sets, whereas 2020 and 2021 saw a huge increase of aforementioned novelty lines. And of course the Archive line also inflates the number of rereleases and repaints.

You can see that reuse has become much more important in the last few years. And you can see how important exclusive figures have become for the line. Their number has increased by a factor of  2.5 compared to 2017 and they are still almost twice as many as in 2019. Hasbro cranked up their number of exclusive figures in 2020 and 2021, once again a clear sign that brand management is taking the line in new directions.

Let’s look at the percentages for repainted and rereleased figures. How have they changed over time?

Click to enlarge

The blue bar shows the percentage for repainted figures and the red bar is the rereleases. Again, a rereleased figure can also be a repaint (think photoreal). For a long time repaints accounted for less than 1/4 or even 1/5 of all figures. Again you can see the shift in brand management and overall strategy since 2020. All of a sudden repaints account for 1/3 of all figures and rereleases are even more than 1/3. 2019 has inflated numbers for the rereleases because of the First Edition sets (I consider them a rerelease). And in 2017 we had the first wave of Anniversary Line figures. In 2020 almost half of all figures were a rerelease of sorts. Again, this is an obvious attempt by Hasbro to increase revenue and especially profit margins by releasing figures that require no new tooling at all, so a minor budget increase for the line results in a major revenue increase. In 2020 revenues increased by a whopping 70%. So from an economic point of view Hasbro made everything right again after really terrible years.

For collectors it means that the Black Series looks much more like a repaint / repack line today than before 2019. Mainline releases are not the focal point anymore, instead novelty lines and various (repainted) rereleases are the real focus now.

What about kitbashes though?

Click to enlarge

The blue bar shows you the number of kitbashes each year and the red bar their percentage of all released figures. Once more you see a major change in 2019. Before the number of kitbashes was moderate and kitbashes accounted for less than 1/5 of all figures. Then 2018 happened and Hasbro’s Star Wars toy sales hit rock bottom, they had to change their strategy to make up for lost revenue. And since new tooling is very expensive they resort a lot more to kitbashing now.

Kitbashes now account for roughly 1/3 of all figures (while many more are just straight rereleases or repaints).

So the impression that the Black Series in 2021 is mostly an exclusive repaint, rerelease and kitbash line is not wrong. It’s a fair assessment to say that these things are a major focus now to the point that regular releases are few inbetween.

So what’s the takeaway? The charts illustrate how Hasbro changed their approach to the Black Series and overall brand management beginning in 2019, after years of revenue decline. It cannot be overstated how bad things in 2018 must have been. 2019 already saw some revenue increase again, but the fact that 2020 still managed 70% growth over 2019 will give you an idea HOW bad 2018 must have been. And it was certainly around that time, in 2018, when Hasbro decided that their strategy for the Black Series needs to change. And in recent times this also includes “fake deluxe” figures, figures that offer nothing extra really, compared to regular releases from only a few years ago, but still demand a premium, because of the number of paint apps. It has to be pointed out that production costs in China have increased greatly in recent times, there are also hugely increased shipping rates and it’s evident that this is Hasbro’s way, on top of a general price increase, to protect their profit margins.

Now you can be a pragmatist and say that the actual number of regular releases remains more or less constant, it hovers around 25 figures each year. Also, the figures are usually pretty great now with photoreal faces, improved joints and better overall aesthetics. And that the vast number of remaining figures is just a bonus, something you can easily ignore if you want to. It is hell of course for completionists who want to have one of each at least. But at this point I wonder how many Black Series completionists are even left. You had to buy almost 100 sets in 2020 and 2021 would have been very similar if not for Covid.

So where does all of this leave us? If you just look at the Black Series proper, i.e. the regular basic release, then the line is really good now, with few exceptions. But the Black Series brand has been watered down a lot in recent years and now mostly stands for gimmick lines, rereleases and novelty figures. However, people seem to like these things, since Hasbro keeps making more of the Carbonized or Credit Collection figures.

However, it remains to be seen if the failed Black Series HasLab has opened the eyes of collectors. The Black Series started out as an action figure line aimed at giving collectors the ultimate action figure version of a Star Wars character. The Black Series as a whole is as far removed from that as you can be in recent years. And the failed HasLab is symptomatic of the overall approach to the line as a whole. Demand inflated prices based on the number of paint apps, and then repack a few things to keep production costs down as much as possible.

Also, it remains to be seen how much longer collectors will put up with the arduous process of securing an exclusive figure online, since the pre-ordering process is less than ideal.

And it has to be pointed out again how badly the Disney era movies performed for Hasbro. To the point of collapse in 2018. The Force Awakens was the only movie that more or less met toy sales expectations. Rogue One already underperformed in toy aisles, but The Last Jedi pushed things over a cliff. The turnaround in 2019/2020 and the huge increase of releases can be attributed to one thing only: The Mandalorian. You can see this everywhere: the Mandalorian was the top selling toyline for Funko for a full twelve months and is still a top seller to this day. This series single handedly reinvigorated the toy line and Star Wars toys overall. Anyone who asks for more sequel trilogy figures should not forget that.

I wonder what the future will bring. My prediction is that Hasbro will continue their current strategy as long as people are eager to hunt down exclusives online and get repaints and novelties. Expect many more of those in the future! The big question is if this will be sustainable. I feel that the Black Series has lost its way a bit. You cannot argue with commercial success and increased sales, but the original goal, to give collectors the ultimate Star Wars action figure, has long been lost. Accessories are scarce or sometimes make no sense. Screen accuracy is sacrificed on the kitbash altar and figures that offer nothing extra are suddenly “deluxe” releases. A deluxe release used to be a Scout Trooper with Speeder Bike or Wampa with Luke. Now Boba Fett with his jetpack is a deluxe release. And then you have all the gimmick repaints that people seem to love though. But you cannot fault Hasbro for trying to strike the iron while it is hot. They had some really bad years with Star Wars because of the sequels, so The Mandalorian must look like a godsend to them and they try to squeeze as much money out of collectors as possible with the least amount of effort now. This year’s HasLab is a prime example for that. All that being said if you just focus on the actual mainline things are still fine. But releases are still few, only about 25 each year and some of those are “deluxe” figures you have to pay a premium for. How much more can Hasbro tighten the screws and demand more while offering nothing extra until collectors feel it’s too much now and rethink their buying habits? The late Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner was convinced that customers would accept the 2021 price increases in one of his last interviews.

So what is your takeaway from all this? How do you feel about the direction the line has taken in recent times? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

 

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