Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Free LEGO: The ethics of collecting

This week free LEGO is available each day at selected stores when UK fans buy a copy of the Sun newspaper. The ethical bit I’m discussing here is nothing to with having to buy a newspaper under close scrutiny as part of a national inquiry, but the ethical question of whether we AFOLs should be wandering out with armfuls of LEGO and stores running out by mid-morning. The debate pops up throughout message boards anywhere that the Sun promotion is discussed, and there are good points on each side.

When buying a copy of the Sun, there’s a voucher inside. The voucher can be exchanged for a promotional bagged LEGO set, a different one each day. What is frustrating, particularly for those with a regular nine ‘til five job, is that by mid-morning the shops stocking the free LEGO have almost always run out. This tends to be because most stores do not impose a limit on the number of sets one person can take, or the limit is quite high.

The reason taking so many multiples can be appealing, of course, is that for between 30p and 50p you can have 38 LEGO pieces, or a mini-figure and 20ish LEGO pieces. It’s the cheapest way to get LEGO bricks that there is, so it is understandable that people use it as a chance to increase their stash. It still seems unbelievably unfair that in the USA these sets are sold at stores for $4-$5, and even more unbelievable that anyone would pay it. The reason these are so desirable here in the UK is because they are so cheap, but at the higher US price the cost per brick is much less appealing.

Getting cheap bricks isn’t the only reason collectors pick up extras of course. Because of how quickly they get gobbled up, collectors often turn up to the store to collect the toy and end up leaving empty handed. So in case one day you miss a set, it’s always handy to have a few extras from a previous day so you can trade with a fellow fan. This is also a good way of being able to collect promotional sets from previous years, even if it costs two or three sets from the current promotion. 

The third main reason for buying up multiples is clearly for resale. Many wish to be involved in the eBay feeding frenzy that sees sellers undercut one another by a few pence to be the cheapest and sell the greatest quantity of these sets online. Some are collectors themselves, looking to pay for their next LEGO purchase, others are not. This is perhaps the category that most divides fans about whether it’s right to buy multiple LEGO sets or not. Those who oppose re-selling find themselves able to understand taking a couple of extra sets to trade, or wanting extra bricks for an awesome MOC… but taking them just to make profit, therefore denying them to other fans, is considered less palatable. 

The problem of the sets running out so quickly is self-perpetuating. Because the sets run out, collectors are more likely to buy extras “just in case”, and then decide how many they actually want to keep later. The more times collectors see other customers walking out with over ten sets, the more likely they are to think “why not?” and take extras to sell themselves. 

The ethics come into play here, and it is the reason this problem will be never be solved without the store imposing a limit on how many sets one person can take. Everyone has a different idea of what is fair. Some don’t have a problem with those who buy up sets to re-sell, as it’s all part of the free market in their eyes. If someone else knows they will thirty of that particular expensive brick for their awesome MOC they might consider it fair. Others might think taking two is okay, one to open and one to keep sealed. Another fan might think as long as you take no more than ten it is okay. Everyone has a different take on what is legitimate and what is not, so even if everyone was to agree that we should be ethical collectors and think about one another, we would never all agree on what an ethical way to collect is.

No comments:

Post a Comment