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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

FAQ: Price/part vs. price/weight in LEGO sets

Q: Should we look at price to weight ratios for LEGO sets instead of price to part?
A: No. No we should not.
  1. In terms of production costs, the price of the raw ABS that goes into each set is minuscule.  In a quick search as a consumer, not even having access to true high-volume industrial pricing, the price of ABS looked to be around $1/lb. in moderate bulk and I'm sure with the outrageous quantities LEGO deals with, they get a significantly better deal than that. The $800 USD UCS Millennium Falcon thus contains less than $25 worth of plastic.
  2. The smaller LEGO pieces are, the more they weigh for a given volume of completed set; 8x 1x1 bricks weigh more than a single 2x4 brick that takes up the same space, and 3x 1x1 plates weigh more than a 1x1 brick. In other words weight and what I simply call "volume of stuff," the total amount of visible/usable product when assembled, are not directly coupled measures.  You can easily make one LEGO model smaller, yet heavier than another with the same general design.
  3. The sense of value that consumers derive from a LEGO set has nothing to do with its weight. We care about its size, play features & fun, complexity, level of detail & visual interest, accuracy if applicable, and construction.
With the release of 2019's Ultimate Collector Series Imperial Star Destroyer, many people compared the weight of its package to that of the UCS Millennium Falcon to arrive at a single data point "proof" that LEGO prices all of their products by the weight of the raw ABS plastic (plus bags, cardboard, instruction book paper & binding, etc.). The boxed Star Destroyer came in at $0.055 USD per gram, with the Millennium Falcon at $0.060/g.  That's within 9% of each other or even potentially "equal" if you round off another decimal point.  However the theory falls apart quickly if you look at more than two sets.  Bricklink displays the total weight of just the individual components in each set inventoried in its catalog, sans packaging.  Even sticking strictly to boxed minifig-compatible Star Wars sets from 2018-2019, the range is far too wide for comfort:
  • 75229 $0.099/g
  • 75217 $0.094/g
  • 75220 $0.083/g
  • 75243 $0.080/g
  • 75222 $0.075/g
  • 75203 $0.071/g
  • 75234 $0.067/g
  • 75214 $0.052/g
Taking matters into my own hands, for my last 50 reviews of 2020 I weighed each set myself (completed, sans packaging & spares) and published a price/gram measure below price/part. The number proved once again a measure of minimal usefulness.  Sets I considered a good value were all over the scale, varying by as much as 106%.  Those I found overpriced, meanwhile, had price/gram ratios often near or below average.

The data doesn't fit the hypothesis, and there's no good logical argument in favor either.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

My thoughts on the LEGO UCS Star Destroyer 75252

Today marked the public release of the second LEGO Ultimate Collector Series Imperial Star Destroyer, the hollow, but beautiful 4,784 piece behemoth.  If you have any interest in it whatsoever, you've surely already been soaked in news announcements and "analyses" in addition to full-fledged (and fully positive) reviews since LEGO shipped pallets of them out for free to generate praise.  As much as I used to wish I had the original mega-model from 2002, I won't be buying the new one.  At $700 USD, it costs too much and more importantly, at over 2 feet wide and 3.5 feet long, it's too dang big.  I do rather like it, though...

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

So, What's Going On?

It's been quite an eventful year for me and my YouTubing adventures, and with a final lull now in effect between release seasons, let me take a step back and let you know where my head is at and how things have been going in general.  The good news is, I still like LEGO, a lot.  I'm also a lot happier with my work today than I was a year ago, with a more positive outlook on the future of my various content publishing channels.  Let me take you through the key points of interest.

Friday, September 13, 2019

FTC vs. YouTube vs... JANGBRiCKS?

It's about time I said something about the elephant in the room.  The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has determined that YouTube massively violated the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) of 1998 by flagrantly turning a blind eye to the huge number of young kids using the service with their parents' accounts or simply by lying about their age during signup.  As a result of that finding, Google's been fined a petty (by their standards) sum of $170M, and more importantly, they're being forced to either clean up their act or face significantly greater consequences. 

As has been the case over and over again when YouTube is caught being criminally irresponsible for profit, they're going to overreact and devastatingly punish a significant number of content creators who have done absolutely nothing wrong up to this point.  This time rather than YouTube purging or restricting all of the fraudulent accounts clearly used by kids under 13, as their systems can easily detect (the root of the FTC findings), they're going to place sanctions on anything they deem to be "children's content." Mind you, there is nothing in COPPA even suggesting in passing that content for kids itself needs to be regulated, or that kids' viewing of that content warrants restriction.  It only insists that identifiable personal data such as names, birthdates, email addresses, home/locations, etc. of kids under 13 must not be stored or tracked.  In other words, there is nothing legally wrong with the existence of "children's content" on YouTube, and there is nothing legally wrong with actual children viewing said content on YouTube.  The only thing that's wrong is for children to be logged in with an account that's not COPPA compliant when they use the site or app.  YouTube's response, to butcher a metaphor, is akin to punishing the baby instead of throwing out the bathwater.  It's egregiously idiotic.