Affiliate disclosure: I sometimes use vendor & product links that can pay me a small monetary commission if you click them and/or make a purchase. Learn more about this.

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

22 comments:

  1. I am too lazy (and my statistical skills are too rusty), but I think using Price Per Gram in a regression analysis along with other known factors (# of minifigs, # of pieces, specific license, etc.) could give a useful baseline for comparing values of sets. But I agree as the end all be all measurement of value, it doesn't do too well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely agree, a statistician with some free time to download & play with a bunch of data from Brickset could surely conduct some interesting inquiries. I'm not convinced they could find a single algorithm to determine fair pricing, but they could at the very least disprove a lot of correlation theories, like has been done in the past with the suggestions that LEGO has gotten more expensive over time, or that licensed theme sets are significantly overpriced vs. original IP products.

      Delete
  2. Yeah I share the same views as you and I just wanted to ask whether or not you are willing to make reviews on other lego-style companies from China or Europe?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've occasionally reviewed products from Cobi, C3, Ionix, formerly Hasbro, and I think a couple others, plus I regularly follow some Mega Construx themes. The number of products LEGO releases, though, combined with my own personal focus on LEGO for custom building, leaves me with relatively little time to regularly branch out.

      Delete
  3. I agree with you on most cases but people aren't using price per weight just on the mass alone, the weight paired with piece count give you an idea of how much LEGO you are getting you know? We typically know what goes into a LEGO set so the higher weight with low piece count just gives people a perspective of how many big pieces are in a sets. Weight gives you a sense of size while piece count gives a sense of complexity

    ReplyDelete
  4. zhi jang you are my favorite reviewer. i could not thank you more for the time and thought you put into these things. i have being watching this channel for quite awhile now and i know i can always rely on you to present quality lego and mega construx reviews. even though i live in New Zealand and mega construx isn't sold here. I have to buy it online and pay a large some of shipping or buy a set the retails for twenty dollar put pay 60 dollars for it. that's why i always have to be one hundred percent sure about what i want. i use your reviews to help choose what the buy 100% of the time.


    keep up the awesome work!
    - from william

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your support, and I'm glad I'm able to provide some form of useful information. I do hope that as LEGO continues to expand its sales presence globally, they'll finally give NZ some love and help bring the ridiculously inflated prices down closer to Earth.

      Delete
  5. I always look at pics count and do a rough estimate of okay is the price per 100 parts around 10-15 dollars. Most of the time if it's ten extra dollars like with star wars you have to think about the money they pay to use the brand.

    ReplyDelete
  6. JANG has well thought out points that I can't argue with, but the price per piece metric (which JANG displays on all his review videos) is flawed too. JANG will even mention, from time to time, how the price per part does not look favorable for a specific set and that we should consider that the set contains larger parts. I admit that I was a proponent of the price to weight system of measurement, but now agree it has problems. In JANG's reviews of late he almost always states his opinion of the value of the "volume of stuff" you get for your money. How about we measure the actual volume of "toy" we get in a set? Maybe we could treat the parts that make up a set as a solid (remove the air gaps) and calculate the volume of bricks. I believe that may remove some of the errors JANG brings up when using the weight of the elements. Obviously there are many factors that go into LEGO pricing. We are just looking for a way to compare the sets' values on the surface - for the fun of it - remember?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Cost of raw material is one thing, but what about manufacturing cost? I'll bet larger pieces cost more to fabricate (machines will churn out fewer pieces per minute, pieces take longer to cool, maybe), plus take up more warehouse space, etc. Piece size/weight will also affect sorting and packaging.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I buy Legos from second hand stores and thrift stores all the time and they price them per weight but its never consisted price can range from $3.99 to $14.99 but the size of the bag and the amount of Lego in those bags can be greatly different from one bag to another .a $3.99 bag can have more Lego than a $5.99 but a bag costing $7.99 has less Legos in the bag price at $3.99 then you have bags that I call bottom of the bin bags . my take away is this If some small store compare to Lego ( a big company )If the smaller store can't price Lego by weight and be consistent at it how can Lego?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I think the premise of your question is flawed. It’s not an either-or question… instead you should be asking, “Should we look at price-to-weight rations for LEGO sets *in addition to* price-per-part?” To which I would say, the answer is a resounding YES. I love your reviews, I watch nearly every one of them in addition to your New Jang City videos, etc., but my one overarching criticism of them is that you fixate on price-to-part way too much. It’s one lone metric out of several that should be considered when assessing “value” of LEGO products:

    Number of parts
    Size/complexity of parts
    Number of figs
    Number of prints
    Number of new molds
    Number of unique parts (versus multiples of the same part)
    Licensed vs. unlicensed
    Total weight
    and so on.

    All of these factors affect costing, in addition to probably a dozen more that are transparent to the consumer (how long a set was in development, which factory a given set is produced in, shipping costs, exchange rates, tariffs, Brexit, etc.)

    And yes, the price of raw plastic may be nominal in the grand scheme of what a set costs, but the reason weight is being mentioned so much in the Star Destroyer discussion is that it’s a more tangible indicator of part size/complexity… which absolutely affects the cost of the set. Given the amount of bricks you buy from Bricklink, Replacement Parts, etc., you know very well that on average, larger parts cost more than smaller parts (setting aside parts that are artificially expensive because they’re brand new, or scarce, or whatever). A 12x16 wedge plate is clearly going to cost far more to produce than a 1x1 stud. It’s not more expensive merely because it’s 100x more plastic… it’s more expensive because the tooling for the mold is vastly more complex, there’s more chaff/waste, it’s harder to prevent warping, air bubbles, flow lines, or other blemishes, and so on. It’s frankly absurd to equate the value of that sort of part to the value of a part 1/100th the size, which is exactly what price-per-part does.

    Admittedly, weight — when viewed in isolation — isn’t an adequate measure of a set’s “value” either. Instead, I would encourage you (and other reviewers) to come up with a more comprehensive grading scale for sets, one that scores each set on 3 or 4 factors… for instance: number of parts, weight, and number of figs, and maybe award bonus points for new molds/prints. It wouldn’t be perfect, but it would give viewers more to go on that one metric alone.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was intentionally responding to a very binary argument raised by an increasing number of LEGO fans. People have in no certain terms posited that price/part ratio is useless and meaningless, and that the obvious One True Measure of value is price per gram.

      I don't understand your impression that I "fixate on price-to-part" when I, more than most, regularly and explicitly acknowledge that it is *not* the end all, be all, and is often a poor indicator of value. I do agree with the overwhelming long-term opinion of a majority of serious LEGO fans, that p/p is a useful benchmark and starting point for comparisons. However, I have always readily called out cases where I feel value is lower or higher than p/p suggests, and I have never encouraged viewers to make a sole value determination based upon this single, often misleading measure.

      Delete
    2. (No *UNcertain terms, that is. Sorry, no edit button on Blogger comments.)

      Delete
  10. Apologies, perhaps the words I chose were overly critical. I only meant that, when viewing your reviews as a whole, price-to-part is the one criteria you consistently comment on — it’s in the Brickset overlay at the end of your videos, you remark on it in almost all reviews, etc. — whereas the other criteria only get the occasional mention, as a way to “override” whatever value judgement the ppp ratio is conveying.

    I’m just suggesting that the binary nature of this discussion is a bit misleading. There is no “one true metric” that works for every set (or everyone), other than “do I like it?” which is itself entirely subjective. I was hoping that maybe you and others would broaden the more objective criteria/stats in your reviews to include a variety of metrics, rather than viewing it as an either/or.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I agree Jang, sometimes price-to-part ratios can be misleading, and they might end up looking really bad (for example, the 2019 UCS Star Destroyer), but the size is very large, or really good (like the Yoda set in 2019), but the actual size does not seem substantial. Of course, then we have some examples like (in 2017) Ninjago City and The Lightning Jet (and actually most of the Ninjago Movie sets), which had excellent sizes and piece counts for the price you pay.
    Nevertheless, at the end of the day, these are (or were originally) considered toys, and we should not be arguing about which value system is superior. All these sets come in different shapes and sizes, so the size may or may not be the best. Weight is always at a variety of ratios with each set, so it doesn't stay consistent. The amount of pieces may seem to me like the best measure to go by, and it seems like Lego has recently gotten closer to that "goal" of 10 cents per piece, but there are always outliers on both extremes so this is inconsistent. But please take note, Lego bases their system on how consumers respond to their products, and how much they are willing to pay for them. The supposed "price increase" over the last few years may be the result of the same people buying these sets at full price. If there is a good set seems overpriced, I would (to the buyers that aren't happy with the price) recommend waiting a year or so until there is a good discount. As buyers, we set the standard. It all comes down to the subjective stuff and the consumer: "Do I like it, or not?" Beyond that, it's anybody's game. Anyways, good post, good content Jang.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Do you have any tips on how to make a custom lego city for the first time

    ReplyDelete
  13. As stated above the premise is indeed wrong because neither price/piece nor price/weight are good ways to determine value.
    The only good way is to compare price per average type of piece.
    Check out Brickpickers page or youtube channel to see how that works.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Great answer Jang! Pricing in Lego is based on the cost of hiring amazing designers, intricacy of the elements and their color (whether rare or not, and also how tough to manufacture), popularity of a set or theme, and the licensing costs. And much of value is subjective. As a super-fan of the Pick And Build Wall, I spend most of my Lego money on individual bricks, elements and figures. I don't have room to display all my Lego at once (so envious of Jang!) so am happy to pay for Lego quality rather than bricks in quantity. The tolerances for variation/error in Lego are microscopic, guaranteeing great clutch power for decades, which will never be cheap, and shouldn't be. The people who design Lego are talented artisans. I want them to be well-paid. And regardless of price, some Lego bricks are hard to get; I wish we could buy many more colors of window frames and doors as individual elements; they are expensive but worth it to me.

    ReplyDelete