The news that the LEGO Group is releasing a straight up re-release of the original Taj Mahal begs the question of whether sky high aftermarket prices are in the company’s crosshairs
There were three legs on which the allure of the LEGO aftermarket was built – early modular buildings like 10182 Cafe Corner, 10179 UCS Millennium Falcon and 10189 Taj Mahal. The first of those is a group of sets from a now beloved and highly sought after product line, with the big ticket items the earliest releases that many missed. The second is the most expensive set ever produced and a cinema icon. The third was until recently the set with the highest piece count. Read any clickbait article about LEGO sets being more profitable than gold or your childhood toys being worth a fortune, and what they really mean is that these particular sets were more profitable than gold. In the last three months the LEGO Group has kicked two of those three legs right out from under the stool, and it has got to be feeling a bit wobbly.
Those sets are not alone. Remakes of popular sets like the Death Star, VW Beetle, Red 5 X-wing, carousel and UCS Snowspeeder have seemed to take direct aim at the reselling market. While an argument can be made that some of these re-releases make sense – it had after all been over a decade since a UCS X-Wing or Snowspeeder had graced shelves – the ‘resurrection’, as the LEGO Group is calling it, of first the Taj Mahal and the rumoured return of the UCS Super Star Destroyer seem to be taking the re-releases to another level. I saw postings on eBay as recently as a week ago for sealed copies of 10189 Taj Mahal going for over $2000 USD. They are now probably worth exactly $370 USD. This might be a slight exaggeration but illustrates the point.
There are two likely scenarios. The first is somewhat benign, the second may seem more malicious. This could be a case of the LEGO Group using the aftermarket as free consumer research. Sets which can command such astronomical pricing years after the original release, in both new and used condition, suggests a market ready for more of that product. Searching eBay listings has got to be the cheapest market research around.
As anyone who has resold LEGO sets knows, you are very likely to get a distinctly frosty reception from your local LEGO Store employees once they figure out why you are buying the products. They will not be mean, but they will be curt and strict with the rules. This always confused me a bit back during my reselling days. Why does the LEGO Group care who buys their products as long as they sell them? It could be that sets constantly being sold out leads to frustration and that is not an emotion companies want associated with their brand. Ask anyone who has tried to score a 21309 Saturn V or 75192 Millennium Falcon in the last three months and they will likely be a bit peeved with the LEGO Group at a minimum. Perhaps combating that sentiment is the goal.
Alternatively it could be that a burgeoning aftermarket impacts the company’s profit. If there is a demand capable of sustaining such high prices then it likely means there are more people who would be willing to purchase a set at its MSRP. That is money directly out of the LEGO Group’s pocket going to resellers instead. That seem like the second possible reason for these re-releases – rather than have fans spend a few thousand dollars with resellers, the LEGO Group re-releases the relevant sets and then gets to see the majority of that money spent on sets in the current range instead.
It will be interesting to see if this trend continues and whether or not it impacts the aftermarket. I know of folks who have gotten burned by these recent trends – tales of resellers who stocked away 50 original 10188 Death Star sets only to have an improved version released six months later rendering their entire investment a loss. Presumably people who held onto original Taj Mahal or Falcon sets are in the same boat now. It seems like such experiences will send a chill through the aftermarket, and make investment choices get even trickier.