Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Responses from Brian Savage

Yesterday, I sent Brian Savage of Fun Publications (henceforth referred to as "FP") my "Open Letter." He responded to my e-mail at about noon, and I sent a response, including much of the Action Master suggestion I posted yesterday. He has since responded to that as well. Although he asked that I not quote him verbatim, for fear that his comments be taken out of context, he did give me permission to paraphrase his responses in public.

When I commented that Mr. Savage is perceived as being indifferent or contemptuous of "legitimate concerns," he responded that he has not seen very many concerns he considered legitimate. No doubt he sees many more "illegitimate" comments than I do, and I will grant that I may look at the comments I read on message boards through rose-colored glasses. So I attempted to give him the example of international postage rates, which many international club fans have considered unreasonable. Savage believes that those making such statements have no basis for making them and do not have enough information to know what they are taking about. He also insists that FP has indeed checked on different options. I offered Savage several options, including SAL and EMS, while asking if First Class mail (as opposed to Priority) for USPS shipping was a possibility. Savage specifically responded to my comment regarding First Class mail, but not the international options. As to why FP uses the USPS shipping options they use, which resulted in such oddities as paying over $6 for Priority Mail shipping of a comic book (which actually happened to me), he says that to include coding for the web site that handles all of the myriad of possible shipping options (and includes options for shipping such small items) would cost over $1000, and is simply not viable for the very few such items that are currently sold at the store. Members wishing to explore other shipping options can call a customer service representative (the number is provided at the club store), but automated options are simply not considered a possibility at this time, and while phoning in an order may not be an attractive alternative, at least it is offered.

When asked about the high non-member prices, Savage explained that these were intended to persuade parents shopping for their children to buy the child a club membership. While I had expected the high non-member prices were intended to steer people toward buying a membership, I suggested to Savage that parents would respond to such marketing by going to other stores, rather than by buying the club membership. While Savage concedes that this may or may not be true, he still seems to believe that this strategy is his best option.

He brought up the issue of selling toys in bundles, something I did not even mention, but which has been an issue of concern among many fans. His basic assertion was basically that anything in a bundle was below retail for the same items. He added in the fact that we don't have to pay gas and tax to make this sound like a good deal. Gas and tax are non-issues to me (not that they're totally negligible, but the amount of gas I use and tax I pay just to get toys can't add up to much more than a dollar), and I hadn't really even intended to get into the bundle thing, but since he brought it up, I pointed out that the way that most bundled packages are put together requires that fans buy an older item with a newer one, and that this actually discourages sales. On top of that, most newer toys sold in bundles are not available separately from the club store. I pointed out that if the toys were available in bundles AND separately (say, $25 each or $45 for both), then buyers would clearly see the savings and be more likely to buy. Savage's response amounted to suggesting again that it would be easier if people phoned in their orders, and bringing up the $1000 coding cost for making the web store more versatile again. I'm not sure why that was relevant here, but there you go....

Savage once again pulled out the argument (seen often on the message boards) of listing all the things that club membership provides: 6 club newsletters in full color, 12 issues of Master Collector, up to 12 monthly 30-word ads in Master Collector for free, 6 shipping schedules with pre-order forms (found as an insert in Master Collector), the store discount compared to non-member prices, the discount on BotCon packages, the online forum (coming soon), the additional Club exclusives (also coming soon) and the "freebie" Transformers figure given to members annually.

My responses when he suggested that he thought all that was a lot for $40 (I feel safe in quoting my own side of the conversation):
I don't. The Master Collectors are (as I've already said) totally worthless to me. Transformers fans simply don't use classifieds in that way. We use online message boards. There simply aren't that many Transformers fans who don't have some form of online access. The average age of the Transformers fan is in their 20s. If we don't have computers of our own (which we usually do), we tend to be in college and can access library computers. By extension, the ads (which I have attempted to use on a couple of occasions) are worthless. I have not yet gotten any responses to an ad placed in Master Collector. The shipping schedules don't mean much, because we've already had that information from our other online sources. The discount on store items only brings the cost of the toys back down to about the same (or only slightly lower at best) as other online stores. Those of us who don't/can't go to BotCon (and by almost any definition this has to be a large number of the club membership) can't use the convention discount.

That leaves the 6 full color newsletters (which I do appreciate), the online forum, the club exclusives, and the annual freebie. 2 of these 4 don't yet exist. That said, I think the opportunity to buy club exclusives will, in and of itself, make an enormous difference.
Savage insisted that there are fans who do not have online access who like the ads. I can't outright accuse him of being wrong here, as I don't have contact with fans who aren't online, but I simply don't believe it. The consensus of the online fandom is pretty much universal that Master Collector is a waste of paper (I mean, seriously, I haven't found one fan who has mentioned finding this useful!). And given the average age of the Transformers fan (usually under 30), we're pretty much all able to get online, save for an unfortunate few, who probably can't afford the club in the first place! Savage also notes, however, that Master Collector is the "packaging" by which the postal service can send the TF club magazine, and insists that it would cost FP more to remove it. Whatever. I'll chalk that up to another suggestion he won't consider.

In a comment unrelated to anything I consciously brought up, Savage also talked about the concerns regarding the change in art categories at BotCon. Anything in 3D is considered to them to be in the "diorama" category. While this is simply not how Transformers fans look at these things (and I attempted to clarify by specifying the lack of a background), this basically boils down to a difference in how we define our terms.

Savage also suggested in his first letter that complaints aren't very specific, and that there's not much he can glean from them to improve matters. I've seen this argument before, and think that a lot of fans have been plenty specific, but somehow he doesn't see it. So I took that opportunity to toss out my idea for Action Master exclusives. His response was that one member of the council (a group of well-respected Transformers fans, most with prior convention experience, who serve as advisors to FP) suggested something similar to this already, and another rejected it (Savage's words were far more emphatic, but I agreed not to quote him verbatim....). He commented that what a customizer can do is very different than what FP could economically do (which indicates to me that he didn't really understand my proposal. Perhaps I shouldn't have mentioned www.custommasters.com at all). Basically, the idea was summarily dismissed as "too expensive," which I think is patently ridiculous compared to the exclusives they actually do produce.

Throughout the whole letter, especially in regard to the lack of club exclusives this year, Savage kept repeating how much FP had to do in such a short time this year, implying that we fans couldn't possibly understand what they've been through (he never did respond to my suggestion that FP could have made an extra recolor of one of the BotCon toys while they were having those made). Perhaps, but having worked on publishing a literary magazine once upon a time, and having a fair bit of responsibility for event planning in the past and in my current job, I expect I understand more than he thinks I do. Another phrase repeated several times (both in the replies and often in message board responses, which I feel enables me to use quotes just this once) was "we can't do everything everyone wants," which I'm starting to take as code for "we won't even try to do things that people want if we didn't think of it first," but that may just be me getting bitter.

So there you have it. I've tried to be fair, but yet again, all the suggestions were rejected and I'm left with several indications that I wasn't even heard properly. Ah, well. I'm done with this for now. Time to think about more positive things, like the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. I won't be blogging for a few days in order to visit family and enjoy my time off from work. See you on Monday!

2 comments:

  1. Sigh. No one can say you've not tried man. I guess all we can do is see what happens in the spring when most of the club doesn't renew their membership. Maybe then FP will have to accept that there are problems...

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  2. Indeed. I get the impression that FP is hoping that people will think of this year as "we had a lot of hurtles to overcome, but we'll be up to speed by year two." This isn't entirely unfair, but FP doesn't seem to realize that THIS year was the time to prove to us what they could do, and they've failed miserably.

    As for myself, I wouldn't be renewing, but I still have the year paid for by the 3H settlement, so I'm going to coast along for a bit (only sending more communications as may be necessary to keep my address with them current) and allow them the change to prove they're listening. But they're not getting any more money until they do.

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