Saturday, December 24, 2011

You knew I was building towards one of my long-winded rants, right ?

Current Mood : Strap in, guys - I'm loquacious !

Learned something interesting today. 'My Favorite Doll', a long-time mail-order doll seller before online ordering changed the way we buy toys, is no longer carrying Barbie. Seriously. Even if you never ordered from MFD, you saw their ads in doll magazines, I promise you. They almost always had a full or half-page in Barbie Bazaar, and I thought they got the National Convention 'Barbie's Best Friend' award, but I can't find evidence of it, so probably not.

They're actually based in Canada, with a good rep and closeness to Mattel Canada...which, for some reason, stopped carrying the full Barbie catalog about three years ago. MFD was supplementing with outside contacts, but they're either tired of it, their source is out of the circuit, or it's simply too expensive these days, so MFD's out of the current Collector Barbie game, and sale-selling what they got left. 

They started with vintage Barbie, so they're keeping that, though. Can't say I blame 'em - the 'previously loved' game is probably more stable than the current Collector one ! Here's a direct quote off their site, "This is a sad decision, but a definite sign of the times as to how Mattel is managing the Collector business." Is it just me, or is that a definite 'oh, snap'  to anyone else ?

To be honest, I'm kinda surprised it's taken this long. While Barbie is Mattel's flagship, they seem determined to steer it into an iceberg. When a doll comes out with much fanfare as a super-rare ultra-dilithium gift set at $130., then ends up at sales outlets like Tuesday Morning six months later for $30., you're not making many friends. When distribution is still screwed up after over sixty years in business to the point where I never saw most of the Fashion Avenue outfits and still have trouble finding new items, due to unstated 'specials' to some retailers (and didn't you get fined for that in the late 80s ? I'm lookin' at you, TRU and Mattel !), and other little tricks, you have to wonder what drunk monkey is in charge.  

While it's been outta the frying pan and into the fire with Monster High, I ended up with MH because Barbie'd simply become too annoying. And boring.  I thought we (Mattel and us adults) were headed in the right direction - less fantasy princess, more real person. Furniture that wasn't pink. Houses you could display your dolls in without cringing. Clothes that looked like something an actual person might truly wear and feel attractive in...not 'print on one side only' cheap cop-outs and 'polyester princess' continuing waaaay past the time when double-knits were cool.

But, no, tour down a Barbie aisle these days. It's half the size - if not less - than it was, because no one cares. It's back to pink princess everything, and when Doll A looks just like Doll C except for the clothes, why bother ? The collector stuff still uses cheap bodies and crap fabrics, and you're either swimming in them (waiting for markdowns) or you're trawling eBay because they've never been seen in your state. Even kids don't care anymore, they're jaded because there hasn't been anything truly new in ages. All their dolls and all their clothes look alike - and parents aren't as willing to buy more of the same in a tougher economy. Except possibly real divergences like Monster High, which is so far removed from Barbie, they can't even wear the same clothes.

That was something I couldn't figure out last year. Why exactly were MH dolls so different ? Mattel could have just used green ingredients in an older head mold on a standard Barbie body and probably got some interest. I've actually heard parents complain that DracuLaura can't wear Barbie clothes, but MH can barely be found this Christmas, while Babs is gathering dust. At first, I thought that Mattel was, once again, protecting their flagship - if MH bombed, they had no connection at all to Barbie, so it was less of a loss. Kind of like when they changed My Scene Barbie's name to Kennedy, they could cut the whole line loose if sales didn't improve, and the Barbie name would carry on, unconnected to the failed experiment.

Now I think MH was different for a reason beyond that. I still think it was part of it, but not all. I think the people in charge of the project knew this line had to be completely different, or it'd be met with yawns. "Oh," the toy-buying public would sigh, "Freaky Barbie", and move along to something unique. In some ways, MH is reflective of new trends in toys and dolls - articulation is changing and scale is evolving while the latest thing in Barbie - Stardolls - have actually gone backwards. If my information is correct, Stardolls are only jointed at the neck and shoulders. I gotta take someone else's word for it because, thanks to those fun distribution issues again, I've never seen one. I have it on good authority (Hi, Parareality !) that MH dolls fit their shoes, so that's about all I'd want one for - to accessory steal for dolls I like better ! Pretty sad, when you think about it.

I know Mattel says they're having record sales in Barbie this year. I remember one year they cooked the books to say that, too...but I think they learned their lesson on that one. All I know is, as MH looks forward to its third year, the dolls are as hard - if not harder - to find than ever. Barbie aisles are still packed and faced, with some items overstocked. Some days, I have to wait to get into the MH section - it's fulla people, while the baby and regular fashion doll aisles could host cricket conventions.

I just don't know. It may be that Barbie Collectables - something I rarely bought anyway - has lost so much in sales to Tonner, Fashion Royalty, and a cruddy economy, that they're just not interested anymore. I wonder if they'll still be around for more than a dozen dolls in ten years.

But ya'll know me, I've always held that collector dolls are about as useful as Kleenex raincoats - I wanna play and create and enjoy in a way that doesn't include a perfect box.

I'm the 99%. I'm Playline.


  1. I completely agree with you, Barbie for the past few years has been boring as all get out. I was trying to think of the last time any Barbie line seemed actually interesting. For me, that was the Generation Girl line back in 2001. After that failed it feels like Mattel gave up and started churning out pink Princess after pink Princess. I just wish Mattel would take just a small amount of the creativity of the Monster High line and apply it to Barbie.
    But I really do fear that she's a dying brand. Mattel insisted on giving her this perfect "Mary Sue" personality and it's really limited who she can be, especially in children's imaginations. I wish they would get some really creatively driven people who would break her free from the slump she's been in. Otherwise I think she's going to be keep being less and less relevant in today's toy market.

  2. I braved the store to see if CA Cupid was in, and the doll aisle looks like a tornado went through. There's nothing MH left, two or three Bratz, and Barbie's stock is almost completely gone as well. Weirdly enough, no other aisle in the toys section was like that.

    I think the thing that's so attractive about MH is that you can really see how much creative thought goes into each doll. With Barbie, an outfit is "something pink, with lots of glitter". (My gripe with glitter is huge) And yeah, like you say, the "dress print" is only on one side. The shoes are probably recasts of recasts, and the headmolds only seem to change subtlely every 20 or 30 years. With MH, an outfit is themed down to the buttons, and that makes it feel more, imo, "real" and desirable.

  3. One mistake Mattel has made was not making the Stardolls articulated. The faces are great, clothes are nice but the dolls are stiff. No creativity here. They haven't been flying off the shelves this Christmas in my area.

  4. This is fascinating. Can someone provide a link to an article or something that elaborates on Mattel getting fined back in the 80s? I'm very curious as to how that played out.
    I love the Stardolls! It's true that they're about as articulated as a broomstick though.. big mistake, yes. But their faces really do stand out. My mum (a person with no interest in dolls really) had a rare look at my collection today and immediately noted that the sole Stardoll has "character". The others, she said, all look kind of samey.
    I agree with Aubrey, if only someone unafraid to take risks would be put in charge. It's not like baiting the sensationalist press hasn't worked out well before ("TATTOOED BARBIE! WORLD IS ENDING").