May 11, 2001TO SHOUT, OR NOT TO SHOUT...
THAT IS THE QUESTION?!
An interesting situation developed shortly upon my return from CHILLER, and the same problem popped it's head later on at the end of the week.
It's a problem not only faced by Kit producers, but by webmasters of modeling sites, and store owners alike.
You have a kit you want to sell, or showcase on your site, but you don't want the wrong people seeing it and getting the producer or shop owner slapped with a C&D.
Now you can play it somewhat safe and rely only on selling it at shows, but the potential of not selling the kits to those who don't attend them costs you both sales and profits. This became very evident when I posted photo's of the new Animated Batman kit. My e-mail box instantly filled with requests of where to find this kit, and who made it!!?
The producers who molded and casted this great piece asked to remain anonymous and I respect those wishes, and since the number of castings, to date, are just enough for the next two upcoming events they're hoping to sell all of them there. But if the email I've received is any indication, there's a lot of folks out there that want this kit, and the price they're selling it for is extremely reasonable. I really think they have a winner on their hands. Only problem is, many of the folks who emailed me aren't attending the next two modeling events.
So now what? If they accept email sales, at some point their name has to come out in the process. You have to give these people a name for the check or money order, and an address to send it to! Sure, many of the emails I've received (and forwarded, btw, to the producers) are known to both of us, and in those cases there shouldn't be any problems giving those folks the required information in order to complete the transaction.
But there were a couple e-mails I received where I didn't know who they were. Their names weren't familiar 'handles' on the many modeling forums. To be 100% paranoid, each one of these unknowns could be working for Warner Brothers, or even DC Comics. Hell, they could conceivably be connected with DC Direct and feel they're being undermined by these upstarts who don't go the extra length to obtain licenses.*
The other situation, funny enough, also concerned three more new Batman kits. The Blow Back kit out of Japan, the new 24" Val Kilmer kit from Demented Resin, and the new Adam West 'BatPole' piece from IDC. This time the person selling or wanting to sell these kits was a shop owner. Problem was, he heard of other shops that had run-ins with Warner Brothers, and is basically shy of advertising these kits on his own Store website.
In this regard, I felt I could help simply because I regard my site as an announcement and model kit display gathering place for a group of like-minded individuals. Numerous times in the past, through my 'New Release' pages, I've gotten e-mails asking where they can get particular kits and I've been happy to connect them with the producers or a store front.
The role I've played up to this time has been one of traffic directing. It was still up to the producer or shop owner, upon receiving an e-mail from the folks I directed their way, to decide on whether to respond to them and attempt to make a sale, or simply delete the e-mail and be safe. And I can't help wondering if there's a safer way?!
About two shows ago, when the recast debate was in full swing (no, not that time...the time before the last one that happened way back then before this most recent one...you know!), about seven or eight of us were taking a much needed break in the lobby area of the hotel and discussed the idea of setting up 'middle men'. Where Buyer talks to Middle Man (MM) who then talks to Seller. Seller informs MM that the kit is in stock, MM goes back to Buyer with the total price. Buyer sends MM payment, MM receives payment, tells Seller to send said kit and when Buyer tells MM kit has arrived, only then does payment get passed to the Seller.
If the Seller doesn't put a return address label on the package, his name is never known and he's pretty safe. Middle Man cashes the check or Money Order, gets a new one drafted up in the Sellers name and Wa-La. Middle Man isn't actually selling the kit, per se, since he has nothing to do with said kit. Sounded good anyways!
Fact is, there's a LOT of problems with this plan when you analyze it thoroughly. For one, if the Buyer doesn't know either the Middle Man or the Seller personally, like many of us do, you're asking the Buyer to have a whole heap of trust. He's giving money, not to the guy selling him the product, but some third link in the chain. If he never receives the kit, he can't actually go back to the Seller now can he? And it's also a risky business for the Middle Man. If the Seller has a habit of taking his sweet time getting down to the post office, the poor Middle Man is going to be receiving a bunch of mail and possibly phone calls, asking where in hell his kit is! Reputations can quickly go down the shitter, and as we ALL know, reputations, once destroyed in this hobby can never redeem themselves!
And what happens if the kit isn't satisfactory and the Buyer has a complaint? Or parts are missing, or the 1001 other things that consumers aren't happy about? Overall, the 'Middle Man' plan really wouldn't work. (and personally, not being a lawyer, I'm not that convinced that the Middle Man isn't blameless in the sale, as far as the law is concerned! The poor old MM might just be the one sued or C&D'd, while the Seller simply waves as you go by on the way to the courthouse!)
So...is there a safer way to keep the Seller from receiving a C&D? Could we require referrals? Could someone whose name is unknown be able to, say, list two people we do know? The problem here is that many of the people I 'know' in this hobby, I only know via the internet! Would I be willing to verify John Doe to a Seller who IS a good friend of mine, simply on the basis that I've seen his posts on some modeling forum for the last three months? Even the close friends I've meet face to face many times aren't that well KNOWN to me! Other than their involvement in the same hobby I am, I usually have no idea what they do for a living, or who they work for. They could very well be Warner Brothers or Disney lawyers, for all I know and I'd be just as surprised to learn of that as the next guy! So referrals aren't the answer either!
Maybe I just have to resign myself to the realization that there ISN'T a fool-proof way to produce and sell kits. That the simple fact that they're unlicensed property and therefore, a chance that a C&D could be in the wings is basically the chance they take when they get into this hobby of ours.
Maybe it's just the luck of the cards, after all!!
Feel free to drop me an e-mail and tell my your thoughts!
[* ...and no, don't go there, because personnally it doesn't bother me, so you'd just be wasting your breath.]