Looking at the world from the ground is a lot different than in a hot air balloon. On the ground, you see details, colors, and textures of everything in front of you. In the air, you see what the overall landscape looks like, and all of those small details combine to form a picture of the earth's terrain and landscape that we cannot see from ground level. These overhead views can provide a weath of information about the nature of the area's weather patterns, climate and even its inhabitants.
As illuminating as this aerial study can be for our understanding of the environment we live in, analysis of the Lego product landscape is equally illuminating for Lego investors. With almost the entire 2013 product line either on the market or in the release queue, now is the perfect time to step back and review the 2013 Lego product line in totality to see if we can find any trends or nuggets that may give us a more accurate picture of where Lego's designs have been, and more importantly, where they may be going. Finding trends among this year's sets may help us with current and future investment decisions, so let's jump right into the 2013 trends I've found noteworthy:
The Year of the Remake
In fashion, there's an old saying: "What's new is old, and what's old is new." The same holds true for Lego sets as remakes abound among this year's releases. It seems that 2013 has provided us with more remakes than usual. Of note are the following sets with their predecessor in parentheses:
10240 UCS Red Five X Wing Starfighter (7191 USC X-Wing Fighter)
10937 Arkham Asylum Breakout (7785 Arkham Asylum)
79107 Commache Camp (6746 Chief's Tepee)
79109 Colby City Showdown (6765 Gold City Junction)
79110 Silver Mine Shootout (6761 Bandit's Secret Hideout)
41999 Co-Creation Model 4x4 Crawler Exclusive
60012 Coast Guard 4x4 & Diving Boat (7726 Coast Guard Truck with Speedboat)
60013 Coast Guard Helicopter (7738 Coast Guard Helicopter & Life Raft)
60014 Coast Guard Patrol (7739 Coast Guard Patrol Boat and Tower)
60020 Cargo Truck (7733 Truck and Forklift)
60022 Cargo Terminal (7734 Cargo Plane)
Yet to be announced, but still rumored for 2013 release:
10241 Maersk Container Ship (10155 and 10152 Maersk Container Ship)
60031 City Corner (7641 City Corner)
Not included in this list are all the new Castle sets which are pretty much all rehashes of prior Castle sets. Including these five, there are a whopping eighteen sets in 2013's model line that are rehashed versions of older sets. That's a big number, and I wonder if we'll see this trend continue into 2014 and beyond. While this is pure speculation, this could be one of TLC's prongs of attack in their war on resellers as pushing remakes will devalue the previously released sets. For a comprehensive discussion of this phenomenon, see this article by BP member Grolim linked here.
2013 brought us three new themes: the controversial Legends of Chima, and two new licensed themes: Disney's The Lone Ranger, and Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot (thanks to BP member Mikeur86 for his Lone Ranger Evaluation Corner article). While the investability of these themes have been poked and prodded over the last 6-8 months, it's important to note that while The Lone Ranger and TMNT themes are likely "one and done" themes, Lego has invested heavily in Legends of Chima, so expect to see more Chima sets released in 2014. Expect to see the next wave of Chima released in January 2014.
In addition to the new themes, it appears we have two new collectible themes that may be flying under the radar. Lego has released a new set called 10250 Year of the Snake, an homage to the Chinese Zodiac calendar. This Asia-only release is a really neat set, and indicative of TLC's attempt to crack the East Asian toy market. While Lego has had a strong presence in the Japanese market for years, China's burgeoning population and market potential has caused Lego to build a new factory in China and step up their marketing efforts in this area of the world. Year of the Snake is proof of this. 2014 will likely see a Year of the Horse model as Lego continues its appeal to the Chinese toy and collectible markets.
2013 also saw the seasonal polybag market expand with new seasonal polybags at a higher $8 price point that depicts scenes typical of the seasons with appropriately garbed minifigures. These seasonal polybags and Year of the Snake subthemese appear to be aimed at collectors, so if they take off these first version sets could become valuable.
Redefining the Creator Theme
Lego fans have grown to love the Creator theme for its sets that include instructions for multiple builds, and its model-like sets depicting any number of animals, vehicles, houses, etc. However, this year Lego has introduced an extension to the Creator theme entitled Creator Expert. This appears to be the first subtheme to Creator, and includes four high profile, exclusive sets that kick-off this subtheme with a bang: 10232 Palace Cinema, 10233 Horizon Express, 10234 Sydney Opera House and 10235 Winter Village Market, as well as the Asian exclusive 10250 Year of the Snake. These new exclusives have also helped to expand the Creator theme, from 15 in 2012 to 21 in 2013. Expect this line to continue to grow as the Creator Expert subtheme gets future exclusive models added. I would guess that as sets like VW Camper and Sopwith Camel are retired, their replacements will be added to the Creator Expert subtheme. This additional branding can only help the appeal of these exclusives and lend some structure to the entire Lego product line.
The Year of the Boat
After the announcement of Friends Dolphin Cruiser earlier this year, I began to think there were an incredible number of boats slated for 2013 release. Now that the 2013s are all either on shelves or announced, I've found I was right. Here are 2013's boat offerings of significance:
41015 Friends Dolphin Cruiser
60005 City Fire Boat
10241 Maersk Container Ship (assumed late 2013 released)
60015 Coast Guard Plane
60014 Coast Guard Patrol
70006 Cragger's Command Ship
76000 Arctic Batman vs. Mr. Freeze
76006 Iron Man Extremis Sea Port Battle
79008 Pirate Ship Ambush
This list doesn't include any of the smaller Coast Guard and City boats that were released this year as well as these smalls typically rotate through the product line periodically. In comparison, there were only three substantial boats released in 2012: 3817 Sponge Bob Square Pants Flying Dutchman, 9446 Ninjago Destiny's Bounty, and 9499 Star Wars Gungan Sub. After this boat explosion in 2013, I would guess that TLC will likely go back to 2012 levels for boats. For boat enthusiasts, 2013 will be the year to target for your Lego collection. For Lego investors, don't assume boats will be back with a vengance in 2014.
A new license?
This year, Brickset released the names of new Lego polybags that would be released throughout the year. Among them was one I found very curious: 40200 BMW. A quick look at Brickset's 40200 page shows little information about release dates and locations, but it does show a picture of the polybag itself:
While the polybag model doesn't appear too exciting or cutting edge, the fact that BMW has agreed to a licensing deal (however small) may open future opportunities for large, more iconic BMW licensed vehicles in the future. With BMW's ownership of the Mini brand, this could open up any number of iconic Mini vehicles for TLC to recreate as models. Lego's BMW license has me hoping for some future BMW or Mini vehicle sets for the Creator Expert subtheme to pair with the VW Beetle and Camper.
While there are probably hundreds of smaller trends that have come out of 2013's set lineup, these appear to be the most significant. As we start our descent back to earth, don't forget that for every trend we may think we've found, a surprise from TLC could be waiting around the corner that nullifies today's appearance of a trend. Constant scrutiny of the market will provide us the information we need as investors to make properly informed decisions. As always, invest accordingly.