Is LEGO getting more expensive?

Posted by ,

'LEGO is really expensive nowadays'. 'LEGO used to be much cheaper when I was a kid'. 'Licensed LEGO sets cost a fortune'

How many times have you heard people make such comments, or even made them yourself?

When looking at the price of current sets it's easy to see why people think they are expensive and cost more than ever. But is that actually the case?

Andrew Sielen wondered the same so set out to find out if there is any truth in it. He extracted information on pieces and prices from Brickset, then analysed it and wrote a very interesting article on his findings. The article, The Price of a Brick, considers the price per brick, the average price of sets, the number of pieces in sets, and so on, over time, and draws conclusions that might surprise you. As well as the hard facts and calculations, he also considers why there is a perception that it's expensive these days.

It's an excellent thought-provoking article. Read it, then let us know what you think, either in the comments here, at the source article, or in the forum, where the article was first brought to my attention.

39 comments on this article

Gravatar
By in Australia,

Our simple answer is that there very few toys that are exactly as functional today as they were when you first played with them 30 (or more) years ago. It's a quality product, made by a quality company.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Articles like this are why I enjoy being a part of the "Lego community." Thoughtful numbers driven people. I find the articles points very convincing in that the price of Lego is not increasing and rather has become more stable in recent years.

Gravatar
By in United States,

It is a good article, but some of what we are also forgetting is that the price-per-piece ratio is not technically correct: the cost to make a 1x1 brick will be less than say, a 2x8. Not every piece in a set has the same amount of worth. Also, in a set such as the rancor pit especially, lego will charge a lot more for rare minifigs and pieces to bring a set's price up to a different amount (although liscened, it has 380 pieces and is selling for $60, to me outrageous, but thats the extra cost from larger pieces).

Gravatar
By in Sweden,

Great article.

I actually don't think LEGO is that expensive considering what you get (bricks that can be rearranged in infinite ways to become anything you imagine), especially if you take a moment and walk around your local toy shop and look at other toys and what they cost, or just consider how much other hobbies cost.

The problem isn't that LEGO is expensive, the problem is that we're basically addicts who can't control ourselves and often spend more than we should.

Gravatar
By in Canada,

Great article. Love the facts that he actually touched on price per gram too, which is always the go-to backup excuse people will go too when you try to say that price per brick is pretty stable.

Gravatar
By in Canada,

@DietrichEvanFilms I was thinking the same thing, but in the article the author references the stability of the price/weight over the years as well, which takes into consideration (at least in part) the cost of the plastic for the large items like Dinosaurs, Trolls, Goblin Kings and Rancors in relation to purely a price:piece_count ratio.

It was an interesting and eyeopening read but unfortunately not very helpful in that it only rationalizes that I should not feel so bad about buying so much of something when the price has NOT in fact skyrocketed but stabilized. :)

Gravatar
By in Canada,

Until coming back to LEGO eighteen or so months ago, I chose to spend most of my toy money on Transformers. Still one of my favorite 'things', I've spent thousands without problem over a couple of decades. I think LEGO is generally a better value. With oil prices and other charges, Transformers have gone up but the general quality control and size has gone down a bit. It doesn't horribly offend me but when I compare a thirty dollar Transformer to a thirty dollar LEGO set, the quality of plastic, QC, and overall value in terms of how much plastic junk you get + overall play value is better. Some of that is perceived value, of course; pick your poison.

I've bought some big LEGO sets. There are some I do think are too expensive, like Jabba's Palace, but a huge expensive set like Diagon Alley is pretty special.

Gravatar
By in United States,

@ToadTorrent, yes, I went back and saw that too

Gravatar
By in United States,

Loved the article. Yes, to see the "problem" with Lego prices, I simply compare my collection of my childhood with my collection of today... and it's probably 10 times the size it used to be! Problem is, that expansion was almost all on my dime instead of my parents!

If anything, my biggest complaint is that Lego releases so many new sets (as shown in the data) and they've been making each set have unique minifigs so that if you want the minifigs, you either pay a fortune for them secondhand or have to buy all the sets (I'm looking at YOU Lego Hobbit!!!!). In the "good old days", most minifigs were fairly generic, so you bought the set because the set was good, not because it had a certain minifig.

Gravatar
By in Czech Republic,

This is very interesting article, I was more than happy to read it. The author obviously has an experience with writing similar studies. However, I see one problem - US Dollars were used as the currency. I would like to see this study covering the European market and its inflation - because the prices in Europe and US are different (just visit the lego.com and change the region to see the trends in price).

When I was working in US for some time, I realised that the Lego was relatively much cheaper compared to my US salary than here in Europe (e.g. Czech Republic and Norway). Moreover, here in Norway, the licensed sets are considerably more expensive then the regular ones-that for sure.

Any opinions about that?

Gravatar
By in United States,

Well, I renembered the time when I got a Canadian magazine instead of an US one her in PR, the price difference was like $20.00 or more in difference.

Gravatar
By in United States,

"The problem isn't that LEGO is expensive, the problem is that we're basically addicts who can't control ourselves and often spend more than we should." ~Graysmith (above)

I'll second this. I've lost count of the number of 'discussions' with my wife over the LEGO Group taking over our basement...

I refuse to admit the number of times I've gone to eBay and Bricklink 'just to have a look' or 'to research a future purchase', only to end up on a first name basis with the UPS, FedEx and USPS delivery folk a couple days later (and for weeks after that)...

And this coming from a man who is utterly anal and fantical about his retirement account...

Gravatar
By in United States,

I also have to second Graysmith's closing statement as I am sure many of us here would. And lovaquero we are all fanatical about retirement are we not? That is why we continue to buy lego. I predict after the apocalypse lego bricks will be the only form of money trade. So my excuse to my wife is I am just saving up so we can afford to live after the apocalypse. LOL !
I read the entire article and that would be great data for Lego to publicize to help justify costs. But I have to agree with one commentor that noted the size of the brick should be taken into account. Lego I think uses that at there advantage when you try justifying cost based on piece count. The castles of the early 80's i would venture to speculate had very few smaller bricks as compared to the 1x1's we get today.
I do like the variety of minifigs so I don't have the same characters over and over despite the set i purchase.

Gravatar
By in Ireland,

I'd say that in real terms its actually getting cheaper here. Definitely since the 1990s anyway.

The mid 1990s harbour set was £50 IEP - so €63 euro. Equivalent one two years ago was €69 from memory; sets of that size are at most €80 usually. 63 to 80 is a lot lower than the inflation rate.

Gravatar
By in Bolivia,

I think there should have been an upper piece cap. A big difference since the 1980s is the ultra large sets like the Death Star. In comparison older large sets were mostly composed of rail tracks and costed more than 150 USD. I don’t know…

What makes LEGO sets seem more expensive now is that the effective piece count seems lower. I remember that in the 80s, each set was full of bricks that were not overtly specialized only to that set. So they were useful for more things. Now the sets usually come with less bricks and plates (things that could be useful everywhere) and bring more things like minifigure accessories, flick fire missiles and other things that are not that useful. Although I think that everything was far worse in the late 1990s/Early 2000s than it is now.

The perception of the average joe is probably affected by how difficult it actually is to find buckets full of bricks in the toy stores than it was before. Most retailers bring only licensed sets and some few evergreens. If you are lucky they might have Creator, but buckets are increasingly harder to find. And of course, LEGO invests no advertisement on the buckets.

Gravatar
By in Canada,

A lot of talk about price per piece and weight of the pieces, though valid; but there is one more aspect that goes into the cost of every normal set. The cost of printing the instructions and the box; Lego could cheap out here but in my opinion they do not (I'm glad for smaller box sizes but think there is still lots of wasted space). With the (extra) large sets the instructions are literally books and if you look at books of the same size at a book store some of these would probably run $50 alone. I own some of the Star Wars UCS sets and 200-300 page book isn't cheap to print. Only wish Lego would have all instructions come with cardboard backing to stop from having bent/crumpled instructions...or dare I dream hardcovers (yes I know more cost).

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

I'm at work and haven't had time to read through the entire article. What I did read, I thoroughly enjoyed. It seems to be a thorough analysis.

However, I've got a quibble. The author should be controlling for median discretionary income instead of inflation. If you want to gauge how expensive something is, you need to compare it to how much people can afford to spend, not on the level of prices. You would imagine they would match, but very often they don't.

Gravatar
By in United States,

I'll come out and be blunt. I think the article is badly thought out, and has a very limited view just to draw the conclusion you were looking for.

Price per piece means nothing when different pieces cost different amounts to make and it's not just based on size. We now have stickers today when we used to get printed pieces, is but one example.

More and more pieces are made in China, and the ones that are not still have quality issues. LEGO quality has gone down the drain, it's not MegaBloks levels, but it's still not Lego levels of 15 years ago. Colors don't match, pieces don't always ft smoothly anymore.

So it's not a "Are they more expensive?", it's more "The price points keep raising and the quality keeps going down".

But it's also the price of sets just don't make sense. How can a license Super Hero helicopter set that contains three exclusive mini figures be half the price of a $40 City fire helicopter set that only has 30 more pieces and less mini figures? Or the City police crack house have hundreds of pieces less than a Spiderman set of the same price? Or the fire car being $12 and 80 pieces and the NinjaGo mech have 106 pieces and cost $10. For $8 more I can get a fire truck with 130 more pieces.

Gravatar
By in France,

Prices increase, but the parts quality has incredibly dropped since a bunch of years

Gravatar
By in United Kingdom,

I think it's quite a flawed analysis mostly because it uses just American prices, now if it was titled 'Is Lego more expensive in the US' I think it has merit.

However I just laughed at ‘licensed sets do not carry a premium’ 75003 A-Wing £24.99 177 parts compared to Highway Speedster 31006 £14.99 286 parts. And I’m sure I could go on.

Gravatar
By in United States,

Thank you all for the comments, I welcome the feedback and ideas for further evaluation.

@ The Green Brick Giant,

Thank you for your comments.

This evaluation was strictly to see what he data says about price per piece. Quality issues are a lot less tangible and harder to evaluate (although I did mention them as a potential reason why the prices have leveled)

I agree the licensed sets do seem to carry a premium. However on average, they do not. One example I listed in the piece was with the Castles. The Harry Potter Castles are roughly the same price as the non-licensed Castles. For the smaller sets, there definitely is a difference but for the larger ones the difference is minor.

I am looking for ideas for a followup. Perhaps next I can evaluate the prices theme by theme.

@ Cardinal Brick
You are correct that this is just American Prices. The only other prices that I easily have access to are UK prices. Perhaps I will do that evaluation next.

I was surprised by the licensed sets result. I was expecting more of a premium for licensing. From what I can tell it has to do with size. The larger licensed sets negate the price difference of the smaller ones. I will have to look into it further. Also when looking at non-licensed sets, you can't just look at City for comparison. Ninjago and the new Chima also run more expensive than the city sets. As do Friends etc. City is one of the most affordable series.

Gravatar
By in New Zealand,

Have to agree with Cardinal Brick - in New Zealand we pay on average 40-45% more for every set than US customers do. The prices here have gotten more expensive as our exchange rate has come closer to the US exchange rate.

When your exchange rate is 60-70% stronger than it was ten years ago but Lego still charge you 2x the USD amount over that whole period it feels like they don't really care about your market at all.

Over here, the hardcore fans simply wait for retail sales or import via eBay - the irony is that Lego would be guaranteed to have higher sales if they reflected the exchange rate changes more fairly.

Having said that, I love Lego, and still buy as much as I can - its just out of reach of a lot of kids over here as a result of Lego's international pricing schemes, which seems to be against what Lego really stands for.

Gravatar
By in United States,

I'd like to see companion research outside of the single current of just the US Dollar. For example the Euro, Canadian Dollar, British Pound and Australian Dollar. There seems to be an anecdotal skew that other currencies experience a massive price differential compared the US Dollar, but I would like to see if the actual data confirms or denies this conjecture.

Gravatar
By in Belgium,

Licensed sets definately carry a premium everywhere but in the usa. In my opinion a very discriminating thing to do from lego. As I could possibly tolerate high prices when it is actually valued at that, but when it's sold somewhere else for way less, it makes me feel ripped off and i won't buy it.
For example, superman vs lex luthor : 20 dollars in US , 40 dollars here in belgium. If we had the american price, i would've bought it. Now not a chance. and these sets don't come on sale either cause it feels like there are only like 50 sets or so delivered to all the shops in the country combined.

Gravatar
By in France,

Well that's may be true for the US but not here in Europe. And let's not talk about the Australian prices...

Gravatar
By in New Zealand,

The whole thing that irks me with the massive exchange rate discrepancies in Lego's pricing is that its not the AFOL's who get impacted by it, but the kids who miss out on getting a lot of sets because they are simply too expensive for their parents to afford.

I understand that there is the whole volume thing that the US has in its advantage, but surely if Lego had more comparable foreign prices their volume in those markets would increase also?

Gravatar
By in United States,

Great article but it sidesteps the deliberate price fixing that LEGO place on the Oz/NZ market. They are hell bent to maintain the rip off with retailers overseas threatened with losing stock availability if they ship US stock here.

$700 + $80 shipping for a death star as opposed to $399 shipped?

Disgusting fleecing and they want to maintain it as long as they can.

Gravatar
By in Australia,

I bought a suitcase in NY last year and filled it with LEGO, saved at least $1,000 compared to Australian pricing. For larger sets its cheaper for us to import from the UK, HK, US or Euroland than buy locally. Smaller sets however are generally cheaper to get locally when there are sales as the postage (particuarly from the US) erodes any other savings. Most annoying thing is not getting access to promo items like most polybags.

Gravatar
By in Australia,

Well I came here to counter argue its not taking into consideration prices outside of US. Especially the prices here in Australia!!! It is ridiculous, we pay nearly double the amount. I think someone really needs to do the same thing here for overseas countries really.

Apart from that, great to see people actually looking into it! (And I liked the Community reference in the article too!)

Gravatar
By in United States,

I think another factor that should be considered when seeing that the average price per piece has fallen since the 80's and 90's is that Lego hardly includes expensive baseplates in their sets anymore. Look at all the old sets in the 80's and 90's with baseplates and you'll see the price/part ratio is usually way off. For example, 6988 Alpha Centauri Outpost from 1991 was $80 and just over 400 pieces for a ratio of nearly 20 cents a piece. These large moulds were expensive to make back when Lego wasn't as efficient at creating new elements, and they also made the sets appear much larger than they actually were in terms of piece count. This allows them to raise the price significantly, although back then we might have hardly noticed the difference since the sets did indeed appear larger than they actually were.

That kind of baseplate puffery doesn't really happen anymore, causing us to look more thoroughly at price/part ratios and less at the old "eye test" we used as kids.

Gravatar
By in Netherlands,

@flyguy, that is another point altogether. I'm sure you could make the same graphs based on Australian prices and draw the same conclusion, albeit with higher overall prices.

As Glen (CEO Lego Australia) told us last Friday: this situation will not change for the better for us. If anything Lego is more interested to stop grey imports directly (block certain purchases) rather than indirectly (lowering local prices). Reality is: AU/NZ market is small an very far away from everywhere.

China is a different story, there is a massive market there, in the middle of the world and prices are even more obscene there than they are over here. That's due to the Chinese government though.

Gravatar
By in United States,

About the quality - thats arguable from my perspective. I have quite a few peices from 1990 sets that are broken. 80% of the arm links I have from the aquazone series are broken. Many of the hinges built during the late 80's and early 90's are broken as well. While it's to be expected (they get used quite often compared to other bricks) I dont have many pieces broken yet. As the original author mentioned, only time will tell if the new peices will break as often or not.

Gravatar
By in Canada,

If you look at the "army builder" star wars sets, those prices have increased from something like 12.86 to now over $15 for the new 2013 ones.

That is a change I have noticed myself. Sure, these new ones have new molds for helmets and printings on the bodies, but is that the cause of the price increases?

Gravatar
By in United States,

@branko the tighter they squeeze the more slips through their fingers and only makes us more determined and vocal. Good luck to them if that is their customer strategy.

Gravatar
By in United States,

I think the real reason they seem to cost more is the fact I am buying them and not my parents. Another reason is that I have my sets and my son has his. Thank goodness he receives them as gifts for birthday and Christmas. The other "high" cost is because I am hooked on buying the collectible minifigures and they are almost the highest price for piece. I think only the keychains are higher. Fun article to read though!

Gravatar
By in Germany,

It's an interesting read but contains some problems. First, as said before, if very little sets have been taken out, very bug ones (Taj Mahal, SW UCS etc.) shouldn't be considered as well. Second, the price per piece ratio is, as we all know, the roughest possible method to compare sets. We all have endless examples where this doesn't count (Technic sets with endless little pieces, boat pieces, Rancor etc. etc.) and know too well that you cannot base an entire in-depth analysis on that. It just does not work like this. Give me 2 random sets as example and I come up with 10 different reasons why these can't be compared price/piece-ratio-wise. Third, don't get me wrong, I understand that USD is the currency of this planet, as English is our language. I'm not even writing in my mother language. But in Europe things are a little different with the prices for sets, and not only due to our ECU-currency, as my pals from UK and Denmark etc. will agree on. I live in Europe and I pay prices here. Forth, the author seems to generalize experiences from his own life, childhood, income etc. onto a general perception. This doesn't work. I understand this is his opinion and a possible solution of describing a general perception, rather than given facts, but still, I cannot sign his ideas he has. This leads straight to Fifth, income situation. The author doesn't even scratch the possibility that we might not have the exact same disposable income than in the past decades. I don't think it is still as easy as 30 years ago to raise kids, pay the big city apartment rents, go on vacation, rely on rent insurance and buy a house, all this from one income - what was at that time somehow possible. I don't think it is today.

Gravatar
By in Brazil,

Well, in Brazil, it's getting more expensive. In early 90's, my father would buy me a 350 pieces set for the equivalent of nowadays $25. Today, I buy for the equivalent of $85. It's a good article, but considering only some local realities, not the worldwide reality of Lego prices, I guess.

Gravatar
By in United States,

asielen - A most excellent article addressing a topic that is on the minds of all. Many people may criticize that your article is flawed since it does not contain data on non-US prices or includes large sets, etc. It's true, the pretty baseplates are no longer used and the molds have changed. It's true some pay high premiums for certain sets.

However, I am an engineer and moved by figures, numbers, and facts. You produced convincing figures with the data that is available to everyone. It included the $/piece and $/gram citing examples. If anyone disagrees with your data, they should produce data of their own, not just complaints.

Excellent article.
That's my humble opinion.

Gravatar
By in United States,

I thoroughly enjoyed the article. I like looking at statistics, and found the tables and graphs most interesting. Thanks for the article, Andrew Sielen. :)

I really don't know if they've gone up in price long-term. I'm pretty sure they've gone up in price in the last 5-10 years, as I look back at my old, worn catalogs and wish I could buy those sets for their original retail value. But I do think that compared to sets from 1980-90, recent LEGO sets are cheaper. That's based on price-per-piece ratio, which, as pointed out, is not so accurate due to the variations in the sizes of the bricks, but looking at what you got 5 years ago and what you could get thirty years ago for the same money, the recent set looks more impressive. Of course, there was the inflation since then, which certainly counts for something. LEGO sets are different than they were back then, though. In the last 15 years or so, many models have become a lot more detail-oriented than playset-oriented, with the introduction of bricks like the 1x1 cheese slope. Molds have changed, sets have evolved, LEGO is doing things a little differently. But LEGO is still LEGO. I've really enjoyed some of the recent sets, and look forward to seeing what LEGO will do next! :)

Commenting has ended on this article.

Return to home page »