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Why do companies produce dolls in limited quantities?

May 2, 2019

    1. While I was trying to arrange to order a doll during it's open period on the site someone asked me this, and I couldn't really answer besides the molds probably eventually wear out?

      It's true that designing a doll takes a lot of work, but after getting say, a quantity of orders and corresponding payment, sending that number of orders and payment off to a caster, shouldn't the orders of that sculpt be available like in a monthly ordering period until the cast wears out? And even then, a new cast of that sculpt can possibly be made from the artist's prototype.

      I'm assuming sanding and assembling are also covered in the price, and I know small studios are in a different position when handling a large amount of orders compared to a large company, but I'm talking about companies with many employees. The only reason I can think of is 1) the artist/company just wants to make a new doll, 2) it's to drive up demand to emphasize the brand of hand crafted eliteness, 3) they legitimately can't handle the amount of orders that would come in on a regular monthly basis.

      Any thoughts? This is just my best guess, and I would like to be able to explain this to people not in the hobby.
      • x 1
    2. In simple terms? Exclusivity sells. Particularly in Japan, where "limited edition" drives sales in everything from cars to candy bars... Volks, for instance, isn't at all unusual in marketing their products that way, and they sort-of set the stage when it comes to modern jointed resin dolls.

      Primates in general seem to be hard-wired to be afraid of missing out on getting something good, and making a product difficult to attain and limited in availability plays right into that urge.
      • x 8
    3. Yeah, I think that's a big part of it, but I was thinking, it might be hard to sell dolls, as such a niche hobby with such a high price (well, SDs at least) so keeping it open all the time makes them go out of business faster, but that doesn't sound right, either. Literally every doll company does this, though, so there's probably a reason in addition to "common practice to manufacture exclusivity." Unless.... are there any doll companies that don't do this?
    4. It's partially because of the demands of production. If you're a company that wants to design beautiful and detailed faceups and outfits for fullset dolls, you have to find a faceup artist and a seamstress to produce those things. One person can only do so much, so they have the artist and seamstress commit to, say, 100 faceups and 100 outfits, which translates into 100 fullsets max. After that, the artist and seamstress have to commit their time to other projects.

      A lot of companies don't have someone on hire just to sew outfits or paint the dolls; these things are outsourced, and thus must be limited.

      I discourage people from throwing around the word "elite" when discussing the limited nature of any artist-made item. The items aren't limited to spite potential customers. They're limited because artists aren't machines that can mass-produce things.
      • x 17
    5. I definitely understand the thing about throwing around the implication "eliteness" about artist products, but I'm not implying malice on the part of bjd companies- both I believe carefully manufacturing a brand is common sense to both stay in business in general and their right in this kind of artish-like hobby. I'm just trying to puzzle out more what's happening with the basic doll store part- from the perspective of a customer who both doesn't know the language/culture of the companies I buy from or the specifics of doll company production. So man, if anybody does know.

      For fullsets and faceups, Limited Edition items make total sense.

      But just your more standard, bare-faced and unclothed basic doll models? Both bodies AND heads are usually limited once every few months, unpredictably, if ever sometimes. That's what I was wondering about specifically. It implies there's a lot of work going on behind the scenes, but I don't understand what could be so unreliable to the point I have to do complicated research to figure out how to buy anything on the site about what appears to be... casting orders.

      This is totally a good faith question.

      Edit: For example, Bluefairy has their basic dolls available on a three month rotation, which makes sense if you want to handle orders in an orderly fashion. I think switch used to do monthly orders, too? Wonder what happened to that, see- why are the models that go available and unavailable (when not limited) so unpredictable? No shade, but it kind of feels like artist fiat, or it's strategic to drive up sales by manufacturing exclusivity. I don't think that's bad, by the way, I just kind of want to know.
      #5 smallricochet, May 2, 2019
      Last edited: May 2, 2019
      • x 1
    6. I see, I recommend finding a thread for casting dolls on the site and asking there, as your question is likely related to that process. I do know that, again, casting often isn't done by the company. It's outsourced, and the casting companies have queues, and the process can be affected by the weather and by the occasional batch hiccup that can sadly cause several month delays for doll companies.

      This means that, because of casting wait times and workload, doll companies must often reduce the number of dolls they have casted. In this case, it can be better to produce fewer items and have a larger profit margin per doll, ergo turning to a limited number of fullsets (fullsets being more expensive because of the extras).

      I also know that maintaining the cast that dolls are made from costs money. If a doll is no longer selling well, it might be more economical to no longer offer it than to continuously maintain the cast (hopefully I'm using the correct word here- should I say mold?).
      • x 1
    7. If a doll is very popular, it can help the company or artist manage their orders appropriately to get a cap on what they’re willing to make. Especially for small teams, it helps to lay out ok, we can manage 30 heads for sale but more than that and we are likely to fall behind. Compared to an open preorder for time, and say getting 100 orders instead (exaggeration for example, companies usually don’t disclose how many have sold if they aren’t capped by quantity so I couldn’t give an accurate figure). Sticking to your stated production time is likely to be affected.

      Finances could be a factor, the budget for boxes, packaging, printed materials, face masks, etc. are likely set beforehand. Ideally things are bought in bulk, so maybe materials come in a case of 30. Why order second cases of 30 if the sales hit say, 32 during a time limited event. That’s 28 more of each of the other items in disuse, stored, and now over budget.

      Different scenario: Harucasting is a common service for a lot of dolls. But he can begin to overbook himself too, so there could be instances where it’s his end saying hey, I can only fit in 30 casts at this time, extra must be booked at a later date. The artist may be ready to offer more, but that’s his limit so the artist must limit.

      Sure molds can wear out but that’s going to be true of any of their basic lines of dolls as well, so I don’t think that’s a huge reason to limit by quantity. And others above already hit on the exclusivity tactic for sales, so I’m not gonna add that myself.
      • x 1
    8. Questions about BJD makers' business practices come up periodically on DoA -- and even though the surface questions are different, the underlying ideas seem to be fairly similar. There's useful information to be gleaned from a couple of the big threads that preceded this one:

      Trying to Understand the BJD Industry

      "Why are BJDs so expensive?"
      • x 2
    9. As an artist, I can attest to option #1. After a certain amount of time, I have zero interest in reprinting/remanufacturing a piece, no matter who does or does not want it. I have new pieces I want to make, maybe I have even developed my work in a new direction. I don’t let my books go out of print to spite people or make them “elite items”, I am simply done with them!

      I honestly think this is reason enough. If an artist or collective of artists (a company) does not want to make the doll any more, then that is enough. Even if I am sad to miss out on something limited, I think what the makers want to do overrides that.
      • x 7
    10. I wonder if it also has something to do with spatial constraints? I know a lot of artists work out of very small spaces, and it might be difficult to keep a large number of moulds around.
      • x 1
    11. Even with non-limited edition items, limiting standard orders to a certain length of time, or to a certain number of orders, is a good way to limit how many active orders need to be filled at any given time. If a company were to have an open order period for something at all times, they could get backed up, causing subsequently placed orders to take longer and longer. This is how we have historically seen Dollshe and Fairyland take many many months (even up to a year or more) to complete some things.

      And even with the biggest companies, I don't think any of them have, say, hundreds of employees or anything. Making a whole doll is still a really time-consuming process, even if someone's using the most efficient methods;
      Making a mold/s of every single part (which can take many hours to fully cure, depending on the kind of material used, and they do need to be re-made if they are damaged or start to fail after so many uses)
      Casting every single part into molds (which again, depending on the kind of material used, can take hours or even days to fully cure)
      De-molding and quality control check (to make sure that every aspect of the cast is successful; like no mis-cast areas, no coloring issues, etc - if there are any big issues, they need to cast another one)
      Cleaning up (like drilling elastic channels, trimming excess resin bits, sanding seams, etc)
      Verifying that an order is all correct and not missing things
      Preparing to package up and ship

      Even if it is a large company, I still don't think even the biggest have hundreds of employees who could bang out one full complete doll in a day. Not to mention the space requirements. Storing prototype dolls, and molds, and all the supplies needed to make and ship a doll take up space, so it could be that perhaps they only have space to use one mold at a time. Every company is going to be different, so each company is going to do things differently.

      But ultimately, it is all about how long an artist or company needs to complete making and prepping an order. Having any kind of preorder period is all about managing a workload, so that an artist/company can successfully fill all orders placed at a rate within their means, which also keeps customers happy.
      • x 4
    12. Agreeing with most of the answers.
      I think the biggest is flow control/order count control. If you only sell certain molds or colors for a certain period each month (Soom’s Monthlies for a long time now and Iple’s My Choice), you’re only worrying about timing these special orders every so often.
      Driving up demand is likely a strong possibility as well. Why leave something unlimited and sell 15 over a few years when you could limit it to a month and drive up the the attention to cap out at 45?
      Lastly, for fullsets or the like, getting materials and crafters to make consistent sets it easier if you cap it to a max number.
      • x 1
    13. Thank you, these responses are really helpful! Esp @Cuteasadoll, I never would have considered! The fact these questions pop up make sense lol, I'll go search for them. But so far, here's what I can theorize, having not asked directly yet, about larger financially established bjd companies and basic, non-limited (unclothed, no face up) dolls specifically:

      The uneven and unpredictable availability of even unlimited dolls is because of the casting process, and how bjds are currently impossible to "mass produce," which seems to be in large part due to the small/niche nature of the hobby and therefore, the niche market of it's manufacturing process- resin casting. I'm guessing right now it's jammed up in availability of casters, limited/fixed capacity of resin casters, unpredictable timesink, and high cost proportional to result.

      1. Irregular order periods because of casting process: Resin-casting is still an non-widespread and small-business process, leading to limited capacity of casters with predictably unpredictable delays (surprisingly maybe the worst delays do to not so much as imperfect batches to recast but more practical consideration of cost per limited batch and timing) and other complications, forcing artists to keep doll orders to a specific number, ie limited per that open period, even for non-limited to on fill the batch of orders to quality par and at (employee, boxing) cost, which in turn would affect when a next order period would be available, (sort of like "We can't tell you when we open orders because we don't know when we can open orders (because casting is giving us trouble).") Also, companies/artists taking into account production/delivery delay and what falling behind would mean for employees doing over-time. Also, probably not as covered by the initial cost paid by the customer. <- this last bit is complete presumption.

      2. Unpredictable availability because artist/company has to pull it: the company/artist just gets sick of an item and wants to work on something new, replace it, or doesn't want to cast it again, even if it's an unlimited sculpt. Fair. Alternatively, it's financially too much of a pain to keep up if nobody is ordering it specifically, so they just ditch it from their available catalog entirely rather than just be unable to fill a minimum order regularly? (also due to niche nature of resin casting) Anyway, there were no promises to keep up every sculpt available to any period of time to begin with, and the bjd hobby is still more of a "specially sculpted for your arty preferences" art hobby than any kind of mass production. It feels kind of like making music boxes funded by kickstarter kind of exclusive, maybe. I know nothing about that industry either. What this means, though, is the company, even if large, due to a mixture of common practice, manufacturing process, and fiat, wouldn't really know if something will be available again, or when it would even if they planned on opening up an order, so they can never announce it, which is why we have to do a weird amount of research to find out how or when to order sculpts before actually ordering a sculpt. It's also why the "dolls" section of a bjd site more to express the brand style and art gallery like of past work rather than an actual product available for purchase. "It's not available because it's too much of a pain to manufacture, we're not that profitable, and will go way over cost because of that." (or they just don't want to for artistic reasons, or they're trying to make a Limited fullset.)

      3. Currently, Limited quantities may just makes more sense: as @bronzephoenix said, considering the difficulty of making a regular order period, just going full ham in making an elaborate artsy fullset available in limited periods to justify that limited period to customers not involved in production has benefits: it's safer both in handling time and production problem time. Also, since this hobby is halfway between "buying at a store" and "commissioning" so using the necessity of limited quantities to it's max might just be practical financially, even for larger companies? In addition, constantly releasing short orders of beautiful elaborate (if limited) fullsets is a great way to keep visible and desirable. However, this reason might be weak because I think making "non-limited" naked dolls available at predictable periods seems to be like it would be more profitable for a company, but at this point I would probably just need to ask someone who actually knows about the whole process. "Because the casting process is so potentially drawn out and problem riddled, it is not practical, and too expensive both in billable hours, backlog, and production cost to keep open ordering periods."

      4. Dolls are unpredictably unavailable to manufacture exclusivity: it's not spite, for anyone who would say that! If bjd isn't a mass production hobby, it's a hobby that benefits from this even for 'bigger' companies- like @Ice Mutt says, better to sell 45 orders in one hyped up weekend then 15 over a period of years.... maybe, since I think keeping an order open over a period of years would sell more if it was a successfully branded company, but there's something to it. Also, I feel this aspect is incidental and making the best of the tetchy production process that is the root cause of the way ordering a doll works, though. "We're not mass-production, we're super niche production that prides ourselves on this interestingly-formed-over-the-years standard of quality." .....I think.

      Conclusion: even 'big' companies have to function on the same level as the capacity of the resin caster studio? As time goes on, or as the industry becomes more developed/standardized, the manufacturing process might become bigger, smoother, or more common. As a result, the "non-limited" bjd sculpts may start to have more stable availability/ordering period. In addition, maybe actual production cost would decrease for the bjd companies, which in turn could reflect in the prices. @Aramirofgondor, thanks for laying the process out so clearly- dollmaking seems human-intensive forever and considering all that goes into putting even a bare bjd to shipment, even 'big' bjd companies are probably small enough that fulfilling a large quantity of orders it is a huge human-labour-intensive undertaking, and therefore, would take a lot of unpredictable time and money.

      I guess there are companies do a type of regular doll available/monthly doll available, and the ones that are very unpredictable are just more smaller, singular artists more vulnerable to these problems in addition to not working with space or helpful labour, and it's just impossible to tell over the internet.

      TL;DR: Dolls are available in limited, unpredictable quantities because 1) the casting process has to be done in certain quantities, 2) therefore, the hobby is like ordering custom art made by artists in limited quantities, even "basic" "unlimited" versions, 3) the fact it might end up like a limited custom edition is a good way for these creators to support themselves in a niche hobby and a way to guarantee they can meet production demands/avoid backlog, 4) the company might just randomly pull the head because of low sales or they don't want to deal with production costs, because that's apparently how finicky and niche bjd production is. (It's all "reasonable time," financially possible, "small hobby profit" kind of reasons due to the production process)

      This is kind of just based on things we've said here as people mostly ignorant to the process, so all with a grain of salt. And corrections, theories, thoughts, are definitely welcome.
      #13 smallricochet, May 2, 2019
      Last edited: May 2, 2019
      • x 1
    14. Super interesting to read. Thanks for the info!
    15. In my experience, most companies will offer their basic unlimited dolls at all times? Then again, it may be a regional difference, as my primary interest is Chinese dolls. I have noticed Korean companies tend to do preorders or have limited order periods more often than Chinese companies (I'm talking about companies btw, not individual artists, because artists almost always do limited orders no matter their country). I'm guessing it might be a difference in terms of space (more of that in China) and maybe just how everything tends to be bigger in China, so there are probably more casters and individual companies can be larger. But this is really just idle speculation on my part.

      In some cases I feel like it might even be wise for some companies to switch from "can order anything at any time" to an ordering period, annoying as that might be for the customer. Right now Ringdoll for example seems to be stuck in a massive backlog, with up to a year long waits for some people. They've always operated on an "everything is always available" system, except for their limiteds which usually stick around for several months anyway, and I feel like now the cracks are starting to show....
    16. I was actually thinking about this too, and I also think China most likely has a much bigger resin casting industry (and therefore, more constant or stable ordering periods.) Btw this is pure guess but I think Ive got at least a bit of something. Back in like 1960s or something Hong Kong and China started developing themselves as the manufacturers of everything from plastics to electronics to every toy and material object ever, and also because of the way business tends to work there (opportunistic due to a lot of things but at least partially because questionable enforceability of gov regulations) there’s probably a lot more precedent to quickly developing a resin caster area of business. Even resin casting would be more standardized, worked out, and cheaper.

      Also, the dollar is stronger there, and Chinese dolls are at similar prices- so more capital than a Korean, European, Japanese based company for employee hours and production costs. Mass production would be kind of feasible? Therefore, chinese companies can afford to keep open constant order periods.

      One factor Im just drawing a blank on is where resin even gets supplied from- but at random guess, maybe it’s cheaper in China. Im just going to assume a lot of resin casting was done from China to start with lol

      I agree still possible to overburden that more convenient system tho, so regular monthly or whatever ordering period is probably just best practice for employee hours/rights, production delay time to ship, and general backlog.

      I cant figure a way to ask anyone tho :0

      Following this logic, you could guess how a bjd company operates based on what country they are from, based on the development of resin casting business in that country:

      Constant ordering periods, cheaper prices, and faster production (if not backlogged) more likely to least: China at the top, and Korea, Japan, Europe, then America at the bottom? Korean companies look to have more regular ordering periods than Japanese companies. This would be better if I could remember more exactly but just to have something to start with.

      In retrospect this is probably obvious to people who know something about resin casting
      #16 smallricochet, May 3, 2019
      Last edited: May 3, 2019
    17. You also have not factored in workforce, cost of labor and worker protections into all of this. There are also different resin qualities and sources and two different casting methods.

      Touching on your first post regarding number of employees, Volks has the most at around 50 employees total dedicated to BJDs. This includes the staff for their stores. This is why their stores are closed when they hold events. Ringdoll is about 15 people. Iplehouse used to have more but due to loss of profit from recasters have lost about half their staff and are also down to about 15. And these are the "large companies" The average is more like 2-5 employees.

      Never forget this is an artist based niche hobby, the goal has never been about making enough to be a high production mass market good. Other doll types fill that market.
      • x 7
    18. Thanks, that's really good to know! So apparently there isn't like a big bjd company at all, anywhere, it's ALL still way more like private commission than say, commercial business at about every level. That really does explain a lot.

      Edit: Employee labour is factored in. I don't think there's one doll I've bought that's taken less than about a year to get, I had to wonder why.
    19. In my opinions:
      Moulds will wear out someday eventually.
      If they use some sort of special resin for one particular type of doll.
      Not enough labour/money.
      Some dolls are just not as popular as you think.
      Hunger marketing.