The art of collecting Funko Pops: ‘You can’t just buy one’

For many, this item is a serious matter, with enthusiasts devoting considerable amounts of time, money and shelf space to these seven-inch plastic figures

Funko edurne
The Spanish singer Edurne with her collection of more than 750 Funko Pop.Edurne García Almagro

“Are you sure he doesn’t have this one?” asks Mario as he holds a box containing a plastic figure, perhaps seven inches tall, of Marvel’s Captain America. “He’s got so many that I don’t know anymore,” says his companion as she points to a Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s inseparable friend. “Let’s take this one, instead; it’s a special edition.” They are looking for the perfect Funko Pop for their friend Luis. However, his sizeable collection — they estimate more than 200 — is making it pretty hard for them to find the right present.

Their friend’s passion is not an isolated case: just in 2021, the company reported profits of over $1 billion, thanks to more than 1,000 active licenses with more than 200 content providers like Disney and Netflix, according to data provided by Funko. However, in 2022 the manufacturer hit a rough patch caused by low sales and excess inventory. This prompted the company to get rid of thousands of figures that they had stored.

The enthusiasm for these dolls goes beyond a mere whim: for many, more than toys, they are real collector’s items. Ubaldo Hervás, director of the master’s degree in growth hacking and marketing automation at IEBS Business School and digital analyst at the LIN3S agency, describes the phenomenon: “You can’t just buy one. Everyone starts with one, then comes the second, the third… And they end up creating a whole collection of dozens.”

Hervás points out that humans — and specifically collectors — do not act rationally. “In this circle you pay more attention to the figure you don’t have than to the one you do; hence such fanaticism.” In addition, he says, Funkos have become a new reflection of people’s tastes: “When you invite someone to that part of your house, you are showing them a part of your identity. Because you don’t collect something you don’t like. That much is clear. It is a matter of identity.”

There are Funkos for all tastes: from Queen Elizabeth II to Whitney Houston, as well as hordes of fictional characters like Dumbo or Jack Dawson from Titanic. The company takes advantage of the premieres to launch exclusive collections tied to film and television phenomena. This is what happened a few months ago with House of the Dragon, the prequel to Game of Thrones: there were Funkos available before the episodes aired.

A worldwide phenomenon

Excited, a father and his son arrive at Atlántica3.0 in the heart of Madrid, Spain, one of the most popular physical stores among European collectors. “Do you have any Adventure Time Funkos?” One employee takes them to the next room, where they find what they are looking for. “We have approximately 2,000 different Funkos, and that’s not enough to meet the demand, because many of our customers want discontinued figures that at the moment are only available through secondary markets and at a very high price,” explains Alberto García, manager of the store.

Funko Pop Store
The Atlántica3.0 store in Madrid.Andrea Jiménez

In recent months, the characters from Stranger Things have been among the most requested Funkos, selling out a few hours after arriving at the store. “We work with several official distributors all over the world, and still there are figures that never get to Europe. That is the great Achilles heel of their distribution. We don’t get as many exclusives as we would need,” adds García. Hervás explains that “they work with the principle of scarcity. I mean, having a limited version of Ron Weasley is very attractive. When you have it, you own something more than a figure; it is something very rare and very limited to obtain.”

Although novelties from new licenses come out often, the most sought after items are those from the oldest, timeless collections. Thus, diehard fans very rarely buy at commercial stores anymore, or only do it when something new comes out. Instead, to find the old, classic ones, they resort to collectors or second-hand stores, usually online. Buyers can also download the official app of the brand, in which they can keep track of their new purchases and watch how the value of the ones they already own increases.

For many, they might be nothing more than bug-eyed dolls with weird heads; for others, however, this is a common interest that has even led to the creation of strong bonds of friendship between those who devote their time to the pursuit of this coveted item.

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