Closes May 31st:

Competition: make a LEGO font

19 January 2014

The sum of its parts


I'm ending my series of posts about the Architecture theme today with a rather different post, littered with data tables rather than pretty pictures. See, I like numbers too. I thought I'd try to examine the question of how 'valuable' Architecture sets are, because I often get my knickers in a knot when other AFOLs moan about the cost. I shouldn't, because they're usually right, but I'm just overly defensive of this range that I enjoy so much.


Because of course you get far more with Architecture sets than parts; there's the wonderful packaging, presentation and booklet; all expensive things to produce which most sets do not receive (Master Builder Academy and some CUUSOO being two exclusions that spring to mind). But why else are they priced so high? Undoubtedly, their positioning as a premium luxury item affects the recommended retail price (RRP). The nature of the target market is also a factor: lovely rich adults. Adults that go travelling and have seen the buildings featured, so feel an emotional connection to them. Adults that buy the set from the actual building's gift shop, or other expensive tourist traps within the same city. Adults with no idea of the comparative cost to other sets. Adults with nostalgia for LEGO®, who see these cool little models of buildings in sleek black packaging and find that a more acceptable first-ever LEGO set purchase for themselves or other adults than say, the Friends Dolphin Cruiser. *shrugs*

I also wonder if the unusual history and setup of the Architecture range have an effect. The whole thing was the brainchild of architect/LEGO builder Adam Reed Tucker, who pitched it to TLG and worked in partnership with them to develop and market the sets. Adam, along with architects Michael Hepp and Rok Zgalin Kobe, design the sets which then pass to the experienced Designers at TLG to complete. That's about as much detail as I know of this partnership, so this is pure conjecture, but I wonder if the very nature of this line not falling under the same in-house procedure as other themes causes some slightly higher costs in production.

There might also be licensing fees involved for reproducing a famous building. Sounds weird given these are just approximate representations, but for example a few years back a major film company got into hot water when they didn't obtain a license for including a world-famous building in their animated film and its marketing. I have absolutely no idea whether TLG have had to agree any licensing fees for the Architecture range, but it's a possibility, and if so these costs would presumably be passed on to the consumer.

So there's no doubt these sets are more expensive, but I've always felt they get a worse rap from many AFOLs than deserved. Thing is, I've always clutched to the belief that a lot of this was just bad beginnings. In the first couple of years of Architecture, there were four sets released that were tiny yet expensive; 21000 Sears/Willis Tower (2008), 21001 John Hancock Center (2008), 21002 Empire State Building (2009) and 21003 Seattle Space Needle (2009). They all retail at US$19.99 and have piece counts averaging just 70 elements... I've received free polybags with more parts than that!



So I was interested to see how these four early egregiously expensive examples (or EEEEs for short!) compare to later sets and how the line generally compares to sets with similar piece counts and years of release. To locate suitable sets, Brickset's Advanced Query Builder was essential and my gratitude goes to Huw Millington for developing this tool. Be aware that the sets I chose aren't a cross-section of LEGO sets as a whole; just some that have similar piece counts to Architecture sets and released in similar years. I tried to avoid minifigs as much as possible in case they skewed results, but that's impossible with larger sets. 21021 Marina Bay Sands was excluded as the US price is not known (all prices in this post are in US dollars), plus it is very hard to obtain. But I left in 21050 Architecture Studio because, despite being US only (and now sold out), it's an interesting set.

Price per piece

Dividing the RRP by the number of pieces is the commonest way to judge the value of a set, and Brickset actually list this amongst set information. However I've done my calculations based upon the BrickLink piece count, as it includes the spare parts which obviously also add a little value.

Skip to bottom of this table
Theme Set # Set name Pieces
(BL)
RRP
(US$)
Price per piece
(US¢)
Star Wars 8031 V-19 Torrent 70 3.99 5.7
Creator 4838 Mini Vehicles 82 4.99 6.1
Creator 4626 Farm Brick Box 239 14.99 6.3
Creator 5932 My First LEGO Set 239 14.99 6.3
Creator 4625 Pink Brick Box 238 14.99 6.3
Creator 10197 Fire Brigade 2374 149.99 6.3
Creator 4837 Mini Trains 76 4.99 6.6
Creator 10211 Grand Emporium 2232 149.99 6.7
Creator 10199 Winter Village Toy Shop 864 59.99 6.9
Racers 8214 Lamborghini Polizia 823 59.99 7.3
City 3180 Tank Truck 267 19.99 7.5
Atlantis 8076 Deep Sea Striker 267 19.99 7.5
Creator 40002 Xmas Tree 66 4.99 7.6
Creator 6910 Mini Sports Car 75 5.99 8.0
City 4208 Fire Truck 247 19.99 8.1
Friends 3185 Summer Riding Camp 1222 99.99 8.2
Architecture 21018 United Nations Headquarters 605 49.99 8.3
City 60025 Grand Prix Truck 362 29.99 8.3
Creator 5766 Log Cabin 361 29.99 8.3
Star Wars 10225 R2-D2 2158 179.99 8.3
Architecture 21013 Big Ben 350 29.99 8.6
Ninjago 9558 Training Set 232 19.99 8.6
Architecture 21010 Robie House 2293 199.99 8.7
Architecture 21006 The White House 567 49.99 8.8
Ninjago 9443 Rattlecopter 338 29.99 8.9
Creator 6742 Mini Off-Roader 67 5.99 8.9
Architecture 21011 Brandenburg Gate 381 34.99 9.2
Creator 6741 Mini Jet 65 5.99 9.2
Chima 70010 The Lion CHI Temple 1265 119.99 9.5
Prince of Persia 7573 Battle of Alamut 843 79.99 9.5
Architecture 21017 Imperial Hotel 1335 129.99 9.7
Atlantis 8080 Undersea Explorer 399 39.99 10.0
Architecture 21015 The Leaning Tower of Pisa 346 34.99 10.1
Star Wars 8096 Emperor Palpatine's Shuttle 591 59.99 10.2
City 4441 Police Dog Van 339 34.99 10.3
Friends 3186 Emma's Horse Trailer 242 24.99 10.3
Star Wars 75021 Republic Gunship 1154 119.99 10.4
Monster Fighters 9464 The Vampyre Hearse 336 34.99 10.4
Architecture 21014 Villa Savoye 664 69.99 10.5
Star Wars 9493 X-wing Starfighter 564 59.99 10.6
Architecture 21016 Sungnyemun 328 34.99 10.7
Architecture 21009 Farnsworth House 558 59.99 10.8
Architecture 21019 The Eiffel Tower 324 34.99 10.8
Star Wars 8017 Darth Vader's TIE Fighter 271 29.99 11.1
Technic 42000 Grand Prix Racer 1167 129.99 11.1
Space 5974 Galactic Enforcer 885 99.99 11.3
Friends 3188 Heartlake Vet 396 44.99 11.4
Space 5985 Space Police Central 691 79.99 11.6
Atlantis 8079 Shadow Snapper 257 29.99 11.7
Ninjago 70504 Garmatron 342 39.99 11.7
City 60020 Cargo Truck 342 39.99 11.7
Architecture 21008 Burj Khalifa 210 24.99 11.9
Ninjago 2521 Lightning Dragon Battle 664 79.99 12.0
Chima 70013 Equila's Ultra Striker 327 39.99 12.2
Galaxy Squad 70703 Star Slicer 327 39.99 12.2
Architecture 21005 Fallingwater 816 99.99 12.3
Architecture 21050 Architecture Studio 1210 149.99 12.4
City 3367 Space Shuttle 239 29.99 12.5
City 4202 Mining Truck 276 34.99 12.7
Star Wars 8097 Slave I 610 79.99 13.1
Power Racers 8491 Ram Rod 76 9.99 13.1
CUUSOO 21101 Hayabusa 376 49.99 13.3
Architecture 21012 Sydney Opera House 275 39.99 14.5
City 4645 Harbour 583 89.99 15.4
Architecture 21007 Rockefeller Center 243 39.99 16.5
Architecture 21004 Solomon Guggenheim Museum 215 39.99 18.6
Architecture 21002 Empire State Building 78 19.99 25.6
Architecture 21001 John Hancock Center 71 19.99 28.2
Architecture 21000 Sears/Willis Tower 70 19.99 28.6
Architecture 21003 Seattle Space Needle 64 19.99 31.2

A rule of thumb that many AFOLs seem to follow is that anything under 10c a part is good value, so let's focus on the Architecture sets that achieve that. 21018 United Nations Headquarters is a winner at 8.3c per piece, which is equal to Creator 5766 Log Cabin amongst others. Of all the sample sets I chose with a similar piece count, this set beat them all at price per piece. Close behind are 21013 Big Ben (8.6c) and 21010 Robie House (8.7c) but the latter is a large set, so you'd expect it to do well at price per piece. Compared to other large sets it didn't do well though, but isn't much higher than Star Wars 10225 R2-D2. 21006 The White House (8.8c) and 21011 Brandenburg Gate also do OK (9.2c).

But at the other end of the scale, seven of the eight worst prices per piece are Architecture sets. Unsurprisingly the top four are the EEEEs with prices per piece ranging from 25.6-31.2c! The only theme that often has a higher price per piece than this is DUPLO®.

But how useful a metric is price per piece? 4645 Harbour, a humble City set, rates poorly at 15.4c, but this is because it includes one of those horrid giant boat hull pieces (that really floats). The large amount of plastic required skews the overall average badly for this set. So would it be fairer to judge things by the weight of pieces?

Price per gram

A year ago, Andrew Sielen wrote an interesting article examining the cost of LEGO over the decades. Definitely worth a read (after you finish here, naturally). He used price per gram as the basis for his primary arguments, so let's try that here by dividing the RRP by the weight. Andrew used the total weights from BrickLink which include the box and instructions; I'm only using the weight of parts (and sticker sheets... bother, forgot to exclude them), so be aware that Andrew's averages for price per gram differ from my figures. I calculated weights using BrickStore; a superb piece of software by Robert Greibl that sadly has been unsupported in recent years - even so, it's a must-have tool.

Skip to bottom of this table
Theme Set # Set name Pieces
(BL)
RRP
(US$)
Weight
(g)
Price per gram
(US¢)
Creator 5932 My First LEGO Set 239 14.99 365 4.1
Power Racers 8491 Ram Rod 76 9.99 196 5.1
Creator 4626 Farm Brick Box 239 14.99 286 5.2
City 3180 Tank Truck 267 19.99 365 5.5
Creator 4625 Pink Brick Box 238 14.99 242 6.2
Creator 10211 Grand Emporium 2232 149.99 2147 7.0
Creator 10197 Fire Brigade 2374 149.99 2094 7.2
Creator 5766 Log Cabin 361 29.99 412 7.3
City 4645 Harbour 583 89.99 1214 7.4
City 4202 Mining Truck 276 34.99 466 7.5
Friends 3185 Summer Riding Camp 1222 99.99 1316 7.6
City 60025 Grand Prix Truck 362 29.99 392 7.7
Space 5985 Space Police Central 691 79.99 1038 7.7
Prince of Persia 7573 Battle of Alamut 843 79.99 981 8.2
Ninjago 9558 Training Set 232 19.99 240 8.3
City 4208 Fire Truck 247 19.99 235 8.5
Racers 8214 Lamborghini Polizia 823 59.99 699 8.6
Space 5974 Galactic Enforcer 885 99.99 1160 8.6
Chima 70010 The Lion CHI Temple 1265 119.99 1373 8.7
Friends 3188 Heartlake Vet 396 44.99 514 8.8
Technic 42000 Grand Prix Racer 1167 129.99 1455 8.9
Star Wars 8017 Darth Vader's TIE Fighter 271 29.99 335 9.0
Ninjago 70504 Garmatron 342 39.99 436 9.2
Creator 4838 Mini Vehicles 82 4.99 54 9.3
Star Wars 75021 Republic Gunship 1154 119.99 1272 9.4
City 3367 Space Shuttle 239 29.99 308 9.7
Creator 10199 Winter Village Toy Shop 864 59.99 616 9.7
Star Wars 8097 Slave I 610 79.99 814 9.8
Star Wars 8096 Emperor Palpatine's Shuttle 591 59.99 591 10.2
Creator 6742 Mini Off-Roader 67 5.99 59 10.2
Creator 4837 Mini Trains 76 4.99 49 10.2
Star Wars 10225 R2-D2 2158 179.99 1752 10.3
Friends 3186 Emma's Horse Trailer 242 24.99 240 10.4
Chima 70013 Equila's Ultra Striker 327 39.99 380 10.5
Ninjago 9443 Rattlecopter 338 29.99 284 10.6
Monster Fighters 9464 The Vampyre Hearse 336 34.99 331 10.6
City 4441 Police Dog Van 339 34.99 330 10.6
Galaxy Squad 70703 Star Slicer 327 39.99 365 11.0
City 60020 Cargo Truck 342 39.99 362 11.1
Architecture 21050 Architecture Studio 1210 149.99 1353 11.1
Architecture 21006 The White House 567 49.99 449 11.1
Atlantis 8076 Deep Sea Striker 267 19.99 175 11.4
Star Wars 8031 V-19 Torrent 70 3.99 35 11.5
Architecture 21014 Villa Savoye 664 69.99 606 11.6
Star Wars 9493 X-wing Starfighter 564 59.99 502 12.0
Architecture 21018 United Nations Headquarters 605 49.99 399 12.5
Architecture 21011 Brandenburg Gate 381 34.99 274 12.8
Atlantis 8080 Undersea Explorer 399 39.99 312 12.8
Architecture 21009 Farnsworth House 558 59.99 447 13.4
Ninjago 2521 Lightning Dragon Battle 664 79.99 580 13.8
Creator 6741 Mini Jet 65 5.99 43 13.9
CUUSOO 21101 Hayabusa 376 49.99 358 13.9
Architecture 21017 Imperial Hotel 1335 129.99 918 14.2
Architecture 21016 Sungnyemun 328 34.99 246 14.2
Creator 40002 Xmas Tree 66 4.99 35 14.3
Architecture 21005 Fallingwater 816 99.99 696 14.4
Architecture 21015 The Leaning Tower of Pisa 346 34.99 228 15.4
Atlantis 8079 Shadow Snapper 257 29.99 193 15.5
Architecture 21010 Robie House 2293 199.99 1272 15.7
Creator 6910 Mini Sports Car 75 5.99 38 15.9
Architecture 21004 Solomon Guggenheim Museum 215 39.99 239 16.8
Architecture 21019 The Eiffel Tower 324 34.99 206 17.0
Architecture 21013 Big Ben 350 29.99 144 20.8
Architecture 21012 Sydney Opera House 275 39.99 191 21.0
Architecture 21007 Rockefeller Center 243 39.99 166 24.2
Architecture 21008 Burj Khalifa 210 24.99 103 24.3
Architecture 21000 Sears/Willis Tower 70 19.99 78 25.6
Architecture 21002 Empire State Building 78 19.99 77 25.9
Architecture 21001 John Hancock Center 71 19.99 71 28.0
Architecture 21003 Seattle Space Needle 64 19.99 60 33.6

The aforementioned 4645 Harbour now does very nicely at 7.4c per gram. Architecture sets now comprise the top ten worst value sets from my sample! Surprise surprise; the EEEEs are still top of the list. They're followed by 21008 Burj Khalifa which did much better in price per piece; so here price per gram has been a useful tool in exposing Burj Khalifa's use of 112 1X1 round bricks!

The two best Architecture performers here both come in at the not-great-but-fairly-average price of 11.1c per gram, which is the same value as City 60020 Cargo Truck. They are 21006 The White House and 21050 Architecture Studio, the latter of which is quite a different kettle of fish to the usual Architecture set. It didn't do great in price per piece but it's encouraging to see it's done OK in price per gram, especially given the amount of expense that must have gone into creating the lavish and huge accompanying booklet. Not far behind them are 21014 Villa Savoye, 21018 United Nations Headquarters and 21011 Brandenburg Gate. A couple of Star Wars and Atlantis sets hover around this same value, but it is interesting to note some other Star Wars sets are lower; as low as 9c per gram. Ninjago 2521 Lightning Dragon Battle is 2.2c per gram more expensive than 21014 Villa Savoye despite having an identical piece count - probably due to the complexity of moulding its many specialist parts.

Price per gram as an indicator of value seems to be confirming some of our perceptions. But hang on; do we AFOLs really care how much physical plastic is in our sets? It's what you do with it that counts, right? Give me a 1X1 plate over a dragon's head any day. We've already spoken of the added value Architecture sets have, and my recent posts have highlighthed the relatively advanced building techniques and snazzy finished models that your spouse will actually permit you to display in the home. But of course, the value is also in what do you do with the parts afterwards, if you're the kind of AFOL that "part out" the set to build other things.

Which leads me to another common complaint of Architecture sets; that there are too many 'boring' parts, which is an understandable perception given what the EEEEs offered. In reality it just depends on what parts you like to build with... but is there a way I can do some number-crunching around how desirable parts are to AFOLs? I can think of one useful resource for this; BrickLink's "6 month average" price guide. Every element's page on BrickLink includes a variety of costs, including an average cost of sales for that element over the last six months. As an indicator of value it's far from perfect for many reasons, but surely, at some level, this literally gives us the value that we place on parts? TLG have a value that they place on parts, which goes into calculating RRP. So what if we compare the BrickLink part-out value of each set to the RRP? One thing this value tells us is the profit a parts seller on BrickLink might hope to make! But I think it also tells us something about the value of those parts to builders; they are more expensive on BrickLink because they're desirable. (The wider question is perhaps for what reasons are they more desirable?) For want of a better name I'll call the BrickLink part-out value divided by RRP the Part-out Profit.

When I was at the height of my addiction to buying discounted LEGO sets, I did actually use Part-out Profit as part of my purchase considerations! Not that I intended to sell parts on BrickLink (nor have to date), but they were one factor that assisted me in purchasing at a time when I wanted to generally expand my parts collection. Or to put it another way, it was yet another excuse to buy sets :-/ It's OK folks, I stopped buying quite so nuttily. But mostly because my flat is too small.

Part-out Profit

Again, BrickStore was used to calculate averagely what these sets would cost you if bought as individual parts on BrickLink. Sticker sheets were unfortunately included again, sorry, which skews things more this time because they can be valuable and Architecture sets don't have them. Anyway, we're just here for a bit of fun. So with this metric, which I've expressed as a percentage, let's interpret anything below 100% as meaning AFOLs don't (currently) value the set's parts as highly as TLG do (or did, when they released it). Above 100% is good to own; your set includes parts that if you bought recently on BrickLink would cost you more than they did in the original set at RRP.

Skip to bottom of this table
Theme Set # Set name Pieces
(BL)
RRP
(US$)
Part-out Value
(US$)
Part-out Profit
Architecture 21018 United Nations Headquarters 605 49.99 151.54 303%
Creator 4625 Pink Brick Box 238 14.99 34.61 231%
Space 5985 Space Police Central 691 79.99 172.38 215%
Creator 10197 Fire Brigade 2374 149.99 318.76 213%
Friends 3185 Summer Riding Camp 1222 99.99 209.12 209%
Technic 42000 Grand Prix Racer 1167 129.99 271.32 209%
Creator 10211 Grand Emporium 2232 149.99 309.52 206%
Creator 10199 Winter Village Toy Shop 864 59.99 123.73 206%
Star Wars 8096 Emperor Palpatine's Shuttle 591 59.99 122.54 204%
City 60025 Grand Prix Truck 362 29.99 60.61 202%
Star Wars 8031 V-19 Torrent 70 3.99 8.00 201%
Racers 8214 Lamborghini Polizia 823 59.99 120.14 200%
Star Wars 8017 Darth Vader's TIE Fighter 271 29.99 58.64 196%
Architecture 21017 Imperial Hotel 1335 129.99 253.78 195%
Chima 70010 The Lion CHI Temple 1265 119.99 233.87 195%
Monster Fighters 9464 The Vampyre Hearse 336 34.99 65.91 188%
Star Wars 75021 Republic Gunship 1154 119.99 214.55 179%
City 3180 Tank Truck 267 19.99 35.60 178%
Ninjago 9443 Rattlecopter 338 29.99 52.73 176%
Ninjago 70504 Garmatron 342 39.99 70.24 176%
Star Wars 8097 Slave I 610 79.99 138.90 174%
City 4202 Mining Truck 276 34.99 60.03 172%
Friends 3186 Emma's Horse Trailer 242 24.99 42.34 169%
Prince of Persia 7573 Battle of Alamut 843 79.99 133.87 167%
Chima 70013 Equila's Ultra Striker 327 39.99 65.04 163%
City 4208 Fire Truck 247 19.99 32.30 162%
Star Wars 10225 R2-D2 2158 179.99 287.28 160%
Architecture 21015 The Leaning Tower of Pisa 346 34.99 55.54 159%
Friends 3188 Heartlake Vet 396 44.99 71.02 158%
Ninjago 2521 Lightning Dragon Battle 664 79.99 125.23 157%
Ninjago 9558 Training Set 232 19.99 30.67 153%
Architecture 21014 Villa Savoye 664 69.99 107.04 153%
Architecture 21011 Brandenburg Gate 381 34.99 52.64 150%
Creator 5766 Log Cabin 361 29.99 43.72 146%
Space 5974 Galactic Enforcer 885 99.99 145.68 146%
Galaxy Squad 70703 Star Slicer 327 39.99 56.54 141%
Star Wars 9493 X-wing Starfighter 564 59.99 84.16 140%
Architecture 21006 The White House 567 49.99 68.45 137%
City 60020 Cargo Truck 342 39.99 53.35 133%
Creator 4838 Mini Vehicles 82 4.99 6.64 133%
Creator 4626 Farm Brick Box 239 14.99 19.94 133%
City 4645 Harbour 583 89.99 118.79 132%
Creator 5932 My First LEGO Set 239 14.99 19.27 129%
City 4441 Police Dog Van 339 34.99 43.94 126%
Power Racers 8491 Ram Rod 76 9.99 12.45 125%
Creator 6910 Mini Sports Car 75 5.99 7.45 124%
Architecture 21019 The Eiffel Tower 324 34.99 43.34 124%
Architecture 21013 Big Ben 350 29.99 36.49 122%
Architecture 21009 Farnsworth House 558 59.99 70.25 117%
CUUSOO 21101 Hayabusa 376 49.99 57.39 115%
Architecture 21010 Robie House 2293 199.99 229.19 115%
Creator 40002 Xmas Tree 66 4.99 5.46 109%
Architecture 21050 Architecture Studio 1210 149.99 163.61 109%
Architecture 21005 Fallingwater 816 99.99 107.74 108%
City 3367 Space Shuttle 239 29.99 32.16 107%
Creator 4837 Mini Trains 76 4.99 5.29 106%
Architecture 21012 Sydney Opera House 275 39.99 41.92 105%
Atlantis 8076 Deep Sea Striker 267 19.99 20.95 105%
Architecture 21003 Seattle Space Needle 64 19.99 20.34 102%
Architecture 21016 Sungnyemun 328 34.99 34.27 98%
Architecture 21004 Solomon Guggenheim Museum 215 39.99 38.21 96%
Creator 6741 Mini Jet 65 5.99 5.71 95%
Creator 6742 Mini Off-Roader 67 5.99 5.54 92%
Architecture 21007 Rockefeller Center 243 39.99 36.05 90%
Atlantis 8080 Undersea Explorer 399 39.99 32.69 82%
Atlantis 8079 Shadow Snapper 257 29.99 23.14 77%
Architecture 21008 Burj Khalifa 210 24.99 18.66 75%
Architecture 21001 John Hancock Center 71 19.99 9.72 49%
Architecture 21002 Empire State Building 78 19.99 8.74 44%
Architecture 21000 Sears/Willis Tower 70 19.99 6.82 34%


Well, guess which are worst value... it's our old friends, the EEEEs, and by a long shot too; a paltry 34-49% of the RRP. But wait... there's only three of them this time. In a shock departure, 21003 Seattle Space Needle breaks even at 102%, but let's not forget it was the worst offender both in price per part and price per gram.

Hooray, finally an Architecture comes out tops, at 303%! 21018 United Nations Headquarters is valuable because of its large volume of rare Trans-Light Blue plates of course. It's likely that with time these will become more common, so this set is topping the list partly because it's new. But if the elements remain rare, or simply never drop much in price on BrickLink (which is unlikely), this set will remain valuable because of the high volume of these elements.

The same is possibly true of the next two best performing Architecture set on this list. For 21017 Imperial Hotel, that's thanks to its rare Trans-Black [BL]/Tr.Brown [TLG] elements. It also has rare and unique Sand Green elements, but they don't come in massive volumes - in fact, the rare and useful Tan [BL]/Brick Yellow [TLG] modified plates account for much more of the current resale cost of this set than the Sand Green parts do. It scores 195%; equal to Chima 70010 The Lion CHI Temple. For 21015 The Leaning Tower of Pisa (159%) the volume of White 1X3 arches helps, but most precious are the White hinges.

Given the apparent effect that the recency of a set has on this metric, I think it's also worth noting the older sets that did OK; 21014 Villa Savoye (153%), 21011 Brandenburg Gate (150%) and 21006 The White House (137%). Once again 21014 Villa Savoye does a little better than Ninjago 2521 Lightning Dragon Battle, and 21011 Brandenburg Gate fares a little better than Creator 5766 Log Cabin.

Conclusion

So what does this all tell us? Absolutely nothing as far as I am concerned, because the greatest measure of value you can place on a set is how much you want it. But hey I went and crunched a bunch of numbers so let's look for patterns. We can see some consistent winners and losers within these various metrics. Obviously the EEEEs rely wholly on your desire to own sets of those buildings, because they're rubbish value whichever monetary way I've cut it. Maybe these do well when re-sold as complete sets, but I'm not touching on that area today.

I'd credit 21018 United Nations Headquarters as being a bit of a winner, since it did so great in Part-out Profit and price per piece. It did OK in price per gram too. As pointed out, its rare parts may be considered to have less value as time goes on but I guess the same is true of pretty much every new element I review on this blog :O)

Some sets do averagely well in all my metrics, which challenges the preconception that all Architecture sets are poor value. They're not amazing value, but they're OK. 21006 The White House and 21011 Brandenburg Gate offer value that's on par with many sets that don't suffer the same discrimination as Architecture (nor have the lovely box and booklet). 21014 Villa Savoye could perhaps join them too, and 21015 The Leaning Tower of Pisa did better than I personally expected!

It's worth reminding you at this point that I've worked with US prices; results would be quite different in other currencies. An analysis of US vs. Rest of World prices across different themes would be very interesting for a future post perhaps! For now I will suffice to point out that 21018 United Nations Headquarters has an RRP of US$49.99... and GB£49.99 :-/

So overall, yes it is true to say most Architecture sets don't offer the best value in terms of parts and I haven't much of a leg to stand on when they moan. But I'll state again how silly it is to attach parts values (like I just have, at great length) to sets as beautiful as the Architecture range. Ultimately I suppose it comes down to whether you personally find that the added value of the "building experience" is worth paying more for, so if you've never tried one, perhaps this exercise has helped identify candidates.  If you missed my previous posts reviewing recent Architecture sets, they might inspire you based on the building techniques offered: 21019 The Eiffel Tower, 21018 United Nations Headquarters and the one I didn't include today because of its exclusivity, 21021 Marina Bay Sands.



A shout out to Aanchir for originally describing the pricing of the early small sets as "egregious", which I happily stole :oD
Thanks again to Brickset, BrickStore and of course the amazing BrickLink community for the data they've uploaded over the years.



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16 comments:

  1. Great work. All the effort you put in always result in some insightful interesting reads.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! I did regret my decision to write this post at one point so glad you liked it :D

      Delete
  2. It would be interesting to assume some value for the accompanying books (e.g., $5?) and see how that changes the math. I've always assumed the packaging and books were why the Architecture (and MBA) sets were relatively more expensive than others.

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    Replies
    1. Yes I've always assumed they form the bulk of the extra cost. Maybe another interesting comparison would be Architecture/MBA/BttF/Education sets i.e. ones where they put more work in and presentation is important.

      Delete
  3. I very much appreciate the post. I am still not convinced that the Architecture sets are worth the list price (and I love architecture and I like Lego). The fact that I haven't bought any of these sets must be a revealed preference.

    One comment on US prices vs the rest of the world; a kind of comment that has been made before, but perhaps not here.
    1.listed US prices don't include sales taxes (that vary all over the place but could be as high as 10% if not more; they are about 8.5% where I live, I think.). Listed UK prices, for instance, include VAT.
    2. Exchange rates are not the same thing as PPP.
    3. 1 and 2 don't explain all the price differences. I don't really know what does.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, LEGO pricing. If only someone could explain why the upcoming Simpsons house is €200 in DE yet €220 in BE. Even if you consider the different VAT rates (19% in Germany, 21% in Belgium) there's still a difference of at least €15 that just makes no sense.

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    2. Good point about US sales taxes, I always forget those exist!

      Delete
  4. I love how you initially try to suggest that after all they're not as expensive as they're pictured, and then go on to absolutely destroy that idea with cruel irrefutable numbers :)

    Just joking obviously. Architecture is not my cup of tea but you sure got me closer to buy one!

    Fantastic blog as usual!

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    1. Haha, yes I feared that by writing this I'd be shattering my own illusions more than others'!

      Statistics are of course always refutable ;O) I'm surprised no-one has yet.

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  5. Wow that was quite a read! Honestly, some of the Architecture sets do look appealing even to me, a Constraction MOCer. The one factor that's steered me away from getting any is the fact that the ones I like offer many of the same part. But my justification for going "naah" is that if I'm going to spend that kind of money to get multiples of one or a grouping of elements. I'd rather just go to Bricklink and make an order of that group style of parts. This is also why I haven't bought a Technic set in ages, even though I really really want to assimilate technic concepts and functionality into my style of MOCing a lot more. I just can't break down and spend $200 on the Rock Crawler or Unimog.

    I have to say though "the pretty packaging and booklet" is something that's never ever ever factored into me buying a set. I of course can't speak for any other buyers or MOCers, especially since I'm a pretty unusual one myself, but I think you're the first FOL of any type I've heard say anything like that. At the end of the day, you're absolutely right. Its all about the intrinsic value we as individuals place on a set. When all those new HF sets come out and my TRU has them all after an initial shockwave of some being sold out quick or not getting em all and I'm standing there trying to decide which 50-70 part figure to buy, it ultimately comes down to what elements I get out of the set and how I'll be able to utilize them in a future MOC, planned or otherwise.

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  6. Excellent analysis. Weight is a better indication of value from my side of things, the boat hulls (both floating and constructed (pirate)) and large wheels definitely distort the price per parts ratio, they are hard to mold and expensive to pack (many being hand packed).

    You might also note that all of the non-architecture retail sets with a greater then 12cents per gram cost are store or other exclusives. These sets have a much smaller distribution than other sets and budgets are tighter.

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    1. That's really interesting about the exclusives, thanks for pointing out. I was puzzled that the Atlantis sets appeared, and asked friends if that theme had a reputation for being expensive - at which point rocao pointed out those two were exclusives. I didn't make the connection you have.
      So in fact, 'typical' sets with a proper production volume never cost as much as 12c/g and the best that an Architecture set can hope to achieve is to come in at the very top of that range?

      I suppose Architecture sets were also originally priced as small runs, I get the impression no-one expected the level of success the theme has enjoyed... e.g. TLG are only just ending availability on some of them now, some have been available for 5 years.

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  7. Very interesting read (but I have to admit I love juggling with statistics) :-D

    One fact I draw out of this is: Never buy sets brick by brick off Bricklink!
    From the 70 sets you chose, just 11 were cheaper to just buy by collecting the single pieces. A lot of polybags would fit in that drawer as well, by the way. So never open your polybags if you want to keep the value. ;-)
    I know there are some restrictions to this, for example talking about minifigs (Star Wars!) making sets sooo much higher in value.
    And I have to second Dave: I'm another one that can easily skip the "better box" and the high-quality instructions if I just get 1x2 black bricks for that. This is one of the reasons I haven't bought any of those EEEE's. Another one is the architecture being too simple.

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  8. Thank you for this. A very interesting read. I've never formally crunched the numbers, but I had a feeling based on my assumptions this is how it would end up.

    I agree on buying sets you want, for how you want them. Some sets on clearance are a great parts pack and other times I end up not caring about if I get that set. Minifigures do distort things, as I end up buying most sets only for the minifigures, and then I can use the bricks for whatever I desire. (I've built most of Cafe Corner and Green Grocer this way without having to really order any extra pieces). So I guess it does have its pros and cons.

    I only own 2 architecture sets. Brandenburg Gate x2 for all of the sand green cheese slopes for my mini Hogwarts build and Big Ben because it looked neat.

    Keep writing and I'll keep reading!

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  9. The instruction tomes are certainly a cost-generator, as they are all printed with white text on black pages. That means that instead of printing on maybe 5% of each page, they are printing on 95% of the page. They're also printed on significantly heavier paper stock, and have cardstock, spiral-bound covers.

    Licensing is an unpredictable issue here as well, as each building generally has to be licensed by itself. At least some of that money goes directly to the preservation of the building, I believe. That means no bulk rate, and there's a lot of negotiating and contract-signing for _every_set_ instead of for an entire theme like you get with Star Wars or Superheroes. Licensing info can be found somewhere in the instructions or on the box, where applicable (some really old structures might have fallen into the public domain, depending on local laws).

    As for the EEEE group, I think the original intent was that they were going to be sold exclusively at the site they represented, which would have resulted in a very tiny market (and a massive markup for anyone who was buying them to resell). That probably had a very direct effect on the horrible prices for those sets.

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  10. At least here in US, it is possible to get most of these architecture sets at 20-25% off RRP on a regular basis. Seems like they spend much more time on sale than these other sets do.

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