The LEGO Group just made a bold move. In an attempt to better connect to an older demographic, LEGO has recently acquired BrickLink Ltd, one of the largest online communities of adult fans of LEGO (AFOL).
BrickLink is a massive network with over a million users spanning the globe and more than 10,000 sellers across 70 countries. It is essentially the go-to marketplace for all LEGO fans to find discontinued sets and spare pieces to repair and build My Own Generation (MOC) sets.
Despite LEGO’s Pick-a-Brick service, many AFOLs still choose to go to BrickLink due to the greater variety, convenience and better price points offered by the online platform.
Not only can you find those rare and vintage pieces, but the platform also allows their users to design and showcase their creations using a digital building software called Stud.io. The community in itself is vibrant, supportive and close-knit despite their large numbers.
Founded in 2000 by the late Dan Jezek, BrickLink was a way to connect like-minded individuals through their love for limitless creation and was bought over by NXMH, which is owned by Korean entrepreneur Jung-Ju “Jay” Kim, a couple of years after Jezek’s passing.
The LEGO Group CEO, Niels B Christiansen said: “Our adult fans are extremely important to us. They are passionate, committed and endlessly creative. We have worked closely with the community for many years and look forward to deepening our collaboration. We plan to continue to support BrickLink’s active marketplace and evolve BrickLink’s digital studio which allows our talented fans to take their creativity to the next level.”
The jury is still out on whether this could see BrickLink flourishing in the coming years or just shut down entirely but the fans are leaning towards the latter. In a sea of major concerns, one stands out from the rest. This acquisition has fans screaming “Monopoly,” and they’re not wrong in pointing out the conflict of interest apparent in this deal.
In an interview with The Brothers Brick, Chief Marketing Officer Julia Goldin clarifies this pressing issue by stating: “We actually don’t see a conflict there at all. The marketplace right now operates very well and it provides an opportunity for fans to purchase the parts that they need — some of them are very difficult to find, and they don’t exist in production anymore, so it’s quite complementary.”
“What we want to do is really support the fans better,” she added. We see a lot of opportunities and needs that they have to both have more ways in which they can actually realize their creations, and create more ways in which they would be able to sell their creations to others. We also see a lot of opportunities to actually listen to the fans and have a stronger connection with them and get their input and ideas about what we could do to actually improve, with the work that they do with LEGO. So we don’t see this potential area as any kind of conflict of interest.”
That’s all well and good but it’s common knowledge that LEGO, like many other companies, generates artificial scarcity through the sale of exclusive sets and mini-figures at conventions which sell for big bucks on the resale market. So when pressed about how those profits don’t equate to conflict of interest, Goldin said:
“We’re not doing it particularly with profits in mind as much as we’re doing it as part of a cultural moment that creates something that’s really interesting. So, this is where I, again, I don’t see how that conflicts with the platform.”
Although conflict of interest is one of the biggest concerns for AFOLs, the one dearest to their hearts is the future of BrickLink and their community. BrickLink is known for multiple sellers providing custom and 3D printed pieces such as BrickArms which sells custom LEGO-compatible military weapons and mini-figures.
Goldin explained LEGO’s position saying: “I think that our vision is that we would want to stay, from BrickLink, with the vision that Dan the original founder had, which is, this is really about LEGO and this is about LEGO elements. From that perspective, you would not see BrickArms and guns and things that are potentially particularly connected to things like warfare and violence, which is something that we decided as the LEGO Group we would never support. Those kinds of things we would not want to see on the platform.”
And for good measure, Goldin put the matter to rest with a concise “we would only sell LEGO — we would only support LEGO-branded sellers.”
Many fans are outraged by this statement and calling it bogus that LEGO is taking a moral high ground and making BrickLink PG13 when their initial intention was to connect with their AFOLs. But the fans are particularly upset over the end of custom pieces. Custom pieces are a huge part of AFOL culture and revoking an individuals’ right to choose whether or not to indulge in custom materials is ruffling their feathers.
Goldin’s statement may hurt the entire community as sellers are affected just as much. By only supporting LEGO-branded sellers, a portion of the thousands of sellers on BrickLink might be pushed out of the community and LEGO could successfully reduce their resale market and cut out their competition.
It’s not all gloomy skies ahead for AFOLs, with LEGO’s resources, BrickLink could expand beyond what Kim and NXMH established in the last six years and reach a wider audience, connecting more like-minded individuals through their love of LEGO, which is what Jezek set out to do in the first place.
Despite the fact, Goldin mentions that LEGO has no immediate changes lined up for the platform, fans can expect to see the custom build community on BrickLink gradually quieten down and might migrate to other platforms such as BrickOwl.
With a company so notorious for the crackdown of resellers, it seems they’ve adopted the mantra of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Or maybe it’s more like taking them down from the inside? Either way, many AFOLs do not have high hopes for the future of BrickLink and some are even taking bets to see how long before the website gets shut down.