How small is the M.U.S.C.L.E. hobby? That sounds too pessimistic.
How large is the M.U.S.C.L.E. hobby? That sounds like an oxymoron.
For years M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors were inarguable a small group; literally less than a handful of websites uniting what had to be less than 100 people.
I based that number on being one of the 60 earliest AKIA members.
Although AKIA grew and, eventually became LRG, the number of active M.U.S.C.L.E. collectors never seemed to grow much larger. More websites sprung up and social media changed the way collectors interacted with each other. It started to feel like there were more fans of M.U.S.C.L.E., but how many were active collectors?
Perhaps more accurately, how many were active M.U.S.C.L.E. hobbyists?
I had GI Joe figures when I was a kid. I still think it is pretty cool. I even have a half dozen figures tucked away in the “toy room.” But I would never argue that I am a GI Joe hobbyist. I know some basic information. I can probably find any information I would ever need too. But it is not an active part of my life in any way. Hell, it’s not really even much of a passive part either.
I think M.U.S.C.L.E. has gained many people like this; like me and GI Joe.
That’s not bad either. It just makes it very difficult to know how many hobbyists exist.
But what is a hobbyist? That could probably be debated. There’s certainly some gray-area wiggle room. As I sat staring at the computer screen I thought, “Maybe I should look it up?” I was hoping there may be something useful. Merriam-Webster surprised me and had a really succinct and useful definition:
a person who regularly or occasionally engages in an activity as a pastime rather than as a profession
I’ve always believed M.U.S.C.L.E. is a niche within the niche of little rubber figure collecting. There isn’t a simple answer for ever knowing how many M.U.S.C.L.E. hobbyists exist. Of course, the same would be true for baseball cards, Pokémon, or rock collecting. I started to wonder how M.U.S.C.L.E. compared to other hobbies.
How much bigger or smaller is M.U.S.C.L.E. compared to other hobbies?
I started simple with a simple keyword Google search.
The results for “Muscle Figures” is very misleading. After a few pages the results are not at all toy related. The nearly 54,000 results for “M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures” feels much more appropriate. Obviously the other results are larger. I was curious about the percentage larger.
- “Star Wars Figures” was 57,176.12% larger than “M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures.”
- “GI Joe Figures” was 2,829.1% larger than “M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures.”
- “Battle Beasts Figures” was 830.97% larger than “M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures.”
I think these are the best, most accurate results. A broad Google search seems the most objective. With all of the other efforts I feel like there are too many confounding variables.
That didn’t stop me from trying or sharing the results.
My next search was using the main villain from each of the four brands.
Star Wars and GI Joe are obviously much larger hobbies. That’s why I felt it was important to include Battle Beasts, it’s another “smaller” brand.
I was initially surprised by these results, but Terri-Bull is also the name of a Transformer.
Plus, “Terri-Bull” has so many results because it is a terrible pun. It seems like shitty costumes often have a terrible pun-name. There were a lot of costume results. That was kind of surprising.
My next search took me to eBay.
I had to change the scale of the X-axis for this chart because Star Wars had so many results. Plus you couldn’t really see the differences between the other searches.
I don’t really know how to interpret these results. eBay has become such a strange place. These results leave me feeling indifferent.
That’s why I was anxious to see what the Instagram results. I was curious how similar or different the tag count would be for these brands.
If Google was the most objective, then I felt Instagram was the best gauge of appreciation. It takes very little effort to post, and people mostly post the things the care about.
- #starwars had 1,073,480.27% more than #musclefigures.
- #starwarsfigures had 3,522.94% more than #musclefigures.
- #gijoe had 13,755.48% more than #musclefigures.
- #gijoefigures had 198.93% more than #musclefigures.
- #battlebeasts had 320.6% more than #musclefigures.
Obviously I couldn’t use the #muscle hashtag. Those results have nothing to do with M.U.S.C.L.E. figures.
There were not any results for #battlebeastsfigures, but that doesn’t seem like a necessary tag. I have never heard them referred to as Battle Beasts figures – only Battle Beasts.
Finally I turned to Facebook.
This felt like the most useless source because I couldn’t get specific counts for Pages, Posts, Pictures, etc.
I finally decided that I would enter the search term, look at the top Page results, and then take the highest Like count I saw. This was the best option, but felt very sloppy.
I probably failed to answer the question, “How small is M.U.S.C.L.E.?”
But I will take a stab at a final number. I believe the Instagram tag counts probably give us our best insight into hobbyists. It seems reasonable to believe that people tagging things on Instagram are occasionally doing it for fun and not as a profession. Admittedly a broad brush, but probably the best data available.
The 2,053 #musclefigures tags is basically 0.01% of the over 22 million #starwars tags. As a simple population number one million seems arbitrarily acceptable. That would mean out of one million people that approximately 93 are M.U.S.C.L.E. hobbyists.
I wouldn’t necessarily testify in court over the accuracy of these numbers, but it seems pretty reasonable to me. What do you guys think?