The Hobbyist 3D Printing Landscape:
The falling cost of 3D printers from $2,000 three years ago to entry-level models costing $200 today, coupled with the abundant supply of plastic raw materials and a growing peer-to-peer sharing market of printing templates has proliferated the quantity of at-home hobbyist printers (“3D Printing Price”, 2018). Toys and figurines are an easy gateway into 3D printing for many home-users as they use cheap materials like plastics costing around 75% less than purchasing a comparable figure from licensed toy dealers, and the designs are relatively simple (Wright, 2018). Naturally, instead of creating original characters, many users focus on creating new versions of their favorite characters. Parents are even using 3D printers to incentivize learning computer skills and software by creating a family toy-design project of their child’s favorite character (Kelley, 2018). While these prospects sound innovative and positive, the home-user is effectively counterfeiting. The small scale and individual nature of at-home toy counterfeiting makes it extremely difficult to counteract, while still significantly affecting the intellectual property holder’s revenue potential.
Disney’s mission statement: “To use our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world” (“About Leadership”, 2018). Effectively, their business model is to leverage their original characters and expertise in fantasy story-telling into a wide array of consumer experiences from movies to theme-parks and toys. Controlled and licensed toys are a core component of the Disney machine; as of June 2018, consumer products accounted for 11% of operating income and produced the best margins of Disney’s top-four business segments (Noonan, 2018). At-home 3D printing stands as a direct threat to Disney’s value proposition, as it has potential to undercut their competitive advantage in the toy industry.
Disney’s Plan – A Mickey Mouse Trap:
Disney is known for aggressively pursuing and prosecuting any copyright infringement. Famously, they threatened to prosecute daycares that had painted Disney characters on their walls without approval (Rocketlawyer, 2015). Disney plans to continue to fight the infringement war aggressively to retain the value on their trademarked property. The hobbyist 3D printing space is no exception. In the short-term, Disney realizes that litigating individual cases of infringements is near impossible and is not pursuing a litigation strategy for non-resale units. However, the relative calm on litigating individuals does not mean all is quiet on the 3D printing front.
Looking towards the long-term, they are aggressively developing technology and applying for patents that would shut down 3D printers if any design similar to a Disney character was detected. Another patent would imbed a design flaw into the printed product of any Disney like character (Brinkman, 2017). As with any new disruptive technology, it is yet to be seen which side the law will favor and if Disney can legally make 3D printers actually shut down. Regardless, Disney is doing all it can to position itself to have a strong platform to combat individual cases of infringement.
Strategy Recommendations – Let It Go:
In the short-term, Disney should abandon its corporate strategy attempts to thwart at-home, non-resale 3D printing of its branded characters and work to embrace the coming 3D printing wave. They should engage the growing 3D printing community through holding open innovation contests for the best 3D printed designs and implement a corresponding online marketing strategy. For example, they could give awards, such as a free trip to one of their amusement parks, for a chosen 3D contest winner in exchange to the rights to sell the design template back to the community. Additionally, contest participants would have to post photos of their designs on social media. The strategy would have the synergistic effects of promoting the Disney brand organically while capturing market value from the hobbyist 3D printing community.
Long-term, Disney should work to position itself as a leader in the 3D toy printing world. In addition to using the 3D community as a source of open innovation and promotion, they should invest in making their own kid-focused printers with corresponding kid-friendly software programs for designing. Disney could also sell special plastic and material kits with unique colors and properties to accompany the package.
To Infinity and Beyond:
3D printing is emerging as a disruptive technology that will change the landscape of branded consumer goods. Disney’s legal trench-warfare over home-printed plastic BB8s and Elsas serve as vantage point into the coming war over branding. As the technology and materials used further develops, what will this mean for the concept of creating value through branding as a whole? For example, imagine a world where you could 3D print Moncler coats, Chanel handbags, and the latest Nike shoes for near the cost of the raw materials. Is the solution to embrace this trend and attempt to still capture some of this at-home market through engaging the community, move more into selling the design templates, and employing open innovation or is it to try and restrict and regulate the at home 3D printing trend? (800 words)
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“About – Leadership, Management Team, Global, History, Awards, Corporate Responsibility.” The Walt Disney Company, www.thewaltdisneycompany.com/about/.
Wright, Ian. “Should Toy Manufacturers Be Worried About 3D Printing?” Biomedical Engineering Jobs | ENGINEERING.com, www.engineering.com/AdvancedManufacturing/ArticleID/15299/Should-Toy-Manufacturers-Be-Worried-About-3D-Printing.aspx.
Kelly, James Floyd. “Get Kids Designing With ‘3D Printing Projects’.” GeekDad, 11 Apr. 2018, geekdad.com/2018/04/get-kids-designing-with-3d-printing-projects/.
Brinkmann, Paul. “Disney Seeks Patent to Block 3D-Printed Knockoffs.” OrlandoSentinel.com, 9 June 2017, www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-disney-3d-printing-20170609-story.html.
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