The number of publishers exhibiting at Toy Faircontinues to decline, with fewer than 25 of the 1,100 booths at the show featuringpublishing houses this year, versus about 30 last year and 40 to 45 five yearsago. Bargain book vendors and liquidators now take up some of the spacepreviously held by traditional publishers in the Children's Books & Musicsection of the show, which ran from February 14-17 at the Javits Center.
Exhibitors that continue to have a presence,including trade houses such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, educationalpublishers such as School Zone and Carson Dellosa, mass market/value publisherssuch as Bendon, and book-plus and novelty publishers such as SmartLab andInnovativeKids, were largely upbeat about this year's show, reporting goodtraffic (especially after the first day), a significant amount oforder-writing, and first-time customers.
"We've opened a large number of new accounts,"says Doug Analla, creative services manager at Klutz, echoing other publishers."It's a great sign. We're very excited." He pointed to Fashion Origami as attracting a lot of attention.
Toy Fair is InnovativeKids' best trade show,according to Shari Kaufman, president and co-founder. Innovative is expandingsome of its brands, including Green Start, into giant puzzles, gift wrap andplush and will promote them as cohesive lines along with the books, rather thanas backlist and frontlist. "We still take publishing seriously, but we don'twant to limit ourselves," Kaufman says. "The mission hasn't changed, but thedelivery mechanism has."
A Changing Landscape
One reason for the decline in publisher boothsat Toy Fair this year is consolidation on the value/mass market end of the children'sbook industry. Audio publisher Twin Sisters purchased Learning Horizons in 2009and the two brands shared a booth for the first time. Playmore Publishers wentout of business and its intellectual property was purchased by exhibitor KappaBooks, which is relaunching some of Playmore's formats, such as pop-ups.Paradise Press also went under last year and a group of its executives, alongwith a private investor, formed Vision Street Publishing, which made its debutat Toy Fair. Like Paradise, it specializes inlow-priced licensed and generic coloring and activity formats, including someWarner Bros.-licensed titles on its initial list.
A few exhibitors, including Peter Pauper Pressand Child's Play, moved out of the Children's Books & Music area, which wascreated several years ago as a destination for buyers seeking these productsbut has left many publishers feeling isolated from the rest of the show.(Workman, Running Press and Silver Dolphin are among the companies that alwayshave opted to exhibit in the general-traffic aisles.) Some of the exhibitorsthat relocated reported better traffic and more customer diversity than in theBooks & Music area.
Pairing Books and Toys
Toy companies are increasingly publishing booksto enhance their core lines. In the past, they created content to package withtheir products and add play value. Now, they hope to sell the books separately,including into bookstores. Just one of several examples at Toy Fair was Battat,which relaunched its Our Generation dolls in deluxe packs with accessories anda hardcover book. The books also will be sold individually; Battat is indiscussions with a bookstore chain about placement. "Parents want to buy a toyand a book together," says co-owner Dany Battat. "But I also want people to buythe books for the books."
Similarly, action figure maker Schleichself-published a book that tells the story behind its World of Elves figurines.Craft kit company Creativity for Kids launched a line of 18 coloring andactivity books featuring spiral bindings, art papers and vellum, while32-year-old greeting card maker Up with Paper expanded its three-year-old lineof pop-up books with its first adult title, a large-format pop-up focusing onsnowflakes. Four new companies launched plush-and-book properties, includingTickle Inc., which debuted a line of characters called The Drip Drops; Oomfy,which launched a series based on actual endangered animals; My Story TimeFriends, which publishes a new hardcover book each month; and Kubels, which ispublishing a book to go along with its line of hand-crafted, knitted plushcharacters.
Meanwhile, several toy makers were promotingpartnerships with publishers. MGA Entertainment expanded its BFC Ink line, forwhich Parragon publishes books. Plush manufacturer Kids Preferred launchedGreenzy's, an eco-friendly brand that will debut, along with books from DK, atFAO Schwarz around Earth Day. Workman displayed a line of books tied to Bananagramsand Modern Publishing showed titles tied to Cepia's Zhu Zhu Pets, the hot toyof last Christmas, as well as an expansion of its Fisher-Price line with newsub-brands Bigfoot the Monster and Luv U Zoo. Leap Year devoted its whole boothto Playskool craft and activity products, including educational workbooks.
"We're always trying to connect with theconsumer, and publishing is another component of that giant puzzle," saysBryony Bouyer, senior v-p marketing at Hasbro Properties Group, licensor ofPlayskool as well as a number of other brands with extensive publishingprograms.
Among the companies touting book-and-toypackages this year included Zoobies, a maker of plush animals that turn into pillowsand blankets, and Odyssey Books, a start-up marketer of blankets and towels.Zoobies recently signed deals for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Peter Rabbit,Paddington and Spot, while Odyssey secured rights for Maisy and Suse MacDonald'sAlphabet Animals.
Cross-promotion of complementary books and toyswas evident throughout the show. Breyer Toys displayed Feiwel & Friends' Wind Dancers titles along with the toyline on which they are based, while Houghton Mifflin Harcourt displayed a signdirecting customers to MerryMakers for plush tied to its characters. "There's anew level of coordinated effort," says Clair Frederick, president of MerryMakers,whose new book-based items include ChickenButt and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
As has been the case in recent years, there weremany toys and games tied to tried-and-true literary properties. In fact, asidefrom a few entertainment licenses-notably Star Wars, Nickelodeon and, especially,Toy Story 3-characters from children'sbooks represented some of the most high-profile licensed lines at the show,often being prominently displayed at exhibitors' booths.
Some of the newer products associated withliterary properties this year included a line of Thomas & Friends trainsand playsets from Fisher-Price; Mo Willems' Catthe Cat items from Yottoy and Pigeongames, puzzles and playsets from University Games; Harry Potter constructionsets and board games from LEGO; Alex Beard pop-out puzzles from Discovery BayGames; and William Wegman Weimeraners on jigsaw puzzles from Buffalo Games.Other examples included Pinkalicious giant glitter floor puzzles from Ceaco;Pinkalicious, Ramona and Beezus, and Angelina Ballerina dolls from MadameAlexander; Tim Burton's Alicein Wonderland products from several companies; American Girl arts and craftsfrom EK Success; a range of Where's Waldo? games at TDC Games; and Dr. Seussand Chicka Chicka Boom Boom plush and other toys at Manhattan Toy. The World ofEric Carle sunflower kits and butterfly gardens at Dunecraft represented one ofthe newest and strongest licenses for that company, according to Alicia Borley,director of marketing.
Going Green and Virtual
The trend toward green products in the toy andbook industries has been noticeable at Toy Fair for a couple of years. Thisyear there was an aisle devoted to companies with eco-friendly products, and aplethora of green items were featured all across the show floor. Examples withpublishing connections include the new Greenzy's brand from Kids Preferred andDK; the expansion of InnovativeKids' GreenStart line, which has been a hit inthe specialty book and gift market; and a line of eco-friendly, unbleached andunprocessed Dr. Seuss plush dolls from Hosung under its My Natural brand.
Another continuing trend is the launch of avariety of technology initiatives, from virtual worlds to mobile phone apps.For the first time this year, a separate show focusing on these technologies,called the Engage! Expo, ran parallel to Toy Fair at Javits.
Publishers promoting multimedia activitiesincluded The Elf on the Shelf, which was touting its new online virtual world,which allows children to tour the North Pole year-round. My Story Time Friendsis backed by a virtual world that features downloadable e-books and othercontent. School Zone, which was getting a good reaction for some of its smallertrim-size activity books and mini software packs from toy stores, recentlylaunched two apps for the iPhone and is developing free downloads associatedwith each of its books, under the Golden Scholar Club umbrella, with about 25titles available now.
Scholastic Media has introduced technology tosupport a number of its literary brands, ranging from downloadable I Spy titleson Big Fish Games to iPhone apps for a number of its titles. The latter havebeen selling well so far, especially those tied to I Spy. The company'sFacebook page for Be BIG signed up 6,000 fans in four weeks. "We're delightedwith the numbers and how quickly it's pacing," says Daisy Kline, director ofmarketing and brand management.
Although final attendance numbers were notavailable at press time, about 32,000 retail buyers and others were expected toattend the 107th edition of the American International Toy Fair, which catersto the $21.4 billion U.S.and $75 billion global toy industries.