The number of exhibitors at this week's New York International Toy Fair was down from years past—fewer than 30 booths featured publishers or authors, for example, compared to the typical 40 to 45—and traffic was light. Many publishers said they had a productive show, however, noting that attendees were serious about writing orders. “There are far fewer tire-kickers, so to speak,” said Sharon Winningham, v-p sales and marketing at School Zone.
“We're really impressed with the quality of the buyers,” added Barbara Lonnborg, director of Boys Town Press, a first-time exhibitor showing its initial children's title, a hybrid book/scrapbook.
Not all publishers were happy about the show. In fact, at least two leading mass market publishers are considering scaling way back next year or not exhibiting at all. Very few of the large mass merchants—the Wal-Marts, Costcos and Family Dollars of the world—sent contingents to walk the show this year, as they usually do, according to exhibitors.
Just a week after the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act's key lead and phthalates provisions took effect, safety was top of mind. Groups opposed to the CPSIA held press conferences, a wide variety of testing labs exhibited, and many booths featured signs touting product safety. Several retailers roaming the aisles reported receiving conflicting information from vendors and said they were still confused about how to comply with the law. Many exhibiting publishers noted they were getting more questions about safety from attendees than usual, albeit not as many as they expected.
In a well-attended half-day CPSIA seminar, Consumer Products Safety Commission acting chair Nancy Nord and John “Gib” Mullen, CPSC's assistant executive director, Office of Compliance and Field Operations, made some of the most encouraging statements yet for publishers of “ordinary” (ink on paper or board) children's books published after 1985. “We all agree these just consistently fall below the lead limits of the law,” said Nord. “[Publishers] don't have to test and we won't spend our enforcement resources on these products.”
“We're creating a little immunity box for you,” Mullen added. “You can sell with impunity.” Still, he tempered that statement when he noted that state attorneys general also are charged with enforcing the law, and the CPSC cannot prevent them from filing suit against companies who fall into the “immunity box.”
Toy companies and publishers continue to go green. Toy makers highlighted products made from organic cotton, recycled materials and more environmentally sound packaging, for example, and displayed their green products front and center. Meanwhile, publishers featured titles with green content and those made from materials such as recycled paper and soy or vegetable inks.
Dover was encouraging other publishers to adopt a Green Edition program that identifies titles produced in a pro-environmental manner; its books include information on the number of trees and amount of water saved, and the amount of air emissions and solid waste eliminated through the manufacturing and shipping process. InnovativeKids got a good response to its new Green Start line, made from 98% recycled materials. “That line is just blowing out for us,” said Shari Kaufman, president and publisher.
Book-based properties were very much in evidence. This included not only the usual TV- and movie-supported book properties (e.g., Twilight and Curious George), but also a growing number of book-only licenses. Examples included products based on Five Little Monkeys at University Games, Frog and Toad at Briarpatch, Golden Books at Yottoy, Elmer at Kids Preferred and David Kirk's Sunny Patch at Melissa and Doug.
Few buzzworthy products garnered attention this year, with toy makers and publishers sticking to the products that sell best, avoiding risky new products and emphasizing low price points. “We really want to go back to basics,” said Andrew Steinberg, president of Modern Publishing, citing formats such as color-by-number and connect-the-dot books and classic licenses such as Batman and Wonder Woman. “We're going back to the tried-and-true activity books that work.”