The number of publishers exhibiting at this year’s Toy Fair, running from February 14—17 at the Javits Center in New York City, continues to decline, with fewer than 25 of the 1,100 booths at the show featuring publishing houses this year, versus about 30 last year and 40 to 45 five years ago. Bargain book vendors and liquidators now take up some of the space previously held by traditional publishers in the Children’s Books & Music section of the show.
Exhibitors that continue to show at Toy Fair, including trade houses such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, educational publishers such as School Zone and Carson Dellosa, mass market/value publishers such as Bendon, and book-plus and novelty publishers such as SmartLab and InnovativeKids, were largely upbeat about this year’s show, reporting good traffic (especially after the first day), a significant amount of order-writing, and first-time customers.
One reason for the decline in publisher booths this year is consolidation on the value/mass market end of the children’s book industry over the last year. Audio publisher Twin Sisters purchased Learning Horizons in 2009, and the two brands shared a booth for the first time. Playmore Publishers went out of business and its intellectual property was purchased by puzzle and activity book publisher Kappa Books, which is in the process of relaunching some of Playmore’s formats, such as pop-ups. Paradise Press also went under last year and a group of its executives, along with a private investor, formed Vision Street Publishing, which made its debut at Toy Fair with a small booth. Like Paradise, it specializes in low-priced licensed and generic coloring and activity formats, including some Warner Bros.-licensed titles on its initial list.
A few exhibitors, including Peter Pauper Press and Child’s Play, moved out of the Children’s Books & Music area, which was created several years ago as a destination for buyers seeking these kinds of products. But the dedicated area has left many publishers feeling isolated from the rest of the show. (Workman, Running Press and Silver Dolphin are among the companies that always have opted to exhibit in the general-traffic aisles.) Some of the exhibitors that moved this year reported better traffic and more diversity of customers than they had in the Books & Music area.
Trends from the show floor include many toys and games tied to tried-and-true book-based properties, from Eric Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar to Mo Willems’ Pigeon, lots of eco-friendly toys and books, and a number of announcements of technology initiatives—from virtual worlds to mobile phone apps—to support book and toy brands. For the first time this year, a separate show focusing on these technologies, called the Engage! Expo, is running parallel to Toy Fair at Javits.