This year’s Toy Fair, held at the Javits Center in New York City from September 30 to October 3, marked the first Toy Fair since the pre-pandemic show of 2020. It was also the first to take place in autumn rather than in February, as the past 117 editions had. In general, neither toy companies nor publishers were entirely happy about the fall timing, being too close to this holiday season and too far from next year’s holiday.
Then, in a surprise announcement on the second day of the show, the Toy Association said it was moving Toy Fair again, not only to a different time of year but to a different location. Toy Fair will return March 1–4, 2025 at the Javits (skipping 2024 entirely) and then move to the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the next three years. The dates are January 17–20, 2026; January 9–12, 2027; and January 15–18, 2028. The Fair has been held in New York City since 1903.
More than 20 publishers exhibited at Toy Fair this year, in addition to a growing number of toy companies offering books to accompany their core products. The number is down somewhat from recent years and about half the peak levels of years ago. Several publishers skipped the show altogether this year, including long-time exhibitor Quarto, which in the past highlighted its Smart Lab unit as well as book titles including its Little People BIG DREAMS series. Scholastic-owned Klutz, a prominent past exhibitor with its book-plus craft and activity kits, opted for a one-day pop-up showroom. And exhibitors such as School Zone, Bendon, and others downsized their booth space.
The same was true for many of the core toy exhibitors. While there were about the same number of exhibitors as in the last show in 2020—1,000-plus, including more than 350 first-timers, according to the Toy Association, vs. 1,038 in 2019—many booths occupied less space and the total booth acreage was observably less than in past years. Notably, big players including Mattel, Hasbro, MGA Entertainment, and Jakks Pacific were not officially part of the fair; Hasbro had an unofficial meeting space down the street. (It should be noted that Toy Fair 2020 was reduced in size as well, in large part due to the fact that exhibitors and attendees from Asia, a notable contingent, were already under Covid lockdowns.)
Not everyone downsized; some of the leading toy companies at the show, such as Lego and Jazwares, had expansive booth presences. Fox Chapel was one publisher that increased its exhibitor space, with a 30-foot booth; 60% of its exhibited list is new since the last show. Like most of the other publishers this year, it also opted to take booth space among the toy makers rather than in the dedicated Books and Music aisle.
One publisher with a booth this year pointed out that exhibitors that had been scheduled to participate at Toy Fair in February 2022 had a credit on booth space after the cancelation of that event a month before its start, due to a spike in Covid. This gave some companies an incentive to exhibit this fall and may have kept numbers stronger than they would otherwise have been for an autumn show.
Despite the less-than-optimal timing, most publishers reported a positive experience at this year’s Fair, citing productive meetings; a chance to touch base with accounts big and small; and orders written from mom-and-pop toy, book, gift, educational, and other specialty shops that are an important attendee group at Toy Fair and a meaningful market for many of the publishers at the show. After a slow start on Day 1, traffic seemed healthy, most exhibitors said.
As for the future move to New Orleans, the bulk of the publishers were taking a wait-and-see attitude. While they applauded the move back to the early-year time period, they were more ambivalent about the New Orleans location, citing New York’s role as a hub of the publishing and toy industries, the fact that New Orleans would be more difficult for Asian and European attendees to reach, good results at alternative shows such as ASTRA and Toy Fest that may make Toy Fair unnecessary for those who exhibit at those events, and a worry that East Coast specialty retailers and other accounts might not make the trip South.
Update: On Friday, the Toy Association reportedly told its members that it was abandoning plans to move to New Orleans, with Toy Fair going back to New York in its early-year timeslot from 2025 on. An event of some sort in Los Angeles in fall 2024 is also anticipated.