A noticeable trend at the 2013 New York International Toy Fair, held at the Javits Center February 10–13, was the continued growth of the arts and crafts category. Toy companies and publishers alike are expanding their selections of craft kits and value-added activity books, often pairing bestselling formats with high-profile licenses.
Wooky Entertainment was one of the toy and specialty companies highlighting art-related activity books, showing its new Ford- and Lamborghini-licensed Design Masters technical drawing sketchbooks. Among the companies showing arts and crafts tied to book characters were the Orb Factory, with its line of Fancy Nancy craft kits, and Creativity for Kids, with prototypes of new Elf on the Shelf products.
Meanwhile, Scholastic’s Klutz division combined its top-selling Thumb Doodle format with the Star Wars license, introducing Star Wars Thumb Doodles: The Epic Saga at Your Fingertips, one of 13 new titles being highlighted at the Klutz booth. It also debuted a Captain Underpants activity book, George & Harold’s Captain Underpants Sticker Studio, marking the first expansion of the Dav Pilkey property into the coloring and activity sector. A future Captain Underpants doodle book will feature a drawing pad made of toilet paper.
Creatively Classic Activities and Books displayed an activity title tied to its Elf on the Shelf property. “It’s a hot category for the consumer right now, so we felt we should be in it,” said sales manager Peter Johnson.
School Zone was touting its Little Busy Books line of small-format activity titles, which have expanded to 15 SKUs from four at launch. “People asked us all the time for coloring books, but it’s really not what we do,” explained Sharon Winningham, v-p sales and marketing. “This was our answer, and it’s worked very well for us. It’s a good format for Toy Fair.” Winningham noted that the Little Busy Books have opened some new distribution channels for School Zone due to the 18-in. spinner display, which works in stores where there is no room for the standard four-foot School Zone section.
Silver Dolphin Books also had new distribution opportunities in mind. It announced new licenses with Crayola and Hasbro’s Play-Doh just before the show. “Crayola and Hasbro want to get their products in a space they’ve never been,” said publisher Jon Rosenberg. “I think we’re going to make an argument to get there. That’s our goal.” Beginning this spring, the company plans to publish six to eight titles each season for each license, applying the brands to existing and new craft and activity formats.
Bendon Publishing, which had the biggest booth among publishers at Toy Fair and conducted more than 80 appointments over the four days of the show, is also hoping for additional distribution from its new license with designer/model Kathy Ireland for higher-end children’s books, according to president Ben Ferguson. Other recent licenses for Bendon include SMC’s the Jungle Book and World Wrestling Entertainment.
One emerging trend in licensed publishing that was evident at the show, especially on the coloring and activity end of the business, was the granting of very narrow rights to more than one publisher. Properties such as Hello Kitty, Lisa Frank, and Care Bears can be found on multiple coloring and activity houses’ rosters, often on products that may be “exclusive” in some way, but would seem very similar to consumers. “I think licensors are going to more niche categories instead of master agreements,” Ferguson said. “They’re looking for who’s strong in certain formats instead of who’s strong in publishing.”
Publishers often walk Toy Fair to look for licensed properties from the worlds of toys, interactive gaming, and entertainment that might be appropriate for books. “I’ve found a handful of things here that I think I can do something with,” Rosenberg reported.
Meanwhile, toy companies hold talks with potential licensees at the show, including publishers. Madame Alexander is in the process of pitching its brand Dolly & Me to publishers, according to Robynn Delin, director of licensing and marketing. The company is a licensee for many literary properties, and introduced dolls tied to new Angelina Ballerina, Fancy Nancy, and Pinkalicious book titles at the show.
Overall, Toy Fair was high-energy and crowded, despite the blizzard that hit New York just as the toy community was traveling to the city. Just over 20 publishers—a lower number than in recent years—had booths, both in the children’s book aisle and in other locations around Javits. Recent exhibitors such as Vision Street Publishing, Insight Editions, and long-time participant Workman were among those not taking booths at the 100th incarnation of the show, while new faces included De Agostini Publishing USA. Randy McDonald, executive v-p, Vision Street, said they didn’t exhibit at this year’s show because the buyers they are interested in reaching don’t go to Toy Fair.