Publishers represent a small slice of the landscape at the New York International Toy Fair, accounting for less than 30 out of the 1,000-plus exhibitors in the 2015 edition. But sales executives from several of those publishers told PW that specialty toy stores—an important customer group at the show—are currently doing well with books and are looking for new titles to add to their assortments.
This growth is driven, in part, by the desire for more educational products. “Parents want their kids to have fun, but they also want to help them do well in school,” says Bill O’Donnell, director of retail and special markets for National Geographic Kids, a second-year exhibitor. As it redesigns its classic formats, such as its Photo Biographies line, to reflect its yellow-bordered branding, the company is adding Common Core-aligned content to some titles, O’Donnell says.
Toymakers also are looking to add educational value. As a result, more are turning to publishers for in-depth educational content. For the first time, National Geographic is supplying books for inclusion in the science kits that licensee Thames & Kosmos markets under the publisher’s brand.
“Parents want to reinforce what their kids are learning,” agrees Lynn Brennan, associate publisher and editorial director of Baker & Taylor division Silver Dolphin Books, which was showing its expanded Smithsonian book-plus line, among other new titles. “They’re looking for educational products to offset all the licenses,” she adds.
That said, licensing is a big focus for publishers at Toy Fair, thanks to the importance of licensed properties for the toy industry overall. In 2014, according to the NPD Group, retail sales of licensed toys in the U.S. grew 7%, representing 31% of toy industry retail sales, while the industry overall was up 4%, to $18.08 billion. The top license of the year, according to NPD, was Disney’s Frozen, generating almost 3% of total industry sales. Bendon, Parragon, Penguin Random House, and Hal Leonard were among the publishers highlighting Frozen books.
PRH was exhibiting at the show in its combined form for the first time, featuring books from both the Penguin and Random House sides of the business. “People are asking what’s new in Frozen, so they can refresh their assortments,” explains Stephanie DeVita, manager of national accounts and special markets, noting that PRH’s additions to the line this year include books tied to Disney’s upcoming digital short, Frozen Fever, and a deluxe slipcase collection with sound chip, among others. She said that educational toy stores do particularly well with Frozen-licensed readers.
While a few publishers, licensees, and retailers reported Frozen sales moderating slightly since Christmas, most said the property was continuing its strong performance, with no end in sight. No matter what happens with Frozen, however, licensees and retailers are looking ahead to whatever’s next. “There’s an appetite for something else,” says Risa Beckett, v-p sales at Parragon, who adds that, due to Frozen’s success, “Other properties for girls are suffering.”
Some of the entertainment licenses featured prominently across the show floor were Universal’s Minions, Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Marvel’s Avengers. New licensed books and book-plus product being touted by publishers at Toy Fair ranged from Bendon’s line of Lisa Frank arts and crafts sets and Lulu Jr.’s Crayola self-publishing kits.
The Bendon and Lulu Jr. items reflect the continued strength of D.I.Y. toys, from crafts to construction kits, a notable trend across Toy Fair this year. Other trends included the growing interest in toys supporting a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics curriculum, and the increased sophistication of augmented reality apps.
Traffic on the first two days of the show was slow for some exhibitors, possibly due to the Saturday start (a day earlier than usual), the continued snowstorms in New England, and the fact that Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day both occurred during the show. But the pace picked up on the third day. And most publishers said they were busy throughout the show making retail connections, writing orders, having productive meetings, and getting the word out about new products.