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Toy Fair 2000 Highlights A Variety of Product
Karen Raugust -- 3/6/00

More than 100 companies marketing books or book-related sidelines exhibited at Toy Fair 2000 held February 13-17 at New York City's Toy Center and at the Javits Convention Center; publishers included both mass market houses and special sales divisions of trade houses. First-time exhibitors included A Different Story, a publisher of wordless picture books; Clever Hands, which markets combination book-and-craft kits that have sold 70,000“ 80,000 copies, mostly through crafts shops; Parkwest Publications, a U.K. educational activity book publisher; WonderTales, an interactive audiotape producer; Silver Dolphin, publisher of the Let's Start series; and Mattel's Pleasant Co. division, creator of American Girl books and dolls.

The biggest book-related news at Toy Fair, however, was the announcement made by Warner Bros. that it had granted both Mattel and Hasbro rights for toy lines based on the first two Harry Potter books and films. Mattel was named the master licensee for playthings, while Hasbro will market electronics through its Tiger Electronics division, candy through its OddzOn arm and trading-card games through its subsidiary Wizards of the Coast.

On the exhibit floor, most publishers showed a representative sample of their line but focused on certain areas, including products for younger children. "Board books in this kind of market do very well," said Deborah Sloan, Candlewick marketing director, echoing the comments of other exhibitors.

Many houses emphasized their spring titles, including Easter-appropriate books such as Marcus Pfister's Hopper's Easter Surprise (published by North-South and distributed by Chronicle Books), Candlewick's Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Maurice Pledger's Billy Bunny titles published by Silver Dolphin.

Publishers also tended to highlight book-plus packages, plush sidelines and "toyetic" books such as activity kits. "This is a very focused show, and I brought merchandise that was very focused on the toy market," Larry Jonas, director of special sales at Harcourt, told PW.

High-profile licenses often took center stage at publishers' booths. "Our big draw is M&Ms," noted Colleen Murphy, public relations/special sales rep at Charlesbridge, which exhibited its M&Ms titles along with eye-catching plush display figures. "M&Ms have made a huge plunge in licensing. They're all over the place. The brand recognition is higher than ever."

Time Warner Trade Publishing drew retail buyers to its booth by hosting a book signing by Little, Brown picture book author Todd Parr. Parr oversees a growing licensing program; other exhibitors displayed related products such as plush toys and puzzles.

Although licensed titles were prominent throughout Toy Fair, according to exhibitors, attendees were also interested in nonlicensed books. Both mass and specialty retailers responded strongly to new versions of recognized classics. Tony Compaglia, a sales rep at Chronicle Books, cited Sylvia Long's Mother Goose, while Harcourt's Jonas pointed to a new translation of St. Exupery's The Little Prince. Candlewick was generating interest for Helen Oxenbury's Alice in Wonderland. "We know the author," said Sloan, "but the toy people recognize the title."

Many publishers use Toy Fair to help expand distribution into new markets. Child's Play, which sells book-plus items, bath and novelty books and traditional children's titles, has exhibited at Toy Fair since 1974 and currently attributes 60% of its business to bookstores. The company's Joseph Gardner reported that Toy Fair attracts buyers from mass merchants, toy chains, nature stores, e-commerce outlets, drug stores and dollar stores, among others, as well as book chains such as Borders and Books-a-Million (which often send promotional or remainder buyers). "It's a marvelous show for the variety of classes of trade," he concluded.


For publishers, Toy Fair provides an overview of current licensing trends. "Better than 90% of the licenses that have made it come from the toy industry," remarked Larry Steinberg, president of Modern Publishing. This year, film-based licenses inspired more limited product ranges than at past Toy Fairs. Mattel introduced toys tied to Disney's Dinosaurs and 102 Dalmatians, Fox's Titan A.E. and Nickelodeon's sequel Rugrats in Paris (all have publishing deals in place). Penguin and Landoll showed books based on DreamWorks' Chicken Run (Playmates is the toy licensee) and The Road to El Dorado.

Animated TV properties from Japan maintained their high profile, being featured by all sorts of toys. Examples include new shows such as Gundam Wing and Tenchi Muyo and ongoing series such as Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Digimon, Monster Rancher and, of course, Pokemon. Modern's Steinberg reported strong interest in activity books tied to both Dragonball Z and Digimon, with the latter being sold into all channels, from Barnes & Noble, Chapters and Noodle Kidoodle to Toys "R" Us, Kmart, Target and We're Entertainment.

Other television-based licenses at Toy Fair included Cartoon Network series, led by the Powerpuff Girls (with books from Golden and Scholastic and toys from Trendmasters), and Nickelodeon series including the Wild Thornberrys (publishing by Landoll) and Spongebob Squarepants (Golden). Mattel produces toys for both Nickelodeon shows.

Publishers often look to Toy Fair for technology trends that might apply to books. In fact, new technologies comprised one of the show's main themes. Toys with sound chips and infrared technology are able to react appropriately to various situations. Many playthings at this year's fair had a translucent, colorful, iMac-style look.

A toy-book connection was evident in many products. Fisher-Price's Read with Pooh plush toy reads an electronic book along with the child, turning the pages as the youngster leafs through his or her companion book. Trendmasters' Interactive Magic Storyteller and Storybook has an interactive touch screen that animates and reads aloud stories from partners including Scholastic, Disney and Golden. Traditional books are also increasingly packaged with toys: Mattel's Mary-Kate and Ashley dolls include an original book not yet released at retail, while Ertl exhibited a Magic School Bus Going Places Toybook that consists of a soft, bus-shaped plastic body with working wheels and incorporates an exclusive 12-page book.

In terms of pop-culture trends that could translate to books, Latin language and culture remain prevalent, with toys featuring Spanish phrases or playing Latin music. Several action figure and accessory lines focused on extreme sports, and teen singing sensations were replicated as dolls by Mattel (Brandy and Vitamin C), Play-Along (Britney Spears) and Hasbro (S Club 7). Dinosaurs seem to be experiencing one of their cyclical surges in popularity, with lead properties including Disney's film Dinosaurs and Saban/Fox Kids' television series DinoZaurs (with toys from Bandai). DK was one publisher highlighting this trend, featuring companion titles to the Disney film and Discovery Channel's documentary Walking with Dinosaurs as well as several proprietary titles.

Collectability continues to be a common marketing hook used by toy companies and publishers. Golden is releasing a collector's edition of a Powerpuff Girls title (the first 100 books are numbered); the series is illustrated by the show's creator, a Little Golden Books collector.

The Power of TV

As has been the case over the last several years, many of the licenses highlighted at Toy Fair originated in children's books; the majority of these are supported by television series. Thirty exhibitors showed products tied to the book and television property Franklin, for example, including Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, licensor Nelvana, U.S. publisher Scholastic and coloring and activity book licensee Modern Publishing.

Scholastic's Clifford, who will have his own show on PBS Kids in the fall, was featured at the Toy Island and Warren showrooms, in plush and puzzles, respectively. Lucy Cousins's Maisy, published by Candlewick and licensed by Copyrights America, has a total of 45 licensees, many of which were exhibited at the fair. DK Publishing, HarperCollins, Reader's Digest and Publications International were among 11 exhibitors showing Noddy products, while Golden Books, Eden Toys and Fisher-Price displayed merchandise based on Between the Lions, a literacy-promoting PBS show that premieres this spring.

One of the book-based film licenses spotlighted at Toy Fair was How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which has more than 40 licensees on board, including Playmates for toys, Random House for story and picture books and Publications International for sound books. A film inspired by Kay Thompson's classic character Eloise is in development; several licensees exhibited products featuring Hilary Knight artwork from Simon & Schuster's books.

Sony Pictures Entertainment and Hasbro used Toy Fair to announce plans to turn Stuart Little into a long-term franchise. The 1999 film has generated more than $130 million at the box office, and the limited number of licensed products available last year virtually sold out. Stuart products will roll out to mass market retailers this year, and a sequel to the film is in the works. Meanwhile, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, a summer 2000 film based on the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends series, spurred several Thomas licensees to create film-related merchandise.

Books without any entertainment support (so far) have also inspired licensed products, including toys. Golden Books and several of its licensees showed Pat the Bunny products; Trendmasters exhibited toys tied to David Kirk's NOVA's Ark and Little Miss Spider; Todd McFarlane Productions introduced figures based on Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are; and Toy Vault displayed its Through the Looking Glass and Middle-Earth figures, based on artwork from Alice in Wonderland and The Lord of the Rings, respectively.

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