The number of publishers exhibiting at Toy Fair 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, which ran February 14—17 at the Javits Center.

Exhibitors that continue to have a presence, including trade houses like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, educational publishers like 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, a significant number of orders written, and first-time customers.

“We've opened a large number of new accounts,” said Doug Analla, creative services manager at Klutz, echoing other publishers. “It's a great sign.” He pointed to Fashion Origami, a spring title, as attracting a lot of attention.

Toy Fair is InnovativeKids' best trade show, according to Shari Kaufman, president and cofounder. Innovative is expanding some of its brands, including Green Start, into giant puzzles, gift wrap, and plush, and will promote them as cohesive lines along with the books. “We still take publishing seriously, but we don't want to limit ourselves,” Kaufman said. “The mission hasn't changed, but the delivery mechanism has.”

One reason for the decline in publisher booths at Toy Fair this year is consolidation at the value/mass market end of the children's book industry. 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 exhibitor Kappa Books, which is relaunching some of Playmore's formats. 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. Like Paradise, it specializes in low-priced licensed and generic coloring and activity formats.

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 products but 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 relocated reported better traffic and more customer diversity than in the Books & Music area.

Pairing Books and Toys

Toy companies are increasingly publishing books to enhance their core lines. In the past, they created content to package with their products and add play value. Now, they hope to sell the books separately, including into bookstores. Just one of several examples at Toy Fair was Battat, which relaunched its Our Generation dolls in deluxe packs with accessories and a hardcover book. The books also will be sold individually; Battat is in discussions with a bookstore chain about placement. “Parents want to buy a toy and a book together,” said co-owner Dany Battat. “But I also want people to buy the books for the books.”

Cross-promotion of books and toys also was evident. Breyer Toys displayed Feiwel and Friends' Wind Dancers titles along with the toy line on which they are based, while HMH displayed a sign directing customers to MerryMakers for plush tied to its characters. “There's a new level of coordinated effort,” said Clair Frederick, MerryMakers president.

Other trends from the show floor included many toys and games tied to tried-and-true book-based properties, from Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar to Mo Willems's Pigeon, lots of eco-friendly toys and books, and a number of technology initiatives, from virtual worlds to mobile phone apps. For the first time this year, a separate show focusing on these technologies, called the Engage! Expo, ran parallel to Toy Fair at Javits.