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PUBLISHER’S VIEWPOINT: The Times They Are A-Changin’

Feb.17.toybook.jsametby Jonathan Samet

On the December 21 episode of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, Seth Meyers delivered the following:

Toys ‘R’ Us announced this week that its stores will remain open for 87 straight hours leading up to Christmas. Not to be outdone, the Internet announced that it will be open all the time, always, forever.”

This was meant to be a joke to make us all laugh (and it was funny), but at the same time it needs to be taken seriously, as the Internet has certainly changed the way we conduct our lives. One key difference is that the time of day consumers can make purchases is no longer limited by “store hours.” With a simple click of the “enter” button, toys and other products can show up at our door—or go directly to the gift recipient—in as little as 48 hours, without having to leave the comfort of the couch or desk.

Therefore, no matter what part of the toy industry you participate in, you have to take this change seriously. We all have to continue to evaluate how to best reach and win over the end user 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—or as Seth Meyers put it, all the time, always, forever! I remember talking to many manufacturers, even within the last nine years since I became publisher here, who said that Internet sales were just a tiny fraction of their business and was of no concern. To quote Bob Dylan: “the times they are a-changin’,” and to survive and succeed, we all better be a-changin’ with them.

Which takes me to my next topic for discussion—though it is one that has been addressed numerous times (including within this very column) over the last few years. The New York Times ran an article on December 23 titled “Babes in a Digital Toyland: Even 3-Year-Olds Get Gadgets.” The article discusses how the passion for playing with traditional toys and games seems to be diminishing at an earlier and earlier age. The topic of age compression and increased demand for tech toys is nothing new, but this article references a recent survey of 1,000 parents with children between the ages of 2 and 10, and a particular claim caught my attention:

“About two-thirds of those [parents surveyed], planned to give a tablet or smart-phone.”

From the referenced study, the claim of 66 percent was not as startling as the fact that the sample size began with parents of kids as young as 2 years old! Kids under age 5 possibly receiving tablets or smartphones? The times, they really are a-changin’.

So where do the above two topics leave you if you are in the business of either manufacturing traditional toys and games or owning a brick-and-mortar retail store? If you are saying to yourself, “it is time to fold up the tents,” that could be one option. The other is to continually adapt to the ever-changing marketplace and deliver a product or service your end user will demand. If you face obstacles, analyze and react to them, rather than resist or complain.

As much as the Internet, technology, and tablets and smartphones are changing our lives, it is important to remember that one of the single hottest products on the market last year was a simple plastic loom that kids wrapped rubber bands around to make colorful bracelets. There is probably no happier sight than walking into a store with the child in your life, buying him or her a product off the shelf, and seeing the instant smile and excitement on his or her   face. So, as much as the times are a-changin’, in other ways, many of the great things in life stay the same.

This column was published in the February issue of The Toy Book. Check back regularly for more toy industry commentary from Jonathan. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!

COMMENTARY: The (Other!) Reason for the Season

While I understand and respect that the holiday season has religious roots, toys, gifts, and giving have become a huge part of American tradition—and I don’t think this is such a bad thing. As frustrating as it can be to deal with 600 impossible twist ties and Hefty bags full of plastic packaging on Christmas morning, toys bring families together. After mom and dad (or in this case, Aunt Marissa!) get to see their elated kids (or super adorable nieces and nephew!) open exactly what they’ve wanted all year long, the first thing they want to do is start playing.

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

Courtney (8), Aunt Marissa, Matthew (5), and our pal Stomper!

My niece Courtney can’t even get through unwrapping her mountain of presents before saying “Can I open this one?!” And that’s where the fun comes in: When Dad arrives wielding his trusty screwdriver and a Tupperware container full of batteries (and this super awesome plastic package ripper thingy that if you don’t have you need to go out and buy RIGHT now!), Mom stands by tossing wrapping paper into garbage bags (and putting everyone’s coffee mugs on coasters, thanks Mom!), and there I sit cross-legged on the floor, instruction booklet diligently in hand, reading glasses securely fastened. Even if Santa gets all of the Christmas glory, it’s the gift-givers who get the toy out of the package, insert the batteries, and help teach kids how to play. It’s the gift-givers who get to see the excitement on their kids’ faces, who get the big fat thank you hug, and who get to watch kids enjoy their Christmas prizes. It’s really just one giant bonding experience (with maybe a few “how do you turn the damn thing on?!” and “It’s like they don’t WANT you to open it!” comments thrown in between all of the sap-fest family time). [Read more...]

Toys “R” Us Stores Nationwide Remain Open 87 Continuous Hours Ahead of Christmas

toysrusToys “R” Us stores nationwide will remain open for 87 consecutive hours for last-minute shoppers. Beginning at 6 a.m. on December 21 and continuing through 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve, gift-givers can shop day and night for toys, including those that can only be found at Toys “R” Us.

Bargain hunters can also take advantage of savings and deals, as well as the company’s Price Match Guarantee, every day leading up to Christmas. Select discounts available at Toys “R” Us from December 20 through December 21 include buy one, get one free deals on all Chuggington Engines and Totally Me! by Victoria Justice crafts; buy one, get one 50 percent off all FAO Schwarz toys; and more.

Meanwhile, beginning December 22 through December 24, select discounts include buy one, get one free deals on all K’NEX building sets; buy one, get one 40 percent off all Disney Pixar Cars and Disney Planes die cast vehicles, and play sets; discounts on Disney Infinity Starter Packs; and more.

COMMENTARY: Monkeez (and Others) Help Kids Make A Difference

monkeezIt’s the season of toys and giving, as the holidays are quickly approaching. December’s cheerful spirit is evident throughout the city, on social media, and in toy stores worldwide. Christmas lights are hanging everywhere, department stores are adorned with pops of red and green, and children are on their best behavior, hoping to fall on the right side of the naughty-or-nice list. Santa is taking last-minute requests from children who will surely receive their prizes for being good girls and boys all year long.

When I was a kid, my parents always took part in Operation Christmas Child, an organization that collects shoeboxes full of toys and non-perishable items to be given to children who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas gift to open, during this time of year. I loved getting to help put toys together to send to kids around the world, though I didn’t really understand exactly what it meant. Now, I see kids crying in department stores wanting their toys now, and I see lists of toys growing longer and longer. I’m all for it—‘tis the season—but I think it’s important that kids learn to receive with a grateful attitude, rather than an expectant one.

The older I get, the more bittersweet the holidays become. The music, ice-skating, tacky sweater parties, and family time are wonderful, but the receiving of gifts isn’t as satisfying as it was when Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets filled my Christmas wish list. It’s now apparent to me that so many kids spend Christmas without basic necessities, and certainly without gifts to open. I started researching major toy companies and realized that there are so many that donate to this cause in various ways. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Nightmarish Christmas Gifts Delight Burton Fans This Season

While my folks are tuning into the Hallmark channel for the sappy Christmas movies that make them cry year after year, and my niece and nephew obsess over Buddy from Elf, I’m still stuck on a classic Christmas favorite that is often misappropriated by Halloween: The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie isn’t called A Dream Before Halloween. For me, that’s enough reasoning to say it is, in fact—no matter how creepy—a Christmas movie.

Nightmare Before Christmas MonopolyUSAopoly will bring this cult classic into homes this holiday season in a whole new way with Monopoly: The Nightmare Before Christmas Collector’s Edition. Players can buy, sell, and trade iconic movie locations, such as Jack’s Tower, Oogie Boogie’s Casino, Sally’s Alley, Dr. Finkelstein’s Laboratory, Town Square Fountain, and (my favorite) Spiral Hill. This completely customized game features imagery of all the greatest characters from the film, with Jack and Sally front and center, as well as six collectible pewter tokens, including Jack’s Skull, Sally, the Mayor’s Hearse, Oogie Boogi, Zombie Duck, and Evil Teddy. Just like the classic, this game is designed for two to six players ages 8 and up and is sure to please all Nightmare fans. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Making a List and Checking It Twice

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s that time of year again. Time to deck the halls, brave the malls, trim the tree, visit family—and if you’re a kid, it’s time to get serious about that Christmas list.

As we get older, our wish lists shift to more practical items, or fewer (and often more expensive) indulgences. Sometimes it seems like just yesterday that my list included such fantasies as a horse like the one from the Billy and Blaze book series, an RV (a real one), a ride-on car, and other obnoxious requests.

Not everything was ridiculous or out of my parents’ price range, however. One Christmas I was delighted when Santa brought me a coveted doll that I’d had my eye on for months. Another year, Barbie’s shoe store made it down the chimney, to much jumping around and “YESSSS!!!”-ing. And the year that presents filled a shiny new Radio Flyer red wagon and overflowed all over the floor goes down as one of the most memorable of all.

Times have changed, and so have the requests of kids as they add, edit, erase, and perfect what may be the most important document of the year before carefully addressing it to the North Pole and sending it off to the big man himself. Here are a few gifts, old and new, that are sure to excite and delight the kids of today as they did us kids of yesteryear.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 10.45.00 AM

The red wagon from my Christmas past was a simple, classic steel wagon that I thought was just the best ever. Now, Radio Flyer’s Build-a-Wagon offers customers the chance to design their wagon to their own unique specifications. Through the website, users can choose from the classic steel-and-wood design or modern plastic, quiet-ride or rugged rubber tires, and accessories including canopies, umbrellas, seat pads, and an MP3 player. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: Will Black Friday Need to Be Rebranded?

by David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLC

The Christmas holidays and toys are synonymous. Indeed, toys and the Christmas season are a tradition. Another holiday tradition is Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. Yet over the past several years, Black Friday has started to lose its meaning with retailers pushing opening hours ever earlier. Now many retailers are opening on Thanksgiving Day, and pushing the envelope to see how early they can open on that holiday. This is an attempt in some aspects to rebrand the holiday shopping season and establish Thanksgiving Day as the start of the traditional shopping season. Retailers are stating that they are responding to consumer demand; yet surveys show that 87 percent of Americans are opposed to retailers being open on Thanksgiving Day (even though they frequent the stores).

So what would be a smart strategy for the toy industry as this happens? Should toy stores open on Thanksgiving? Should toymakers make a strong push for Thanksgiving Day sales? Is Black Friday over and should everyone jump on the Thanksgiving Day bandwagon? The answer to these questions is a resounding no. [Read more...]

COMMENTARY: 1996: The Best Christmas Ever

1996. It was the year of the New York Yankees, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Cowboys. It was the year of Jerry Maguire and the Macarena. It was the year of Bill Clinton’s reelection. But most importantly, 1996 marked the best Christmas ever, with toy companies cranking out some of kids’ favorite toys of all time.

Cabbage Patch Snacktime KidWho could forget the Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids dolls, from Mattel? Those pudgy-faced, yarn-haired little cuties each had a motorized mouth, and kids could feed their doll a french fry, a pretzel stick, a banana, and other yummy snacks. This was one of the toys my mom admits to pushing other moms out of the way for at Toys “R” Us on Black Friday morning. The food, which the dolls realistically chewed when kids inserted it into their mouths, fell into a backpack on the doll’s back, so kids could feed them over and over again. Of course, this beacon of glory was shortly recalled after the holiday season, as kids were getting their hair, skin, and fingers stuck in the doll’s mouth (as you can imagine, this resulted in many unhappy parents and kids with bald spots). While I made sure my hair was secured tightly in a ponytail while playing, my Snacktime Kid remained one of my favorite toys through ’97.

[Read more...]

Cupcake Digital Develops Yo Gabba Gabba! App Series for Preschoolers

yogabbagabba

DHX Media has selected Cupcake Digital Inc. to develop a new series of kids’ apps featuring the characters from Yo Gabba Gabba!. Cupcake Digital will create deluxe activity apps designed for kids ages 5 and under.

The first Cupcake Digital Yo Gabba Gabba! app will launch this winter, as part of DHX Media’s comprehensive Yo Gabba Gabba! marketing and licensing strategy, which kicks off with the first live holiday tour and A Very Awesome Yo Gabba Gabba! Christmas DVD, featuring two original episodes, “A Very Awesome Christmas Special” and “Christmas.”

The app is inspired by the tune “There’s a Party in My Tummy.” The app will feature DJ Lance Rock and Brobee, Foofa, Muno, Plex, and Toodee. The activities within the app offer a variety of creative and imaginative ways for kids to learn about healthy foods and encourage kids to try them. The app will be available day-and-date on iTunes, AmazonGoogle Play, and the Barnes & Noble for Nook store.

More Microbes Are Coming

Microbes Stocking Box

GIANTmicrobes, Inc. is releasing its latest set of collectible microscopic toys, the Stocking Box, November 1.

Joining last year’s Tree Box, the Stocking Box will include five ornaments: Dust Mite with antlers and a red nose, Red Blood Cell sprinkled with snowflakes, Salmonella decked out with festive holly, Penicillin decorated with colorful ornaments, and an exclusive Green Amoeba bundled up in a red scarf and ear muffs. These educational holiday toys are modeled after actual microscopic organisms, and blown up a million times their actual size.

[Read more...]