Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Why the Toy Fair? On Books and Brands

Having tea with some new friends made at Toy Fair 2012

What’s the book-buzz at an event with no “book” in the name? It all has to do with getting to know the broader landscape in which book-business exists. Here’s a bit of the news from Toy Fair 2012.

 

 

 

 

When I went on my first Publishing Trends “in the field” assignment exactly one year ago, I was very enthusiastic, but also bit confused: the name “Toy Fair,” contains neither “books” nor “publishing,” words (or derivatives thereof) that I generally expect in this line of work. I piped up and asked, “So…why do publishers care about the Toy Fair?” After the first flabbergasted outburst of “Because it’s a huge deal!!”, the nature of “huge” was kindly explained to me. More than selling (e or p) copies of the book you already have, the Toy Fair is about brand expansion. What’s up in the air now is what that “expansion” looks like.

A quick glance down the halls of Publishing Trends Toy Fair Coverage History might prove useful here. Back in 2001, when PT made its yearly meander amongst the toys, the biggest news was that Eloise was everywhere. Only after Kay Thompson’s death did she manage to leave The Plaza and the page and go galloping over every piece of merchandise ever coveted by kid-kind. The 2001 article also muses over the relative scarcity of Harry Potter products and wonders how ruthless Rowling would be with milking the toy/merchandise cash cow down the line. (If my memory serves me, the backpacks and action figures eventually came to us more by way of the movies and the face that Daniel Radcliffe gave Pottermania).

The purpose of Toy Fair continues to be a place for children’s book and character rights-holders to peruse and talk to companies who have shown interest in born-a-book brands in the past. Or conversely, to spot other brands that could successfully be put between two boards or in a book app, hopefully leading to classics like Barbie: Horse Show Champ or My Little Pony: The World’s Biggest Tea Party.

This year, the Angry Birds doodle books and cookbook have been so wildly successful that Diamond Comic Distributors had only a poster to show me when I stopped by their booth: they were totally sold out before the show even started. When I attended toy-fair last year, every print book was falling over itself to get an app (even if that wasn’t the best idea), and this year, the King of All Apps is going crazy for codices. How is it that the grass is always, always greener?

2011 was also the year that the self-published author rose to a place at the table, and I saw considerably more of them this year than I did last. In fact, the “brand” that most stuck with me from this year’s fair was one such author, Clay Rice. Mr. Rice is the self-published author of The Lost Shadow, winner of Moonbeam and IPPY Awards, and illustrated with his beautiful silhouette paper-cuts. Talk about a marketing platform: he and his wife had an eye-catching booth decorated with his silhouettes, their floor displays that they put

Author-illustrator Clay Rice cuts out a visitor's silhouette

in toy and bookstores around the country, and best of all, Clay sitting and cutting passers-by’s silhouettes—free-hand. As I sat there chatting with him about his honed routine and the efforts necessary for a self-published author (“I could be the next Dr. Seuss, and without smart publicity, no one’s going to care”) and he cut my silhouette out of a folded piece of black paper the way other artists casually sketch with a pencil. He told me about how the art had been passed down from his grandfather, who worked silhouettes of the grand wrought-iron gates of Charleston and of people across the South. He then showed my silhouette, which he stuck in a copy of his book, inscribed to me. This, obviously, is an irresistible “platform.” I myself stopped in dead in my tracks and turned around to go back and see what, exactly, Clay was making, and crowds of others were doing the same. Totally digital-free and yet the Rices stood out not only as a self-published book at the Toy Fair, but as any brand of any kind at the Toy Fair as far as I’m concerned.

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