International rescue…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 7th December 2018

Our highest-read online story of the past week was the news that Top Toys had become the latest specialist toy retailer to hit financial trouble, filing for restructuring in the bankruptcy court. The fact that the fate of the largest chain of toy stores in the Nordic region topped our viewing figures for this week (by some way) is telling on several levels. First, it shows that being first with the big news stories is as important as it ever was. Secondly, it suggests that a global toy community really does exist; we no longer operate in individual country bubbles, as perhaps we once did. What happens in international markets has a ripple effect right across the globe; we’re all connected and we’re all feeling the effects of an evolving retail market, and the changing way in which consumers choose to buy toys. Sometimes this manifests itself in positive ways, sometimes not.

In the case of Top Toys, I’m told that it was a good quality, premium toy retailer, held in high regard both locally and internationally. Hopefully its strategy of “simplifying and optimising the healthy parts of the business” will enable it to continue to play a key role in the region. But its tribulations have certainly struck a chord with domestic retailers, with my phone ringing within seconds of the news being sent out. The general consensus is that we are nearing – or indeed may have already reached – a tipping point; one person asked “How many more retailers do we need to lose before we wake up and, as an industry, do something differently? Do we genuinely value the magical experience of children buying toys in stores? If so, we need to face reality and start talking about practical solutions.” It’s certainly not easy to start a dialogue of this magnitude on a worldwide scale, and even harder to come up with tangible solutions – if there were ‘easy wins’, they would surely have been enacted by now. However, I can at least start the ball rolling by throwing it out there and starting a conversation.

The primary focus of Toy World was always intended to be on the UK toy market, but as we have evolved in recent years, our international online readership has sky-rocketed: partially because few international toy magazines have any meaningful web presence, and partially because we are approaching the online sphere in a different way, compared to many other trade websites– we strive to be more than just wall-to-wall press release. So wherever in the world these seismic events occur, we’ll do our best to cover and try to make sense of them – because there is no doubt that the world is getting smaller every day.

Switching back to the UK, I’ve been disappointed with declining standards of journalistic rigour at the BBC in recent years – I can no longer listen to Radio 4 at breakfast (how John Humphries still has a job I’ll never know), while Channel 4 and Sky are now streets ahead when it comes to TV and social media news and commentary. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that the tired old Watchdog programme decided to take a swing at the toy market this week. Lazy thinking – it’s Christmas, let’s run a scare story about toys – was compounded by lazy investigation, as the show tried to whip up a storm in a teacup over connected toys (that old chestnut), and specifically VTech’s Innotab. It was a non-story from the start: no data breach ever occurred, any risk was ridiculously unlikely in the first place – it would have taken a military intelligence-grade hacker and a series of highly unlikely events – and, crucially, VTech fixed the tiny loophole months ago anyway, so technically there was nothing to see here. Of course, that didn’t stop Watchdog, even though it should have done. Contrast that with the power of TV to support the toy trade: Philip Schofield’s ‘How to spend it well at Christmas’ show may not win any awards, but I would wager it helped to sell a lot of toys since it aired last week. And you only have to look at the Late, Late Show toy special over in Ireland to see just how effective TV coverage can be in the run-up to Christmas. It’s just a shame the BBC couldn’t adopt a more positive stance, rather than trying to imitate The Grinch.

Our December issue has arrived on desks this week – you can read the digital version here. It includes previews of both the Hong Kong trip and the Nuremberg Toy Fair (there will be a further Nuremberg preview section in our January issue, for those companies who weren’t quite ready with new product information in time for this edition). If anyone reading this would like to meet up with the Toy World team in Hong Kong or Nuremberg, feel free to drop us a line – our diaries are filling up fast.

Finally, on a personal level, I’d just like to reassure everyone that as a fully-integrated, multi-channel media operation, Toy World will not be hiving off any part of its business any time soon – why would we do that, only to end up competing with ourselves? A new ‘breakaway’ from one of our competitors has made some pretty bold claims this week, considering it doesn’t even exist yet. Let’s see if the reality gets close to matching the optimistic rhetoric. While others promise unicorns, we just get on with delivering and achieving meaningful engagement – in record numbers too. In the end, as with all forms of media, content is king – and when it comes to the toy trade, Toy World is the king of content. Running a trade website is very different to running a consumer site: it’s very easy to forget when chasing clicks that you have to put the interest of the trade at the heart of everything you do. That’s why Toy World leads the way online as it does in print, and will continue to do so for years to come. You can trust me on that.