There’s no business like showbusiness …it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 7th January 2022

Happy New Year to you all – I hope you had a fantastic Christmas break and have returned to work rejuvenated and ready for whatever 2022 is going to throw at us. The first week back has been dominated by announcements from toy fair organisers across the globe, all reaffirming that as things stand, their shows will be going ahead as planned over the coming weeks.

Every time we print one of these announcements, we receive a flurry of calls and comments from both ends of the spectrum – many expressing delight and relief at the ‘return to normal’ that these impending events herald, others asking how organisers can press ahead given the current Covid conditions.

Sometimes, we have to tread a fine line – we want to get fully behind all of the shows and support their decisions, while at the same time remaining sensitive to the fact that not everyone feels it appropriate that they should be taking place. It’s at times like this that I occasionally wish we were one of those magazines that just reprints press releases word for word and never expresses an opinion or does any investigative journalism of its own – then I come to my senses and realize that the reason people read Toy World is precisely because that’s not how we operate.

Indeed, CES organiser Gary Shapiro made it explicitly clear this week that in his opinion, the media should be ‘toeing the line’ and not sharing information if it doesn’t adhere to his chosen narrative: “If we do not cancel (the show), we face the drumbeat of press and other critics who tell the story only through their lens of drama and big name companies.” With all due respect, he is a little wide of the mark: good media outlets (especially trade magazines) are not predisposed to drama…we’re predisposed to sharing accurate information, both good or not so good. There is a crucial difference between trade and consumer press – there is no commercial benefit to us to adopt a sensationalist stance. But I hope if we have a reputation, it is for being honest and unbiased; perhaps that is why I have almost turned into the Nuremberg hot line at times in recent weeks – people just want a clear picture of what is going on to help them decide what to do.

That said, there are so many rumours flying around at the moment about who is and isn’t still visiting which shows, and which exhibitors have or haven’t pulled out, that it isn’t always easy to be certain how things will pan out. And unless we receive or see official confirmation, I prefer not to speculate. That said, I do think that it is going to come as a surprise to some visitors when they arrive at a show and find certain companies are not present – I don’t know what the answer is, but the veil of secrecy drawn over the withdrawal of certain companies from events is not ideal. No-one wants to get to a show and find a big chunk of the people they came to see aren’t there – it will be more important than ever to double check in advance and arrange fixed appointments where possible.

Thankfully, there have been many encouraging developments this week: London Toy Fair kicks things off in just under two weeks’ time, and the BTHA confirmed this week that it is full steam ahead. There is no realistic prospect of government intervention by way of a lockdown or a ban on mass events, and with Irish visitors no longer required to take a PCR test to enter the UK or return to Ireland, there is every reason to believe that UK & Irish visitor numbers should hold up well. One of the advantages of it being a predominantly domestic show is that if anyone does wake up with symptoms, they can get home relatively easily.

Of course, it is a little more complicated if you are abroad and catch Covid, and it is this inescapable fact that remains a concern when it comes to international shows – I don’t think anyone would relish being stranded in Germany or the USA and having to quarantine. Nevertheless, both the Nuremberg and New York Toy Fair organisers have gone on record this week saying that the show(s) will go on. Both have admitted that numbers will be down, both in terms of exhibitors and visitors – I am sure we’ve all heard names of major companies that are alleged to have pulled out of both events, and also of buyers who it is claimed will not be attending. However, both organisers are convinced they have sufficient demand to make the shows viable, and I very much hope this is the case.

It is true that sometimes a few big names pulling out of a show sends shock waves throughout the toy community, but there are hundreds and thousands of small and medium size players who arguably stand to lose far more if a show doesn’t go ahead, and it is important that their voice isn’t drowned out by the decisions of a handful of bigger players for which life will go on either way.

Nuremberg has seen nearby shows cancelled (particularly the Frankfurt gift events that were due to take place a few weeks earlier) but the organisers firmly believe that their show can operate safely. New York has arrived at the same conclusion, albeit with the caveat that a further announcement will be made next week. I genuinely hope that both shows are able to go ahead and that they are a success for the companies that choose to participate.

Away from Toy Fair Season, there has been plenty of other news this week: I’d like to congratulate Michelle Lilley on her promotion to marketing director at MGA, and also Playtime PR on picking up the Epoch making toys PR account. Sadly, we also shared obituaries for popular indie toy retailer Margaret Goldie and legendary Australian toy stalwart Jeff Hunter, who both passed away over the festive period.

Finally, our monster January edition will be with you any day now – and we’ve put the digital version of the issue online today, so if you are at a loose end over the weekend, you can make a start going through the goldmine of information that it contains. It’s our biggest-ever edition, and the Toy World team has done an incredible job pulling it all together. I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labour – we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved in frankly challenging circumstances. If you aren’t on the database and want to pick a copy up at Olympia, we’ll have copies available there – but I recommend a little advance weight-training in the gym to avoid a hernia when you pick it up.