The Real Toy Story: Inside the Ruthless Battle for America's Youngest Consumers [NOOK Book]


The American toy business is massive, world dominating, cutthroat, exciting, and increasingly willing to sacrifice our kids in its frantic rush for profit. And yet, for all its rapaciousness, the industry is in the business of delighting and fascinating our children. Toys are one of the most emotive subjects in the world. We all remember our own toys; we care desperately about those we choose for our kids, knowing these objects help shape children's lives. They are also a constantly newsworthy item: every ...
See more details below
The Real Toy Story: Inside the Ruthless Battle for America's Youngest Consumers

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$17.99 price


The American toy business is massive, world dominating, cutthroat, exciting, and increasingly willing to sacrifice our kids in its frantic rush for profit. And yet, for all its rapaciousness, the industry is in the business of delighting and fascinating our children. Toys are one of the most emotive subjects in the world. We all remember our own toys; we care desperately about those we choose for our kids, knowing these objects help shape children's lives. They are also a constantly newsworthy item: every Christmas, which toys are hot -- and the scramble by parents to grab them before the stores are empty -- is front-page and TV bulletin news.

The Real Toy Story tells the tales of these toys and of the vast, world-dominating $22 billion American industry that creates them. The rewards for success are enormous: a top toy can earn billions -- H. Ty Warner shot into Forbes's World's Richest People list with his creation of Beanie Babies. The price of failure is just as huge -- the battlefield is littered with the corpses of once-successful toy companies whose multimillion-dollar gambles did not pay off.

It is a world of contrasts. The Real Toy Story looks at both sides: at Slinky, Elmo, Barbie, Transformers, and their creators, but also at the dark side of an industry that leads the way in cold-blooded marketing targeted at children. Parents will want to learn about how this seemingly benign industry exploits, sometimes surreptitiously, the many new media: cable television, the internet, CD-ROMs, sometimes even invading the playgrounds to peddle their wares to unsuspecting young people.

Perhaps more disturbingly, this hard-hitting book examines the vast gap between the cuddly image of toys and how almost all toys destined for America are actually produced in China under sweatshop conditions.

Today the toy industry is in the midst of rapid change. Tapping into the concern millions of adults have about the toys they choose for the children in their lives, this riveting exposé is essential reading for everyone who cares about kids.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
London journalist Clark begins by invoking the magic of playtime, but the bulk of the book is a more prosaic snapshot of today's toy industry-a straightforward look at struggles and obstacles ranging from store closings and kids' ever-shorter attention spans to the dominance of Wal-Mart and China. Though the book is far from comprehensive-Clark scarcely mentions computer and video games and pretty much ignores the world outside the U.S. and England-almost any reader will find delight in his lively anecdotes, quotes and life stories from inventors, shop owners and toy-company executives. The subtitle's hint of darkness is here, too: Clark notes the "contrast between the industry's hard, often pitiless pragmatism and the cozy, lovable image of what it's selling." He sets the brutal closing chapter, "Santa's Sweatshop," in China's Pearl River Delta, the "workshop of the world." But this is no Fast Food Nation-style polemic intended to rouse readers to action; when the author's prose edges into commentary, he's more wistful than outraged. Too many of today's toys, he laments, "preach sex and violence" and are too closely linked to TV and film spinoffs. Anyone raised on Erector sets and Legos will relate. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"A fascinating exposé of the $20 billion- a-year toy industry, in which...executives jockey for market share with alarming bloodthirstiness."

-- Atlantic Monthly

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743298896
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 1/9/2007
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 256
  • File size: 455 KB

Meet the Author

Eric Clark, acclaimed investigative journalist formerly with the London Observer and the Guardian (Manchester), now specializes in marketing and advertising, on which he writes and lectures worldwide. The Want Makers, his major study of the advertising industry, was published in twenty countries. His nine other books include five novels. Father of three (and custodian of countless toys over the years), he lives in London with his wife, the author Marcelle Bernstein.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt


Play is the work of the child.

Maria Montessori

The business of toys is anything but child's play.

Toy Department, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, literature

Toys are wonderful. They inspire love, comfort the lonely, enrich experience, embody the best childhood memories. A bedraggled toy dog in bed can hold back the night. A red plastic fire engine can put out a tantrum. A tiny doll stems tears. They encourage learning, nurture imagination and creativity, and turn people into lifelong collectors.

Toys are special. They give a glow, years after they've been discarded. Remember the excitement of opening presents: the belled clatter of a xylophone, the slither of a Slinky, the waxy smell of Crayola crayons. The feel of Play-Doh in your hands. That Fisher-Price airplane peopled with pop-in passengers. Toys are fun. More, they are a vital part of our lives, our culture, and our children's development. They are crucial for physical, emotional, intellectual, and social interaction.

Good toys enhance play. Play is the work of childhood, and toys are the tools of that work. They stimulate imagination, creativity, coordination. They let children experiment, discover themselves, solve problems, feel in control. They provide a two-way connection with adults. They help them make sense of the world and find their role in it.

The industry that produces these toys should also be special. It has to hold a singular place in our society: Few others affect such a critical and sensitive area of family life.

The American toy industry dominates not just the United States but also the whole of the globe. It is now a $21 billion business, and although fewer than 4 percent of the world's children are American, American children consume more than 40 percent of the world's toys.

It is massive and exciting. Every year it puts almost 3.6 billion toys into the home market alone, including 76 million dolls, 349 million plush toys, 125 million action figures, 279 million Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars...

The toy industry has never been a static one: Part of its genius has been a capacity to adapt with speed and flair. Today, though, the changes that buffet it are huge, the greatest for at least 50 years.

Kids are leaving behind their toys earlier and earlier. Partly it is that they are growing up faster -- the famous KGOY (kids getting older younger), a trend ironically encouraged by the toy industry's own marketing methods of using sex and violence to attract kid sales. Partly it is the competition from all the other rivals for childhood time and attention, especially from today's new "toys," such as iPods and cell phones -- electronics are eating the toy industry, laments one insider.

The industry that once drew vigor and innovation from the sheer number and challenging creativity of its range of companies is now corporation dominated. Just two toy companies and three retailers control a huge proportion of the world's toys, determining which will be produced and which die. And their overriding concern is not the wonderful, special nature of toys -- but the bottom line.

The fact is, the toy business is no longer fun and games. It's a harsh, corporate world, driven by social and demographic changes, concerns about stock prices, and fierce battles between global brands.

The rewards for success are enormous: A top toy can earn billions. H. Ty Warner shot into Forbes' World's Richest People list with his Beanie Babies. Likewise, the cost of failure can be catastrophic -- the battlefield is littered with the corpses of once-successful toy companies whose multimillion-dollar gambles did not pay off.

As a result, the toy business has become increasingly ruthless, willing to use "gloves off" methods and exploit its young customers. In the industry's struggle to adapt and to survive, our kids are regarded as walking wallets. Ever younger age groups are constantly being targeted. Research companies work with children as young as 2; by 4, most are already making requests by brand name. One-year-olds attract increasing attention.

Marketers put into play the whole range of sophisticated research and selling techniques developed for adults -- plus some extra (and sometimes dubious) techniques such as covert data collecting at child-oriented Web sites.

The impact of the U.S. toy industry on children can hardly be exaggerated. It reflects, influences, stimulates, and sometimes anticipates their wants and whims. Half the 40,000 commercials the average child views every year are for toys. Industry-promoted toy fashion fads condition toddlers for the wider marketing onslaught that will engulf them as they grow older.

Play has become too easy. "A child loves his play," wrote Dr. Benjamin Spock, "not because it is easy, but because it's hard." Kids have a short attention span. A good toy is versatile: a cardboard box can be house, boat, fortress, tent,'ll never improve on a box. But the toys produced today too often do everything at the touch of a button. Vast numbers have computer chips and many come with prescripted story lines. Far from encouraging creative play, they stifle it: The action comes from the toy, not from the child. The play patterns that result are structured by the movies or television programs that spawn them, or from the built-in electronics. No one says, "Let's pretend...."

Today's big toy companies like to see themselves as being in the "lifestyle entertainment" business. They are no longer selling playthings but promoting "properties." The only way to change the play with these toys is to discard, move on to a new one -- which, for the industry, is the perfect commercial solution. Even better, these toys are springboards to the sales of other toys and accessories in the line, promoting constant repeat buying. The industry's continued existence depends on selling instant gratification over and over again.

Today's toy people are not manufacturers. Most of the world's toys are made thousands of miles away in China by migrants toiling for a few cents an hour. The monstrous gap between the cost of manufacture and the selling price fuels the process to which toy companies devote themselves -- the marketing. Throughout America -- and throughout the world -- the way kids play is increasingly determined by a tiny number of executives who could just as effectively be selling soap or breakfast cereals (and probably have, or someday will).

There are still toy people who care: lone, maverick inventors conjuring up captivating playthings with passion and ingenuity; entrepreneurs with persistence and daring.

It is a business in which losers far outnumber winners. The losses are monumental, the wins colossal. And it can happen in the space of a season: one longtime commentator on the industry memorably says, "Every big toy company is just a stone's throw away from disaster."

It is a high-wire act without a safety net. That's why the thrills remain.

Copyright © 2007 by Eric Clark

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


1. If It's February, It Must Be Toy Fair

2. The Inventors

3. What Hasbro Wants

4. Barbie Goes to War: Battle of the Dolls

5. The (Vicious) Business of Toys

6. War of the Aisles: The Retail Battleground

7. Grabbing Them Young

8. Santa's Sweatshop






Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2007

    Expert exploration of the toy world

    This is almost a fun book. It goes into the magic behind all the toys you've enjoyed personally or given to your kids or grandchildren. And, it will intrigue anybody who's ever wrangled with a Rubik¿s Cube, hugged a Gund Bear or become rich speculating in Mattel shares way back when Barbie was a girl. But, after the fun part, the book hits you in the gut. There's a nasty side to the toy business and author Eric Clark lays it out clearly as he describes child laborers who make toys in Third World sweat shops, particularly in China and Mexico. We recommend this book to anyone who buys toys for children, or to those who want to know about child labor and address its abuses. With its illuminating examination of invention, manufacture and retailing in the toy industry, this is a valuable resource.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)