The PopCulteer
January 3, 2020

The International Toy Fair in New York is still about six weeks in our future, but with other Toy Fairs taking place in Hong Kong, Nuremburg and London before then, we ought to be able to piece together lots of cool information about what to expect from the toy industry in the coming year. This is the first post in an ongoing series to keep you up to date.

2020 is shaping up to be an interesting year. Frozen 2 is expected to dominate the girl’s toys catagory (and despite efforts to get rid of such gender identifications in the industry, there’s not much reason to think that such distinctions won’t persist). Star Wars might see a rebound from it’s recent doldrums, due not to the final movie in the last trilogy, but to the success of The Mandalorian. McFarlane Toys revealed their first offerings from their DC Comics license yesterday, while Spin Master had quietly leaked their DC Comic action figure line details through online retailers the day before (more on that below).

The news this morning that the mega-hit top-selling toy of the last few years, LOL Surprise, may finally be running out of steam is being greeted with premature elation from competing toymakers. It’s a very intriguing sign for the industry, since LOL Surprise has been so dominant that other toy makers complained that it was tying up manufacturing capacity and crowding them out of retailer’s shelves. MGA Entertainment, who make LOL Surprise, deny the reports, but they come from a company that specializes in liquidating overstock, so it’s a bit hard to discredit. Plus there are reports of prices being slashed in the UK.

The theory is that retailers over-ordered LOL Surprise, not that the toy suddenly stopped selling. When a flood of LOL Surprise hits deep-disount retailers, we’ll have to see if it hurts the sales of their newer product this spring. It might just wind up crowding other companies’ toys off of deep-discount retailer shelves.

Manufacturing capacity is a big issue. For years there’s been a push by the major (and minor) toymakers to move their production out of China. The main impetus for this has been that China has a growing middle class and wages have been going up sharply as the factory workers try to improve their quality of life. The cost of making toys in China has been increasing steadily.

The recent trade wars and threats of tariffs have hastened this move dramatically. Toy makers who had a ten-year plan to move production out of China found themselves rushing to try to do so in two years. They intend to stay in the region, moving to factories in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and other Asian countries, but many of those factories are not yet fully-equpped to meet their demands.

It’s caused some changes that you may not immediately notice. At Chinese factories, Mattel had 150 shades of red paint at their disposal to use on their toys. At the newer factories they have three shades of red. Some Chinese factories had satellite communications set up so that they could hold live conferences with some of the toy makers and make instant changes in production. At the new factories they have to rely on cellphone photos being sent when the person taking them can get within reach of a cell tower.

A lot of toys intended for release in time for Christmas last year will actually show up in the first or second quarter of this year. Not only are the manufacturing capabilities in other Asian countries less advanced than in the established Chinese factories, their shipping facilities are not as large or efficient, so that even if a toy comes out of the factory on schedule, it might face an extra month or more before it winds up on our shores.

Hasbro moved Heaven and Earth (and called on Disney’s Ike Perlmutter to lobby his buddy in the White House to delay tariffs on toys until after the holidays) to make sure that toys based on Frozen 2 and Star Wars made it into stores in time for the Christmas shopping season, but that had the ripple effect of delaying much of their other product lines, as well as affecting other manufacturers.

Several Kickstarter projects have run into horrible delays dealing with Chinese factories who seem as eager to leave toys behind as the toy industry is to get out of their country. Factories can make a lot more money making tablets and smartphones than they can making toys. There are dozens of horror stories of well-intentioned folks who thought they could produce a cool toy for dedicated fans, only to discover that they’ve fallen into a years-long ordeal trying to get their action figures or other toys produced.

And if that isn’t enough doom and gloom and uncertainty…the New York Times Science Blog recently reported on projections of regions of the world that will be under water by 2050, due to climate change. What isn’t mentioned in this alarming report is that these changes will wipe out the land where 70% of the non-Chinese toy factories are.

With all that uncertainty, it’s no wonder that the people who make up the toy industry contribute so greatly to the profits of the ulcer medicine industry.

Still, with all that hanging over their heads, toymakers will do everything they can to make Toy Fair a fun event. I will not be going this year. I wanted to, but with some recent medical adjustments, combined with the expense involved, I decided to sit out this year. I didn’t want to pay to stay in New York for the better part of a week, only to not be well enough to attend Toy Fair every day. It’s a blast to go there, but it’s also an exhausting experience, and I want to go when I know that I’m up for all four days of the marathon coverage of the event. By the last day, its like the Bataan Death March, only with cool toys to look at.

I’ll be covering Toy Fair from here, but that gives me the advantage of being able to report on it for the next six weeks leading up to it. In recent years toy companies have started leaking their biggest announcements days, or even weeks, before Toy Fair. Just this week, because their licenses began on January 1, McFarlane Toys and Spin Master unveiled their DC Comics figures, which could turn up in stores before the end of the month. There’s also news that leaks out in the other international toy fairs that precede New York, although much of the cool stuff they show there never makes it to America.

So stay tuned to PopCult for tons of toy coverage, as well as a beefed-up selection of book, comics, music and toy reviews and our usual cool offerings at The AIR. 2020 is coming into a clear view.

About Those Spin Master DC Comics Action Figures…

With information leaked out via a few online retailers, we now know that Spin Master will release DC Comics action figures in 4″ and 12″ sizes, with a blind-box series of 2″ figures, and they should be in stores in a week or three. We have a few images.

These are figures aimed at kids, but early photos show plenty of collector appeal as well. The 4″ line, a size that hasn’t been used for DC figures for years, shows a decent amount of articulation and accessories, plus it gives them the option of making affordable vehicles. The initial 4″ line will focus on Batman, and each figure will come with three mystery accessories. The assortment will include two versions of Batman (plus one chase figure, in gold), Robin, The Joker, Nightwing and Man-Bat (with detachable wings). Retail price will be $7.99, with higher price points on multi-figure and vehicle sets.

The 12″ figures look to be as well-articulated as Mattel’s, which is great news because the fear was that Spin Master would downgrade these figures and make them as lame as Marvel’s Titan Hero figures, with a mere five points of articulation. The price point will be $9.99, and it looks like the first wave will have three versions of Batman, Superman in his New 52 gear, Harley Quinn, The Joker, The Flash and Shazam (looking somewhat less goofy than the movie version Mattel released last year).

The blind-box (capsule) figures look to be well-thought-out, beginning with a line based on Batman. The five-dollar price point will give you a blind bag containing one of 20 two-inch Batman-related figures, including metalic, surprise and chase figures.

As soon as we get our hands on these, we’ll offer up detailed reviews.

And that is it for this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features and fresh content every day.