Compared to the buzz over Toy Fair 2011’s co-located digital conference, Engage!, the “tech-mood” at Toy Fair 2012 was more subdued yet also more universal. The year, Engage! (now Digital Kids) will be setting up shop on its own in Los Angeles from April 21-25, and at this past week’s Toy Fair, digital components and companions seemed such an integral part of each exhibit, that it might have been difficult to justify an entirely separate show.
Overall, self-published authors and “book-related” start-ups enjoyed more visibility at Toy Fair 2012 than in past years. Several of these new self-publishing endeavors are very reminiscent of digital start-ups, albeit digital start-ups with one book or series of books as the basis for all their material. For all these entrepreneurs, though, multi-media and digital interactive platforms are part of the original concept for what a book—and business—will be, and don’t fall under the category of marketing techniques as much as they do under original publishing efforts.
One such author (and veteran marketing and branding expert), Lou Hughes, says he was inspired to create the character Olly Oogleberry after revisiting classic children’s books with his own children. Olly Oogleberry (an alien) exists in a picture book, but also in a simultaneously created online platform with fan discussion boards and video sharing, web video series, and an extensive line of Olly merchandise. Twitter and Facebook are fully integrated throughout the site and the little blue alien has 12,000+ followers on Facebook. Other independent publishing ventures, such as Super Sprowtz, and Zylie the Bear, are taking the same approach of using an original book as the basis for a multi-media “universe”, but put less emphasis on the individual author.
Though the self-publishing trend for Toy Fair 2012 did seem to be about elaborate, fully integrated social media strategies, PT met at least one self-published author new to the toy fair who has a traditional print book, very traditional content, and a marketing strategy at once very analog and very effective. Clay Rice is a third-generation silhouette artist (yes, the kind with scissors and black paper). His 2010 picture book The Lost Shadow (illustrated with his black paper-cuts), winner of Moonbeam and IPPY awards, was initially published with a small local publisher in South Carolina. When Rice realized he himself was selling the majority of all copies sold, he bought the rights back from his publisher and began to self-publish. As a professional artist, he tours the country and cuts silhouettes in toy and bookstores, bringing along custom-made floor displays. He “can sell up to 80 copies in an afternoon” and then leaves stores that host him with a fully stocked floor display. “In about two months, most call back to reorder,” he said. Doing just this, he’s been selling between 10,000 and 15,000 books per year “just out of the trunk of my car.”
Rice now has an agent, but said he’s biding his time for a multi-book deal. At Rice’s Toy Fair booth, his wife spoke to potential buyers and gave out materials covering the kind of publicity packages they offer to host-venues, while he himself sat and chatted with people sitting in a chair adjacent to him as he cut their silhouettes free-hand. While PT was there, at least one person a minute would stop dead in their tracks and retrace their steps to see Rice “sketching” visitors’ profiles with his scissors as casually as other artists sketch with a pencil. He then presented each “subject” with a signed copy of The Lost Shadow with his or her hand-cut silhouette glued inside the front cover. Watching Toy Fair visitors wait in line to meet a self-published picture-book author is no small thing, and Rice’s paper-and-scissors publicity may have been one of the biggest attention-getters we saw at the Fair this year.