For the last four years Toy Fair and Digital Kids have been held in tandem, the Fair taking up the entire exhibition space at Javits, and Digital Kids being held downstairs in one of the large conference rooms. With about 150 attendees, Digital Kids doesn’t compete with Toy Fair, with its estimated 33,000 visitors. This year there was also a consumer component — Play Fair — presented by LEGO and Nickelodeon, along with “participating brands” like Hasbro, Mattel, Marvel, Cartoon Network, Crayola, Bandai, Toys”R”Us® and Warner Bros.
Toy Fair attracts a modest number of book publishers, most of whom were located on “publishers row,” below the main exhibition space, along with the wooden toys, Lego knock-offs and board games. On the plus side, there was much more to see; unlike the aisles where Mattel, Crayola and Tomy resided, visitors could look at the products, which were not hidden behind walled fortresses as many of the big guys were.
Downstairs, Macmillan and HarperCollins were almost cheek-by-jowl, displaying books that were a mixture of classics and new. Walter Foster/Quarto, which had a nice space (and great bags), was hyping Footloose, a book-and-CD package, with Kenny Loggins singing. Silver Dolphin/Thunder Bay Books, down the aisle from the others, was highlighting the Animal Adventures 3D books. National Geographic and Albert Whitman (promoting Boxcar Children) had small booths on the row, although the former had partners all around the convention center who featured their products.
At Digital Kids, literacy and reading were mentioned – but not a book or author’s name passed the speakers’ lips. Still, there were some interesting presentations and stats: Maria Bailey from BSM Media talked about millennial moms’ quest for “connected” toys, games and apps, and noted that 65% of moms look for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) content, though almost a third want toys to promote creativity.
Alice Kahn, a YouTubeKids advisor, made a plea to let small kids have the chance to experience “object manipulation in 3D,” saying it was critical to a child’s development. There was much discussion during the two days about the balance (which Amanda Gummer, from Fundamentally Children HQ called the “play diet”) between physical and digital, and education and entertainment. Dust or Magic’s Warren Buckleitner went further, asking his app developer panelists how they could make money while maintaining ethical standards. Most said they didn’t sell products – but made them available if a child wanted new apps. All the developers decried free apps, which makes it difficult to produce high quality games that can be monetized. But Dr. Panda Games’ CCO Tom Buyckx said their apps, most of which are on a pay model, had been downloaded 50 million times – in 16 languages.
A panel on virtual badges and currency prompted the most tweets of the entire conference. Tech journalist Robin Raskin talked about how to prepare kids for the coming cashless society. One company, KidsNBids, offers a form of currency that can be used in educational games. Choremonster gives kids points for helping out at home, which they can exchange for treats from their parents.
Just as Toy Fair was devoted to products sold at retail, most of the speakers at Digital Kids were squarely focused on the digital future – a chasm that was apparent when Wonder Toyshop CEO Vikas Gupta announced that soon “Software will power the heart that beats inside every toy.”
Somehow that might not sit too well with the $20 billion dollar industry that was showing off its wares upstairs.