Spielwarenmesse: The mystery and power of children’s books

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Mutter liest Kindern aus Buch vor


The mystery and power of children’s books

from Richard Gottlieb

There is something wonderful about physically holding a book. It’s heft as it sits in your hands, the cracking sound when you open it for the first time, the colorful book jacket that first got your attention, the feel of your fingertips turning the pages, and that heady, new, book smell that wafts up into your nostrils. Yes, books are wonderful but some think that they are becoming a piece of analog history, a remnant of how people use to read before Kindle. I think they are wrong.

As a result I feel compelled to ask you this question: Are we in the toy industry missing out on incremental book sales? If so, shouldn’t we be rethinking how we merchandise books in our stores?

And at the same time, if reading is a form of play (and I believe that it is), do we in the toy industry have a responsibility to the adults of tomorrow to encourage reading? Wouldn’t it send a strong message for the toy industry to encourage adults to read to children or for children to read to themselves?

Let’s consider first the societal reasons and then the economic ones.

Books are good for society

Consider this quote from New York Times writer, Maria Bustillos, about the importance of the physical Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and 140 pounds of it, rather than the digital version.


Reading on-screen tempts us to see things only through the pinhole of our immediate curiosity… When you hold a book in your hands, it is very different from what happens when you are typing something onto a glassy, featureless screen. Online, your experience is personalized, but it is also atomized, flattened and miniaturized, robbed of its landscape.

Physical books require you to literally hold some of the context of what you are reading, and that is a crucial dimension of understanding.

Maria Bustillos, "Letter of Recommendation", New York Times, July 2, 2015

What this says is that we should be careful to make sure that future adults are as fluid finding their way around an ink on paper book as they are about a digital one. If a culture can forget how to write in script (and we are) we may also lose our ability to understand how to use an index, end notes and a bibliography.

We may also lose that vital bond that comes when an adult reads to a child. A loving synapse occurs when child, adult and book converge in a caring adult’s lap. It is a rare point of connection that we as a society need to maintain.

Books are good for business

Toys stores tend to maintain books in waterfall displays. Purchasing a book therefore calls for an intention on the part of the consumer, adult or child, as they must find their way to the book department.

Why not rethink how books are merchandised in toy stores. I had the great fortune, early in my career, to have worked for a major toy and book company. We published a myriad of children’s titles while at the same time also sold a host of games and puzzles.

Working for such a hybrid company allowed me to see beyond the confines of the retail toy shelf or the book department. The question is how do we secure incremental sales by merchandising some books in the toy department?

Boxed Book Sets tempt impulse sales

One excellent way to do that is to turn to book formats that easily merchandise in a toy department: Boxed Book Sets. Whether they are licensed or non-licensed, they sit up beautifully on a store shelf and lend themselves to impulse sales. Containing 8, 10 or 12 books in a slip cover, they create a great price point and a highly wrappable present.

So, when setting the toy department for the vital fourth quarter selling season, why not consider merchandising box sets on the top shelf in your toy department of old standards like Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Winnie The Pooh, Curious George and, believe it or not, Shakespeare in a kid version.

And what about older children who can read to themselves? There are wonderful boxed sets of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia.

So, think different and think big when it comes to selling books. It’s good for children, good for society and great for your bottom line.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.

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