Part history primer, part exposé, The Real Toy Story is a literary roller-coaster ride. Author Eric Clark, a former investigative journalist in the UK, offers up a robust, hard-hitting look at the toy industry circa 2007. While some of his anecdotes are a dated now that changes that have occurred since the book was published, Clark’s overarching descriptions of advertising tactics, labour practices, retail realities, and product development lifecycles remain relevant today.
Each stand-alone chapter focuses on a key aspect of the toy industry. As each chapter’s narrative unfolds, Clark effectively illustrates an underlying dichotomy: the fun, play-oriented, child-focused wonderment of toy products versus the cut-throat competitive, litigious, and bottom-line focused industry that produces them. Many of the chapters quite fittingly use war analogies as part of their titles.
Barbie Goes to War: Battle of the Dolls recounts the development and rise to dominance of the doll brand for Mattel amidst an onslaught of competition, such as the line of Bratz dolls from (at the time) up-and-comer MGA Entertainment. War of the Aisles: The Retail Battleground highlights the power and influence that big-box retail stores, like Wal-Mart, have on the toy industry, as well as the price-cutting tactics used to drive out the competition. The book’s final chapter, Santa’s Sweatshop, presents a bleak look into the deplorable labour conditions in China’s Pearl River Delta, the epicenter of outsourced toy production.
The book is not all doom-and-gloom, however. Along with these hard-hitting anecdotes, the author also weaves in positive vibes, too, including the success stories of solo toy inventors, an independent toy store that has persevered and flourished among the big boxes, a profile of a nostalgic industry veteran, and other stories.
The Real Toy Story was three years in the making and draws upon more than 200 interviews for content. For anyone interested in a well-researched book on what goes on behind the scenes to stock the shelves at your favorite toy store, it is worth checking out.
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