Toys and Their Prices Shrink to Play to the Times

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pink Penbino - toy fairFamiliar toys arrived in smaller and lower-priced versions at the American International Toy Fair. It's the kind of downsizing trend that consumers can actually be happy about.

"People didn't know how long the recession would last," Reyne Rice, consultant for the Toy Industry Association, told WalletPop. "The industry is thinking ahead."

Recent big sellers such as Beyblade robot-spinning tops and resurrected classics such as Simon are being miniaturized, with a miniaturized price.

The toy world has tried to resist shrinking its hits because less-expensive models can cannibalize the regular-size ones in the competition for sales, Rice said. This year, however, toymakers faced the reality of a lingering downturn, in which consumers were less willing to bite on bigger-ticket playthings."The business has gotten tougher, and we've had to offer more," said Jennifer Devine, spokeswoman for Basic Fun, a company that partners with toy manufacturers to shrink their bestsellers and sell them for less.

The Beyblade top has been reduced by 50% in size to keychain proportions, with the price spiraling down from $11.99 to $6.99. A hand-sized version of Simon, the color and tone memory game from decades ago, costs $9.99 compared to the $50-plus originals that are being hawked on eBay. The lil' Simon was one of Basic Fun's most popular items last year, Devine said at the fair, generating the kind of impulse buy the company counts on.

As the big-box stores become more receptive to the wee versions, the trend could accelerate, reps at the convention said. There certainly seemed to be no lack of trying to lure in potential consumers at a lower cost range.

The popular $59.99 Penbo penguin that carries and lays an egg has made way for the half-sized and more portable $29.99 Penbino. The latter sings, dances and speaks Penguish. "It will be twice as big as Penbo," said VP of Sales and Marketing Ellen Wang, referring to sales volume, not the physical size. Penbino should be ready for the next holiday go-round, Wang said.

The multimillion-selling 20 Questions handheld game, 20Q, will return in the fall with a mass market incarnation selling for $7 less than the $19.99 original. It's not as fancy, and even if it isn't an animal, vegetable or mineral, Techno Source saw its potential to reach a wider field of users. "They don't want to spend as much for a toy," spokesman Kenji Yoshinari said.

Even ZhuZhu Pet is in on the mini-movement. The original ZhuZhus are no big-sticker shocker at $9.99, but ZhuZhu babies are scampering onto the market at about a third of the size and a squeaky cute price of $5. (Note that they have a non-battery-powered wheel in its belly for kids to push it, and move on their own on what looked like a magnetic field.) ZhuZhu reps said the babies, out now, were part of a proactive strategy for creating a line to appeal to an even younger base. "They're not minis for the sake of miniaturizing," they said. The babies take on many forms beyond the standard hamsters, including frogs and chipmunks.

Disney also embraced smaller. Much of its Cars 2 promotional line is built to 1/55th scale to be compatible with Hot Wheels and other collectibles anyway. But the studio's toy division did make a nod to economizing overseas, where it created lower-cost plastic versions of the diecast cars here. They'll sell for several dollars less.

Like the old Disney song goes, "It's a small world after all." And getting smaller in the toy world.
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