The other price you pay when you buy expensive toys

Would you pay $300 for a toy dinosaur?

The Wall Street Journal
wrote yesterday about how pricey toys have been taking a hit. The article mentions a $300 dinosaur toy made by Hasbro. This giant robotic dinosaur that moves and sniffs fake leaves and is big enough that your kid can climb on it, isn't selling as quickly as expected. Nor are any other toys in this price stratosphere.

Why would anyone find this surprising? The WSJ apparently did, writing that toy manufacturers and salesmen had expected families to not scrimp on kids' toys. However, with unemployment at a generational high, families are indeed cutting back on expensive toys, if not only for budgeting reasons, but also because that kind of profligacy is a bad lesson to children during lean times.

Toy sales, the WSJ noted, fell 5% during the holidays.

It's an insightful article, but as the parent of two daughters, five and seven years old, I think there may be another reason parents aren't buying expensive, elaborately-designed toys. They're too cleverly designed.There are so many toys out there that do so much, that there's not a lot left over for the kid. I've noticed that when my daughters are given a doll, for instance, that sings, talks and moves, they initially love it, but the novelty wears off. Eventually the cool things the toy does can become burdensome because you have to play by the rules that the toy designers came up with.

After all, you can't very well tell a talking doll about the neat snack you ate at preschool, if she keeps repeating, "I love you," or, "I like dogs."

The Wall Street Journal's article mentioned how some Hasbro toy designers went to a Rhode Island stable to study the horses before creating a robotic toy pony named Butterscotch. It cost around $300 when it came out (it's now $216 at, and I remember seeing it at the stores over the holidays a year or two ago and thinking long and hard about buying it for my girls. I didn't, and I suspect it was the price point that kept me away and not that I was afraid it would hamper my girls' imagination.

But I'm thinking that maybe it's not such a bad thing if the weak economy means that we're buying our kids wooden blocks, so they can build a dollhouse instead of giving them a two-story doll mansion with a working doorbell and outdoor swimming pool.

If the toy companies want parents to spend more, maybe the toy designers shouldn't be trying to capture our kids' imagination, so much as trying to help release it.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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