The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute

Book - 2015
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In the annals of consumer crazes, nothing compares to Beanie Babies. In just three years, collectors who saw the toys as a means of speculation made creator Ty Warner, an eccentric college dropout, a billionaire--without advertising or big-box distribution. Beanie Babies were ten percent of eBay's sales in its early days, with an average selling price of $30--six times the retail price. At the peak of the bubble in 1999, Warner reported a personal income of $662 million--more than Hasbro and Mattel combined. The end of the craze was swift and devastating, with "rare" Beanie Babies deemed worthless as quickly as they'd once been deemed priceless. Bissonnette draws on hundreds of interviews (including a visit to a man who lives with his 40,000 Ty products and an in-prison interview with a guy who killed a coworker over a Beanie Baby debt) for the first book on the strangest speculative mania of all time.
Publisher: New York : Portfolio/Penguin, c2015
ISBN: 9781591846024
Characteristics: 260 p. : ill. ; 24 cm


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Feb 29, 2020

About an overbearing guy who creates a near perfect toy that people eventually collect when price guides appear. Surreal.

Beatricksy Sep 11, 2018

The opening and closing couple chapters are a bit meandery and loop back on each other, and I felt myself glazing over a few times here and there as I struggled through some of the stickier sections. Still, most of the text--the thesis and the explanation of economics and herd mentality and the nonsense people did for these cute creations and the out-of-touch creator with his casual abuses and control issues stemming from his own childhood abuse--was memorable. The writing style is spare and I'm not sure I'm going to take away any real valuable information about fads and bubbles that might come up in future, but it was fascinating watching what the 90s and the growth of the Internet could do. I only partially remember this craze, so it felt like a walk down a road that I should remember, and I delighted in the little details.

Feb 03, 2018

Ostensibly, this is the story of the strange period of time between 1996 and 1999 when adults turned a child's toy into currency, but it is just as much an examination of the nature of a fad and the people who create them.

Beanie Babies were plush stuffed animals which had the then-unique characteristic of being understuffed and filled in key places with pellets which made them easy to pose. Available in a variety of colors and animal characters, the toys were slow to pick up interest. That lag time gave the toy company's founder, Ty Warner, time to tweak his models, which resulted in certain toys changing color or other attributes (e.g., spots and mouths). The fact that Warner insisted on his products being sold in small venues like gift shops and specialty toy shops and eschewed big box retailers like Toys 'R Us and Wal-Mart meant that when his toys did become popular there was a built-in scarcity. That made it a logical fit as a secondary market collectible (as much as anyone can apply the word "logic" to collectibles).

Ty Warner was (is?) a highly-focused businessman who obsessed over the tiniest details of his creations. He, like many other successful entrepreneurs, also had a finely honed gut feel for what worked for his audience. It's not a surprise that someone with his skills could create a high-quality toy that would appeal to children and adults alike. But Warner's story is only part of what made Beanie Babies a cultural phenomenon; the "early adopters" in the Chicago-area were the ones who not only evangelized the toys but also created and then reinforced the idea of "rare editions" and first started treating the toys like a kind of currency. However, it might be fair to say that Beanie Babies didn't really take off as a fad until they authors, both traditional and self-published, started producing guides that listed the current and projected values of the toys.

While this wasn't the first bubble, the sudden popularity of the internet and the World Wide Web made it possible for this to reach peak popularity much more quickly. Not only did Ty, Inc. use its website in ways its much larger competitors hadn't thought of yet to reinforce the "personality" of the brand, it also benefited from the second market trading that was taking place on eBay.

Bissonnette does an impressive job of putting together the history of the toy, the ensuing craze and the not-always-stable people involved, but it's his discussion of overall market behavior that makes this a worthwhile read. (Hint: if you think this story is reminiscent of the housing or Dot Com bubbles, you might be onto something.) Even if you walk away without a clear understanding of the economics behind a craze, you'll get a glimpse into a surprisingly fascinating moment in American history.

Recommended for fans of pop culture and economics.

ArapahoeSarah Nov 17, 2016

Absolutely fascinating. As a beanie baby enthusiast and a child of the 90's, this book was particularly eye-opening. The book highlights the eccentricities of Ty Warner and made me contemplate how fads develop.

Dec 09, 2015

Interesting read for those millenials out there who remember the "beanie baby" craze back in the 1990's. It is also a very well written story on all the players associated with the craze (collectors, speculators/traders, kids, parents, media, etc). I only knew of them as toys for kids which were occasionally hard to find but this story shines light on what was really happening in the USA and how crazy people were acting around these things. Ty Warner sounds like a real nutcase too which makes for some interesting anecdotes.


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