Books: The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

This book was recommended to me by one of my best friends who also happens to be a librarian. So, like, she knows me and she knows books. I’m not sure I trust an author with that many double consonants in his last name, but that’s beside the point.

So. What is this book about, really? Well, a few things. It looks a bit at Ty Warner, the creator of Ty Inc. and Beanie Babies. So if you like stories about eccentric billionaires, there’s that. The book also examines the slowly expanding market bubble that was the Beanie Baby phenomenon—and the ultimate bursting of that bubble. So if you have an interest in fads, or market economy, or how these things happen, or maybe just in Beanie Babies… The thing is, this book does a lot, or attempts to, but since there are so many moving parts, I feel readers may like some bits but not all bits? If that makes sense?

I have a couple of Beanie Babies. Not anything I ever bought for myself, but gifts from others. I have a rabbit (that, based on what I’ve learned is a “tush tag,” is named Ears). And I have a snake named Hissy. They’re not worth anything, but they’re cute. A handy size for, say, taking with you if you feel like you need a cuddly thing. Which was part of Ty Warner’s plan, it seems. He wanted to create a cute plush animal that kids could easily slip into their backpacks or otherwise carry with them. It’s not a bad idea, really.

Things got crazy when, because of Warner’s perfectionism, many Beanie Babies were changed during production. So there would be one that was dark brown, but then Warner would decide he didn’t like the color, so the color would be changed. Suddenly the dark brown one was rare/limited and therefore valuable. At least to the people who liked these plushes and wanted to (to borrow a phrase from another phenom) “catch ’em all.”

But as we all know, eventually a market becomes saturated. Every collector who wants something gets one, and they buy extra to re-sell, too. Except if everyone has one, no one is buying. And as it becomes more and more difficult, or even impossible, to complete a collection, either because of cost or supply (too many items ion the checklist to keep up with and/or not enough of some products to make it doable), many collectors drop out entirely. So the pool of collectors (=demand) grows smaller and sales drop. Meanwhile, the ex-collectors might start selling off their items, meaning supply increases.

It’s basic economics. While a company can attempt to control supply on its end, the secondary market is another game. Ty couldn’t stop people from hoarding and reselling. The rise of eBay made it both better and worse. Better for collectors to both find and sell items. Worse because as eBay filled with Beanie Babies, prices for them fell due to increased market competition.

There. I’ve more or less summarized the economic market aspect of this book. But if you want details—if you want to hear individual stories of people who participated in this fad and won or lost—then there’s still value in reading it. And if you want to know how badly Warner treated his girlfriends, that’s in there too.

Is it a good book? Yeah. Is it a great book? Nah. It wants to be a biography and a nostalgic market study at the same time. But given that Warner doesn’t do interviews and the like, I suppose there wasn’t quite enough material for a full-on biography, though there is a lot of input from those who know Warner (girlfriends, his sister, employees). And it’s a bit tough to talk about Warner without talking about Beanie Babies given that they were such a big part of making him who he is and his company what it is.

As an aside, I find it kind of interesting that older copies of this book have the subtitle: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute. Meanwhile, my copy has this subtitle: The Amazing Story of How America Lost Its Mind Over a Plush Toy—and the Eccentric Genius Behind It. I think the first one is better and more intriguing. It’s much shorter anyway. But (speaking of marketing) perhaps it didn’t get across the Warner bio aspect well enough. The first subtitle suggests more of a psychological study, which this really isn’t. So I’d say the second subtitle, though long, gets across a clearer and more accurate idea of the book’s contents.

I ended up giving this one 3.5 stars on Goodreads. It’s solid and just interesting enough despite it covering multiple angles. In any case, it was refreshing to read some nonfiction for a change as I’d been reading mostly fiction (and manga) lately. This was a good palate cleanser.