The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble

Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute

Book - 2015
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There has never been a craze like Beanie Babies. The $5 beanbag animals with names like Seaweed the Otter and Gigi the Poodle drove millions of Americans into a greed-fueled frenzy as they chased the rarest Beanie Babies, whose values escalated weekly in the late 1990s. A single Beanie Baby sold for $10,000, and on eBay the animals comprised 10 percent of all sales. Suburban moms stalked UPS trucks to get the latest models, a retired soap opera star lost his kids' six-figure college funds investing in them, and a New Jersey father sold three million copies of a self-published price guide that predicted what each animal would be worth in ten years. More than any other consumer good in history, Beanie Babies were carried to the height of success by a collective belief that their values would always rise. Just as strange as the mass hysteria was the man behind it. From the day he started in the toy industry, after dropping out of college, Ty Warner devoted all his energy to creating what he hoped would be the most perfect stuffed animals the world had ever seen. Sometimes called the 'Steve Jobs of plush' by his employees, he obsessed over every detail of every animal. He had no marketing budget and no connections, but he had something more valuable - an intuitive grasp of human psychology that would make him the richest man in the history of toys. Through first-ever interviews with former Ty Inc. employees, Warner's sister, and the two ex-girlfriends who were by his side as he achieved the American dream, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble tells the inspiring yet tragic story of one of America's most enigmatic self-made tycoons. Bestselling author Zac Bissonnette uncovers Warner's highly original approach to product development, sales, and marketing that enabled the acquisition of plush animals to activate the same endorphins chased by stock speculators and gamblers. Starting with a few Beanie-crazed housewives on a cul-de-sac in Naperville, Illinois, Beanie Babies became the first viral craze of the Internet era. Bissonnette traces their rise from the beginning of the official website - one of the first corporate websites to aggressively engage consumers - to the day when 'rare' models became worthless as quickly as they'd once been deemed priceless. He also explores the big questions- Why did grown men and women lose their minds over stuffed animals? Was it something unique about the last years of the American century - or just the weirdest version of the irrational episodes that have happened periodically ever since the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s? The Greatest Beanie Baby Bubble is a classic American story of people winning and losing vast fortunes chasing what one dealer remembers as 'the most spectacular dream ever sold.' 'Whenever you have something intended as innocent fun for children, you can count on adults to turn it into an obsessive, grotesquely over-commercialized 'hobby' with the same whimsy content as the Bataan Death March.' Columnist Dave Barry on Beanie Babies, The Miami Herald , 1998 'The spectacular story of the strangest speculative bubble there ever was and the man behind it. A must-read for anyone looking to understand how manias start and markets go insane.' Liquat Ahamed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lords of Finance 'Fascinating, strange, sad, funny, and entirely engrossing, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is a smart, engaging book that's as much about the odd saga of these plush toys as it is about the nature of obsession and desire.' Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin 'In spare, elegant prose, Zac Bissonnette tells the riveting story of how Ty Warner ruthlessly built Beanie Babies into a mania as misguided and regrettable as the 1637
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Portfolio/Penguin, 2015.
ISBN: 9781591846024
Branch Call Number: 338.7688 BIS
Characteristics: 260 p., [8] p. of plates : ill. (some col.) ; 24 cm.


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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.

AL_SARAH 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 the ways some human beings see the world.

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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