Although the total for sales of traditional toys rose only 2% in 2001, the action figure category registered a solid increase of 36% according to figures released at Toy Fair by Toy Industry Association.  The 2001 total for all the traditional toy categories rose to $25.0 billion dollars, a 2% gain from the total of $24.6 billion achieved in 2000, while action figures led all the categories in percentage gain expanding from $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion.  Most of the gain came in the fourth quarter since according to the market research group NPD, sales of action figures rose only a mere 6% in the first three quarters of 2001.  Still the fourth quarter gains for the category appear even more remarkable since the economy as a whole was reeling in Q4 thanks to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the deepening recession.  The gloom and doom that hovered over the licensed merchandise category during the dismal selling years of 1999 and 2000 has largely dissipated, thanks to the strong rebound of the action figure category during the fourth quarter of 2001.


The Q4 acceleration in action figure sales can be largely attributed to impressive performances by three licensed lines tied to the three blockbuster films: Monsters Inc., Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, and Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.  Industry analysts are bullish on the action figure category's prospects for 2002 because both Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings will be back on the screen with new episodes in the fourth quarter, while Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and the new Spider-Man film should provide a boost for action figure sales during the summer. 


The Real Winner

The rise in action figure sales was significant but it should be seen as an improvement in results over what was a very poor performance for the category in 2000.  On the other hand video games posted a whopping 43% gain in 2001 over what had been a solid performance in 2000.  Sales of video game hardware and software ballooned to $9.4 billion in 2001 versus $6.6 billion in 2000.  With sales of the three major video game platforms continuing, the prospect of further growth in the category looms large, particularly because two of the platforms are new and games for these platforms are just starting to hit the market in appreciable numbers.


The tremendous growth in video game sales dwarfs the gains in action figure sales--but in some ways it actually makes the growth in the action figure category appear more remarkable since industry analysts felt that at least part of the growth in video games in 2000 came at the expense of the action figures.  The assumption was that boys were giving up action figures at an earlier age and moving to video games.  One result of that notion that is visible at this year's Toy Fair is the growing number of simpler, less violent action figures targeted at pre-schoolers and other members of the Fisher-Price set.  Another factor hurting action figure sales are sales of products like Bandai's Gundam snap-together model kits and Lego's Bionicle figures -- products that ape action figures, but which are counted as part of the 'building/construction category,' which posted a 22% growth in 2001 (from $722 million to $882 million).


The Losers

If action figures grew 36%, building toys 22%, and ride-on toys 17% while the entire toy category crept up only 2%, there must have been some categories that lost ground in 2001.  Games and Puzzles remain a potent category with sales of some $2.2 billion, but they declined 10% in the past year, while the equally large 'plush' category fell 13%.  Trading Cards is a much smaller category, but it suffered a larger percentage decline of 28% (from $440 million to $318 million), which was topped only by the Sports (gear and toy) category which fell 29%.