The toy industry not toying around when it comes to avoiding the recession

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With world trade in trouble as the economic crisis spreads across the globe, the industry is expected to focus on the tried and true this year: dolls for girls and cars for boys.

Berlin – Toy manufacturers are praying for a good year as they reveal the new toys for 2010 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in Germany this week.

"People reduce all sorts of other expenses before they cut spending on their children," said Otto Umbach, chief buyer for a cooperative of German toyshops, Idee und Spiel, before the event. The fair runs from February 5 to 10.

The annual fair is the top showcase in an industry and is dominated by Chinese manufacturers. In recent years, the industry has gained most of its growth in emergent markets such as India and Brazil.

A total of 221 Chinese exhibitors will show goods at the fair, along with 116 American toymakers. Germany will have 876 exhibitors, but many of them are tiny companies with no significant world presence.

With world trade in trouble as a slump spreads round the globe, the industry is expected to focus on the tried and true this year: dolls for girls and cars for boys. It is also expected to try and gain an edge with new technologies and innovations.

Among technologies that look set to carve out new space is a new remote control feature for radio-controlled toys.

The controls uses 2.4-gigahertz radio links, a technology commonly used to connect wireless keyboards to computers. The new links are more reliable than earlier technology used in toy trains and cars.

Because the 2.4-gigahertz radio band can transmit more commands from a hand-held console to the toys, manufacturers can build more features, such as lights and noises, into the toys

Umbach, however, says keeping it simple is a big part of what children expect and adults ask for.

The industry slogan is "ready to run." This means, for example, that a toy helicopter could be unwrapped, switched on and immediately flown without any complicated setting up process.

Amid so much advanced technology, Barbie, who turns 50 this year, is reassuringly old-fashioned without any hint of being frumpy.

The unnaturally skinny, blonde, dress-up doll was launched at a New York toy fair in 1959.

Its American manufacturer, Mattel, will be unveiling details at the fair about promotional offers to celebrate Barbie’s birthday. It is hoping to win back market share from MGA Entertainment's Bratz dolls, which were launched to great success in 2001.

The Bratz line is in trouble after an American court in December ordered it removed from sale by this February and awarded Mattel 100 million dollars in damages against MGA Entertainment for copyright infringement and breach of contract.

MGA Entertainment is appealing and says on its website that it has won a stay till the end of this year in the court order, so "that business is back to normal with Bratz for 2009."

Feminists and supporters of family values have assailed both series of glamour dolls, but toy retailers say little girls remain addicted to the toys, devoting hours to dressing them and combing their hair.

The most popular Barbie model of all time, according to Mattel, was “Totally Hair Barbie,” a version introduced in 1992 with hair that stretches almost to the feet of the 30-centimetre doll.

Historic Barbie dolls are now collectors' items. Specimens of the 300,000 original "Barbie Millicent Roberts" dolls from 1959 can change hands for 27,000 dollars if still in mint condition.

Mattel is even one of the world’s top clothing brands, the company says, if you count the number of Barbie outfits it sells each year or the 100 million meters of fabric that have been turned into Barbie fashion over the last half century.

Multi-talented Barbie has exercised 108 professions over her “lifetime,” including flight attendant, TV cook and surgeon.

Jean-Baptiste Piggin/DPA/Expatica

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