Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review: THE GREAT BEANIE BABY BUBBLE, by Zac Bissonnette

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass Delusion and the Dark Side of Cute, by Zac Bissonnette. Published 2015 by Portfolio/Penguin. Nonfiction. Business.

Did you ever collect Beanie Babies? I did; when I was in my 20s and worked in an office, the ladies and I would wait for each Tuesday and the latest shipment to the local Hallmark store, and take turns running in to get our latest cutie pies. I never really went nuts with it- no Ebaying or buying on the secondary market, and I only really collected the kittens- but for a while it was fun and for $5.00 a cheap retail high that made me smile. And I think that in the mid-90s a lot of people enjoyed it on that laid-back level too, but as business writer Zac Bissonnette shows in his new book, a lot of people took it a lot farther than that.

Bissonnette documents the 90s craze from its first furry inception in the mind of Ty Warner, then an up-and-coming toy baron, to its height of insanity when people paid hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a particularly coveted plush, went into debt, made money, lost money, hoarded, stockpiled, even killed over the palm-sized pal. The story here is twofold. First, it's the story of a classic bubble, when a collectible reaches an astronomical height only to come crashing down when market conditions and the economy change.

Second, and no less important, it's the story of Ty Warner and his company, his cult of personality and his personal relationships, all of which were so enmeshed with the fate of the Beanies. Bissonnette portrays Warner as brilliant, vain, controlling, tireless and tenacious. Bissonnette recounts Warner's dysfunctional upbringing, his early career and then his rise to the top of the toy industry- and his fall, and rebirth as a real estate baron. He tells us about the thorny relationship between Ty (the company) and the Beanie Baby collectors and fans, the effect of the secondary market on retail and how Warner tried to manipulate the former to benefit the latter,  as well as Warner's often less-than-magnanimous treatment of employees, and Warner's tangled and sad romantic relationships. Bissonnette portrays a man gifted at attracting admiration and even devotion but poor at returning them.

Written in a breezy, gossipy style inviting quick reading, The Great Beanie Baby Bubble is very compelling if you're at all interested in Beanie Babies, collecting or business. I can't tell you the number of times I put the book down for a minute so I could read a passage out loud to my husband, or how often I laughed, or was appalled, or sad, or just fascinated. Warner's story elicits all those emotions and more. Bissonnette explains what he believes caused the rise and fall of the collectible craze and it makes a lot of sense; the business content is accessible but it's the story of the people that will keep you reading.

It was fun while it lasted, but I haven't picked up my Beanies in ages and when I moved I couldn't give the darn things away. Literally no one bought them at my yard sale and I had to convince my favorite nonprofit charity shop to accept several dozen. I even got rid of some of my beloved kittens. All good things must come to an end, and Bissonnette provides an enlightening and very engaging narrative of just how the Beanies came and went, and where they, and Ty, and Warner, are headed now.

Come back on Thursday when I'll have an interview with Zac Bissonnette.

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.


Kay said...

Oh my goodness! If you lived through the '90's you couldn't miss the Beanie Baby hoopla. Wow. Haven't thought of that in ages. My daughter had a couple of them, but we never went in for the whole collecting bit. Cabbage Patch dolls were sort of like that, but not as intense. I think I'll have to listen to this book at some point. Sounds like a good one. Thanks for sharing about it!

picky girl said...

I had a couple I got as gifts, but my best friend in high school's dad went nuts for them. They had multiples of every single one. Another friend I've meet since who graduated high school around the same time has an entire collection, and like you, she hasn't been able to get rid of them. Crazy!