Non-fiction book about the beanie baby craze of the mid-1990s
Content warning: mental illness, family violence
I needed a new running book, but I can’t remember exactly why I picked this one except it had something to do with this photograph:
As a 90s kid, but not one who had beanie babies (Pokemon cards, yoyos, Tazos and Tamagotchis on the other hand…), I found myself intrigued about how exactly this craze came about. The book was an ideal length for me (approximately 8 hours) and I was in the mood for some non-fiction.
“The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Mass delusion and the dark side of cute” by Zac Bissonnette and narrated by P. J. Ochlan is a non-fiction book about Beanie Babies, collectible animal bean bag toys created by billionaire Ty Warner. Bissonnette pieces together the notoriously reclusive Warner’s life through interviews and memoirs of people who knew him and worked with him, and uses economic and business theory, to try to understand the meteoric rise of Warner’s Beanie Babies in the mid-1990s. Bissonnette also looks at the secondary market created by Beanie Babies, inflated prices, the role played by the internet and Warner’s own unique, perfectionist personality.
This was a really interesting book in many ways. I have next to no knowledge when it comes to business and economics and I found Bissonnette’s explanations of the marketing and scarcity tactics used by Warner’s company Ty to be both highly informative and very engaging. Bissonnette goes into lots of detail about the design (and redesign) of Beanie Babies that made them so attractive to consumers and the various factors at play during the time that created the perfect environment for the craze. Bissonnette also spends a considerable amount of time on Warner’s biography, especially through former employers, employees and girlfriends, to try to understand the man, and the salesman, behind the plush toy. For someone not interested in economics in the slightest, I found this book really easy to listen to. Bissonnette skillfully constructed a narrative around the phenomenon, and if he didn’t have all the answers, he certainly had a story.
I think the only thing I found less interesting were some of the superfluous details about Warner’s personal life. While he certainly seems like a very singular character, there were parts of the book that felt almost voyeuristic. I much preferred the parts of the book that, for example, discussed how an intern came up with the idea to create a Beanie Babies website which would regularly crash it was so popular, rather than sad, secondhand information about Warner’s broken family relationships.
A fascinating book about how an affordable plush toy became a worldwide craze.