'The Marketplace Report:' 'Must-Have' Holiday Gadgets

This holiday shopping season has kicked off with an obvious "must-have" toy or gadget. Difficulties have already been reported regarding the early contender for the "must-have" title — Microsoft's new X-box gaming system. Hear Bob Moon of Marketplace.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

After several lackluster years, toy makers and retailers may be facing yet another tough holiday season. So far there's no blockbuster toy--no Cabbage Patch Kid or Tickle Me Elmo--to draw in customers, and sales have been running about 5 percent behind last year's. Joining me now to talk about this is Bob Moon from the "Marketplace" news bureau in New York.

And, Bob, have I missed something? There doesn't seem to be a special standout toy this year.

BOB MOON reporting:

Not really. There may be a few toys generating some interest out there. There's Dora the Explorer's Talking Kitchen for the girls; there's a little musical creature called an iZ--that's spelled I-Z. But so far, at least, there's really nothing like some of the must-have toys that some of us have had to chase down in years past. You mentioned a couple of them. You know, I had to go back awhile to bring some of those breakthrough toys to mind. We're talking the kinds of toys that actually caused some fights in the aisles, you'll recall. There was the Furby--they're trying to breathe new life into that with a new fully programmable version of the Furby. Cabbage Patch dolls are still around; those were all blockbuster toys. We're talking Teddy Ruxpin. I remember some of the long drives that I made to hunt down Transformer robots. And at the risk of really showing my age, I can go back to Rubik's Cube and the Pet Rock.

BRAND: Oh, my goodness.

MOON: Not sure if a Pet--yeah. Not sure if a Pet Rock really qualifies as a toy. But this really illustrates the problem that the toy industry has been having in recent years. Can you really name anything that's been such a draw recently?

BRAND: I can't, so why is that?

MOON: Well, this has been a real problem for the toy industry. Not only just innovation but getting out there with a product that is going to draw people in. There is one toy that's been getting attention in the press this year. It's a small plastic creature that I mentioned called the iZ. It's something like a bug from another planet. It creates different rhythms and tunes when you twist its ears and you press its belly, and if you connect it to a portable music player, like an iPod, it doubles as a speaker that dances to your songs. But you may not know that the industry makes around half of its revenue from toys during the holiday season, so this can be a make-or-break time, and it's really been a problem. USA Today is suggesting that a lot of high-tech gadgets are becoming the new toys for kids, things like iPods and such. And, of course, video games have been eating away at the traditional toy market for some time now.

BRAND: And what's the buzz there?

MOON: Well, indeed, that's where the lines have been this week--game fans rushing to buy the next-generation Xbox 360 system.

And today in the "Marketplace" newsroom, we're watching the frenzied kickoff to the holiday shopping season.

BRAND: Bob Moon of public radio's daily business show "Marketplace," and "Marketplace" is produced by American Public Media.

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