It’s quite rare that I’m wrong, however I’ll be the first to admit it when I am. And it’s with this said that perhaps I was a little premature suggesting that Juicero was this years most pointless product. There’s a new contender. Fidget toys!

Forget Pogs, Tamagotchi’s, the yo-yo and marbles. There’s a new fad in town…

At the time of writing this, of the top selling 100 toys on Amazon – 82 of these are fidget toys. We’re guessing the toy department’s over at Disney and Mattel are scheduling emergency meetings at this very moment, licensed toys from the recently released Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and soon to be hitting cinema Wonder Woman barely get a mention. In fact the top 27 best selling toys on Amazon are solely dominated by fidget toys, in particular fidget spinners.

So how did the fad start? Well the truth is fidget toys have been around since the 1980s, but the fad really didn’t kick of until late last year.

And it’s an interesting lesson for entrepreneurs into one of the potential pitfalls of crowdsourcing.

Late last year little-known startup Antsy labs went to Kickstarter with a product. The product was so simple yet crazy enough to work. It was called the Fidget Cube. This small plastic toy cube was set to retail for $19 and was composed of buttons, dials, and switches. Mind you, none of these buttons, dials or switches did anything. It was designed as merely a tool for you to “fidget” with, much similar to a stress ball or desktop office toy. Gone were the days of simply fidgeting with a pen.

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They wanted the lofty funding of $15,000. However after an overwhelming positive response from social media, they got over $6,465,690 million from 154,926 backers. It’s currently the 9th most funded project ever on Kickstarter. For a piece of plastic?

Unfortunately it’s here where things started to go pear-shaped for Antsy labs; and it highlights a significant flaw with the crowdsourcing model.

Like seemingly most products launched through Kickstarter, the product suffered a delayed launch due to quality issues. But worse, the startup became the victim of Chinese copycats. Many manufacturers, particularly in China, saw the product on Kickstarter and immediately went into producing their own versions. Given the product was effectively a small plastic toy with pretend buttons on it, it was quite cheap and easy to manufacture knockoffs. The Fidget Cube was patented in the US in August 2016, however it does not guarantee trademark protection anywhere else. Not to mention enforcing IP in China is notoriously difficult.

The Fidget Cube appears to be one of the most heavily counterfeited project launched on any crowdfunding platform, but it is by far not the only one. A recent investigation by the World Trademark review found several other examples of cheap knockoff products based off successful crowdsourcing projects. Manufacturers can easily spot a design idea on Kickstarter and once they figure how it is made, start churning out counterfeits immediately – essentially beating the original Kickstarter to market.

Naturally fidget spinners took up popularity shortly after the success of fidget cubes. And unlike other fads before it, fidget toy sales are helped with some extremely dodgy “scientific” claims that they actually help kids concentrate. With no patents or trademarks, factories in China are spewing them out by the thousands. According to reports, many of the factories in China that traditionally produce smartphone cases and accessories have shut down these operations to focus on fidget toys full-time.

It’s questionable how much of this revenue will flow through to the toy industry. The toy industry has seen a resurgence of growth in the past few years, in part from Star Wars and Marvel licensed merchandise. However with a large percentage of fidget toys selling outside of traditional toy retailing channels (e.g. the likes of eBay and discount shops), the impact on industry revenue may be minimal.

However there’s one interesting benefit from the boom in fidget toys. Toy retailers are reportedly seeing a flow-on affect to other related categories. Toys traditionally seen as keeping hands busy (such as the Rubik Cube and yo-yo’s) are actually seeing a resurgence in popularity.

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