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Barbie sales are down, but here's betting she's not out

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(Read caption) Barbie sales are down in Mattel's most recent earnings statement. Do the numbers illustrate a doll in decline? Not quite. Barbie products are displayed at a local toy store in Hialeah, Fla., in 2012.

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After more than 50 years as a pint-sized superstar, Barbie has hit a wall.

The perennially popular series of dolls, which are world-famous for (or notorious for, depending upon your perspective) their depiction of a glamorous, jet-setting, image-conscious lifestyle, has hit its fourth consecutive quarter of declining sales. Barbie's challenges have affected the overall financial condition of the toy company Mattel.

 

This isn't the first time the line of toys has struggled. "The slump is not at all unprecedented," Sean McGowan said in an e-mail, a senior analyst at the investment banking firm Needham & Company. "Barbie was in a decade-long swoon from 2000 to 2010 when it was competing with Bratz," he says, referring to the hipper, edgier dolls that were a sales and cultural phenomenon in their time. "It is recoverable, but it's tough. If [Mattel] management's explanation is right, second half sales should be better because they consciously shifted shipments to later in the year."

Even as Barbie has struggled, Mattel's American Girl collection has thrived, defying "the times are changing" analysis of why Barbie sales keep slipping. Mr. McGowan discounts the impact of the Internet and cell phones on the way consumers view the doll, saying: "Barbie's core [consumer] age is now about 5 to 6 years old, a bit young for cell phones."

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