A new doll hitting retail shelves this week is familiar in many ways — she’s got outfits galore — but she also has some unusual features: this Barbie, who is smaller and less shapely than her standard namesake, functions as an MP3 music player.
And when her feet are plugged into the iPodesque docking station that she comes with, she unlocks pages and pages of games, virtual shops and online chatting functions on the BarbieGirls.com Web site.
The new doll is a roundabout way of charging for online content. Instead of asking young Web surfers to punch in their parents’ credit card numbers, BarbieGirls.com and other sites are sending customers to a real-world toy store first. Some of these sites (like the Barbie one) can be used in a limited way without purchasing merchandise — the better to whet young appetites — but others, like the popular Webkinz site, are of little or no use without a store-bought product or two (or three, or a dozen).