Baby Bargains Dishes Dirt

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The expo had also revealed the free-range, all-natural, organic fad. "The baby industry is waking up ten years late about organics," says Alan. But manufacturers are making up for lost time. A representative of a Romanian crib designer had bragged about a model finished in all-natural beeswax. "He made me smell the crib," says Denise. "He said it smelled like honey." The couple discovered an "organic" $300 mattress stuffed with coconut-husk filling and horsehair. Or was it mohair fleece?

The two begin poring over glossy brochures and googling websites, debating the relative urine-absorption capacities of horse and goat hair. Alan looks up from his studies, a bewildered look on his face. "This is what I do for a living."

The Fieldses face each other across an expansive, cluttered desk — Denise, the sensible researcher and wordsmith, on one side, and Alan, the high-energy marketing expert, on the other. This is the extent of their publishing company, Windsor Peak Press (a name that's meant to evoke the sophistication of British royalty and the splendor of their nearby natural surroundings but "really means nothing," says Denise). Here they cut through the latest overblown baby crazes with impunity, shattering slogans and misconceptions with their trademark snarky humor and unabashed pragmatism.

Baby Bargains, the book, begins with a disenchanting revelation: "Murphy's Law of Baby Toys says your baby's happiness with a toy is inversely related to the toy's price." And the eye-openers don't stop there. The book gives cribs sold at Wal-Mart under the name Cosco an "F," noting that "Cosco must translate as 'recall' in Canadian."

Regarding diaper stackers, a popular linen bag used to store diapers, they write: "Apparently, bedding makers must think stacking diapers on the shelf of your changing table or storing them in a drawer is a major etiquette breach. Take my word for it: babies are not worried if their diapers are out in plain sight."

And the authors lambaste car-seat manufacturer Graco for merely distributing a press release when nearly a million of their seats were found to be defective instead of sending recall notices to the parents who'd mailed in warranty and registration cards. "Graco's total costs would be about $75,000," they calculate in the book. "That seems like a small price to pay for a company with $600 million in annual sales."

In their book, they document crib companies that have changed names to distance themselves from past product recalls. They've pushed furniture manufacturers to post the results of lead-paint tests on their websites and encouraged retailers to stop displaying cribs outfitted in unnecessary and controversial soft bedding. In many cases, they've gotten what they've asked for. And the couple actively disputes the Juvenile Products Manufacturer Association's pro-safety image; the Fieldses acquired internal JPMA documents detailing attempts to downplay concerns about baby-bottle and crib-bedding safety and published them on www.windsorpeak.com under the headline "JPMA-gate."

Their concerns are often valid — and timely. Over the past few months, toy manufacturers have recalled more than a million products because they contain lead paint. Over the summer, many baby-product experts — including the Fieldses — changed their baby-bottle recommendations after a National Institutes of Health panel raised concerns that the chemical bisphenol A, contained in many of the most popular plastic baby bottles, could cause neurological problems in children. And in September, a million cribs were recalled because of strangulation risks — the largest recall of full-sized cribs in U.S. history.

Jars of baby food and boxes of booties sit on a desk corner of their office, swag that will be given away. To maintain objectivity, the couple refuses to take handouts from manufacturers, won't include ads in their books and insists on self-publishing. "A lot of publishers don't want to offend anyone," says Alan, "so you get a lot of milquetoast-y advice in books."

That independence hasn't hindered their success; in fact, it gives them a larger share of profits from book sales — which aren't too shabby to begin with. When Baby Bargains was first published in 1994, the Fieldses printed and distributed 15,000 copies to Barnes & Noble, Borders and other bookstores. Last year, they sold 57,801 copies, outselling the Consumer Reports guide by 45,000 copies and making it a bestseller every week in Nielsen BookScan's "Family/Relationships" category, where their competition includes titles like What to Expect When You're Expecting and Family First, by Dr. Phil.

On the walls and shelves around the Fieldses, in between photos of their sons, are framed articles about them from Money and People magazines, plus "Oprah" coffee mugs, mementos from their multiple appearances on the show. Through the window is a stunning vista of the Flatirons — literally a million-dollar view, considering their sizable, immaculate Victorian on Boulder's Mapleton Hill.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner