The article, written by Julie Bosman, discusses the decline of picture book sales. Writers, illustrators, publishers, book stores--the entire industry has felt the pinch.
|Credit: Central Highlands Regional Library Corp.|
One parent, Amanda Gignac from book review blog The Zen Leaf, even had to go so far as to publicly defend her quote in the article. Not surprisingly, it was edited completely out of context, falsely painting Gignac to be a heretic for not encouraging her young child to read picture books.
In my opinion, humble as it is, the real issue here should not be why picture book sales are slumping, because all the reasons given are correct, and all the reasons given are beyond the industry's ability to change. The real question is how should the industry respond?
Some writers and illustrators want to band together and campaign for a massive push towards encouraging kids to read printed picture books. It may sound attractively grassroots, but reality says it would just be a Sisyphian effort. After the big push, kids would go right back to whatever's dividing their attention.
Here's a crazy idea: Why not embrace the direction things are going?
We as a society are just now learning to walk, rather than crawl, through the digital age. As a result, our children are growing up in a very different environment than generations past. Every form of popular media is now available in digital format, from games to music, movies and, yes, books.
It isn't that kids have lost their love of reading. It's that their developing minds are drawn to things that engage their attention. The world has conditioned them to prefer interactivity, and I, for one, see nothing wrong with that.
Warning: Armchair Author Advice Beyond This Point
|Picture books like the one seen|
here are appealing to younger
and older readers alike.
To my fellow writers, I would say your task is two-fold.
First and foremost, let's write better books. After all, for thousands of years, no matter what the industry, it has always been consumer demand that drives a market. Realize that the days of Dick and Jane watching Spot run are over. Kids are smarter, more attuned to the adult world, and they know when they're being patronized.
Recently I attended a presentation by a literary agent who claimed over 100,000 book manuscripts are submitted to publishers each year, but less than 6,000 see publication. I'm not sure about the accuracy of those figures, so take them with a grain of salt, but it seems about right. Editors and publishers know what's brilliant, what's marketable, and what kids want. Apparently 94% of writers don't.
You could argue that current economic conditions dictate the volume of titles published, and you'd be right, but it doesn't change the fact that only the best will ever become books.
Secondly--and I'm well aware this is a point of contentious debate in the industry--we as writers and illustrators need to embrace technology.
Look, I adore a printed picture book. The feel, the aroma, the crackle of fresh pages, and the sight of beautiful illustrations mixed with brilliant words--four out of five senses can't be wrong! (Conceivably five senses, if you lick your books, but I digress.) But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that digital books are going to become the norm. From the Kindle, to the Nook, to Apple's iBooks and iPad, there is simply too much consumer momentum and retail inertia to prevent it.
Being A Good Student of History
The music industry should serve as our cautionary tale here. Napster exploded on the scene in the late 90's, and the music industry freaked. Instead of embracing this rapidly proliferating technology called digital music, they fought it tooth and nail, suing tens of thousands of consumers and businesses in an effort to stamp out any threat to their decades-old approach to sales and distribution.
|Novelty books, which need|
to be in print for full effect,
will never go away.
Now the bulk of profits from online music sales go to sites like iTunes, instead of to the publishers or the artists. Finding an independent record store these days is like sighting Bigfoot--even if you claim to see one, no one cares, and they all think you're a kook.
Most shockingly is that, despite plummeting production costs, the music industry still charges a whopping $19 MSRP on all new CDs, the same price they were in 1988.
Translate that to the publishing industry, and you're left with some fairly clear options. You can fight the consumer, or you can align your ideals with theirs. This isn't a capitulation, it's just smart. It's the evolution of all media.
Do I think physical printed books will ever go away? Absolutely not! After all, they still make vinyl and they still make CDs. E-books and print can co-exist. But the market is finite, and thus one medium must give up market share to the other.
Printed book sales may continue to ebb, but an opportunity exists to really open up the flow of creative picture books into the marketplace.
|Dusty D. Dawg, an interactive digital picture book series,|
has been popular with kids and parents alike.
Credit: Apple iTunes.
Granted, it doesn't work for novelty books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle) or Open Me, I'm A Dog (Spiegelman)--which is why those books will always have their niche--but for a good majority of picture books it's a really engaging experience!
Best of all, while e-books have been around for a while now, there is currently a surging commercial interest in children's books in digital form. No industry battle royal is brewing over distribution. Publishers, authors and illustrators are, for now, playing nicely over things like royalties. Pricing is admittedly lower than printed books, but it should be, and consumers aren't objecting. So there's an opportunity here to not combust like the music industry and actually do this whole e-book thing right!
That's my rather lengthy $0.02 on the matter. What do you think? Do you like the way the industry is going? Do you think we should encourage kids to go into chapter books sooner? Or should we be making better picture books? Digital picture books? Picture book apps? Comment below and let me know your thoughts!