Monday, October 11, 2010

Shelf space


An interesting piece in the New York Times places pushy parents in the picture of a shrinking picture book marketplace.

Publishers and booksellers are saying that aside from the economic downturn they're seeing a trend in which parents are steering their kids around the shelves containing picture books and toward chapter books in some ill-fated effort to jump junior to the head of the class.

I'm not sure I buy it, though. I think parents are getting a little more of a rap on the knuckles than they deserve.

There seemed to be a huge surge in the production of picture books in the 80s and 90s. Even when the economy turned south, kid lit seemed fairly unaffected by tightening belts so publishers followed the trend. After all, books make great gifts.

Of course, belt tightening was still going on. Publishers have been less likely to take chances on untested authors, choosing instead celebrities-turn-scribe. They gambled on interactive media and the promulgation of brands.

This past decade, as the internet settled in and it seemed folks were pretty much avoiding brick-and-mortar stores, all sections started to shrink, with the possible exception of the Bargain Bins.

The NYT piece also makes it clear that classics, such as "Good Night Moon" and Dr. Suess titles, are still selling well. So ... the picture book isn't really dead, it's just that the market for the ones they're trying to sell, maybe, isn't sustainable.

Of course, I am just guessing.

We usually get our picture books at second-hand shops ... or at the library, where we can return them before they need dusting.

And now ... more than ever ... we're getting them from the publishers themselves, who are hoping I can get three friends to tell three friends. ... Who are probably already getting books from publishers hoping they'll influence me.

Not that I blame them, but it is what it is: the marketplace has been spread pretty thin and eventually we all run out of shelf space.


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