Friday, October 08, 2010

The death of picture books?

by John

The New York Times ran a front-page article this morning on the recent decline in picture book sales. Blame is assigned widely, from the economy to parents urging their kids to read up to publishers over-pricing the books and emphasizing YA. To the list of culprits, I’d add merch and tie-in books, which have cannibalized picture books sales due to lower price points and characters that kids recognize from TV and other media. And then there are school and library budget cuts—while trade publishers ostensibly target bookstores for their picture book sales, they used to be able to rely on schools and libraries for at least a few thousand copies to help break even. Sadly, those sales have evaporated, too.

So, how to reverse the trend? I hope there’s an answer, because as an art form, picture books have only gotten more beautiful, exciting, and innovative in the last decade. It would be a tragedy if consumer tastes or publishers’ timidity force picture book creators to focus their energy elsewhere. Any ideas out there?


  1. This is a very sad state of affairs. I love picture books, like many, many children and their parents. I don't know if there is a way to reverse the situation because the causes are so varied.

    On that uplifting note...

  2. How to reverse the trend? Have a child psychiatrist report that children will be more intelligent if allowed to read picture books till they're 7,8 or 9. Today's parents don't seem to raise their kids using common sense, but rather they let adult peer pressure influence them.

  3. As a parent of a young child I'll tell you from the trenches -- TV is ruining the whole book experience! lol

    As much as my little guy loves to read, he only wants books with characters he is familiar with in them. So we're stuck with Thomas the Train and Max and Ruby instead of some of the truly original and beautiful works out there.

    I try to steer him away from them (I'm big on buying debuts), but most of the time I lose that battle.

  4. Have used to love books with lovely images depicting the subject, these pictures only makes reading fun and engaging but also helps the child's brain to grasp & process information. Have to agree that these materials comes expensive but for the sake of your child's growth these kinds of books are worth the pay.

  5. John, I think you're spot on with the merch and tie-in books.

    This weekend I took my 4 year-old son out for some father/son adventure time. After dinner we hit up Books-a-Kilo and it was truly depressing. Their kid-lit section was very plain, with more emphasis, it seemed, on toys rather than books.

    Even more disheartening was that nearly _all_ the picture books were Spongebob, Wubbzy, Spider-Man, and other licensed properties. Classics like "Where the Wild Things Are" and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" were segregated on the "Baby's First Books" aisle; and, naturally, no 4 y/o wants to be seen reading "baby" books. (I reminded him I am 30 and still love those books.)

    Personally I'd like to see traditional picture books rebound by riding the wave of interest in e-books and book apps. Ex.: Buy a picture book, get a voucher for a free e-book or app download!

    Disney is very successfully doing this with Blu-ray, where parents just need to buy the movie _once_ and they get the Blu-ray version, the DVD version, and a digital copy for iPods and such. If I'm not going to take an armful of movies on a trip with the kids, I'm certainly not going to bring a back-pack full of books. Leave the books at home, and bring the iPad with all their favorite books on it. As a dad, it makes sense to me.

  6. As a school librarian, I found the NYT article quite shallow and unconvincing. People are still buying picture books, but they're increasingly using the library to check them outinstead. I think bookstores and publishers are increasingly clueless. Please see my new blog for more:

  7. I have a 3 year old who sometimes introduces herself as Dora and spent three months dressed almost every day as Snow White. Those big character books are tough to avoid.

    As a parent, I expose my child to other picture books at the library. We take out ten books and after a couple days, my daughter forgets about the Dora books and starts asking for the others...

    But to get through a book store buying a single picture book that is not a Dora or Princess book...oooooh you're asking for serious tantrum time. If I could buy 5 every time, I'd be OK, but that's a serious budget. So, I buy picture books when possible without the kids and never purchase character/merch books.

    I think e-Picture books are a good idea to expand the market. Kids do appreciate creative, beautiful books and I think they can compete in an e-world even with those Princesses.

  8. I think picture books should be soft cover, which would make them less expensive, therefore more appealing.

  9. I think the idea of getting a well-placed "expert" (as Em-Musing said) extolling the benefits of picture books even into the older grades would work wonders - provided it got enough coverage. There are certainly plenty of advocates for picture books out there among literacy specialists, etc. The question is how to coordinate it to get the word out far and wide enough.

    Jim Trelease of the "Read-Aloud Handbook" is one of the first that comes to mind..

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