This morning, my Twitter feed is full of links to an NYT story titled “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children,” alongside lots of sad and outraged commentary about it. I suppose I would be sad and outraged, too, if I actually believed picture books were endangered, but I see absolutely nothing in this article that suggests I need to worry.
In fact, here is what this article tells me:
1) There’s, like, a recession on or something?
2) A lot of books that get published don’t sell. Not exactly breaking news, folks. (And that alarming opening about books languishing on shelves and being returned to publishers unsold? That’s just how it works. Stores take books on consignment, and ship ‘em back to the publishers if they don’t move. There are plenty of reasons to deplore this practice, particularly if you are a publisher or an author [see Awlbiste's comment; it sucks all around], but it is in no way new or unusual. If it’s happening more often these days, well, see point 1. And point 3, actually.)
3) “[M]any publishers have gradually reduced the number of picture books they produce for a market that had seen a glut of them…” That line is pretty well buried in the middle of the article, but I strongly suspect it’s the most accurate summary of the situation. Too many similar products at one time flooded the market, after which the people manufacturing those similar products decided to release fewer of them. “Gradually.” During a recession. WHOA.
4) If at least three upper middle class parents in the New York area have been observed behaving ridiculously, it’s national news. Of course, that in itself is not news: stories about entitled, blinkered parents trying to prime their children for Harvard from the womb forward are just as common as ones about the death of publishing (/reading for pleasure/literacy/coherent English/proper spelling/western civilization).
Look, as a writer, an avid reader and a former editor, I am always bummed to hear about books not selling — whether it’s because of a recession, or a realization that the market is saturated with XYZ type of book, or the fact that most books never sell especially well, relative to the money and labor that go into them (which is why someone writes an article predicting the death of the entire industry about every fifteen minutes). I am also bummed out about the economy, and totally bummed out by the idea of hyper-competitive parents forcing chapter books on their pre-schoolers to better prepare them for the real world where NO ONE’S GONNA DRAW YOU A PICTURE JUST BECAUSE YOUR TINY BRAIN IS STILL DEVELOPING, MAGGOT or something. But I remain utterly unconvinced that that last one is a real trend, much less that it’s eventually going to make picture books go the way of Jarts.
And if you remove that threat from the article, all you’re really left with is, “[M]any publishers have gradually reduced the number of picture books they produce for a market that had seen a glut of them…” During a recession.
I think it’s going to be OK, you guys. I really do.
ETA: You should also check out this perspective from an indie bookseller.