How Harry Potter has changed children’s books, and their future
April 23, 2012 | 10:15 am
On the Horn Book, a site devoted to children’s and young adults’ books, editor in chief Roger Sutton has an editorial adapting a speech he gave a year ago at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival.
In main, the article is about the change in children’s literature and adults’ appreciation of children’s reading habits since Harry Potter debuted in 1998. Sutton points out that The Horn Book Guide reviewed 652 novels for children in 1998 but 1,298 in 2010, twice as many. It also represented a near-doubling of the percentage of children’s books made up by fiction that the Guide reviewed, from 18% to 33%.
There’s a lot more in that vein; Sutton traces the current children’s book market back to the 1980s when children’s books changed from mainly sold to schools to being sold direct to consumers. He also discusses some of the misconceptions adults have about how and what kids are willing to read—misconceptions that were in some way exploded by the Harry Potter books. (As we’ve mentioned here.)
But the part of the article of interest to TeleReaders comes in the last few paragraphs, when Sutton discusses e-book reading. At the moment, Sutton insists that Horn Book publications review books in printed form only, though expects to be overruled sooner or later. His own reading, he explains, is a mix of print, electronic, and audio.
I expect that my reading will only become more electronically based—and I’m relatively old. What will it mean for babies today? What will my grandson, now two, be reading when he is twelve? How will he be reading? One thing I wonder, and part of me even hopes it will come true, is whether publishing might cease to be seen as a moneymaker by its governing corporations. That selling five thousand copies of a book might be enough, and schools and libraries might, I hope, be well funded enough to buy those copies. Wouldn’t it be funny—okay, I mean wouldn’t it be great—if libraries, currently trying to position themselves as the e-centers of e-everything, instead found themselves as The Place To Go when somebody wanted a book to hold in his or her hands? Every author in this room is going to disagree with me on this, but there are too many copies of too many books being published. A little curation would be a good thing.
I wonder if by “publishing” Sutton means print publishing here? Since there doesn’t seem to be any reason that electronic publishing should fail. It’s kind of an interesting idea, to have libraries be the last bastion of printed books; it might work even better if, rather than presuming publishers would produce print runs of five thousand copies, he were aware of the Espresso Book Machine which could be used in libraries for running off printed copies to order.
Since this is an adaptation of a speech from a year ago, it doesn’t mention the Harry Potter e-books since they weren’t even known for sure to be in the works at that point. I wonder what Sutton thinks of them now, and the implications they might have for the industry (including showing publishers how to break the grip of Amazon)?