I found considerable food for thought in this TeleRead article by Joanna Cabot (brought to my attention by Susan Stephenson from The Book Chook). Cabot shares some thoughts from her "Beloved's" sister, the mother of a toddler and a newborn, regarding the problems that this mother sees in the marketing of children's books. She would like to see more advertising and special promotions, and fewer books that are media tie-ins. But the bottom line is that, as the person selecting books for her children, she has difficulty discovering books.
The author's conclusion is that there's a gap (and hence a marketing opportunity) in reaching parents like this one. She's talking about parents who have some money to spend on books, and a willingness to spend it, but have difficulty in finding quality books that aren't brand extensions or re-issues of classic titles. She says:
"I do think it’s clear that there is a promotion gap, and perhaps an information gap, too. There’s certainly room for improvement.
Customers are willing to spend in the children’s book category. Indeed, the primary feeling she has about children’s books is guilt—guilt that maybe she isn’t reading to them enough.
A smart publisher—a smart marketer—can sell to a customer like that! So … why aren’t they?"
To me, this is not just a question (and opportunity) for publishers. It's an issue that's important to all of us who want to see children, as many children as possible, grow up with a love of books. How do we help parents find the right books for their children? For the purposes of this discussion, let's stick to parents like the one described in Joanna Cabot's article, parents who want to buy books for their kids, and have the resources to do so, but don't know what books to buy. (Not that the question of reaching parents who don't fit this description isn't important, but let's table that for another day.)
There is a lot of interesting and useful discussion in the comments of the TeleRead article, including people suggesting visits to the library and bookstores. But (as is also clear from the comments), this is not a sufficient solution for many parents. There's a barrier to entry to gathering your kids up and taking them to the library or the bookstore. There's a comfort zone issue - many parents may not be comfortable asking librarians or booksellers for help. And ever-shrinking budgets for librarians in elementary schools exacerbate the problem.
I know for me, I'm something of a homebody. I tend to find out about books that I'm interested in online (though various sources), and then order them from Amazon, because that's what's easy for me. (I also receive books from publishers, but that's clearly not the situation that most parents are in, so we'll discount that). If I find myself out and about near an independent bookstore, I'm happy to buy books in person. If I'm at the library, I'm happy to be able to check out books, too. But I work from home and have a small child. I spend many hours every day on the computer, and what is easiest for me when I hear about a book that I want is to order it online. My guess is that this is true for many other parents, too.
What is also true, however, is that most parents don't have the exposure that I do to ideas about quality children's books to buy. I learn about new books by reading blogs and Facebook posts, by reading e-newsletters from publishers, Publisher's Weekly, and School Library Journal, and by reading print publications like the Horn Book Magazine. But how do other parents, who work in other industries and don't read these various publications, learn about books to buy for their kids?
There's a wealth of information available online via blogs. But it's scattered and disorganized. There's no one place that a parent can go and rely on finding everything they need. Just taking my own blog, I've published hundreds of reviews. I have them categorized by age range, and I do have a list of all of the titles in one place. But if you're looking for great books for your 10 year old girl who likes magic but no kissing, I don't have an easy way to generate that list for you (though I've certainly been known to pull together such lists manually).
There are other sites that are more organized than I am, in terms of providing lists (StorySnoops, The Reading Tub, the Cybils shortlists) and there are many other sites that are more focused than I am by age range or genre. That all helps. But still, parents have to be able to find these sites. And no one site is going to give them everything they need. The average parent isn't going to spend an hour every day scrolling through the new posts from 158 blogs in Google Reader, either.
So what can we do? How can we, collectively, the Kidlitosphere, make it easier for parents who AREN'T bloggers, who aren't part of our sometimes self-referential circle, find books? Can we start a discussion about that? And if you're a parent who reads my blog, do you have suggestions for how I can personally make finding books easier for you? I know that there are no easy answers, but I do welcome your feedback. Thanks for listening.
This post © 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.