Sophisticated Readers, Latest Potter Craze Spearhead Book Renaissance
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November 2003 | Vol. II - No. 11

November 2003 | Vol. II - No. 11 TDmonthly SEARCH



 
Sophisticated Readers, Latest Potter Craze Spearhead Book Renaissance

While reliable figures on the sales of children's books are hard to come by, all signs point to a strong year in the juvenile literature sector, driven in part by the release of J.K. Rowling's fifth Harry Potter novel.

When Harry Potter and the Order Of The Phoenix hit stores in June, consumers rushed out to get the novel in record numbers. Reports from Barnes and Noble put sales at nearly a book every 80 seconds, and industry observers predicted its release, plus that of Hilary Clinton's memoir, would buoy an industry suffering from a general case of the flats.

"To me the biggest impact of the Harry Potter phenomenon is that those books made it cool to read. To have a Harry Potter title tucked under your arm or on your nightstand was a status symbol."

It's not the first time the little wizard (Potter, not Clinton) created such a stir in book retailing. According to sales figures collected by the Association of American Publishers, in July 2000, when the fourth book in the popular series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, hit stores, sales jumped to almost $90 million that month—nearly triple what they had been both in June 2000 and July 1999. More than a one-trick wizard, the Harry Potter series is credited by people in the industry with creating a new generation of readers.

"To me the biggest impact of the Harry Potter phenomenon is that those books made it cool to read," said Carol Fitzgerald, co-founder and president of The Book Report Network. "To have a Harry Potter title tucked under your arm or on your nightstand was a status symbol. And from this, children got into the rhythm of reading."

Nancy Traversy, president and founder of Barefoot Books, a Massachusetts-based children's publisher, agrees and goes a step further.

"I would also credit the Harry Potter phenomenon for saving an industry," she said. "Without it, I'm sure many small outlets would have gone under."

“I would credit the Harry Potter phenomenon for saving an industry. Without it, I'm sure many small outlets would have gone under."

AAP figures suggest sales of juvenile fiction had mirrored those of the rest of the book industry, suffering three or four years of sluggish sales, almost evenly split between hardcover and paperback sales. From 2001 to 2002, for example, hardcover books saw a three percent increase in sales, while paperbacks fell off 1.3 percent.

With all of that said, Fitzgerald believes the children's book market is quite healthy, something the figures bear out. Juvenile fiction is approaching $2 billion per year in sales.

"When I am hearing reports from many publishers about the state of their business, I often hear about the strength of their children's lines," she said. "When you see the gangbuster success of a series like Lemony Snicket or Junie B Jones or a picture book garnering a one-day lay-down like the new Olivia book this fall, you can see that there is a lot of power in the children's end of the business."

Fitzgerald operates a series of book industry websites, including one designed for children and children's books. Judging by their surveys and user feedback, Fitzgerald says there are some very interesting trends emerging.

"We traditionally ask children questions about their reading habits," she explained. "Looking at these poll results may be very interesting for those marketing books for children. We learned for example that most children are selecting their own books, without influence from their parents, teachers or librarians."

“Children can spot a fake a mile away."

Fitzgerald has also found young readers to be very discerning, sophisticated consumers when it comes to reading material, and she believes the key to short and medium term success is for publishers to focus on what they do best.

"If I were a publisher, I think I would push the authors I know to try new things instead of going with unknown talent, as sad as that might be," she said. "I think there are a lot of children's authors out there with strong voices who can write very different stories for different age groups and nail them each and every time. Children can spot a fake a mile away."







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