Sophisticated Readers, Latest Potter
Craze Spearhead Book Renaissance
By Paul A. Paterson
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
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
“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
"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
"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."