Are Picture Books Endangered?

I recently read a couple interesting articles that discussed how picture books are losing their appeal. Retailers are selling fewer pictures books; as a result, publishers are publishing less of these books.

Each of these articles quoted retailers stating that they thought the decline came from parents pushing their children to read chapter books at younger and younger ages. One retailer said that parents were buying Stuart Little for their four-year-olds instead of picture books. She felt it this behavior came from a cultural push for children to start reading early so that they would excel in school.

I read another study conducted of 1,000+ children and their parents by Scholastic. This study found that children between the ages of six and 17 spend less time reading for fun and more time going online and using their phones for fun.

Reading among children is declining. Many argue that this is because there are so many electronic gadgets, as well as computers and the Internet, to entertain kids, so they don’t gravitate toward reading in their spare time.

Reading is a very different skill from playing electronic games. Reading requires extended attention and concentration on something that does not have much sensory input (compared to video games). I find it odd that, in an era of electronic gadgets with colorful graphics, parents are skipping picture books and pushing their kids to read chapter books at a young age.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the kids look at fantastic, colorful pictures while reading to engage children and encourage them to read?

Just maybe the decline in parents gravitating toward picture books for their children is part of the reason children are spending less time reading for fun. After all, I think picture books help cement the beauty of reading for young children.

As a Christian, the decline in reading in children alarms me. For, if children do not develop the skill of reading for pleasure and learning, then, they won’t learn to read the Bible for themselves.

Reading God’s word is important for Christians. Without the ability to read and delve into God’s word, people remain baby Christians, unable to effectively handle this war that we fight against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

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A Shrinking Audience

The United States and the United Kingdom sold fewer books in 2009 than they did in 2008 according to Nielson BookScan figures. However, other English language markets—such as Australia, Ireland, and South Africa—sold more titles in 2009 than in 2008.

This is sad news for small publishers in the United States.

Book buyers, as a percentage of the U.S. population, dropped below 50 percent for the first time ever in 2008. Despite the rise of ebooks and digital media, we are a country whose book-reading population is on the decline.

When I take my children to the doctor, dentist, sports events and the like, I notice that my children are just about the only ones toting books to read while they wait around for the next activity. Almost all the other children are handling electronic devices such as Nintendo DS systems, iPods, and Smart phones with games. My children sit and read while the other children entertain themselves with electronic media.

No wonder our book-reading population is declining.

Last year, online activities surpassed television as the number one leisure activity among American adults. American adults spent an average of 15 hours a week online. We have become a media-oriented society. Adults don’t model book-reading for their children (either in print or e-reader formats) and they don’t encourage their children to spend as much time reading books as they do playing video games.

Christians are no different from the general population in this respect. We, the people who, throughout history, brought reading and literature to much of the world (so that everyone could have access to and read God’s word for themselves), no longer value reading and training our minds. We have lost our saltiness.

The decline of reading in America has and will continue to affect all publishers, especially small publishers. Small publishers don’t have a lot of clout or resources to promote their books in the English-speaking countries where book buying is increasing; so many will be stuck promoting their books to an ever shrinking group of readers.

I wish I had better news, but I don’t. The handwriting is on the wall, if we can pry our minds away from our computer screens to read it.


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Book Buying Behavior

Last month, Bowker released a report based on data from their collections. Bowker is the exclusive agency for monitoring information pertaining to ISBNs and SANs and maintains Books In Print, a list of nearly all English-language books available within the United States.

Bowker’s report, titled “2008 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Report,” provides insights into who is buying books and what motivates them to buy.self_help_library_home

The report costs $999 to purchase, but Bowker has released a few of the report’s finding to entice buyers to purchase the report.  Here are a few of the findings in the report:

  • 57 percent of book buyers are women.
  • These 57 percent purchase 65 percent of the books sold in the United States.
  • While women made the majority of purchases in the paperback, hardcover, and audio-book segments, men made 55 percent of the ebook purchases.
  • Generation X (born early1960’s to late 1970’s) consumers buy more books online than any other demographic group, with 30 percent of them buying their books through the Internet.
  • 21 percent of book buyers said that they became aware of a book through some sort of online promotion or ad.

Stop and think about these statistics and their implications.

  1. Women purchase more books then men, but men purchase more ebooks. That means that your advertising and promotions should take gender into consideration. Your marketing campaigns might be more effective if you are targeting men for ebook sales and women for print book sales.
  2. Online advertising and promotions are important. One-fifth of all book buyers became aware of a book online. Don’t grow weary in promoting your book on the Internet. It is an important medium for marketing.
  3. Are your books easy to purchase online? If your books sell to Generation X consumers, they must be readily available for online purchases.

Don’t overlook statistics. They can be great guides in helping you develop an effective book promotion campaign.


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