Hey cHEwY gum gums!

Hope everyone had a nice Easter Staycation 🙂

The children’s book industry is pretty resilient. Back when the GFC hit, and major book chains were closing up, it was children book sales that remained rock solid. When the Kindle and e-books burst onto the scene, many people thought picture books and children books were going to be replaced with interactive reading apps on the i-pad. If anything, the children’s industry has gone from strength to strength.

However, this pandemic is a different kind of beast. While I believe children book sales will remain steady, I can’t help but wonder about how the landscape for the kidslit scene will change. We want kids to read, but how will they buy books now?

The impact of limited department stores and no book clubs/fairs.

One author mentions in their talk that if they want an idea for a new book, they walk around Big W to see what’s selling. In terms of floor space, Big W is technically the largest bookstore in Australia. As a children’s author, being sold in Big W, Target or Costco is a big boost. Kids who don’t normally go to bookstores, could be wowed by a book here. It’s the incidental book sale, a copy of Harry Potter to go along with the tub of laundry powder.

Now yes, Big W and department stores are still open, and I hope books are thrown in the same basket as puzzles and bikes, but I doubt families are leisurely browsing Big W these days. Then there’s the bookstores inside shopping centres or the airport (the perfect place to impulse buy a book haha) that are off limits.

Kids browsing a book section or a book store is important. They want to flick through the pages, read a random page, or even weigh up the book in page length. Well that’s what I did as a child hehe.

Another place where kids can do that is through book fairs at schools, but now that is being taken away. Book clubs are also another avenue that is on pause at the moment. Sometimes a book will generate buzz among friends or librarians and a kid will take the plunge. All of these opportunities are not there anymore.

Brands and familiar series will thrive

Of course people are still buying children books, but I reckon they will be drawn to a familiar series or a well-known author brand. There’s nothing wrong with that, every publisher needs these top-selling blockbusters to support other authors and to takes risks with brave storytellers or books. For me, my saviour is a blue dog haha.

But during this pandemic, I think the gap between the top and the rest will get bigger. If you’re an children’s author with a new book or series now, there are fewer opportunities to market or promote it. You’ve missed out on a chance to hand-sell the book to school kids or to charm booksellers when you pop in for signings. Kids would rather pick up Book 14 of Series X than take a chance on something unknown, especially when they haven’t had a chance to visit a bookstore or library in recent times.

When you are elevated to brand status, there’s less of a need to go on a schools tour, have a social media blitz or be featured at festivals. If you want proof, check out the top ten children titles and see how many of those authors have an active social media profile. I’m sorry if this sounds like Tall Poppy Syndrome but I do feel for those other authors outside the Top 10, plugging away. Pre-pandemic, this was never an issue, everyone had a fighting chance. But I wonder if the industry’s reliance on series will impact on everyone else during these times.

Parents and adults need to step up…

Fear not cHEwY gum gums, there is hope here. While kids may not be used to buying books online, adults can step in. It really is up to us to bring books into kids’ homes. It’s up to us to get them hyped or buzzed for a new series, exciting fresh authors and experiences. A wave of online launches and events are starting to pop up. Websites like Oz Authors Online have complied a list of launches. You can tune in with the kids if you’d like.

You can also ring up your local bookseller, whether it’s a chain or indie bookshop and ask them what new children’s titles are in. Their expertise is your gain. Then you can do your own research and see if the book is right for the child. By all means, you can include kids in this process too. Publisher websites have sample chapters, trailers and more. It’s the next best thing to thumbing through a book. Plenty of local and indie booksellers are also starting to host virtual launches, they’re up all there on Facebook.

I know this may sound all gloom and doom, but I wonder how many other authors and illustrators kinda feel the same as I do. That their new or upcoming book will land with a thud during quarantine. Yet as I write this I’m encouraged to think that this online-launch thing may spark a revolution with how authors market and promote their books. I heard of a friend who tuned into someone’s online book launch, and expected around 100 viewers. Over 1400 were watching. Wowzers.

So, go out there and fight for books, authors and illustrators. They need your support more than ever.

O.W

About the author

I'm an author, stand-up comedian and teacher. My books include Thai-riffic!, Con-nerd, Punchlines and The Other Christy. I'm a massive Nintendo fan and love eating burgers. Follow me on Twitter or Instagram @oliverwinfree