Expanding the Book Market is a report of research funded by publishers and the Arts Council into those who are non-book buyers. It seems that over a third of adults in the UK do not buy books. The reasons cited are that people do not feel welcome in bookshops; they are put off by the vast range of titles displayed; they find books too expensive. Another possibility that some interviewees may have been reluctant to acknowledge is illiteracy – 12 million adults in the UK have a reading age below that of a 13-year-old. But what about the runaway commercial success of such titles as The Da Vinci Code not to speak of Harry Potter? It seems that, so far from expanding the numbers of readers, such publishing successes have rather sold more books to people who are already book buyers.
Buying books for children presents additional complications to those cited above. How is a non-specialist to assess age and interest level? One respondent is quoted as saying: ‘I just don’t know what to choose any more. All the books I liked as a child seem to be out of fashion, and I don’t know the newer ones.’ 25% of people opt out of choosing a book for a child and give book tokens or cash instead. One solution to this problem currently being considered by publishers is an age-range banding scheme. A child publishers’ group run by Sally Gritten, Managing Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books, has been set up to try to create an industry standard.
Following the impact on sales of Richard & Judy’s Book Club on Channel 4, the report emphasises the importance of recommendation, whether by ‘celebrities’ or by friends and family. While these were found to be the ‘best sort of influence’, newspaper and magazine book reviews were found to be of ‘middle-ranking importance’. How far these findings apply to children’s books in particular where so many books reach young readers via the professional interventions/recommendations of librarians and teachers, is not made clear. And what about teenage readers, the subject of Melvin Burgess’s article in this issue? Again, the research findings do not single them out as a group but publishers are becoming more imaginative and forceful about ways to target young adult readers directly. Meanwhile, recommendations of a tried and tested kind are to be found in this issue of BfK where young readers again review their ‘Good Reads’ and in, amongst other articles, the many titles recommended by Helen Bromley in her piece on the power of narrative in picture books to inspire young readers.
Hans Christian Andersen
2005 is the bicentenary of the birth of Hans Christian Andersen, ‘the great poet of human suffering’, who wrote Tales of such depth, imagination and beauty that they have become an intrinsic part of our literary heritage. In this issue, Neil Philip reflects on Andersen’s life while Margaret Rustin explores the deeper resonances of ‘The Snow Queen’.
Expanding the Book Market is published by the Bookseller in conjunction with Arts Council England and Book Marketing Ltd.