In this issue of BfK Caroline Horn describes how children’s publishers are responding to the impact of digital technology and exploiting its potential to market titles and, hopefully, attract new readers.
Meanwhile, the star attraction at the London Book Fair last month was the Espresso Book Machine (EBM). Invented by American publisher Jason Epstein, it can print, collate, cover and bind a single book in a few minutes. It is being claimed as the most revolutionary change in the literary world since Gutenberg’s press in the 15th century. The EBM is now available to the public at the Charing Cross branch of Blackwell’s and it offers access to almost half a million books. It is hoped that this will increase to more than a million titles by the end of the summer.
The majority of the titles so far available are out of copyright but Blackwell’s is hoping to increase access to in copyright texts. Now that most high-street bookshops have reduced the range of children’s titles they stock in favour of the few with a large marketing spend behind them and independent children’s booksellers are few and far between, the benefits of the EBM to those seeking titles which are not current bestsellers seem clear.
But what are the wider implications of print of demand? There are undoubted benefits one of which is, as Caroline Horn points out, that it is ‘offering opportunities for young creators to get writing themselves and to have their work published within a printed book’. But there are also disadvantages. In BfK No 174 Brian Alderson pointed out that ‘the already incipient (and frightening) likelihood that everyone will be able to publish his or her own books – that everyone will write and no one will read – may indeed come to pass.’
The traditional path for a wannabe writer for children involves skirmishes with a number of gatekeepers. The reader of the publisher’s slush pile (now an increasingly endangered species) is one such who decides whether the wannabe’s unsolicited ms merits being drawn to the attention of an editor. The children’s agent is another who may (or may not) choose to represent the wannabe, thereby ensuring that their ms is at least read by a commissioning editor. Then there is the editor her/himself who takes the decision whether or not to publish. Frustrating (and sometimes misguided) as these gatekeepers’ decisions may appear to be to many aspiring children’s writers, their role has ensured that some standards of competence, creativity and originality are for the most part maintained in what is published for young readers.
Revolutionary change in the way we publish for children in these digital days inevitably raises new challenges and one of the most important is how excellence in children’s literature can be safeguarded.
Happy birthday to the Hungry Caterpillar
In this issue we pay tribute to Eric Carle whose The Very Hungry Caterpillar celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Brian Alderson devotes his ‘Classics in Short’ to this playful and innovative novelty book for the very young while Joanna Carey reports on her trip to Key Largo in Florida to ask Eric Carle about his work and his inspirational Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts.