08 October 2006

Change at the Children's Book Council

This past week the venerable Children's Book Council announced a big change in strategic direction. That was no surprise; when the organization recently replaced its Executive Director, it made clear that it was gearing up for a different mission.

Publishers Weekly reported on a consultants' study that the CBC had commissioned about itself to guide the transition:

In essence, the study found, the CBC operates as a charitable foundation despite being constructed as a trade association. The consensus from members is that they want it first and foremost to be a trade association, with a mission of supporting its members' business.
As I saw it, the CBC was one of the last major outposts of the Way Children's Publishing Used to Be:
  • library-based, rather than consumer-based
  • promoting childhood literacy as a public good rather than a commercial necessity
  • viewing the field almost as a public service instead of a business
In sum, the CBC promoted books (and itself) as a Good Thing--hence my adjective "venerable" above. And there's nothing wrong with that. It just doesn't necessarily pay.

For many years the CBC helped pay for itself by selling posters and other materials that promoted reading, particularly Children's Book Week. But then publishers started producing tremendous quantities of promotional material that promoted reading particular books, and giving it away free. (I have several boxes of such stuff in my basement, left over from SCBWI New England events.) That left the CBC with less revenue. And the big publishers who filled the holes started to wonder what their big dues were buying.

Now the council's role is supposed to be clearer: in the words of Roaring Brook Press Publisher and CBC Chairman Simon Boughton, "to be the visible spokesperson for the industry." Will that mean speaking up against challenges and for larger library budgets? Or lobbying for longer copyright terms and broader work-for-hire contracts? After all, it's the big publishers paying the bills.

(Also in the PW article was a report from a Penguin executive that "Target was crushing Wal-Mart in children's book sales," and the larger chain wants to do something about that. I predict that Wal-Mart will be publishing its own down-market children's books within ten years.)

No comments: