20 May 2007

Changing with the Demographics

The good news is that today's Nashua Telegraph published an article on our SCBWI New England conference (from which I've just returned). The not-so-good news is that the paper quoted me this way:

John Bell, a presenter and regional advisor for SCBWI, agreed that the picture book genre is booming.

“There’s a lot going on in the industry,” he said.

“Things are always changing with the demographics. It’s the end of the (Harry) Potter era.”
The words between quote marks are accurate, but I apologize to anyone who be misled into thinking on my authority that publishers are seeing a boom in picture book sales and want more manuscripts. I'm not sure how that came to be on paper. It's still pretty much a doldrum there, and most big publishers just want funny.

My actual thought on demographics and picture books goes like this. There was a boomlet for picture books in the mid-1990s; a burst of interest in middle-grade novels in the late 1990s through 2000, coinciding with the explosion of Harry Potter; and for the last three or four years a flowering of publishing for teens.

Those are the same kids growing up! There was a little blip in the US birth rate that's moving through the years like a hamster inside a snake. You know what's next? A lot of books about being in college and searching for meaning in one's early twenties. Get on that bandwagon now!


Lee said...

Now, that's an interesting perspective on the YA lit boom I haven't heard before. Have you compared the figures to other countries - UK, Australia, EU? This might confirm or otherwise influence your analysis.

J. L. Bell said...

I haven't seen figures for other western democracies, nor do I know how their publishing industries have perceived the YA genre recently.

And perception is a big part of this phenomenon. US publishers have continued to put out hundreds of new picture books, even as the market was said to be "flat" or "thin." And even when YA or fantasy were in doldrums, such books were published.

So what we really see is an oversupply in some areas and an undersupply in others, with greater unfulfilled demand increasing the value of some books relative to others. And I suspect that oversupply and undersupply is based on the number of target readers.