Sunday’s issue of the New York Times Book Review carried this editorial note:
Readers of the Web version of the Book Review may have noticed a new feature, “an online-only review of a new picture book each week, supplementing — but not replacing — our print coverage,” to quote Pamela Paul, the Book Review’s new children’s books editor. Paul, who had the idea, will be writing the reviews herself.This strikes me as a “bugs into features” explanation of a change that leaves out the downside of the story.
Why single out picture books? “Children’s literature has entered what many believe to be a new golden age,” she explained. “One in which the artistry in picture books rivals the latest apps, even as the creativity of game designers influences illustration and pacing. Online is often the best place to showcase this work.”
Technology and artistry may indeed make this a “new golden age” of picture books, but right now there’s significantly less gold to be found in the form. Demographic trends have inexorably shrunk the market of young children. Barnes & Noble has downsized and deëmphasized the section.
Publishers that once got by on picture books alone have had to expand into middle-grade and young-adult fiction or become parts of larger presses. In contrast, YA imprints are booming. Agents and editors continue to call the picture-book market “soft” or “slow,” meaning lousy.
All that probably means there’s less picture-book advertising money for the Book Review. So even if the books themselves are terrific, they’re not going to command as much expensive real estate on the printed page until after the next baby boom.
All that said, Paul is undoubtedly correct that the web is a better place for showing off picture books. The registration is better, the colors brighter, the size and number of page images potentially larger. And if a crossover with “apps” is going to boost the form’s economic viability, as so many hope, reviewing the results in a digital medium makes sense.