Saturday, August 1, 2009

Book Thoughts: "The Kids Don't Read"?

When I'm not blogging, I work as at a remainder book wholesaler. We're the people that supply (some of) the bargain books to retailers like Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc. This means that day in and day out, I'm surrounded by all kinds of books - it's kind of exciting for a book nerd like me.

When I started working there, I was definitely excited to see a bulging book shelf filled with YA books - the world needs as many YA books as it can get, I figure. However, from the attitudes of my bosses I quickly gathered that the YA section was the red-headed stepchild of our showroom. The bookshelves were packed because publishers keep sending us books but no one out there is buying them.

The other day a buyer was in the showroom and chatting with one of our sales reps, and the conversation turned to YA books. The buyer was complaining that "the kids don't read." He still does a brisk business in kids' books because the parents and grandparents want to encourage reading, but teenagers are "too obsessed with the Wiis and the X-Box to want to read!"

Now, I happen to know for a fact that this just isn't true. Fantasy series like Harry Potter and Twilight brought out legions of young people eager to devour those books and, I would bet, enticed them into trying some new titles while waiting for the next in the series. Over at Bookends you can see pictures of the 60+ teens who turned out for the BBYA teen session at ALA. The number of YA books being published in the last ten years has skyrocketed (back at the NYC Teen Author's festival, David Levithan said that before 10 years ago or so, the YA genre hardly existed, and it certainly didn't exist as today's teens now enjoy it). That genre wouldn't have exploded as it has if kids weren't reading.

So that got me to wondering why there doesn't seem to be a market for YA bargain books - or if maybe this idea that teenagers aren't reading is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Afterall, I've never seen a table of YA bargain books at Barnes & Noble or Borders (I was even in B&N yesterday looking for YA bargains specifically). The particular book buyer I overheard wasn't from either of those stores - I honestly have no idea what company he was from but I know it wasn't Borders/B&N - so maybe his store just isn't drawing in teens anyway so they aren't going to make a special trip just to check out his bargain books.

First I wondered if maybe it's true that teens aren't buying books in huge droves. Yes they'll go out and buy the latest event book like Harry Potter or Twilight, if only because it would take months to get the book through the library, but are they seeking out other books at the bookstore? I know when I was in high school I bought precious few books - I didn't have a job until my senior year and then I barely made enough money to put gas in my car so I could make it to work. Throughout middle school I would skip lunch some days so I could save up enough money to buy the next month's Animorphs book. So even though I was constantly reading library books, I wasn't contributing to the publisher's - or booksellers - bottom line.

The second thought that occurred to me was that teens are still buying books - but they're buying new books, and by the time a book ends up on the bargain table it's considered passe. Movies are seeing a trend where box office receipts are extremely front loaded - everyone goes out to see a movie its first weekend and from then on it just kind of lingers on the box office top 10 until something newer and flashier comes along. Any given movie is pretty much only going to get one weekend as the top box office draw, unless absolutely nothing opens the next weekend. Are books the same way? Teens hear about a book they want, buy it close to it's publication date, and from then on the title just lingers on the shelf until the publisher finally decides it's wasting precious catalog space and sends it on to someone like my company to deal with?

Food for thought.

1 comment:

Anna Rhoswen said...

I think you kind of touched on part of the problem when you mentioned buying precious few books as a teen. I also remember buying very few books and my reasons were two fold - one, at the time, Waldenbooks carried very few YA books that interested me, and I was also incredibly poor, as most teenagers are. If parents encouraged reading by supporting kids in buying books, it might also help. My family bought me a lot more clothes at the time, because that's what teens are "supposed" to be interested in. I didn't want new clothes, I wanted books!

-Britt

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