What Can We Learn From the Music Industry?
If you have the patience to wait through a bit of potted history, I have a point for us all to consider: Any adult has been through at least two revolutions in how s/he purchased and listened to music. We grew up with records, we made the transition to CDs, and then to downloads and ipods. And no matter what kind of music you like, you surely are aware that these two revolutions had diametically opposite effects on the music industry. The shift from records to CDs was a bonanza — artists and labels made new money on old records, as we all realized we needed to have our music in the new format. Then with downloads, music companies feared going out of business and took Napster and other file-sharing sites to court. But even as fights over copyright raged, the entire model of the industry changed. As Vicki Cobb reminded me — a musician could no longer make money on recordings, promoted by a few appearances. Instead s/he made money on appearances, with some extra from CDs sold at the concert.
Are we who write and edit and publish books for younger readers in a similar spot? Certainly picture book authors and illustrators have been feeling the pinch for several years now. Parents are reluctant to pay 15, 16, 17, 18 dollars for a 32 page book, when they can get (download, subscribe, or purchase) digital sources for their children for less, and can use the library to find books. More and more authors and illustrators now view school visits and related appearances as their bread and butter, with book sales (which may come directly at the event, or may, in general, increase because the author works hard to become known) as gravy. I have suggested here that we use technology — wikis, film, email, — to turn the visit into the school relationship. I can imagine us artists-in-digital residence bringing our skills to schools, and creating a baseline of both interest and income for us. But that is only one model for this changing field.
We are now starting to see Youtube book trailers — I just got this one in an email and quite liked it: youtube.com/?v=i8Ule26e9Jk The book — the single bound volume sitting spine out on a shelf — may have a tough life, especially as fewer and fewer newspapers review books at all, and certainly books for younger readers (outside of seasonal roundups). But perhaps the lonely books is just like the music CD. Perhaps we are entering a new phase where the visit, the e-relationship, the book trailer, all become important parts of how authors bring themselves to the public. That is challenging for those of us who grew up in the old system — but also a moment ripe with possibility.