In the 1950s, radio stations faced a problem — the growth of national TV network — matched of course by the exponential expansion in the number of TV sets sold — meant that the old days in which radio networks dominated were over. What to do? Radio fractured — stations concentrated on cheap entertainment serving a niche market. Or, as the radio DJ Alan Freed called it, “rock n roll” http://www.alanfreed.com/ Roch n roll worked perfected — the record companies were desperate for the air play, and the kids loved listening to it. There may be a useful analogy here for our book in the age of the ereader and the app.
Adult publishing is all agog with the ebook. Outside of YA novels, and at least for the moment, ebooks have little to offer those of us who write and publish for younger readers because they use straight text and our books are illustrated. Now Capstone and Lerner, and surely others, are working on digital book in a school and school library setting that are illustrated. But those are very specific kinds of book. Apps are terrific, but a recent study reported that, at preasent, companies are spending an average of seven times more to make them than they are earning from sales. In other words, apps are either very well-financed projects where the company does not mind the loss or created by some group or organization so eager to experiment they do not care. Once again, that leaves almost all of us out.
So maybe we are radio — we experiment in our world of books for younger readers — continuing to master designer, the artful interweave of words, images, page turns, serving a readership out of sight of adult in its great ebook land rush — we don’t have the good fortune that music had in the 50’s — our books are not cheap — but we can spread, we can explore niches, we can continue to reach an audience through print, the new radio, while we watch adult become television. Until, finally, we can take our wonderfully designed books, along with audio, video, and the rich research we do for them, with some permissions agreement that makes sense, and jump from radio to cable — from being left out of the ework to being its future.