Did you all see this in the Times today: http://tinyurl.com/2e2jy74 The article quotes booksellers, publishers, authors all to the effect that picture books are not selling as well these day (outside of the classics). A number of theories are suggested for why this is — price in a weak economy, parents pushing their kids ahead to Easy Readers in the hopes this will help them on standardized tests — to which I would add the vicious cycle — weaker sales, fewer books published, less experiment, fewer great new artists and authors, fewer must-have innovations; and then there is the pressure on the 32 page format — is $16.95 for one story worth it against what a parent can download or buy in paperback (of course there are paperback picture books but they are so slim and hard to sort through that that format really only benefits books people already know they want, it is not a browsing format).
The one big part that I find missing in the article is the library – I suspect the library will be the home of the picture. In part that is because libraries already have so many. The shelves are crammed with every sort of picture book. This feast for young children and their caregivers plays to the strength of picture books. The adult and child are not forced to pick one and plunk down a chunk of change. Instead they can mix, match, compare, browse, share, combine. That allows them to go slow with a favorite, read it over and over, and skim through and put down books which are not working. I suspect that the library — which will need to replace careworn picture books, and thus also keep alert for new ones, is really where that format will be kept alive.
Now what that means in terms of pricing, distribution, attention — that I’m not sure. But I see the library was where picture book will continue to be that unique format which allows artists to speak to children through adults — that glorious circuit of eye, ear, page and story.