The main branch of the New York Public Library provided respite from the drizzle and crowds of umbrella-carrying holiday shoppers, as children’s book professionals gathered on Saturday, December 6, for a panel discussion on the state of the publishing industry. The speakers were Neal Porter, editor, Neal Porter Books at Roaring Brook Press; Susan Roth, artist; Leonard S. Marcus, children’s literature historian; Caroline Ward, librarian, Ferguson Library, Stamford, Ct.; Laurent Linn, art director, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; and Elizabeth Harding, v-p, Curtis Brown Ltd. Author-illustrator Jane Breskin Zalben served as moderator. The speakers focused specifically on picture books and how the stories of today are being discovered, published, marketed, and consumed by readers.
Zalben opened the discussion by offering a short overview of some of the ways that the children’s book market has changed over the years. She cited the rise of “really successful” independent bookstores in the 1980s, and the impact of Barnes & Noble and Borders chain stores on indie stores, followed by the subsequent closing of Borders in 2009. Today, she said, Amazon clearly poses a significant threat to the indie book market. Children’s bookstores are frequently relying on toy sales to gain revenue, and chains like Barnes & Noble are reluctant to carry picture books; subsequently, publishers must also strategically select the books they champion. Considering the discoverability challenges that picture books face, Zalben posed this question to the panelists: how likely is it that a classic like Goodnight Moon (which took around 10 years after its publication to even develop notoriety) would be published today at all?