Friday, 20 March 2009

Children's books in the Recession

No I'm not panicking, but all the bleak news of recession, failing industries, belly-up banks and job losses make it well to shore up the defences against whatever may loom on the horizon. So Spring cleaning this year for me is all about polishing up my business as an illustrator, updating my website, focusing on work, hopefully getting some new children's stories on paper. Publishing is getting tougher by the week we hear, if the public has less money to spend then book sales will suffer.

And yet I'm not quite so convinced by all this. Sure, people will be less willing to buy unnecessary items, but to what degree does it affect book sales? My daughter's after-school teacher tells me that in her house at least she's buying fewer toys but more books, as they seem better value for money (she's talking about discounted titles), they last longer and are more educational. She seems to be worried that her kids are not developing the skills to equip them to face harder times. Strange how it takes fears of a recession to see these things.

My great bone of contention with publishing in the UK is the practice of discounting. In Japan there is no discounting at all. Books have a price printed on the cover and that's what they are sold for, never a yen less, where ever you go, whatever shop. If they're not sold the books are returned to the publisher and pulped, but they usually have quite a long shelf life before that happens. Authors and illustrators are paid a fee based on a royalty percentage of the entire print-run, whether books sell or not, it's straightforward and I think pretty fair.

In the UK however many books are offered at 3 for the price of 2 in the big chain stores, they're discounted through supermarkets, they're sold for a fraction of their original price in discount bookshops, and, worst case of all, last years children's books can be bought on my local market for £1 each, a mere 10% of the cover price. Naturally when times are hard the general public will go for the cheapest option, so sales of full price books will evitably suffer. Sadly, little if any of the funds from sales of heavily discounted books find their way to the author and artist. As one well known illustrator in the UK admits to me, even if your books sell, it's becoming almost impossible to earn enough from children's books alone to survive.

However in comparison to many jobs under threat there is still some hope for artists and writers, at least we have our talents, we have options to pursue, even though it may take us in different creative directions. I for one am not putting all my eggs into the basket of publishing, though I'm working hard in the field, I also have my commercial illustration career in Japan, for that I'm very grateful. In times like these nothing is to be neglected.

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