What picture books are actually being read?

I noticed this older blog post by Ken Levine about a TV survey that looked at the population’s awareness of TV shows. 

I’ll sum it up by saying, everything seems to be niche now. The shows that win major awards and garner critic’s attention are being watched by tiny bits of the public. It lends more credence to how society is fracturing and barely aware of what others are reading, watching and thinking.

Some of the stats are truly breathtaking. For instance Game of Thrones (a very NOT kid friendly show on HBO that I enjoy) has been seen by 26% of those polled. 68% have heard of it but were not interested in watching it and 6% had not heard of it.

And for a few months everyone I talked with about TV, talked about Stranger Things on Netflix. It was considered THE big ‘viral’ hit. Only 15% had seen it. 37% knew of it but weren’t interested and 48% had never heard of it.

And yet it had outsized awareness by critics and a sliver of a demographic. But it would be a tough argument to say it was a TV hit.

All media is wadding into this niche style of content creation. It’s harder than ever to find material that crosses age, geography and interest. Picture books are no different. Books I absolutely adore seem to fall out of print faster than ever. Mega hits, there are a few, seem to leave everyone scratching their heads while official channels promote books that seemingly do not connect with readers to any extent.

There always have been books bent more towards literary recognition and some courting mass market sales. TV shows have often fallen into critical darlings and those getting 40 million viewers. Rarely do things coincide and we get a mass hit that it also respected by critics and those in the business. But historically that is what TV did. It found the show that drew in 40 million viewers. That seems impossible to imagine now.

It’s not a bad thing to have books available that appeal for different reasons to different audiences but in this new media landscape that is in flux it is something to be aware of.


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7 Responses to What picture books are actually being read?

  1. Robin Koontz says:

    I think back when a show got 40 million viewers we had about four channels to choose from. And recording a show to watch later was an ordeal of setting up VCRs and remembering to put in a fresh tape, etc. so it had to be a show we really, really liked. Now we have 5,000 choices (depending on our budget) and we have an audience with the attention span of a flea, if that much.

    • Robin Koontz says:

      PS as for picture books, even back in the late 1980s picture books were lucky to live for 14 months in the market. Nonfiction always longer.

      • mfearing says:

        True. I wonder…I’d like to see some actual numbers on these things now. I get the sense that it’s easier to stick them in a warehouse and get an online order, but things fall out of print and have much smaller print runs now??? Not sure.

    • mfearing says:

      True. Choices increase and audiences split and fragment. The question is what is the minimum audience an artist needs in a particular medium to survive from it? Obviously in TV it’s gotta be ‘more audience is better’ as it takes hundreds of staff to make a show.

      • Robin Koontz says:

        I do love all the venue options people can use now, and they do very well i.e. YouTube Channels. TV is all about the big bucks for sure, and the censorship is ridiculous.

  2. I think with TV the problem is saturation. Back when I was wee we had three channels to choose from, a fourth being added part way through my childhood, and one of those channels were broadcasting 24/7. Less TV meant fewer shows and, therefore, more people watching each show. Now there are arguably way too many options. I have probably only ever visited a tiny fraction – fewer than 10% – of the channels I have available to me. I tend to watch the same channels over and over again. I also just don’t watch that much TV. If I settle down to watch something of an evening then I usually opt for a movie. I have heard of every single one of the shows that formed part of that survey but have only seen GoT and Stranger Things.

    Do you think maybe the same is true of picture books or any other type of book? Maybe there are too many options (I cannot believe i just typed that actually), perhaps with a quantity over quality issue? I know I have picked up some really duff picture books for my kids in the library and wondered how they ever got published. On the other hand, my kids are enjoying books that have stood the test of time and which have, in some cases, been read by their grandparents and great-grandparents. Maybe it is a symptom of the disposable culture we find ourselves in. Whatever the cause, I hope your books are ones that stand the test of time.

    • mfearing says:

      There is no doubt that we are swimming in media these days. It is frankly overwhelming in all the commercial arts. This has done exactly what you said, split the audience into tiny bits. TV used to be THE Mass Market of ALL Mass Markets for entertainment. I grew up (I think we talked about this before!) with 3 stations and maybe PBS depending on the weather. Now my daughter has hundreds of options just for kids stuff. I freak out at bookstores sometimes seeing all the books. So many books…so – many – books…AH! The other side of this is – it’s harder to sell enough of anything to make a living. This is playing out in the market as we speak and I think those that do breakthrough take more sales while the rest of the market is a mess of a million items screaming for the attention of consumers who are overwhelmed. That’s why marketers put so much pressure on social media hoping/thinking that it can warp the market into looking at whatever it is they are trying to sell. But I see social media as not responding to marketers but responding from the ground up. Even if what they respond to sucks, its what people are talking about. So after all that I canny – who knows what will work! It’s about making a hit more than ever. Scary that is… (as Yoda might say_

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