Sunday, February 28, 2010

Who's selling books?

Publishers continue to worry about the threat of e-books taking over more and more of the book market, but so far that hasn't happened. According to Bowker, the company that tracks book publishing and sales, e-books accounted for only about 2 percent of books sold last year. This percentage will probably rise as more people buy Kindles and other e-book platforms, but there's still a lot of life left in print. One question teachers and librarians might ask is whether they will be influencing the book buying choices of young people by getting them used to e-books. If textbooks become digital, will children and teens learn that the natural place to read a book is online? That's what publishers fear, because it cuts into their profit margin, but only time will show us what the future holds. Meanwhile the big bookstores are holding their lead as the places most Americans buy books, but online sales now form 20 percent of all sales and that's likely to increase. The businesses that are losing out, to no one's surprise, are the independent bookstores, which now handle only 5 percent of sales. It's unlikely many small bookstores will be around in another five or ten years. They will be missed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What kind of review?

Most librarians want reviews to tell us the good and the not-so-good about each book, but some parents and other adults are primarily interested in hearing about the "troublesome bits" that they think might harm their children. Publishers Weekly reports that a recent move by Barnes & Noble to include reviews from Common Sense on their website, presumably to help parents identify books they might not approve of, has raised issues in the blogosphere. Some bloggers contend that the Common Sense reviews concentrate on sex, violence and bad language rather than trying to give a balanced review of YA titles. Of course, librarians have grown wary of reviews from sophisticates on both coasts who give good reviews to books that lead to complaints from parents in some parts of the country. Many librarians prefer to know about any possibility of trouble, and some librarians undoubtedly refuse to purchase any book that might cause trouble. This is not the attitude approved by ALA and other professional organizations, which want books and other materials to be chosen on the basis of their overall value rather than the possible touchy parts. Will the Common Sense reviews lead to a drop in sales for some titles--or perhaps an increase in sales? The only thing to do is to check out the reviews, form your own opinion, and then see what happens. You might also contact Barnes & Noble to tell them what you think about their move.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Changeable textbooks

According to the N.Y. Times, Macmillan Publishing company is releasing software that will allow academic authors to change their textbooks after publication. Authors will be able to revise, update, and rearrange chapters to suit the needs of individual courses or new developments. They will also be allowed to insert new material from their other works or from other authors (presumably with the author's permission). This is an exciting new development in publishing form college texts and it's quite possible the trend will be extended to high school textbooks too. Of course there are dangers--new errors could slip into the book as the author makes changes without editorial oversight. I wonder whether there will be any hacking of textbooks to insert material contrary to the wishes of the author. The issue of security is always important for online texts. Overal, however, the possibilities for better, less expensive and more up-to-date textbooks look good. Let's hope this trend continues.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What if we lost it?

Teachers, librarians, and students--just about everyone who spends any time online--knows about Wikipedia. When searching on almost any topic, it is the source that pops up with a relevant article. But will it always be around? An article in American Libraries calls attention to the challenges that Wikipedia faces. Rumor has it that the organization of Wikipedia is becoming more bureaucratic (not surprising in any group) and, although funding drives have been successful so far, depending on voluntary giving is always chancy. Now that people have grown used to having an online source to answer almost any question about facts and figures, how would they survive without it? Print encyclopedias are rarely available and no satisfactory model for paying for online access to reference tools has been very successful. Perhaps individuals and libraries ought to consider increasing support for Wikipedia. Imperfect though some of its articles are, the work as a whole is of great value to us all.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What do students say?

After last week's NY Times story about whether or not schools need books in their libraries, the paper has followed up with comments from students. As would be expected, opinions among these many high school students and, it appears, graduates vary considerably. Several support the thoughts of the librarians and teachers interviewed earlier who defended the importance of reading books because of the pleasant physical experience. Clearly this aspect of reading is still important to many people of all ages, although there are others who find reading electronic materials equally enjoyable. Most of the students make a distinction between reading for research and homework and reading for pleasure. I think is an important point that many commentators ignore. The format for reading should suit the purpose of reading. My prediction would be that even as more and more material goes online because of the ease of searching, ease of transportation, and value of preservation, books will continue to exist as a viable form offering sufficient value to make them important to many people.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How much is it worth?

People who read books on Kindle tend to be older adults, including many retired people who are notorious for seeking bargains. Now several publishers have decided to charge more for their e-books than the $9.99 price that has been established on Kindle. According to the N.Y. Times, many furious consumers are leaving nasty evaluations on's website and sometimes declaring they will never buy another e-book. This rebellion may not seem to have much to do with children's books, but young people are the next big target audience for many e-book publishers. The imminent appearance of the iPad will make many parents eager to let their children experience books on the brilliant screen. How much will they pay? That's hard to say. Very few parents buy hardcover picture books for children. Can they be lured into buying the e-book version if the price is right? And what about somewhat older children who are fans of the inexpensive paperback series books. How will they be priced? What is the actual cost of producing an e-book? No one knows for sure. The industry is in turmoil now and librarians will have to keep their eyes open to see what is coming next.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book trailers to the rescue

As so often happens, the bloggers at School Library Journal have led librarians and others to a treasure of ways to entice children to books. This time it is Elizabeth Bird who posts video trailers from YouTube which are designed to introduce new books in an irresistible way. There can't be many children (or parents) who aren't tempted to pick up the graphic novel series about Joey Fly; Private Eye after viewing the video. If there are still librarians and teachers out there who haven't discovered the magic of video trailers for children's books, this is the time to start. Not only can professional trailers be enjoyed, of course, but with a little help from local artists and art teachers, children can be encouraged to make their own. These are sure winners!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Celebrating girls and women

The Amelia Bloomer Project is not nearly as well known as some other ALA awards for children's book, but it's a good source for learning about books with a feminist view. Sponsored by the Feminist Task Force of ALA, the 2009 list has just been released. Books that celebrate the achievements of girls and women are not seen today as quite so important as they were twenty years ago, but as the introduction to this list points out, there have been many backward steps for women in recent years. Americans may believe feminist principles no longer need to be defended because everyone accepts them, but as many female veterans of the Armed Forces will tell you, the struggle for equal treatment is ongoing even in this country. In Iraq and Afghanistan, women have lost rights they enjoyed earlier, and these changes ripple around the world. Many new immigrants in the United States come from groups which do not consider women equal to men and librarians owe it to these girls as well as to all others to continue offering strong stories and histories of girls and women. Why not take this list and check your local library to see how many are available? The results will tell you a lot about your community and the future of women.