Thursday, October 11, 2018

"Why are mainstream media outlets so patchy at covering children's books?" - A ReadItTorial

Hoo boy, where to start with this one...

Inspired by a tweet from author Piers Torday:

"So why is not 1 in 3 book reviews a review of a children's book? Open question - not saying they should be, necessarily, but asking why children's lit review coverage is still so disproportionately marginalised? (eg one book a week, a monthly round up, or most often, none at all)"

OK I'll bite - but it's not the first, and it probably won't be the last time I've puzzled over this very question myself. Why do children's books get such a patchy, sometimes ill-informed, quite often shallow pass in mainstream media? More to the point, does anyone (bar the authors themselves perhaps) really seek out children's book coverage in mainstream media any more? 

I guess the answer begins with the fact that newspapers and magazines are suffering from some of the lowest sale and circulation figures of all time, mostly thanks to the very thing you're reading this blog on. 

The Internet. Whenever you want an opinion on something, you (as Piers suggested) pick through the meagre scraps of reviews that pop up now and again in well-meaning publications or Sunday supplements but coverage is so brief and sporadic that I doubt anyone would really go to a printed publication in order to get clued up about their next book purchase. 

Sadly, the way we buy and consume books has radically changed along with the 'death of printed news' - So you're navigating through Amazon, looking for the cheapest price on the book you want to buy for your child - and probably reading the Amazon reviews of that book, right?

(Note: Amazon is very rarely the cheapest place to buy books, particularly if you consider that the minimum spend on Amazon is £20 for free delivery, and delivery costs for single books aren't cheap either). 

Right, Amazon rant aside - where else do you go to learn about new titles? Well there are always those strange folk who blog about books. 

As we said, in reply to Piers...

"Or on the average book blog,a review a day, sometimes more than one. Sometimes up to 6 on a Friday simply because there are so many ace books to talk about that we can barely fit them all into our schedule. Missing out weekends and doing this in our spare time because we LOVE it"

And later on...

"Lot of Twitter chat about children’s book coverage in mainstream mags, newspapers etc - not enough, not often enough etc etc. You know we put out at least a review a day though, right? And most other book bloggers do the same. Possibly not as influential as the Telegraph tho :)"

Blowing the trumpet for book bloggers is (thankfully) preaching to the converted (at least amongst my followers / on my timeline, lovely folk who were very quick to tweet us back with support - thank you, you know who you are!) but I thought it was worth drawing attention to the fact that as mainstream media coverage of children's books shrinks away to practically nothing, book blogs, clicks and social media engagement / influence grows year on year. 

We've been experimenting for a while with increasing the frequency of tweeting book cover / internal shots for a couple of reasons. 

1) We are genuinely, honestly this excited about children's books. This year our 'job' has been made so incredibly tough, particularly in this fourth quarter of the year - not just with the sheer number of titles arriving since the September 6th BookApocalypse, but from the amazing quality of those titles. Like publishers have been saving their very best for the inevitable run-up to Christmas, in the hope that your little ones will get a book for Chrimbo. Their book, or maybe several of their books. 

2) Social media engagement isn't merely "the second way" for book coverage and sales influence. Regardless of how you feel as an old techno-luddite, as one other reply (from the awesome folk at @storimagic) to Piers quite rightly stated: 

Although adults are buying kids' books, perhaps more kids access reviews via YouTube or Cbeebies? Not many newspapers/mags catering for them. But I see no reason why kids books shouldn't be included with other titles. Some chn's authors seem to get more coverage than others.

It's not strictly true that all printed media is turning its back on covering children's books. We've been delighted to see The Phoenix Comic adding book recommendations to its regular roster, and they're not the only ones. Other children's magazines such as The Week Junior and Anorak also cover children's books as part of their regular feature lists.

Then of course there are dedicated review sites such as Toppsta who also build a community around reading, enjoying and reviewing books, and engaging parents (the folk who actually pay for / buy these books) through development of a site that not only covers a huge variety of new titles, but offers reviews of books that aren't 'this week's favourite flavour'. 

Back to book blogging as that's something we can definitely talk about with a tiny bit of authority at least. It might sound hatefully smug to say that we cover a lot of books and we don't even do this as our day job (hah, can you imagine what it would be like if this was somehow a 'job' that we could make a living out of? Can you imagine how many books we'd get through and review if we did this 5 days a week full time? Can you give me a job doing that very thing that pays enough to support my family on? No, didn't think so!) but we're not the only ones who comfortably put together a blisteringly packed review schedule online for folk to dip into and consume.

If anything, the biggest challenge now is deciding what to cover and what to drop - as inevitably C gets older, it gets more and more difficult to 'carpet-bomb-review' absolutely everything we get sent, but we do at least want to talk about those books, raise their profile, and still ensure that we have a fairly wide age range comfortably featuring on the blog rather than trying to narrowly focus on a particular type of book (we leave proper middle grade and YA coverage to the many, many brilliant book reviewers and bloggers out there who specialise in those areas). 

For any creative person, you want to feel that your work is being discussed by a recognisable entity or outlet that has a huge audience. Why would you not?

So we understand Piers' frustration that mainstream print and TV just do not understand how most people want to see book coverage handled. Not by a well-meaning celebrity who read a book once and now believes they're a world authority on what your little ones should be reading. Not by a stuffed shirt or blouse who believes that any child reading Tom Gates books, or Wimpy Kid, or (heaven help us) David Walliams or Julia Donaldson books should be thrashed within an inch of their lives until they learn to love Thomas Hardy or Charles Dickens. But by folk who can simply pass on their sheer love for books by just NOT SHUTTING UP ABOUT THEM EVER!

We suspect that in amongst the reasons for bemoaning the lack of mainstream children's book coverage, there's a level of a requirement for a bit of ego stroking. We get served humble pie quite often (and most recently during an author visit to C's school where a well-known author told her in no uncertain terms that he'd "Never heard of ReadItDaddy" - It's OK, we can take it!) and we're fully aware that having a bunch of book blogger back-cover quotes on your book might not look as good to would-be purchasers as the names of a stack of well-known national newspapers, or perhaps some TV coverage, or (hahahhaaha oh the irony) some celebrity endorsement from those who run children's book clubs through whatever retailer they've signed a contract to. 

Honestly though, we're really not bitter about that aspect of things. We love talking books - probably a bit too much (I have actually been told several times that I am too flipping scary to talk to for long on the subject of kid's books, SORRY!)

But y'know, if you value or prefer something written in a newspaper, or gibbered by a Sleb on telly, and think that'll make a better back of the cover quote for your next masterwork, more power to you. As I said, we really won't be offended and we will keep on reviewing and blogging those lovely books regardless.


In addition to the tweet that inspired this blog post in the first place, there's been even more of a hoo-hah this week that kicked off well after I'd actually written and scheduled this post.

It started with this tweet:

Stepped away from social media for a few months. Have to say, I haven't missed it. Closed our FB account haven't missed FB at all. Quick word on blog your money for something that works. Most book bloggers have no reach or influence. They just think they do

The points here not covered above just felt like a kick in the teeth - not just for us but for a lot of other bloggers who have received or seen similar 'shade'. It was great though to see everyone rallying round and speaking up for bloggers who work as hard, or even harder than we do.