Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Just the facts, ma'am

"The sudden and steep drop in the number of new books published in the U.S. last year [2005] was surprising," said Andrew Grabois, a consultant for Bowker. "Yet 2005's book output was the second highest total of new books ever recorded, after 2004's record year. The reappearance of limits was the most interesting thing about publishing in 2005. Even an industry that produces more new products than any other must make choices.”
Read the whole article

”An industry that produces more new products than any other” – I’d never thought of publishing that way! But it probably is, and maybe that’s one reason authors have to work so hard at marketing. Books certainly aren’t the #1 new products most Americans buy. And even people who do buy books couldn’t possibly hear about even all the children’s books published each year.

1999 2000
Totals 9,438 9,195
Source: Bowker Annual

How many of these titles can a school or library buy? Librarians and teachers: How do you decide among all these books? How many do you even hear about, do you think?
Do you buy all genres or just some?

Fiction 46%
Nonfiction 12%
Coloring/Activity 26%
Educational 6%
Religious 5%
Reference 1%
Novelty 2%
Electronic 2%
Source: Ipsos-NPD Group

I buy mostly children’s books, but some biographies for grown-ups: I like to see how people’s lives came out, or just get fascinated by someone. Currently I’m obsessed with Nelson and on my third book about him; but I did FIND the books through a children’s book – Victory by Susan Cooper. What about you? What books do you buy? How do you hear about them? What makes you buy something rather than just get it out of the library? And about how many do you think you buy a year...if I just thought about it I would say "About twenty" but looking back over my receipts, it comes out to over 100.


alvinaling said...

I buy a ton of books for work--recent books that are getting buzz, books I'm reading for my book groups, books of illustrators I like, and other competitive titles. I get so many books through work that I actually rarely buy books for myself to read--there are so many book in my to read pile already. I also get some free books by being on industry "big mouth" mailing lists. I also borrow books from friends and inherit used books. One of the few books I bought this year just for me to read was the KITE RUNNER. I should buy more books, I know.

Anna Alter said...

To be honest, unless its a book with illustrations I LOVE, I usually check books out of the library. I will sometimes buy something that leaps out at me, but I have so many books already!

When I strike it rich I will change this habit and go out and buy all the books by unknown struggling authors I can find, then donate them to schools when I'm done!

Lisa Jenn said...

I'm a public children's librarian, and we do almost all of our selection based on reviews -- School Library Journal, Booklist, Horn Book, Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Kirkus, and VOYA. On top of that we'll fill in particular titles, series, and nonfiction topics per patron request.

It *is* hard to choose! We have a very generous budget, so I can buy almost anything I want (I order our picture books), but it's disappointing to order a book and then, when it arrives, say, "UGH, what is this?!?!" So I rely heavily on those reviews, so as not to dilute our collection with mediocre books. The more judgmental the reviews are, the better!

Anna Alter said...


I am curious, do you find in general the reviews match your own analysis of the books you order? Are you ever disappointed when the book arrives, even if it got a great review? Do you follow a particular reviewer's reviews, because their tastes match your own?

Thanks in advance, it is fascinating how all this works. We who make books often know very little about how they are purchased.

Lisa Jenn said...

Anna, there is indeed often a disconnect between the reviews and my personal views of the books.

Part of that I chalk up to personal taste. When I'm ordering the books I'm in Librarian Mode (looking for diversity, popularity, literary/art quality, etc.), but by the time I read the books for myself, I'm mostly in Me Mode. What would I read for fun, personally recommend to patrons, use in storytime, and so on. And since I'm a big book snob, the number of books I personally find exceptional is pretty small.

I can't think of an occasion when a reviewer LOVED a book and I HATED it. Usually it's the case that the review was generally positive, but I get it and think, "Not bad, but nothing to write home about." That's because most children's books reviews are, in my view, positive. I think some reviewers feel that every book deserves an A for effort. That's why I love reviews that (a) really expound on a book's good qualities, (b) really expound on a book's bad qualities, or (c) acknowledge that a book is sort of medium by calling it "slight" or "an additional purchase." But too many reviews are little more than a plot summary and mention of the illustrative medium.

As for following individual reviewers... I do not. My supervisor reviews for SLJ, and most of the time I don't even notice her name on her reviews!

Elaine Magliaro said...

When I was still working as an elementary school librarian, I read several journals and made note of the books I thought I might want to order on color-coded sheets. For example, pink was for poetry books, orange was for traditional literature, white was for fiction, green was for nonfiction, blue was for biographies, and yellow was for picture books. I crossed off the titles as books came into the library. The colored sheets helped to ensure I didn't order a preponderance of any one genre--or neglect any either. I also had to make sure I ordered children's literature that helped support different curricular subjects at different grade levels.

I visited an independent children's book shop at least three Saturdays a month. The owner of the shop, a former children's librarian, and her two assistants always gave me excellent advice and wonderful book suggestions. I also took several trips every school year to a much bigger independent bookseller outside of Boston that had thousands of children's books. I took my lists along with me--and sometimes my library assistant and teachers. At the store, I could look through picture books, poetry books, nonfiction books, etc., to see if I wanted to purchase them. This store even had a children's discount room where I often got 15 to 20 hardcover books for $100!

For myself, I spend too much of my money on children's books. I had to build a library in my basement when I retired because there was no more room in my house for them.
(Libby, you come visit some day and you will see the thousands of children's books I own. Ask Anna--she's seen my book room.)

As for adult books, I listen to book reviewers and interviews with authors on NPR, watch C-Span, get recommendations from friends. Earlier this year, I got some excellent recommendations from Don Brown, an author and illustrator of picture book biographies. He suggested I read two books that he had read in preparation for writing ODD BOY OUT: YOUNG ALBERT EINSTEIN. I loved the books--because I love science and enjoy reading nonfiction.

I know I spend much, much more than $2,000 a year on books. I buy the books I want to read. I rarely borrow from the library. I buy books to give away to friends' children. I'm a book addict!

Anna Alter said...

Celerysoda- Thanks for expanding, really interesting! It sounds like you have some of the same complaints that we were expressing on our previous post about reviews- that there is often not enough specific detail, positive or negative, about books in reviews.

Elaine- I can attest, she IS a book addict! Her library is glorious!!

Anonymous said...

My dream home has a big, wood paneled library filled with books. (Oh, and a fireplace!) I’ve been collecting books since high school. But rarely do I buy anything except illustrated PB’s anymore. (Unless you count college text books-with two kids in college, I’m spending mega bucks on textbooks.)

I probably bought 25-30 PB’s this year. I have collected enough autographed PB’s to necessitate their own shelf! Now that I think about it, I guess I do buy other books. I also bought a few art books*, a few Photoshop/Illustrator how-to-books, a couple of books on writing, and this year’s CWIM. But with novels, I end up checking them out from the library. I use my library a lot. Since I can’t buy every book I want, I probably have the maximum (50) books out at any given time. I guess I buy, over checking out, when it’s something I know I will read over and over, or when I love the illustrations, or when I meet the author/illustrator and get that autographed copy.

*Fellow artists, or art lovers, Try to get a hold of "Rolling Stone: The Illustrated Portraits", by Fred Woodward. I had checked this book out from the library so many times that I decided I needed my very own copy. It’s an amazing collection from close to one hundred different contemporary Illustrators!