Why are big publishers ignoring interactive picture books?

by Chris Walters

Yesterday Scholastic listed 10 trends in children’s lit for 2010, and #6 is in alignment with an October New York Times article on the decline in picture books.

From the Scholastic list: “Publishers are publishing about 25 to 30 percent fewer picture book titles than they used to.”

From the Times article: “Picture books are so unpopular these days at the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline, Mass., that employees there are used to placing new copies on the shelves, watching them languish and then returning them to the publisher.”

What neither story mentions is that there’s a parallel rise in interactive picture books on the iPad, as noted about a month ago by eBookNewser:

“Children’s eBooks continue to lead the Top Paid Apps in the Books category in the App Store today. The No. 1 app in the store is Mickey’s Spooky Night Puzzle Book from Disney, followed by iVerse Media’s Pocket God Comics at No. 2 and Oceanhouse Media’s Dr. Seuss title What Was I Scared Of? at No. 3. Disney’s Winnie the Pooh app [...] is ranked at No. 4 and rounding out the Top 10 at No. 10 is Loud Crow Interactive’s new title PopOut! The Tale of Peter Rabbit, an interactive version of the classic children’s tale.”

It’s true that eBookNewser’s observation of one week’s sales doesn’t confirm a trend. It’s also true that most of the top kids’ books on the App Store are probably more accurately described as hybrids of picture books and activity books. Still, I think it’s worth noting that children’s picture(ish) books are selling well on the App Store, and that none of the big publishers’ names are present in that bestseller list.

Even the new Read To Me line of children’s books on Barnes & Noble’s Nook Color seem to be part of a Barnes & Noble offering, not a publisher-conceived offering, or else the publishers would surely have created such read-along versions in-house and sold them in multiple channels.

I’m left with one of those head-shaking reactions, because I can’t imagine sitting on such a powerhouse of resources–editors, marketing departments, authors, illustrators–and not absolutely dominating the interactive children’s book space with high quality offerings. On the plus side, I suppose it leaves more room for innovative start-ups to thrive.

Update: From today’s Publishers Weekly, here’s an interesting recap of a recent seminar on children’s book publishing in a digital marketplace.

“Scholastic Experts Issue List of ‘Ten Trends in Children’s Books from 2010’” [Scholastic, December 8, 2010]
“Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children” [New York Times, October 7, 2010]
“Children’s eBook Apps Continue To Dominate App Store” [eBookNewser, November 5, 2010]

(Photo: DeaCerte.com)

reposted from BookSprung

3 Comments on Why are big publishers ignoring interactive picture books?

  1. I would bet that it’s becuase of the expense and the shrinking market. Too many parents are pushing their kids past picture books at a younger and younger age.

  2. Disney *is* a major children’s book publisher, and Dr. Seuss is a RH property (see so while Oceanhouse might be collaborating to develop the app I’m sure RH is involved. The same goes for any app involving classic characters, which describes 4 out of 5 of the bestsellers you name. It seems rather a leap to go from looking at that bestseller list to saying big publishers are ignoring the interactive picture book market. There seem to be a number of apps around popular books and characters. Creating an app around a picture book or character no one has heard of would be a risky proposition given the investment required, is that what you’re suggesting they need to be doing?

  3. Coincidence? I just read a (Dutch) study that reading aloud to your children, from picture books, increases their literary knowledge. The voice and intonation of the reader, together with the pictures, gives the child more insight in the story and characters.

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