Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Promoting Reading Will Save Publishing

There isn't a day that goes by when we don't read about a new approach a publisher, agent or writer is taking to increase sales, They are trying everything: New Marketing plans; new "models", new styles of covers; new cross-over genres. And yet, with every attempt, it seems that sales are just not there. From this, however, leads to a constant blaming of the other people as to why sales are not there. But, in the end, they are completely missing one major factor - the book buyer, the consumer, the reader.

The biggest problem we have is that people simply are not reading any more. 

Now, this is where we can really start to try and find the root of the problem. Well of course they aren't buying books because we don't have bookstores. Well of course they aren't buying books because they cost too much. We can probably go on and on with this, and yes these might be the factors, but the reality is that the problem is more of a cultural issue and not so much with the publishing world. 

When I taught in the Tacoma School District, I worked with a program called FUTURE PROBLEM SOLVING. The program involved students working in a team of 4 and, during a short period of time, they would look at a situation, figure out what the real problem was and create a solution. I bring this up, because the first issue the students had to come up with was what FPS called the "UNDERLYING PROBLEM." They were to determine what really was the issue here. And this is not what we are doing.  

You see, for most people, when they look a problem and come up with solutions, they are only looking at issues that are more of symptoms and not the problem. When we have a runny nose, we get things that take care of the runny nose, but don't fix the allergies that cause the problem. In the case of publishing, we aren't looking at what is really causing the problem with book sales. We are only looking at the symptoms. 

To see the underlying problem we have to go much earlier. If you have kids in the K-12 system, I want you to consider how much emphasis they place on reading. Now consider how much of an emphasis they place on testing and the new "Common Core" standards. As someone who has taught in this system, working reading into the curriculum is tough. You only have 180 days to get through all of the material. Add in assemblies, field trips, half-days, other curriculum, student absences, early release days, and the simple fact that the first and last 1-2 weeks of school are not for teaching, there isn't much time left.

Now consider what they are being asked to read. The standardized texts, are often designed to meet other standards and not really picked because it is "good literature". In the Puyallup School District, they have picked a book for 9th grade students because it "teaches about life in the Mid-East." Although this sounds noble, the purpose is not for English, but to get students ready to take a standardized test in 9th Grade World History. Not a great focus. 

For some schools, they try to get kids to read using a program called Accelerated Reader. In simple terms, kids can read a book and then take a test on it. It is computerized and many schools use this as a tool for grading. By the end of the quarter a student must earn X amount of points. The argument for it is that students can read whatever they want. But here is the problem. Students are A) required to read books only in their reading level so they are controlled by what they can and cannot read; and B) if there is no test for it, they cannot read it. 

IN simple terms, the K-12 system is not promoting reading.

But that same lack of promotion of reading extends to the culture in general. Those iPads and other tablets that first came out to promote digital reading are now portable televisions for binge watching the latest episode of THE GOOD WIFE or BREAKING BAD. Take a look today at how many people use that technology (including cell phones) to do things other than reading. We use these to check email, take selfies, review social media, watch videos, listen to music, but... God Forbid we even think about reading a book. 

Again, if you have kids or know of families around you that have kids, how much "real promotion" of reading takes place in the house. I am sure the number is not that high. Oh, yes, we can come up with a lot of reasons why we don't read in the evening"
  • Parent = "Oh, I spent all day reading legal briefs so I am exhausted. I just want to unwind."
  • Parent = "I would love to read but I have the house to pick up because I was gone all day with errands."
  • Kids = "I have homework."
  • Kids = "I don't have time with youth group and soccer/"
  • Parents = "I want the kids outside exercising and not sitting on their butts in the house."
Although all of these sound justifiable, these are nothing more than excuses. 

So, now when we ask why bookstores closed, it was not so much of a mismanagement by the executives, we can see that most of this is the loss of consumers. That loss led to them trying band-aid solutions for their symptoms which potentially led to the mismanagement. 

When we ask as authors why the royalties are down, the simple fact is no one is reading your book. It isn't necessarily that it is because of the quality of the book. If people don't read it, you don't get the money. Yes, we can scream about the availability, of the book, but if Walmart sells more video games than books, they will take away that shelf space for the books to make room for more versions of Death Race 22. 

I think back to when I was growing up (back when I walked back and forth to school in snow uphill), I had a joy of going to the library. I would come home with a ton of books. In the 3rd grade, I raced to get the latest Hardy Boys Book. When I wanted a new book that came out, my parents "bought" me that book. When we went on road trips, we didn't turn on the videos attached to the back seat or the roof of the car. - we read.

Maybe if quit making excuses and promote reading again, then sales will again rise. Until then, I guess you can continue to blame others for a lack of sales or try to put another band aid on the problem. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, was this ever a wonderful post. I'm a former teacher, and I took early retirement to write full time. I left at a good time, too: I would go back and substitute for some of my friends from time to time, and by then the school district was 100% into teaching for testing. Everything was narrowed down to that: science and social studies got minimal time, art and music was bumped, and reading was focused on being tested immediately afterwards, which doesn't create any love for reading. Like you, I walked to school and hung out at the library, and reading was just what my brother and I did in our free time. I think today's gadgets are wonderful in some ways, but the kids are missing a lot of genuine pleasure.