July 13, 2007
I was in Atlanta this past week at the International Christian Retail Show with thousands of others interested in Christian books and Christian music and Christian gifts. As we stood in the aisles, one colleague reminded me of APA President Pat Schroeder's comment that publishing is the only industry that doesn't seek to create consumers. The tobacco companies do it. McDonald's does it. (Those Happy Meals are hard to resist.) Publishers do some--but not much--to grow readers.
"But what about Harry Potter?" you protest. "Look, we've got a 12 million copy first printing! Biggest in history! Kids lined up at stores at midnight! Surely that is helping!" Apparently, not so.
Motoko Rich, in an article in the New York Times, says that despite the massive success of J. K. Rowling's series, it has had little overall affects on reading habits. Why?
Rich quotes Dana Giola, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who has reviewed statistics from federal and private sources that consistently show that children read less as they age. “The Harry Potter craze was a very positive thing for kids,” said Gioia. “It got millions of kids to read a long and reasonably complex series of books. The trouble is that one Harry Potter novel every few years is not enough to reverse the decline in reading.”
Perhaps that is too gloomy. Giola does say, "not enough to reverse the decline." Has it at least halted the decline? Time will tell. Certainly ongoing work is needed to encourage the joy and benefits of reading, not just to keep an industry financially healthy but to keep a society healthy.