Monday, 27 February 2017

#CoverKidsBooks – One Year On

One year ago, #CoverKidsBooks launched a campaign to get more media coverage for children's books.  We presented research that showed children's books were getting just 3% of all book review space in national newspapers, despite accounting for over 30% of the UK book market.

Since then, their market share has continued to grow.  Children's literature – by which we mean the entire range of books for young readers, from the youngest picture book to the oldest YA, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry – now accounts for 34% of all print books sold in the UK, according to The Bookseller.

What about media coverage?  One year on, has that grown too?

For our first #CoverKidsBooks blog, Imogen Russell Williams counted the number of reviews and column inches given to children's books in UK national newspapers in August 2015.  Isabel Popple and Naomi Burt have done the same for August 2016.  Here are their findings.

Weekend Newspapers, August 2016

Newspaper
All Book reviews
Children's Book Reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches
Times
79
4
5
909
31.5
3.7
Sunday Times
57
5
8.8
725.5
18
2.5
Guardian
70
14
20
954.5
37.5
4
Observer
44
0
0
627
0
0
FT
38
2
5.2
601
8.5
1.4
Telegraph
44
5
11.4
630
48.5
7.7
Sunday Telegraph
33
3
9.1
210
6
2.9
Sunday Express
29
0
0
110
0
0
Mail On Sunday
36
1
2.8
250
11.5
4.6
Sunday Mirror
12
0
0
18
0
0
TOTAL
442
34
7.7
5035
161.5
3.2

For comparison, here is the bottom line of the August 2015 data; the full table can be seen in the original blog:

TOTAL
752
37
4.9
8034.2
250.5
3.1


The good news is that children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews, an increase on 4.9% last year. 

The bad news is that they still receive only 3.2% of all book review space, virtually unchanged from 3.1% last year.


Quantity


Children's books now account for 7.7% of all book reviews.  This is heartening given the shrinking number of book reviews as a whole.  Every newspaper we surveyed reviewed fewer books in 2016 than in 2015, and in every newspaper we surveyed, the column inches given to books as a whole shrank as well.  Many newspapers announced cuts to books staff and space, while The Independent and The Independent On Sunday ceased to exist at all as physical entities.  But while it is a step in the right direction, 7.7% remains a massive under-representation for over a field that accounts for 34% of the market.


Frequency


#CoverKidsBooks wrote an open letter to national newspapers last year, printed in The Bookseller, calling on them to commit to covering at least one children's book a week.  Back in August 2015, only two newspapers averaged one children's book review a week or more, and only one actually published a children's book review every single week.

By August 2016, the numbers had doubled.  Four newspapers now averaged one children's book review a week or more (The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph), while two of them (The Times and The Daily Telegraph) had a dependable slot every single week.  These are very welcome developments, and the editors of those newspapers deserve great credit for them. 


It should also be said that The Observer has just changed its policy, introducing a new Children's Book Of The Week slot on January 29 2017 – another hugely welcome development that should encourage all who care about children's literature.  #CoverKidsBooks would like to thank and applaud The Observer New Review's editor Jane Ferguson, its literary editor Lisa O'Kelly, and its arts editor Sarah Donaldson, and we urge all remaining national newspapers who have yet to commit to covering at least one children's book a week to follow their example. 


Space


Despite these improvements, children's books are still receiving the same proportion of space, getting just 3.2% of all book review column inches.  Children's book reviews remain shorter than other book reviews, which is why the figure for column inches is smaller than that for the number of reviews.  For example, look at The Guardian's figures across the two years:

Year
All Book reviews
Children's Book reviews
Percentage Children's Book Reviews
All Book Reviews (inches)
Children's Book Reviews (inches)
Percentage Children's Book Inches
2015
104
4
3.8
1645.5
58
3.5
2016
70
14
20
954.5
37.5
4

14 children's books were reviewed in August 2016, a huge increase from 4 in 2015 – yet the space devoted to children's books has actually shrunk from 58 inches in 2015 to 37.5 inches in 2016.  This is because The Guardian has moved from printing a long review every week to just one long review a month, along with a monthly roundup.  The roundup has greatly increased the range of children's books covered by The Guardian.  But 13 of the 14 books reviewed received a mention in the roundup, rather than a full review of their own.  

The Guardian's current policy means that no more than 12 children's books can receive a full review each year.  Only 12 children's books are considered worthy of the space and critical attention given to other kinds of books. 


The field of children's literature is going from strength to strength, constantly expanding in size and increasing in quality.  The bestseller lists are full of children's books, with Harry Potter & The Cursed Child topping the 2016 list. 

Meanwhile, in libraries, the PLR figures are dominated by children's books.  65% of the top 20 most borrowed authors are children's authors.  The success of the field is snowballing, as more and more new writers are attracted to it, as the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and Brandford Boase lists demonstrate each year. 



There is every indication that the field will continue to grow in commercial and cultural significance.  Philip Pullman has just announced that his long-awaited follow-up to His Dark Materials, The Book Of Dust, will publish its first volume this year.  James Daunt of Waterstones estimated that this book alone would have a 2% impact on Waterstones' entire revenues, worth around £8 million. 

As Pullman himself told #CoverKidsBooks, in our writers & illustrators blog:  "There ought to be a space in the mainstream media, in the book pages, for coverage of children's books.  It's important that the general reader sees children's books being discussed intelligently."



Books cannot be discussed intelligently without space.  3% of space for over 30% of the market is simply not enough.  There is of course a lot of excellent children's books coverage online.  But print coverage remains vital.  Huge numbers of newspaper-reading adults need to know about children's literature: parentsteachersbooksellers, librarians, and all the other buyers and recommenders of children's books, as well as adults who read them for their own enjoyment.   

So while we are encouraged by the progress we've seen in the last year, and while we understand that space for books coverage in print as a whole is shrinking, we would like to see newspapers give children's books a fairer proportion of whatever space there is.  

#CoverKidsBooks calls on all national newspapers to make a clear statement that children's books matter as much as any other books.  We urge them to give children's literature a proportion of space that reflects its significance as the most dynamic part of the publishing industry, and a vital part of the nation's cultural life.  



#CoverKidsBooks invites you to join in a public conversation about children's books.  Leave a comment, write a blog of your own, or tweet about it using the hashtag.  Tell us why children's books matter to you, and what you'd like to see the media do to #CoverKidsBooks! 

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