The Bookseller Children’s Conference is underway in London today and the CEO of Hachette Children’s Group, Murray Hill, has called on publishers to “act as agents of social change more than ever before.”
It’s an interesting debate with an interesting argument to juggle.
Murray talks about “overuse of social media and time online” and the “early sexualisation” of children.
No doubt she had in mind the media frenzy whipped up by an Usborne guide for boys that thoughtfully explained why girls have breasts:
“Girls have breasts for two reasons. One is to make milk for babies. The other is to make the girl look grown-up and attractive.”
Well, score one for science and one for modern western values.
Leave aside for one minute the fact that most cultures on this planet do not view breasts as sexually significant, or that attitudes towards sexual body parts change over time (Kate Lister has a delightfully acerbic take on this over at iNews).
The real issue here, and at the heart of Murray Hill’s concerns, is that in modern western society, as girls reach puberty earlier and earlier, books that state girls’ breasts are an indication of being grown-up and attractive send out a dangerous signal to hormone-driven boys wanting to be grown-up men and an equally dangerous signal to hormone-befuddled girls eager to be a grown-up women.
Murray said, “Early sexualisation is already creating attitudes towards long-term commitments and relationships which may mean a more fractured society and home life for children of the future. Attitudes towards gender identification are also changing at an exponential rate – and we are just starting to see the reality of this playing out. And how much will we be driven by boys being boys and girls being girls? It’s a big focus for us right now.”
But when urging publishers to step forward and be more socially responsible, Hill appealed “to all retailers to share with publishers the phenomenal insight they have into the behaviour of customers, their habits, preferences and needs. Why can’t we have a wider picture of the buying habits of our consumers?”
This left me a little confused .
Retailer data about consumers preferences?
Leaving aside that, so far as children’s books are concerned, the “consumer” is not usually the “customer”, print retailers are unlikely to have many insights into reader behaviour once the book has left the store.
Which leaves us with the dilemma of digital. The “dilemma” because 1) most children’s books are not sold as ebooks, 2) many publishers are deliberately pricing ebooks high so as not to cannibalise print sales, and c) most of the bigger retailers will not want to share that data with their suppliers.
I suspect the best publishers can hope for in that respect is to build their own direct-to-consumer sales, mine that data for insights, and then extrapolate from that data.