The children’s book industry continues to intensify its efforts to push for an exemption from the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act. The Act, which goes into effect February 10, requires all products for children 12 and under—including books—to be tested for lead, as noted in Publishers Weekly’s recent detailed coverage of the CPSIA and its implications.
The Association of American Publishers is taking the lead in formal lobbying, but other groups are playing an increasing role. The Children’s Book Council, for example, is developing talking points and scripts that publishers can circulate to help employees petition their Senate and House representatives. “There’s been a real flurry of activity in the last couple of weeks,” says Robin Adelson, CBC’s executive director. “People are making phone calls and people are sending e-mails. They’re heeding the call to action.”
An informal coalition of AAP members and companies in allied industries has been formed to collectively figure out the best path to address the issues raised by the CPSIA, reports Allan Adler, AAP’s v-p for legal and government affairs. Coalition participants are working together to sway the Consumer Products Safety Commission and Congress to exempt books from the Act, as well as to address practical concerns such as what to do with existing inventory if the CPSIA stands as written. (The testing requirements are retroactive.)
Throughout the industry, there continues to be widespread confusion, not to mention rumors and misinformation, about how the Act impacts all of the companies along the distribution chain. Some press coverage has been alarmist and inaccurate, which has added to the confusion and even panic among publishers, booksellers, librarians and other members of the children’s book community.
Trade associations such as the American Booksellers Association and the Association of Booksellers for Children—along with publishers, wholesalers and distributors—are redoubling their efforts to keep their constituents informed about the Act, its requirements and various interpretations of its impact.
The ABA is keeping its members updated through articles in Bookselling This Week. In the last few days, it e-mailed its children’s publisher members to find out what they’re doing to comply with the law, according to chief operating officer Oren Teicher, who says ABA plans to post an article in BTW summarizing the responses on Thursday.
Kristen McLean, executive director of the ABC, says she believes books will ultimately be exempted from the Act. “We’re depending on the industry to sort this out,” she says. “I really believe the industry is going to find a solution that’s workable. There is big money at stake in publishers’ warehouses as we speak.”
She is counseling booksellers to be patient and see what happens. In the meantime, ABC is providing its members with information as it becomes available. “We’re following the ABA’s lead on this,” she explains. “They’re really starting to gear up and we’ll follow them. We want to support our members, the publishers and the customers.” ABC recently discovered it had to make its E.B. White Award stickers CPSIA-compliant. “That was an object lesson that this is really filtering down to the deepest level,” McLean says.
Libraries also are concerned about the Act, and American Library Association leadership has been quoted in press interviews predicting that libraries could have to destroy existing holdings or keep children away from the books. According to Library Journal, the ALA sent a letter to Congress last week asking for an exemption for libraries; later executive director Amy Sheketoff posted a note on the organization’s District Dispatch that counseled libraries not to take any action until the uncertainty is sorted out.
There are many issues about the Act’s implementation that remain unresolved, including what the testing protocols are and which labs are accredited, despite the fact that the key deadline is less than a month away. The AAP met with the CPSC’s General Counsel last week and is expecting CPSC to issue written information shortly clarifying its most recent Advisory Letter, issued December 23. Many of the CPSC’s clarifying pronouncements to date have been open to interpretation and often have led to even greater confusion.
The AAP is scheduled to meet with the CPSC’s “lead team” on January 22. Issues to be discussed with these scientists includes what data the industry needs to present, aside from test results already provided, to allow the CPSC to make a final determination about whether most books will be exempted from the Act. (Toy-like formats that incorporate plastic or metal would still be included.)
Of course, most of these issues would be moot if traditional books are exempted. But that decision could take time. Many of the diverse industries included under the Act, in addition to publishing, are looking for exemptions and clarification from the understaffed CPSC. “It’s fair to characterize the CPSC as under siege,” Adler says.