The board of the American Booksellers Association heeded the concerns booksellers expressed at the town hall at Winter Institute in Minneapolis earlier this year, and kicked off its educational programming at Children’s Institute, which is being held in Portland, Ore., from April 5–7, with a breakfast keynote on diversity.
“I want you to know that your board and your association have heard you. And we are fully committed to doing what we can to help make our industry more inclusive and diverse,” ABA CEO Oren Teicher noted in his opening remarks prior to the keynote. “We believe our work with We Need Diverse Books, the Children’s Book Council, and the Children’s Institute sponsors, whose event scholarships help broaden participation, is working toward the important goal of greater diversity.”
Ilsa Govan, a facilitator with Cultures Connecting and the author of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Strategies for Facilitating Conversations on Race, spoke on “Hiring and Retaining a Diverse Workforce,” even in a small store. Much of her talk centered on countering implicit bias, which can cause well-intentioned people to act in a way that is not aligned with their values. That bias can include name-based discrimination, she said, citing studies that a woman named Aisha is less likely to be called back for a job interview than one named Kristen.
"How closely do your 10 most trusted people resemble you?," Govan asked. “We really have to be aware of our desire to clone,” she said. “If there’s someone who worked in your bookstore who retired, you’re likely to hire somebody who reminds you of her.” Govan also encouraged booksellers to seek out counter narratives, and to create a "brave space" where people can talk, rather than a safe space. “It’s is going to be uncomfortable,” she warned.
By contrast, there was nothing uncomfortable about the other featured presentation of the day, a talk by Allison Risbridger at NPD (formerly Nielsen Book) on children’s book trends. Juvenile books, which includes YA, along with adult nonfiction, are driving the comeback of print, she said.
Children’s growth has outpaced the general book market, with CAGR (compound annual growth rate) increasing 3.4% between 2010 and 2016; 5.3% between 2013 (the year that Wal-Mart began reporting to Nielsen) and 2016. Risbridger attributed much of the increase in the number of units sold in 2016 over 2015 to J.K. Rowling, whose book sales accounted for 6.5 million units in 2016.
The only worrisome statistic Risbridger presented was attributed it to “the Amazon effect,” or price consciousness on the part of consumers. Between 2015 and 2016 independents lost market share for children’s books, dropping from 6.6% in 2015 to 5.1% in 2016.
Among the positive children's trends that Risbridger singled out were the growth in comics and graphic novels, which were up 24% in 2016. Books in the computer category, which includes Pokémon and coding titles, rose even higher, up 164%. Nonfiction technology, which includes books like Robots and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, grew 23%. Technology books geared to teens in particular, while still very small, rose 700%, with an assist from The Way Things Work Now. In terms of science, Risbridger pointed to the slime phenomenon of making a slimy concoction with Elmer's Glue (which saw its sales double in the last four weeks of 2016), cornstarch, and other ingredients, using instructions found on YouTube. She regards it as part of a broader trend where kids enjoy science as entertainment. Mindfulness books for children, like What Does It Mean to Be Present?, have also grown due to digital fatigue on the part of millennial parents.
Other sessions included panels on social media, connecting with middle grade and YA readers, and careers in bookselling. The day ended with a reception featuring 54 authors and illustrators, followed by the Scholastic Meet & Treat Party.
For many booksellers, though, the Govan and Risbridger sessions stood out. Judith Lafitte, children’s buyer and co-owner of Octavia Books in New Orleans, called the session on diversity “invigorating and thought-provoking.” For Suzanne Droppert, owner of Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo and Bremerton, Wash., the Govan talk “gave you something to ponder. [The NPD one] confirmed what we all feel."