How was business this summer for children’s booksellers? How much did Harry Potter help the bottom line? What else were kids reading besides Harry? To get the scoop on the season, we spoke with independent children’s booksellers at the end of August.
For Nikki Mutch, children’s buyer at UConn Co-op in Storrs, Conn., "Sales were really good this summer. With the Harry Potter craze, kids came in for Harry Potter and then they just kept coming in. It seems they were in reading mode."
The June 21 release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix certainly drove a lot of traffic into bookstores, and the boy wizard completely dominated sales during the first half of the season. As Elizabeth Bluemle, co-owner of Flying Pig Children’s Books, Charlotte, Vt., put it, "We love a Harry Potter year! We had a big midnight party for the book and sold lots of copies." But Bluemle also pointed out that her sales were up from last summer even without Harry Potter. "It seems to be a book-buying season," she said. "We’re up about 17%."
Looking at the overall sales picture, Dale Spector, owner of Yellow Book Road in La Mesa, Calif., found that sales were a little slower this summer than last. "So much of our business is with teachers and schools," she explained, "and with a budget crisis here in California, teachers were hesitant to spend money because they didn’t know if they would have jobs or what grade they would be teaching. Sales are just starting to pick up now." Janice Card, children’s book buyer for BYU Bookstore in Provo, Utah, also said that sales at her store were "not red hot. Everybody is kind of suffering. Things have picked up in the last few weeks because of out-of-town business."
Summer sales were "pretty good" for Chris Saad, owner, Chris’ Corner: Books for Kids & Teens in Philadelphia. "Better than I expected, for a couple of reasons. One is that we’re located a block away from a swim club and a lot of pedestrian traffic came in. Another is that I think that even with the economy the way it is, people will say that they don’t have the money to buy an expensive toy for a child, but no one says I don’t have the money to buy my kids a book." Saad acknowledged Harry’s significant impact on her store’s sales: "The day the book came out was our most financially successful day ever."
By late July, booksellers were reporting that sales of Order of the Phoenix had begun to slow. For Judy Bulow, frontlist children’s buyer at Tattered Cover in Denver, "Sales were good in June and July because of Harry. But those sales dropped significantly in August. I think anyone who hasn’t bought it yet will wait until the holiday season." Jonatha Foli, children’s book buyer for Copperfield’s, Sebastopol, Calif., said, "We sold 5,100 copies of Harry at all six locations," adding that "a month ago sales started to drop a bit. But it’s still selling." Card at BYU Bookstore said that the book is still selling, but has greatly slowed down (25 copies sold in August, and a total of 1,180 since June 21).
"We sold most of them in the first three weeks," said Sally Bulthuis, co-owner, Pooh’s Corner, Grand Rapids, Mich., "then one or two a week, and it’s still at that rate now. Pretty much anyone who wanted it found it pretty quickly." But for Nikki Mutch, whose store is in a college town, "Harry is selling really well now because the college kids have just come back. The kids who didn’t get a copy this summer for whatever reason are buying it now."
Creating Demand for More
Before June 21, some booksellers expressed concern about the length of Order of the Phoenix: after tackling an 870-page novel, would kids be interested in reading any other books this summer? This turned out to be a non-issue with the retailers we spoke with. Bulthuis at Pooh’s Corner said, "We were impressed with how quickly so many kids could devour a book of that length. And I’m hearing kids tell me not just that they’ve read it, but how many times they have read it."
Elly Gore, children’s book buyer at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Milwaukee, where summer sales were "good, up over last year," said she was "certain Harry Potter brought people into the store, into the children’s department and increased their interest in other children’s books."
Once those Harry readers came back into the bookstore, many of them were in search of more fantasy and other books in series. Foli at Copperfield’s reported success with Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism by Georgia Byng, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s Spiderwick Chronicles ("they’re buying #1 and then coming back for #2"), and Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter, which she described as "kind of an Alice in Wonderland for kids."
Saad of Chris’ Corner said, "A lot of the kids who like Harry Potter like the Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snicket. They like the series aspect of the books. Younger kids who like Harry Potter are really getting into the Dragon Slayers’ Academy books [by K.A. McMullan]. We sold those like crazy this summer. Also some old staples like Magic Tree House and all the Tamora Pierce books. And Captain Underpants, of course."
Card at BYU found that kids were requesting Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl and Brian Jacques books. Gore at Harry W. Schwartz said, "We’ve sold a lot of Midnight for Charlie Bone [by Jenny Nimmo], and her new book, Charlie Bone and the Time Twister, has also sold quite well. It’s the same sort of genre [as Harry Potter]." Gore also did well with Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, which she reports selling well both to children and adults, and Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism. "The Eva Ibbotson titles are very good, too, and we like to sell those," Gore added. "Our newest excitement in this genre is Eragon by Christopher Paolini--we’re already sold out in one of the stores."
Spector of Yellow Book Road pointed out two of her store’s summer hits: The Second Summer of the Sisterhood by Ann Brashares, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.
Mutch at UConn Coop reported that "mysteries for kids were popular, and the Princess Diaries books were big with the girls. The Princess and the Pauper was big too. The Gossip Girl books were huge for us and have continued to sell with the college kids who are coming back."
Given the huge popularity of fantasy these days, booksellers reported they were having a tougher time selling non-fantasy novels. Foli at Copperfield’s said she wished she were selling more copies of Keeper of the Night by Kimberly Willis Holt, Ruby Electric by Theresa Nelson, Colibri by Ann Cameron and Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes. "All of them are beautifully written stories, [with] wonderful characters," she said, "but they are more challenging to sell, when kids seem to want these high-adventure high-fantasy novels."
Bluemle pointed to King of the Mild Frontier by Chris Crutcher: "We really liked that one, but it’s not moving very well. Same with Fat Kid Rules the World [by K.L. Going]. Also, I wish Olivia Kidney would sell better."
Tattered Cover’s Bulow said she was hoping that other book genres would gain in popularity, commenting, "There are so many SF and fantasy novels now, it would be nice to see something else [sell well], like more historical novels for kids 8—12. And books seem to be gigantic now [in terms of page count]."
With fall shipments on their way from warehouses to stores, we asked retailers which books have them excited, and which ones have already started to take off. In an odd confluence, two new picture books with very similar titles are high on booksellers’ lists of favorites: Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Harry Bliss; and Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French, illustrated by Bruce Whatley. Both of those books are already doing very well for Spector at Yellow Brick Road. "We’ve also been anticipating the new David Shannon pirates book [How I Became a Pirate, text by Melinda Long] and it’s selling like mad already. Mouse’s First Day of School [by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by Buket Erdogan] has been selling well as well."
Gore at Harry W. Schwartz also singled out Diary of a Worm, saying, "It’s such a fun book. I walked around the office with the f&gs to show everyone, promising them they’d laugh--and they did." She’s also "very excited" about the new Jack Gantos novel, Jack Adrift, "because he writes on such deep subjects on such an accessible level, with humor. I think he gets his message across by not being dark."
BYU’s Janice Card, looking at the season as a whole, said there were "not terribly many Christmas books I’m impressed with. But there were "some fun picture books and some pretty interesting novels." She’s looking forward to selling The Lady and the Lion, a Brothers Grimm story retold by Laurel Long and Jacqueline K. Ogburn and illustrated by Long, saying, "It has gorgeous art. Also, I love Jim LaMarche’s art so I bought The Elves and the Shoemaker without seeing the book."
Saad of Chris’ Corner is anticipating "a couple of children’s versions of Seabiscuit that should sell well because of the movie. I like Diary of a Wombat and I really loved The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things. [a novel by Carolyn Mackler]."
"I’m excited about the new Kate DiCamillo novel, TheTale of Despereaux," said Pooh’s Corner’s Bulthuis. "I read an advance copy; they did a beautiful packaging job. We did well with her other titles, especially Because of Winn-Dixie, yet this is totally different. She has an amazing ability to write a totally different kind of book, instead of taking something successful and doing it over again." Bulthuis also mentioned Diary of a Wombat, stating, "It’s the personal favorite of another staff member. We hand-sold 10 copies in the first two or three days we had it in."
So clearly there is life after Harry--good news indeed for booksellers. Will fantasy stay strong, or has it peaked? What new novels will get that invaluable word-of-mouth in the schoolyard? What will be the must-have picture books for the holiday season? Tune in after Christmas to see which titles made registers ring.