Harry Potter


"Kid's Books are Flying Off Shelves"

(Associated Press, April 12, 2001)

NEW YORK -- In a market filled with robotic toys and other technological marvels, old-fashioned children's books are selling in ever higher numbers.

``Overall, juvenile (publishing) is the greatest growing segment of the entire U.S. book industry,'' said Al Greco, a Fordham University professor and editor of the trade publication Book Industry Trends.

Juvenile book sales reached 446.8 million copies in 2000, a 35.8 percent increase over sales reported six years ago, according to Book Industry Trends, which defines the category as books for children age 14 and younger.

Analysts say the increase is attributable in no small part to one bespectacled boy: Harry Potter, the hero of four fiction books by Scottish author J.K. Rowling.

But librarians say the boy wizard's appeal has spawned a notable interest in other fantasy books as well. Teachers also point to school book clubs as a factor in sales growth.

A large increase in juvenile book sales came between 1998 and 2000 alone, ``when the Potter phenomenon materialized'' and sales jumped 31 percent, Greco said. Harry Potter books accounted for 19.8 million of the 2000 total.

Sales have been increasing steadily over the past 15 years, Greco said, but the last time the book industry saw such a spike was in 1946 ``when you had the paperback phenomenon and books just took off.''

``We know there has been a real renaissance,'' said Judy Platt, communications director of the Association of American Publishers, the national trade organization of the U.S. book publishing industry.

``The first few Potter books did more to stimulate kids who have not been readers, especially boys,'' she said. ``But the wonderful thing we think is happening is it has legs. Those kids come back to bookstores and libraries and say, 'If I like Harry Potter, what will I like next?'''

The ``Goosebumps'' series by R.L. Stine, and the ``Animorphs'' series by K.A. Applegate continue to be popular choices. Other big sellers include ``Clifford the Big Red Dog,'' the ``Pokemon'' books, picture books and the classics.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 75 percent of fourth-graders report reading for fun at least once a week. Of that group, 43 percent say they read every day.

But while more books are being purchased for children, it has yet to translate into better test scores in reading.

The 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress shows fourth-graders' average scores were nearly identical to the less-than-stellar results reported throughout the 1990s.

Still, 8-year-old Lucy Dreznin is a fan of reading. She and her third-grade classmates at St. Hilda's and St. Hugh's School in New York City just received their book club orders.

``Books make you a lot smarter and let you know more about things -- some that really aren't real, they're imagination, and some that happened in the 17th century or something,'' she said.

Jan Duke, an elementary school teacher near San Diego, Calif., and a national curriculum specialist, said such clubs foster children's reading by providing kids a sense of ownership and a large selection on topics such as science, magic and friendship.

Scholastic Inc., the largest of the nation's school book clubs, has seen a 16 percent growth in sales in the past three years, said Judy Newman, senior vice president of Scholastic Book Group.

The American Library Association doesn't compile national circulation figures, but individual library systems say more children's books are being checked out.

Robert White, head of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System in New Jersey, said his 71 libraries began seeing a change about seven years ago, mainly in picture books. When Harry Potter became a household word, older readers helped advance circulation figures.

Nearly two-thirds of Bergen area libraries reported increased circulation of children's books between 1997 and 2001.

``I don't think anyone would dispute the fact that the (Potter) books have single-handedly generated enormous interest in fiction, particularly fantasy,'' said Caroline Ward, past president of the library association's children's division. ``Anytime we do a book list linked to Harry Potter, the books fly off the shelves.''

Still, predictions are trickier. The juvenile audience is ``fickle,'' said Greco, and its interests change constantly and quickly.

``Potter got people reading,'' Greco said. ``Will that level be maintained? I'd like to believe it, but I'm not sure.''