Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter, The Lost Leader

Motoko Rich in the NY Times this morning,
And so it has, for many children. But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straight forward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.
Aside from the real issues regarding the declining level of readership among children my immediate thought was about the retail environment. There is such an emphasis on deeply discounting these titles that they become loss-leaders. That is they are sold below cost in order to drive traffic and drive purchase of non-discounted products on sale at the same store. However, all major retailers have said their margins in the Potter quarter will tighten because of the Potter selling frenzy. It would appear that this research may get at the nub of the problem. That is opening the store at midnight and selling the book at 75% off will not result in additional sales because the children don't read beyond Potter; so what is the point?

Potter titles are no doubt great books but they have become lost-leaders because they undermine the bookstore financial model and they haven't extended reading in young people. Of course in hindsight (perhaps more obvious than that) it is dopey to think that one series/character could change behavior that parents and teachers couldn't. In fact no one really knows the secret sauce because publishers have been seeking a new Potter since the series came out and haven't found one. What interests Children in reading is a bit of a mystery compounded by the multitude of distractions that Children at 10-15 start to observe and become enamoured with. At this age they are starting to make their own media decisions - they have pocket money and spend it themselves rather than have it spent for them - they become mobile and their horizons open significantly and placing books in this environment is a competition that apparently the publishing industry is loosing.

Think back to my own experience, I did not read too many 'children's' books. I was introduced to reading (outside the classroom) by accident when at a birthday party they ran out of presents and one of the parents found me a book as a consolation (I am still coping with this but I think I get better every day). It took me a year to read this book but from that point I was hooked and read another five or six books by the same author (Enid Blyton) but then migrated to Fleming, McLean, Smith somewhere around age 12-13. This experience probably doesn't happen now, but perhaps one approach to interesting children in reading beyond Potter is to recognize they need to 'graduate' to adult 'adventure' books like the ones I read. (Of course, I'm a boy and this experience could be entire different for girls so excuse me.).

Regardless, to my earlier retail point. Given this research, it seems even more moronic to encourage profitless retailing when your target audience is unlikely to step into the store or by a non-related title at full price ever again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good article on HARRY POTTER thanks...