Monday 1 October 2012

Are Picture Books Value For Money?

Not too long ago, I was in the picture book section of my local book shop, when I overheard a conversation where two people were discussing the cost of picture books. One lady was saying that she didn’t buy picture books anymore, because they were too expensive. She then went on to compare the price of a hardback picture book at £9.99 to an adult novel she was buying, at £7.99. 

And perhaps at first glance it can look like you’re getting a rough deal. After all, an adult novel can easily be over 100,000 words. It feels thick and chunky in your hand, something to really get your teeth into. On the other hand, some picture books don’t even get their word count into the hundreds.  Some don’t have any words at all. And yet the price points of adult and children’s books are often very similar.

But they are value for money. They really are. And here’s why. 

Often, you’re getting the combined talents of two people, a writer and an illustrator. Yes, of course, there are very talented people who can do both (such as James Mayhew, who wrote and illustrated one of the current favourite books in our house, Boy), many others, myself included, who can’t (my picture book, below, is illustrated by Dubravka Kolanovic). When people ask me if I illustrate my books, or ever think about illustrating my books, I generally snort with laughter, before replying; ‘No. Because I want people to buy them!’ I know where my talents lie. I can draw passable shapes, but nothing nearly as impressive as professional illustrators can, who make the books look so wonderfully appealing and bring the words I’ve written to life. Writers often need illustrators, and vice-versa – their talents combining together to make wonderful picture books. Therefore, there are two people who need paying for their work. And, quite frankly, it’s unrealistic to expect to get that for next to nothing. 
Then, there is the printing issue. Full colour, beautiful picture books, cost money to produce, whereas novels are generally just black and white print which is cheaper.  

The other argument is the time issue. People argue that picture books take a matter of minutes to read, while novels engage a reader for hours and therefore are much better value for money. But how often do you read a novel more than once? Of course, some people go back and re-read favourites, but generally not back to back, like children do with favourite picture books. In our house, the same book can be requested three or four times a day. A beloved picture book will get read and enjoyed over, and over again, sometimes on a daily basis, for years and years.  

Plus picture books are excellent teaching devices, a way for children to learn without knowing they’re learning. There’s so much to gain from talking about the pictures and the words, and important lessons to learn from them. Picture books form the foundation upon which a love of reading, and books, will grow.  

And all that, to me, is excellent value for money. 

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Abie Longstaff said...

I agree with you (of course I do!). Paperback picture books are often around a fiver and last a lot longer than a plastic toy. The good ones get read over and over again and are passed down through the generations, dog-eared and crumpled. I still have many of my childhood favourites and they are like precious works of art.

Lynne Garner said...

What can I say - I agree! Compare the cost of going to the pictures to watch a film to the cost of a picture book. If you were to compare cost v minutes of entertainment. A picture book would win every time.

Moira Butterfield said...

Many people have this idea that books should be cheap. The perceived value of books is very low and makes the business increasingly unsustainable for creators. You make very good points that should be heard!

Zoe said...

A picture book may be read 100 times, but an adult novel in many homes would only get read once.

Paeony Lewis said...

The cut-price picture books in discount bookstores don't help perceptions of price. Plus magazines are in colour and often cheaper - that doesn't help either. But as you've all said, a good picture book is read countless times and is treasured. Price and the perception of value are tricky. Should the price be raised and a discount offered? Who knows? I don't!

Linda Strachan said...

Picture books are not only read over and over again but they last for years.

When I see my daughter reading a picture book to her daughter, one that was a favourite of hers when she was little - that is priceless.

Jane Clarke said...

I can only echo all the other comments. When my sons were small they often wanted me to read them the same picture book night after night so I treasure those dog-eared old books and the memories of the hours of pleasure they gave us. I hope to read them to my grandchildren eventually -then they will be priceless!

Diane Levine said...

I think there's something else to say. I think picture books can teach children about narrative in a way that text-only books can't. My favourite example is Rosie's Walk. In that book, Rosie the Hen goes for a walk. The few lines of text in the book tell us about where she goes. The pictures tell us about a fox trying to catch Rosie, and repeatedly failing. Having been a teacher (many moons ago) I will never forget the look on a child's face when they realise that an author can have a secret with the reader that a main character doesn't know anything about.