Space Ramblings

Harry Potter Barred by the Times

Over at the Huffington Post, home to whatever celebs, semi-celebs and random friends of Larry David, Arianne Huffington could talk into occasionally writing a column, Michael Giltz has a rambling piece arguing that the New York Times is committing war crimes by separating children’s and adult’s books on separate lists.

It happened in 2000. The Harry Potter books — a once in a lifetime publishing phenomenon — were dominating the bestseller lists, with three titles ensconced in the Top 15 at the same time. It just wasn’t fair, moaned publishers of more “serious” fiction. It kept more deserving titles off the list, titles that people would never hear about, said bookstore owners. And so in a rash, indefensible decision, the New York Times decided to banish children’s books solely to their own separate list.

Of course ‘banish’ implies that this was somehow destructive and discriminatory. In point of fact there already were soft cover and hard cover bestseller lists. Does Glitz feel that ‘banishing’ soft cover books to their own list was unfair? In fact having separate adult and children’s bestseller lists makes perfect sense. They are different segments of the industry and children’s books should be featured in their own list. This would also give non-harry potter books a chance to be featured in the children’s bestseller lists too.

A major contributory factor to this move was the success of Harry Potter books because it demonstrated the strength of the children’s publishing market.

Imagine if the people behind the Nielsen Top 10 TV show listings decided that reality shows were “taking away” valuable attention from dramas and sitcoms. Let reality shows get their own list and the official Top 10 only include “genuine” TV shows, like CSI and House and Grey’s Anatomy.

Why not? We could have ratings listings for dramas and reality shows and game shows. But this makes less sense because all these shows do compete with each other. By contrast a children’s cartoon series isn’t going to be listed in the same space. They’re simply not competing with each other. No more than Michael Chabon is competing with Harry Potter and the Stylus of Doom.

Imagine if Variety decided animated movies were just for kids and didn’t belong on the box office Top Ten list, when more adult films like Knocked Up and Ocean’s 13 needed the space.

You mean like the way Oscars now recognized animated films separately?

This isn’t just about bragging rights for J.K. Rowling. This is about accuracy and fairness…and about the next Harry Potter. One major reason the books became a phenomenon in the first place was because they broke onto the New York Times bestseller list. At many bookstores, any title that does so automatically gets placed in a prominent position and receives a hefty discount.

And the next Harry Potter will find it even easier because it can now break into the children’s bestseller list which will have more spaces in it and after the success of harry potter, booksellers will be paying close attention to that list.

Adults who read about the success of the books didn’t have to skulk into the children’s section to buy a copy. They found it right there in the front of the store next to new releases by Stephen King and John Grisham.

And why is that a good thing? If adults are going to embarrass themselves by reading kiddy lit, they should be forced to go into the kids department for it. That or download some of PWOT’s covers.

Quite simply, if this idiotic rule banning kid’s books from the charts had been in effect before Harry Potter, there might never have been Harry Potter in the first place — and certainly not to the level of sales we’ve seen today.

Boo hoo. If Harry Potter was doomed to become popular, it would have anyway. Harry Potter as a marketing machine would not have been slowed down by the bestseller list and stores would have responded to sales regardless of the times. This fearmongering is just silly.

Philip Pullman’s brilliant fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials was a big hit — and should draw even more fans when The Golden Compass, the film version of the first book in that trilogy hits theaters this December. But if it hadn’t been banned from The New York Times bestseller list, this mature, sophisticated work might very well have broken out to a much wider audience.

What wider audience? His Dark Materials was reasonably popular but its appeal was limited and the third book was a whopping disaster. The Dark Materials trilogy lacked the marketing push that Harry Potter had.

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