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Old July 10th 07, 02:50 PM posted to,alt.books,,rec.arts.books.childrens,
Fred Goodwin, CMA
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Default In end, Potter magic extends only so far: Decline still seen in adolescent reading

In end, Potter magic extends only so far: Decline still seen in
adolescent reading

By David Mehegan, Globe Staff | July 9, 2007

Like circus elephants on parade, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels
have lumbered past a dazzled young public for the last 10 years. Now
the beloved fantasy series is ending with the release of the seventh
volume, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," at midnight July 21.

Media coverage is in overdrive and millions of fans are arguing and
obsessing over the fate of young Harry in his struggle with the dark
wizard, Lord Voldemort. Others in the world of books and reading,
meanwhile, are contemplating the end of the historic series. Besides
wondering what, if anything, could take its place, they are reflecting
on the impact the books have had on reading, bookselling, and
publishing for the young.

For the young fans, it has been a long era of good feeling. But in
real life, as in the books, not all is happy magic. A forthcoming
national study finds that not even Harry Potter has stemmed a decline
in adolescent reading. With the enormous number of books sold, mass-
market retailing, and cutthroat price competition, Harry Potter is no
money maker for many booksellers. And while Potter has sparked an
explosion of middle-grade hardcover fiction, some think books for
younger children have been neglected.

The adventures of the bespectacled English boy at Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry have achieved sales far beyond any comparison
with normal books. More than 325 million copies of Harry Potter books
have been printed worldwide, in 66 languages. Scholastic Inc.'s first
US printing of "Deathly Hallows" is an unprecedented 12 million
copies, and has already received 1.6 million advance
orders. The worldwide box office take for the four Harry Potter movies
made so far is $3.5 billion; the fifth, "Harry Potter and the Order of
the Phoenix," opens Wednesday . Then there are the DVDs of the films,
the video games, the clothing, toys, housewares, even a planned 20-
acre Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Fla.

The personal wealth of J.K. Rowling, a British mother who wrote much
of the first book in Edinburgh coffee shops, has been estimated at
more than $1 billion.

A publishing revolution

Rowling, 41, did more than sell a lot of books. Her character
"revolutionized publishing for middle-graders and above," said Betsy
Groban, vice president and publisher of Houghton Mifflin's children's
division. "Harry Potter made it cool to read a big, fat, complicated
book. Before Harry Potter, that sort of book was the hardest sell."
Potter, said Jodi Reamer, a New York children's literary agent, "led
to an explosion in the middle-grade world. Agents who only represented
adult work now also represent middle-grade fiction."

With the burgeoning genre of hardcover fiction for children that began
with Harry Potter, The New York Times created a separate children's
hardcover bestseller list for its website in 2000, because Harry
Potter and other hardcover children's novels were repeatedly ensconced
atop the adult hardcover list.

As with any craze, imitators have tried to cash in. "With 70 percent
of the manuscripts submitted to us, we're told it's just like Harry
Potter," said Holly McGhee, a New York literary agent who handles
children's books. "The character is the same age, it's fantasy, it
contains magic."

Potter broke all rules. Boys as well as girls liked the books. Length
was no problem -- the longest novels in the series run nearly 800
pages. "It used to be the mantra of teachers and librarians that a
book of fiction has to be thin or kids won't read it, especially not
boys," said Terri Schmitz, owner of Children's Book Shop in Brookline.

The subject matter changed after Potter, too. "When I was a kid, if
you read fantasy, you were a geek," said Barry Goldblatt, a New York
children's literary agent. "With Harry Potter, you could have a book
on your desk with dragons and knights on the cover and no one made fun
of you."

Many credit Rowling with creating a whole generation of new readers.
"The effect on kids' reading has been huge," said Elizabeth Bluemle,
owner of The Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vt. "Kids discovered
they can read harder and longer books than they thought they could."

Loss in committed readers

Nevertheless, the Harry Potter craze, as distinct from the books, does
not have everybody smiling. Notwithstanding the millions of books
sold, a report on children's reading by the National Endowment for the
Arts, due to be released in the fall, finds that reading among
adolescent children is in trouble.

"Reading scores and rates seem to be going up in the age 7-11 range,"
NEA Chairman Dana Gioia said in an interview. "But when kids hit high
school, all the social pressure takes them away from reading and you
see an enormous fall, to a point where most kids are almost not
reading at all. A quarter of all kids read for pleasure. Most of the
others don't. Because kids read less, they read less well. Because
they read less well, they have lower levels of academic achievement.
God bless Harry Potter, and please send us many more. But one book or
series of books is not strong enough to counterbalance the trends."

While millions of kids snapped up Harry Potter, some of those
interested in youth reading believe that they are not necessarily
committed readers. "People said, 'Children are reading again -- all
hail Harry Potter' " said Roger Sutton, editor of The Horn Book, the
Boston-based children's book-review magazine. "But lots of kids read
only Harry Potter. It doesn't necessarily turn a kid into a reader."

Margaret H. Willison, 22, of Jamaica Plain, a Potter fanatic in her
teen years, expressed a similar concern. Willison, who just graduated
from Kenyon College and plans to embark on a career as a youth
librarian, has noticed something while working summers as a Boston
youth literacy coach.

"They are not necessarily reading other books," Willison said of some
of her students. "The [Harry Potter] books are so big that they think
if they just read those books -- and maybe not even the book, just see
the movie -- their reading is done. When this book goes away, they
might not have this fervor for a book again."

The next blockbuster

Booksellers, who once exulted over their Potter business, are much
glummer lately. "For us, it's a sad thing," said Schmitz, who hosted
Rowling for a local reading in 1999, just as the series took off.
"With each book, we have sold fewer copies because there are so many
places to get it steeply discounted. If I bought it from Barnes &
Noble, I'd be paying less than I pay Scholastic."

Other storeowners said they expect to break even at best.
CEO Jeff Bezos told the annual meeting last month that Amazon will not
make a profit on Potter, with its 49 percent discount ($17 off the
$34.99 list price).

"The independents broke this book in the first place, when the chains
were hardly even buying it," said Kristen McLean, executive director
of the Association of Booksellers for Children in Boston. "Now the
independents are getting shafted. They have to stock it, but they
can't be competitive."

Some say the enormity of the Harry Potter phenomenon has eclipsed
other kinds of children's books, especially for younger children.
"Picture books have suffered tremendously, and the quality is pretty
sad," Schmitz said, "because no one wants to take a chance on them."

While there is much talk in publishing about what will be the "next"
Harry Potter, no one has ever been able to predict even a normal-sized
bestseller. Few believe that another 10-year, 325-million seller is
over the horizon.

"There's something unique about the Harry Potter books that will never
be replaced," said Lisa Holton, Scholastic's trade book and school
fairs president. "Other books will be written, but nothing can come
close to comparison with this seven-book arc."