Reflections on “publishing symbiosis” of cheap mass-produced books for children

I stared at Disney-style Cinderella, she stared back. Exaggerated blond hair, disproportionately huge eyes, unrealistically narrow waist-line and a la-di-da posture. All this in acidic bright colours! Oh, dear…

Reflections on "publishing symbiosis" of cheap mass-produced books for children Thinking Out Loud

The girl on the cover above does look confident though, don’t you think, that it will continue being published, whether I liked it or not. It will continue being in print, similarly to other series about nothing, featuring Disney princesses with identical looks and myriad of other characters regularly descending from the big screen. Also perpetually in print it seems are the books from the “toilet humor” department and tales for the very young with an awful quality of illustrations and text. Here is a sample of offerings on the internet ‘book shelves’:

Reflections on "publishing symbiosis" of cheap mass-produced books for children Thinking Out Loud
Reflections on "publishing symbiosis" of cheap mass-produced books for children Thinking Out Loud
Reflections on "publishing symbiosis" of cheap mass-produced books for children Thinking Out Loud

I have always wondered at the abundance of mass-produced cheap children’s books sometimes referred to as ‘trash literature’. There are shelves full of those in most, even the most respectable, book shops but I used to assume that no parent would ever buy something like this and no child would ever engage with it. I couldn’t be more wrong. Apparently, millions of such books are being bought regularly allowing publishers to earn their profits. But why?

These books’ story lines are at best superficial and oversimplified or plain primitive at worst. The illustrations are highly predictable, you can bet on every next Princess being as big-eyed and narrow-waisted as the one in the book before it. Simplicity and predictability amount to “easy reads” within any child’s comfort zone – no challenges, no space for imagination. Some parents support it exclaiming: “At least they are reading something!”. But do we allow kids daily McDonald’s and Coca Cola exclaiming “At least they eat / drink something”? Generally, we don’t. Then why would we feed growing minds and aesthetic tastes under construction with meaningless and awfully illustrated texts? ⠀

It has been suggested that many publishers use the commercial success of so called ‘trash literature’ to subsidise the more expensive and less popular classic and high-quality books; this catch-22 known as “publishing symbiosis”. So before seeing more of “the good” we should expect loads more of “the ugly”. Are publishers though to blame for it or the consumer who chooses sub-standard cheap stuff instead of the more expensive books of decent quality?

Would you choose left or right for the Cinderella or Red Riding Hood to read to your kids? What do you feel about it – trash literature, “symbiosis” & all?

Reflections on "publishing symbiosis" of cheap mass-produced books for children Thinking Out Loud
Reflections on "publishing symbiosis" of cheap mass-produced books for children Thinking Out Loud

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