Monday, June 6, 2011

Potato Chips and Arsenic

Notes from Singapore Part 2: On returning from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) in Singapore from 26 to 28 May, our editor, Manasi Subramaniam, writes about her revelations and hopes for children's publishing in Asia:

Fresh from the AFCC, all I can think about is how wonderful it is to be a creator of children’s content. We are the guys who are most closely associated with the future of the world – and that’s pretty awesome! Above and beyond that, there’s also a lot to be said about the Asian market in particular. Like all other industries in Asia, publishing is growing in leaps and bounds and it’s changing almost every single day. 

One really important topic that I connected very deeply with was the question of mass versus class. In the words of Liz Rosenberg, American writer and reviewer of children's books: 

‘Potato chips are really popular. They’re not healthy or good in any way. But they’re still really popular. There’s a lot of junk out there and obviously people love it. But the important thing to remember is that you can’t really live on it. So what you need to ask yourself is this: Do you really want to be known as the guy who made potato chips or the guy who made beautiful wholesome meals? While you can’t completely ignore the sensational stuff like the Twilight series, you just need to be aware that it isn’t great literature. And you can’t overdo it either. Because then you’re just eating arsenic!’

I agree wholeheartedly with Liz. And I’d rather make salad than chips!

It’s important for us to realise that content really is king. After the AFCC, I truly believe this with all my heart. Fancy packaging and marketing gimmickry can only get a book so far. As one publisher that I met said, to assume that your buyer is foolish is just sheer arrogance. 

Glossy paper, famous names and funky fonts don’t sell a book. Beautiful stories and beautiful artwork are the best salespersons that we can have. To think that anything else will work is to disrespect the people for whom we create books, to assume that they are stupid and have no taste, discrimination or sophistication. We cannot trick people with fancy packaging. 

The thing that really struck me about many of the publishers that I met in Singapore (from all parts of the world) was their sincerity. They all genuinely believe in creating beautiful books – and they love their books too much to ever allow them to be ruined by bad design or gimmickry. Most importantly, they believe that whatever they do it needs to be done well. No successful publisher creates books half-heartedly – everyone reiterated this at some point or the other. 

Either way, we have to recognise that the future of children’s publishing is in high quality storytelling, no matter what the format is.