As some of you will know, there’s a huge fuss going on in the UK at the moment about a plan by some publishers to put stickers on children’s books indicating what age of reader the book is aimed at. I’ve just been invited to join a Facebook group protesting about this, and right now I’m not going to. I thought I would share my reasons.
The case of the anti-age-banding lobby is set out on their web site. Something that struck me about it is that it claims the stickers will be:
highly unlikely, despite the claims made by those publishers promoting the scheme, to make the slightest difference to sales.
No evidence is provided for this. It is just stated as a fact. I know a lot of writers (and a lot of fans) who are pretty clueless about marketing, so I’d like to see some evidence for this claim. Especially as Mr. Hornswoggler had been characteristically forthright on the subject.
But the main reason that I’m not signing up is that the whole thing appears to be a storm in a teacup. To start with it is nothing new. Go into any major bookstore and look in the children’s section. You’ll find the books shelved by age group. They are already being age-banded by stores. How is having a sticker going to change things? Besides, while I don’t have many kids’ books here I can check, I am pretty sure I have seen “suitable for ages xxx” on books before, and on toys, and on anything else kids might want to get their hands on.
What appears to be the problem is that the protest is based on an assumption of an authoritarian society that cannot be resisted. Children will be afraid to read books for the “wrong” age. Over-protective parents won’t let children buy books for the “wrong” age. I haven’t yet seen someone claim that kids will be required to produce ID cards in stores before they are allowed to buy a book, just in case they try to buy one that they are “not allowed” to have, but the whole protest reeks of that sort of idea.
When I was a kid, my parents were intensely proud of the fact that I was reading books above my age group, and so was I. When I was a little older there used to be girls’ magazines with silly names like Just 17 and Over 21, and the one thing that every teenage girl knew was that you shouldn’t even be seen dead reading a magazine that was “age appropriate”, you always read one for an age group above where you were.
So why not give the kids (and the parents) a bit of respect. Allow the stupid publishers to age-band the books, because it will give kids a chance to learn civil disobedience at a very young age. That, surely, is a good thing.
As for authors, maybe their energies would be better spent protesting about something else, like Amazon’s sales tactics.