CPSIA and childrens’ books – the Winners and the Losers

The witch hunt called CPSIA outlaws childrens books published before 1986, like the Mother Goose book this brilliant Arthur Rackham illustration is taken from

The witch hunt called CPSIA outlaws childrens' books published before 1986, like the Mother Goose book this brilliant Arthur Rackham illustration is taken from

With the recent passage of CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Act), with its serious implications for the sale and distribution of childrens’ books, we thought it might be appropriate to look at who “wins” and who “loses” in the book industry as a result of this bill.

The Winners

Publishers

Because of the amendment which effectively exempted children’s books published after 1985, this bill went from being a thorn in their sides to a golden egg dropped in their laps.  As most know, the publishing industry has long had a deep, abiding hatred for the used book industry, and drools at the prospect of making it go away.  So maybe this doesn’t exactly appease their entire megalomaniacal appetite, but it does very nearly destroy one important corner of the used book industry in childrens’ books.

In addition, the bill forces libraries to dig all those pre-1986 childrens’ books off their shelves, destroy them, and order some nice shiny new replacements.

Not bad:  far less competition from used book stores, and a surge in orders from libraries.  Almost makes you wonder which side of the lobbying courtyard they were on…..

Distributors

For many of the same reasons above, this is a godsend in the midst of an industry mired in declining sales and pushed about by the current economic climate.  Companies like Baker & Taylor and Ingram will certainly benefit from decrease competition on some titles, and a short term increase in sales to libraries.

Big box retailers

While I wish I could say that independent new book stores will benefit from this, I just don’t think its true.  One of the big reasons people like to purchase used books is because of the substantial savings involved.  Suddenly, they have to switch all their childrens’ book buying habits to new books.  That’s already going to hurt their wallet hard in an already tough time.  I’m afraid, like it or not, they’re more likely going to opt for the book for $1 less at their local soulless megacorp, rather than spend the extra money to support a local bookstore.  I could be wrong – in fact, I hope I’m wrong.

Lead-testing companies

Like, duh, right?

The Losers

Libraries

Libraries are now having to pull all pre-1986 titles from their shelves and destroy them – leaving them faced with two choices: replace the (otherwise perfectly fine) books with shiny new (expensive) editions, or simply forgo replenishing their collection.  Never a good time for a library to do something like this, but you couldn’t pick a worse time, with library patronage up, while funding is down.  Ouch.

Children and literacy

Since libraries will most likely simply drop a great deal of childrens’ books from from their inventory, children (particularly underprivileged children) will have far less access to valuable reading resources.  Not only that, but used books have long been an affordable way for families, mentors, and educators to acquire childrens’ books and put them in the hands of children.  Now, where a family might have been able to spend $25 and pick up a dozen or so quality used childrens’ books for their kids, they’ll now be able to afford 1… or 1.2… books for their kids to read.  Silly child, books are for rich kids.

Thrift stores and non-profits

Used book sales have long been a backbone of sales for non-profit thriftstores.  The inability to sell childrens’ books (and other childrens’ items) takes a handsome bite out of these non-profits – again, at a bad time, because non-profits are struggling to raise money as it is.

Mom-n-Pop used book stores

A pretty obvious negative impact on small, independent used book stores, whether online or brick-and-mortar.  Unless you’re selling a first edition of Peter Rabbit, spending $500-600 to test the book for lead when you were hoping to sell it for $5 simply doesn’t make good math – except in Alice’s Wonderland – oops, wait, most of those are illegal now, too – your grandkids will never get that analogy.

Home school parents

The typical home school parent practically lives and breathes by their neighborhood used book store as an affordable way to pick up the requisite course and reading materials for their children.  Think about it: home schooling parents are almost always foregoing on at least one potential income.  Telling them they now have to buy everything at full shiny retail price is going to pinch them pretty hard.

Grandparents and grandchildren

Just about every grandparent eventually gets the bug to go dig up some of their obscure favorites from childhood so that they can sit down and share them with their grandchildren.  And topping nearly every grandchild’s list of things to do is cozy up on Gramma or Grampa’s lap for a nice cozy story, complete with vintage illustrations.  Guess that little cultural quirk is about to become as out-of-print as all those childrens’ classics.  Unless, that is, said aged parent is a dangerous criminal and rebel, and manages to score a copy of Mother Goose illustrated by Rackham on the childrens’ book black market…

4 thoughts on “CPSIA and childrens’ books – the Winners and the Losers”

  1. Sarah Natividad says:

    While I think your take on winners and losers is accurate, I would caution your readers against leaping to the conclusion that anyone who “wins” after CPSIA must, ipso facto, have supported CPSIA. Believe it or not, there are still some people in the world who want to win in a fair fight, and there are plenty of people who are ignorant enough of economics to not realize they end up winning.

  2. Kathleen says:

    I know you mean well with this entry but its long past time to lay the arguments of winners vs losers aside. It splinters, marginalizes and discredits the effort. Look at the bigger picture. We should be fighting this law, not incurring resentment by infighting and splintering amongst each other (I am a tiny one person business). This law benefits no one. Okay, no one but the testing companies.

    CPSIA is tragedy enough without compounding the problem by inferring hidden agendas among those who are -frankly- too consumed with bigger problems. You didn’t say this but many visitors infer such after reading things like this, making leaps of “logic”. I don’t mean this unkindly but when the topic came up on my site months ago, I explained that to presume larger entities were out to get smaller ones was a -admit it- neurotic narcissistic reaction. Face it, we’re just not that important and intimating otherwise is a way of making ourselves feel more important and powerful than we are -if only to ourselves. We are not the target of anyone other than special interest groups. It is against they that our umbrage should be directed. Anything else reduces our credibility.
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  3. brendan says:

    Kathleen – points well taken – and thank you. I do hope I don’t come off as sounding recriminating – that’s not my intention. Instead, I’m hoping to point out that none of the things most of us care most about make out very well at all as a result of this bill. So many people, in my experience, still don’t get it, and if we’re going to fight to get this thing amended or repealed, we could use every bit of popular sentiment we can enlist.

  4. Pingback: American Library Association urges citizens to take action on CPSIA bill | for.theloveofbooks.com
  5. Trackback: American Library Association urges citizens to take action on CPSIA bill | for.theloveofbooks.com

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