These thoughts on the picture book market from newly contracted author Chris Barton, whose first picture book recently sold to Charlesbridge.
"I think the answer is a combination of some of the theories you mentioned, with a couple of others folded in. Consolidation among retailers hasn't been much of an issue in the past few years, but we are still seeing fallout from the consolidation of so many publishers under the roofs of Time Warner, News Corp., Pearson, Viacom and Bertelsmann, all of which -- except for Bertelsmann -- are publicly traded and therefore under pressure to show big returns. Big returns = emphasis on safe bets, and safe bets = books by brand-names (be they celebrities or well-known series), books in genres that have made big splashes (Harry Potter and fantasy in general, which has had a lot of crossover appeal to adults), and books with higher margins (i.e. without all that expensive art).
"To me, there's also the issue of how picture books are merchandised by the big chains. You typically see a wall of a dozen or two outward-facing picture book titles, generally by big names, but the rest of the picture books are jammed together spine-out. Well, a picture book's spine is less likely to appeal to a casual buyer than its cover -- you know, where the art is -- and the miniscule text on the spine of a 32-page book is not exactly easy to read, even if there's a particular author or title you're looking for."