Andrew Karre, the editorial director of Carolrhoda, and two other Lerner Publishing imprints, wrote a blog this afternoon called #yamatters. It is arguably the most coherent distillation I’ve ever read about why young adult (YA) literature is a marketplace game-changer.
What’s the big idea? Young Adult books have disrupted publishing just like Apple’s streak of disruptive technology redefined the tech and music industries. Defining a “disruptive technology” as a “device or system that, when it enters an established market, changes everything,” Karre draws the parallel convincingly:
Remember the music industry before the iPod and iTunes? Remember what your cell phone looked like and what you expected it to do in 2006? Remember netbooks?...Remember when Motorola, Nokia, and RIM were great cellphone companies?
In the same way, Karre says that the YA books of the past 10 years have redefined the idea of a marketplace for teen books. After the success of Hunger Games, and Twilight, books were marketed directly to teen readers, bypassing the librarians and teachers who were once the only gatekeepers, pushing authors like S.E. Hinton. The teen book market is no longer considered “splintered.” Now, you can follow Judy Blume on Twitter, be “friends” with your favorite author on Facebook, and buy their next book at midnight the day it comes out.
Other evidence of YA lit’s disruption to the marketplace? The very fact that people are debating it:
A sure sign that something new is disruptive is people attacking it and debating what it is and what it means—especially people already in the disrupted market. Look at any newspaper tech page or blog in the immediate aftermath of an iP____ announcement and you’ll find these controversies. In the end, the attacking and questioning amount to only one thing: That device matters. The debates themselves were, in hindsight, inconsequential, and the attacks never posed any threat at all.
While the marketplace has indeed shifted (when I was a teen reader, there was no “young adult” section of anything—it was all labeled “children’s”) I wonder how much of the marketplace shake-up has to do with juggernaut YA titles being released, and how much of it is simply the presence of the Internet. It seems that quality books with teen protagonists have always been published. The argument could be made that YA emerged as a marketed genre because the Internet allowed publishers and book retailers to reach teen readers more directly, and allowed teen readers to find one another and discuss titles more readily. Maybe the true disruptor here is the World Wide Web?
Of course, the fact that I’m discussing this at all underlines Karre’s overall point: the very presence of the debate means that #yamatters.