Harry Potter has been one of those cultural phenomena that utterly and completely redefined the publishing industry and how our children read. Somehow a single series of novels has turned on two entire generations (and their parents) to reading when the world has become more and more visually stimulating. In a world that revels in its iPods, PSPs, and $600 video game consoles, a simple series of books has brought joy to scores of millions of children since it first arrived in the 1990s. With the final novel finally arriving next month, it makes sense that so much attention is being paid once more to the franchise and its lasting effect on the readers of today and tomorrow.
Since the first Harry Potter book first hit the market, there have been wave after wave of subpar and mediocre copycats pushing out novels as fast as they can type. On one side, it's kind of a good thing - it means there are plenty of children out there picking up books more and more often and getting addicted to series in large enough volumes that writers can keep writing.
On the other hand, these books are not very good and what real value does a child get from a book that isn't very good? I won't argue that television is in any way better than a book, but I will argue that a poorly written, derivative piece of young adult fiction is almost as useless as television in stimulating a child's intelligence.
With books such as Eragon and Inkspell selling millions of copies almost entirely to those children and young adults who so eagerly await Rowlings's next offering, it's impossible to know what the industry would look like without her. Young Adult fantasy isn't new. Brian Jacques wrote his magnificent Redwall series and Garth Nix brought Sabriel and the many sequels to the masses. However, the dragon loaded, Star Wars/Lord of the Rings imitating trilogies have been arriving in epic quantities of late.
Will It Last?
So, what does that mean in terms of Harry Potter fever finally dying down? It's been almost 9 years since the first novel hit the shelves and with it the entire face of young adult literature seems to have changed. However, with any massive fad comes another. It's true that no single franchise has ever seen this kind of success, but other franchises have been extremely popular, and while they endured, they did not continue to dominate for decades to come.
It might take a few years for another generation to come along, but the Harry Potter/ YA-Fantasy kick will die down eventually.
What Will They Be Reading In 10 Years?
It's a good question and if I actually had the answer, the publishing industry would be buying me dinner as we speak. It doesn't particularly matter what the next massive fad will be. However, there are a few very specific things that always make a YA Franchise work. First off, it needs to start simple. Harry Potter may arrive in 700 page heavy bound volumes these days, but if you look back to the first three slim books in the series, you'll find much shorter books, designed for the author's children.
Once you have an audience thoroughly enough hooked, you can probably count on them stepping up to check out a little more complicated affair. Secondly, you want a series that can attract an adult audience as well. That doesn't mean that an author should look to create a book specifically targeted to adults, but you need to write something that children can feel comfortable sharing with their parents.
Basically, if an eight year old child brings home a copy of a book, he or she shouldn't feel compelled to keep it hidden from their parents. In fact, the parents should be intrigued enough to want to read the novel with their children. That was much of the magic inherent in the Harry Potter series. Parents became nearly as addicted as their children.
While other books that piggy-backed on the Harry Potter bandwagon were very popular, they don't necessarily carry that universal appeal. No matter what genre the next great YA writer arrives in, they need to be able to touch the curiosity and interest of all age groups.
Where do We Go from Here?
After July, when all 45 million avid Harry Potter fans have finished reading the seventh and final book in the series, grieving for their favorite characters, and wishing for just one more book, who knows what will come next. We have at least two more films in the mega-franchise and along with them at least 3 more years of Harry Potter mania.
But, in the next few years, publishers will finally start backing off the YA-Fantasy assault that's been crushing the bookstores for so long. The Da Vinci Code is a good example of how the industry rights itself from a fad. The series lasted for almost three years. However, in the last year or so, with mass market paperbacking, a mediocre film, and way too many copycat Knights Templar conspiracy theory novels on the shelves, the industry has finally decided that no one wants to read about the long-lost secrets of some painter or writer anymore.
To be sure, there's always a place in the market for a well written novel about anything. There will be more books about wizards and dragons and they might be very good, but there won't be any more mediocre rip-offs until there is another meg-franchise to rip off.