Live events are having a direct impact on book sales in the children's market, according to Julia Eccleshare, children's director for Hay Festival, speaking at The Bookseller's Children's Conference yesterday (27th September).
Eccleshare said she thought live performances were not only a "very important" facet in promoting authors and generating books sales, but that it was a reflection of the changing reading habits of children in general for whom reading has become "a collective experience" since the phenomenon of J K Rowling's Harry Potter series.
"It seems to me 'live' is the buzz of the decade," said Eccleshare. "It's a feeling we have to get away from seeing everything secondhand. We know we can all see everything, but we want to see 'the real thing'."
"I think 'live' is very, very important; being there is different and it's obvious in the apparently exponential and unstoppable rise of book festivals this is going to go on happening. Meeting the author has become an art form of its own. It's especially true of children's book; there's been an incredible change in the way children read."
She continued: "It seems to me nowadays that - and I think it has come from Harry Potter - reading is a collective experience. No child wants to be reading a book that nobody else is reading, they all want to be reading the same book as everybody else. And we know that from bestseller statistics identifying that."
She added: "Gone are the days when we see reading as a lonely, solitary activity, or we see children as readers being 'bookworms' and, in some ways, socially separate."
While noting it is not a "new thing" for children's authors to interact with their readers, their appearances at literary festivals is relatively recent, with most speaking at local schools instead. Children's authors and illustrators' inclusion in literary festivals is all the more justified since they "really know how to strut their stuff", according to Eccleshare, who noted they were often more imaginative in their performances than their adult counterparts to engage younger readers.
She highlighted examples of good live festival appearances such as Children's Laureate Chris Riddell, who has answered children's questions through live illustration, Julia Donaldson, who performs stage versions of her books, and book signings by Jacqueline Wilson. Each featured among Hay's bestselling authors of 2016.
Hay Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2017. Last year it sold 26,000 tickets for 93 events, with the biggest seller Julia Donaldson shifting 1,585 tickets.
"Now children's authors fill big tents, just like the adult authors, and most importantly, whether in large or small venues, they sell a lot of books," said Eccleshare.