Thursday, January 15, 2009

Safety Act Catches Publishers Off Guard

I was visiting with a friend who owns a small, independent children’s bookshop yesterday when she showed me a copy of Safety Act Catches Publishers Off Guard, an article she had just read at My friend expressed concern to me about her business. Here are some excerpts from the article about the impact that the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 may have on book publishers, bookstores, schools, and libraries:

Safety Act Catches Publishers Off Guard
By Karen RaugustPublishers Weekly, 1/12/2009

The children's book industry is currently dealing with a new and pressing challenge that is threatening publishers, bookstores, libraries and schools. It's not the economy or school spending or reading rates—it is a recent act of Congress, which has blindsided the industry with the implementation of stiff safety standards on all children's products, and whose application to books is vague. It has left many publishers, retailers and industry groups scrambling to interpret the law and determine what kinds of compliance will be required, and at what cost.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, enacted in August 2008 as a response to the high-profile 2007 recalls involving Chinese-made toys containing lead, covers not just playthings but all consumer products intended for use by children 12 and under. That includes books, audiobooks and sidelines, no matter where they are manufactured, even though most books have lead levels that are well below the Act's most stringent safety standards. The industry is fighting to have most books exempted, but there may not be a resolution by the time the Act kicks in on February 10, so publishers and retailers are proceeding as if books will be included.

Not since the Thor ruling of 1979—which changed the way companies depreciate their unsold inventory—has a government regulation not aimed at publishing had such a far-reaching impact on the industry.

The industry consensus is that the concept of ensuring children's safety is, in principle, a good thing. “Everybody agrees that the basis of the [CPSIA testing] requirement is absolutely in good faith,” said Kathleen McHugh, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association. “But there must be exceptions to that. With books, you're testing for lead on a material that's just not associated with lead at all.”

“This is an absolutely knee-jerk reaction to the fact that, yes, there have been children's toys and cribs that have contained lead,” said Bruce Smith, executive director of the Book Manufacturers' Institute. “But let's not take a paintbrush and paint everything the same color.”

Chip Gibson, president and publisher of Random House Children's Books, goes further. “This is a potential calamity like nothing I've ever seen. The implications are quite literally unimaginable,” he said, noting that children's books could be removed from schools, libraries and stores; nonprofit groups like First Book would lose donations; and retailers, printers, and publishers could ultimately go out of business. “Books are safe. This is like testing milk for lead. It has to be stopped.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

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