Monday, January 26, 2009

Child Safe Books

We all sucked books when we were young and the most damage they could do was when a hardcover was thrown at another child in anger.

Last week we were alerted, by our good friend Donna Ballman from Litopia, to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) passed in the US last August 2008 as a response to the high-profile recalls of toys containing lead and that comes into effect on 10th February. We asked why would an act targeted at toys would be of interest to book publishers. The answer is both surprising and potentially alarming.

The law appears to have been somewhat rushed through and the impact on books is vague in that it covers not just toys but all consumer products intended for use by children 12 and under. That includes books and audiobooks irrespective of where they are manufactured and the fact that most books have lead levels that are well below the safety standards. The US industry is trying to ensure that most books exempted by the time the Act kicks in on February 10.

The Act demands that each item, shipped as of February 10, must have been tested by a third-party lab to ensure that lead levels are below 600 parts per million and some books must also be tested for phthalates, an acid used to soften plastic. A Certificate of Conformity must be posted and the product must be labelled appropriately. Testing itself is estimated to cost up to $1,500 per item for lead and more for phthalates. In addition there appears to be only two or three third-party testing facilities, which test products in all categories which could add weeks to production schedules. Even if traditional book formats are exempted, novelty books which include soft plastic books, titles with toys and anything with soldered components will continue to be included under the Act.

The clock ticks ever closer to the February deadline as the American Booksellers Association, Children’s Book Council, publishers’ legal offices and other associations are taking actions to try and get an exemption on print-on-paper and print-on-board books and gain definitive guidelines and interpretation of the act. The impact is not just on the shelf items themselves but also on catalogues and marketing materials that have been produced to stimulate sales into the channel.

For the latest updates and clarifications, go to

We sat back to check that it wasn’t 1st April and then to pondered what the act thought of digital books and content presented via even the ordinary ebook reader. Are we exposing children to repetitive eye syndrome, radiation, and other long term injuries? Some may say that some ebook readers suck, but not that you should suck on an ebook reader.

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