I've been hesitant to join in the raging discussion of this article because any observations I can offer are purely anecdotal. But with that disclaimer, here I am. For those who haven't read it, the article examines the decline in picture book sales and attributes it to a number of factors, but focuses mostly on parents' drive to push their children toward more advanced reading material.
Have I seen parents worry that a book's too easy for their young masterminds? Sure, but I've also seen plenty of parents who know that their kids will get more out of a book that's accessible. I've also seen four- and five-year-olds who love listening to and following along with easy readers and picture books alike. (Okay, so I'm talking about one particular just-turned-five-year-old. I told you my evidence was anecdotal.)
Do I think the economy is a factor? Heck yes. Maybe it's time for a rise in paperback picture books. As long as the hardcovers dominate, though, it's hard to keep the skinny paperbacks from getting lost on the shelves.
Publicity and lack thereof probably also play a role. Picture book releases get some attention, sure, but I can't recall a picture book equivalent of a Deathly Hallows or Mockingjay release. I wouldn't want to staff that midnight party, either.
Whatever the reason, parents, if you're out there, I hope you're letting and/or helping your kids find picture books. Illustrations are a great way to level the literacy playing field. I've had preliterate and semi-literate kids notice visual clues I'd missed. Picture books let kids interact with stories, feel smart, and maybe, just maybe, start believing the crazy notion that reading is fun.