The Bookseller Children's Conference: #PorterMeets Voxburner's Luke Mitchell

The Bookseller Children's Conference: #PorterMeets Voxburner's Luke Mitchell

With all the pleasure any good teenager has in proving his elders wrong, the 16-to-24-year-old age group might seem at times to delight in confusing marketers. And at Thursday's The Bookseller Children's Conference, in London, some of Luke Mitchell's comments to the audience will help sort out what may be behind that demographic's role in publishing's fastest-growing sector. The conference hashtag is #kidsconf14 -- a good one to follow Thursday. Mitchell is head of insight at Voxburner, which focuses its research efforts on that age bracket in the UK -- one of the most coveted and yet at times puzzling. As The Bookseller's children's editor Charlotte Eyre has reported, the UK children's market is up 10 percent year-over-year in the first eight months of 2014 according to Nielsen BookScan data. As Eyre wrote:
If the market stays more than 10% ahead of last year’s figures, it is projected to be worth £337m in 2014—the best year the children’s sector will have had since BookScan records began in 1998. Most kids’ categories are showing growth. Sales of children’s fiction, YA titles and picture books are all up, with only a slight dip (-2%) in sales of pre-school books.
And yet, many in the business readily concede to surprises, especially in what can seem to be counter-intuitive responses among late-teen and early-20s-aged readers to digital offerings. In March, Mitchell produced a list of 5 reasons young people aren't buying ebooks, based on Voxburner's research results. According to what respondents told Voxburner, those reasons to reject ebooks are, as excerpted from that article:
  • eBooks are thought by this age group to be too expensive.
  • Print, physical books -- and the experience of reading them -- are preferred.
  • Respondents don't have e-readers. (Twenty-five percent said they'd consider reading on a smartphone.)
  • Respondents like to show off physical books.
  • Respondents "resent being enslaved to technology."
In our #PorterMeets interview with Mitchell, he told us that in this week's conference, he'll expand on some of these data points and update the research for attendees at Southbank Centre. And as he looks at the data his Voxburner team brings to the table now, Mitchell says, understanding what the "16-24s" are telling us is about following the money: That's the cost of ebooks, themselves, he's referring to, I clarified, not of devices on which to read them. And what kind of price points look good to these young value-militants? Mitchell was ready for that one: I had asked Mitchell about the "image issue," the desire to display what one's reading, either by carrying physical books around or showing them off on a shelf: Certainly, what his latest numbers are showing him, Mitchell says, doesn't indicate a lack of ready devices for reading ebooks: And that's a dedicated e-reader he was referring to. Thirty-six percent of respondents aged 16 to 24 are telling Voxburner now that they'll read books on tablets. "And the rest," Mitchell added, "say they read books on smartphones -- when they do" read. Taking as a cultural baseline this "value-centric" point, Mitchell's team has ranked various brands that 16-24s say they like. Category winners in these rankings for 2013 gave the nod to Amazon, perhaps not surprisingly, both for retail and online shopping. By contrast, Waterstones "came in 43rd overall" in those rankings, Mitchell said. For many of us, the biggest surprise in responses from this demographic tends to be that 16-24s may not live happily up to their necks in techno-wonders. They're resistant, Mitchell said, to more of the gadget-ridden life than some of us might expect: Although Mitchell and his researchers use the term "digital native" to describe the often-unfounded expectation about this demographic's adoption of tech, we were jumped on in mid-interview by Suw Charman-Anderson for using the term: So that was pleasant. I mentioned how encouraging I find it that 16-24s might want to take those "little breaks" he'd referred to from tech. That sounds like a lot of older citizens of the digital dynamic I know. I asked Mitchell what kind of message publishers might see in some of this data as to how to approach the 16-24s' market: Could there be some traction there, I asked, for "bundling" ebooks with print, as we've reported BitLit is doing in a pilot with HarperCollins US? Mitchell makes the point that he's a specialist in research on this age group, not in publishing. But it sounded to me as if he's got some ideas to float on Thursday in what should be a strong part of the programme at The Bookseller Children's Conference:
For those attending The Bookseller Children's Conference on Thursday, registration opens at 9 a.m. for the event in the Purcell Room of Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre in Belvedere Road. Whether on-site or following from a distance, you might want to refer to our Epilogger, which is capturing social media elements around the event. The site for the conference is here And here at The FutureBook, our #FutureChat conversations with The FutureBook.net digital publishing community on Twitter are held Fridays: 4 p.m. London time; 11 a.m. New York time; 8 a.m. Los Angeles; 5 p.m. Berlin; 3 p.m. GMT. Join us this week when our topic will focus on all things crowd -- sourcing, funding, and more -- as prompted by the advent of author Hector Macdonald's new Advance Editions.