Children's book sales defy recession

Children’s books sales outperformed the rest of the market in the first half of 2011, down just 1% year on year to £143m, due to blockbusting brands and the delay in children adopting digital content in this area.

According to Nielsen BookScan figures presented at yesterday’s Bookseller Children’s Conference, the total consumer market was down 3.5% year on year to 16th July. Across the entire TCM, fiction sales were down by 7% to £210m, with non-fiction sales down by 2% to £376m.

Within children’s, across the first 28 weeks of 2011 to 16th July, sales of books in the Pre-school and Picture Books category were up 6% (or £2.8m) to £48.6m, with school textbooks sales also up by 13% (or £2.2m) to £19.7m.

In children’s general non-fiction, sales were up by 6% to £14.6m, boosted by brands such as Moshi Monsters. Sales within children’s fiction were up by 8% to £42.7m. 

However, sales of annuals were down by 52%, or £1.1m, with YA fiction sales also down by 38%. However, if sales from the top five paranormal romance authors are stripped from the YA category, sales would then be up by 20% to £11.7m.

Publishers said the children’s market could be benefiting from spending on children being prioritised in tough economic times, with Hachette Children’s m.d. Marlene Johnson adding the middle-class baby boom was really boosting pre-school sales. She said: "What is interesting is that they are buying old books; with the downturn of libraries, and the fear in bookselling at the moment, what everyone is doing is playing completely safe. It is concentrated in a very few books."

Penguin Books’ deputy group sales director Dan Shepherd also said there was a degree of polarisation, with big brands, such as Wimpy Kid, working really well. He said: "When kids are fascinated by a brand, they go and spend any money they have on them." He said that even within the depressed annuals market big brands could still win through.

Macmillan Children’s UK sales director Ed Ripley called the Moshi Monsters’ series sales jaw-dropping. It was worth £1.2m through Nielsen TCM for 28 weeks to 16th July. Ripley said the future is in similar internet-based licenses, though it was possible to break new authors with a focused approach. He anticipated e-book sales would increase faster for the older age groups than for smaller children.

Johnson highlighted an emerging trend of adult authors, such as Harlan Coben, writing for children. She said: "What you’ve got is the children’s market almost being hijacked by adults." She added it was unclear whether it was adults or children buying the titles.

All three were confident YA would remain a strong category, with other "kiss with a twist" genres stepping into paranormal romance’s place. Ripley said: "There is no reason to write YA off just yet." 

Looking ahead to the next six months, Ripley said that he would still expect children’s to outperform the rest of the TCM. He said: "Physical versus e-books will get tougher in adults, and children’s might have more space in retailers because they could be stocking fewer physical adult books."