Children's market explored at New York Children’s Book Summit

Children's market explored at New York Children’s Book Summit

The first Nielsen Children’s Book Summit convened in New York on Friday (12th December) at the McGraw-Hill Auditorium in midtown, saw over 150 participants attending the day-long meeting organized by Nielsen Book Americas SVP Jonathan Stolper and Bookigee’s Kristen McLean. They worked to be current; to be cross-media, inviting Nielsen analysts from various sectors; and to be interactive – several panels featured real live kids, teens and parents (not virtual).

And it was very good. How else would we know, if not for Nielsen (certainly not from the folks in Seattle), that 80% of YA books are bought by adults for their own reading. Given the competition for time, there has been a dip in teen reading since 2011, so as McLean noted, “there is a huge divergence between the sales of YA and the reading of teens.”

Another surprise was that 27% of adult buyers of juvenile non-fiction are also buying for themselves – think of Lego and Minecraft books used for gaming. Juvenile non-fiction was up 11% in 2013 and will be up even more this year.

McLean emphasized that although print is still preferred overall, “price sensitivity” is driving the e-book market. People are becoming “more comfortable” buying online for kids, and in the digital world, the importance of tablets as an “immersive” kids’ reading experience “cannot be overstated.” Teens prefer to get their content on smartphones.

This year will be the best ever for children’s books – “a perfect storm of growth,” as Stolper said - growing another 12% YTD over the very good 2013 in every category and format, not simply YA.  Board books for young kids – whether allied to a movie like Frozen or a classic like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar – are booming.  

It is juvenile and YA that allow the overall book business to be flat and stable as opposed to down, down, down. (Think of what the numbers for HarperCollins would be without Veronica Roth, or Abrams without Jeff Kinney.)

Adult fiction, for example, will be down 9% in 2014. The question lurks: is it down so much partly because of the explosive growth in adult reading of YA? Much more attention should be paid as to why so many adults have turned to YA fiction.  Fully 17 of the top 20 BookScan sellers of 2014 will be children’s and YA. (Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Patton, and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling are the three exceptions.) Series branded books are producing bigger and bigger bestsellers, especially from Roth, Kinney, Riordan, and Green. James Patterson, king of the adult hill, has taken note and got into the act.

We should pay more attention to co-viewing, co-gaming and co-surfing, whether involving parents and children, or kids and kids “consuming content” together. One of the reasons that kids like print over electronic is the physical swapping of books.

A lot of cross-pollination, with brands increasingly crossing genres and platforms, is going on. Look at the rise of kids’ lifestyle books. After watching cooking programs together as a family, kids watch Master Chef Jr. and buy tie-in books. Publishers ignore the rising consumer decision-making power of the seven-to-twelve-year-old at their peril.

Around the world, juvenile and YA is also the growth driver; markets that this year show negative growth overall, like South Africa (and the U.K.) are up in terms of children’s.

Nielsen’s Jonathan Nowell flew over from London to emphasize that – and to underline that we should be paying a lot more attention to China. If the U.S. is the single largest book market at 26% of share, China is the second, at 12%. Within China, almost 20% of the juvenile market is comprised of books from three entities: Zhejiang Publishing House; Hubei Juvenile Publishing House; and Tomorrow Publishing House.

“We ought to be thinking about them all,” Nowell said. In his 30 years in the business, he’s “never seen” queues like the ones he saw at the Shanghai Children’s Book Fair this autumn to do deals. “Chinese publishers are desperate to get rights.”