Children's Book Market Suffers Decline

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This is the second of four articles looking at the results of the recently released 2002 Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing, conducted by Ipsos BookTrends and published by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). This week's focus is the children's book market (13 years old and under).

The Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing reported that the children's book market is the second largest market behind adult trade books. Children's books account for 28 percent of units sold and 15 percent of dollars spent. Significantly, the study found, consumer motivation is extremely significant in children's book sales -- 72 percent of children's book purchases were impulse buys.

The study noted, however, that only 17 percent of children's books are purchased in a traditional bookstore -- either chain retailer or independent -- though bookstores do represent the second largest retail channel. The book club/mail order/book fair category is the leading retail channel with 28 percent of the market. Additionally, the study showed that mass merchandisers account for 14 percent of the retail market, and only 1 percent of all children's books are sold via the Internet. Dollar stores represent 13 percent of the market; food/drug stores, 6 percent; variety stores, 6 percent; and all others, 15 percent.

Significantly, in a separate study conducted by the Children's Book Council, mass merchandisers were found to be the only retail channel showing some growth potential in children's books.

Overall, since 1997, the children's book market has been on a steady decline, according to the Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing. The number of units purchased in 1997 was 515.8 million, while in 2002 it was 460.3 million, a 10.8 percent decline. Consumer expenditures were $1.8 billion in 1997, and reached $1.9 billion for both 2001 and 2002, a 5.8 percent increase.

While soft cover book sales experienced a decline, they still account for 57 percent of the market, the study noted. Board books have gained a larger share and are now at 15 percent, while box sets declined to 2 percent and hardcover reached 26 percent. Picture/story, coloring/activity, and nonfiction reading books are the top three categories at 29 percent, 23 percent, and 10 percent respectively.

In terms of average price per book, 16 percent of children's books sold were over $8, while 14 percent were in the $5 to $8 price range, and a third of the books were under $2. While fewer children's books are being bought as gifts, this could be at least partially influenced by increased sales of gift certificates and cards.

As for the average age of a children's book buyer, 26 percent are purchased by adults 50 years or older, 20 percent are bought by adults in their 40s, and 28 percent are purchased by people in their 30s. Furthermore, 33 percent of the books are purchased by households with an annual income above $60,000 per year.

For the past nine years, the Book Industry Study Group, along with core supporters such as ABA, has been the sponsor of the major consumer study on book purchasing habits. The research is based on consumer panel reports prepared by Ipsos-Insight, one of the world's largest market research organizations. In the coming weeks, BTW will report on the study's findings regarding the teen- and used-book markets.

To read last week's report on the adult book market, click here.