Studies Size Up the Kids’ Book Market

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Events at this year’s Digital Book World Conference & Expo kicked off on Tuesday, January 15, with pre-conference workshops and a sold-out Children’s Publishing Goes Digital conference, sponsored by Publishers Launch Kids. The Children’s Publishing conference focused on the ever-changing digital climate’s effects on both children’s books and reading habits and the new skills children’s literature advocates will need in order to reach young readers.    

Two conference sessions presented key findings from recent studies on influencers of children’s book choices, methods of discovery, and attitudes towards books and reading.  The first, featuring Carl Kulo, senior data analyst at Bowker, and Kristen McLean, founder and CEO of Bookigee, presented data from the fall 2012 Bowker study Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age. Kulo and McLean were joined for a panel discussion by Gretchen Caserotti, assistant director for Public Services at the Darien Library, and Tina McIntyre, executive director of Digital Publishing and Operations at Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

At an afternoon session, Peter Hildick-Smith, founder and president of the Codex Group, shared recent data on the driving forces behind children’s book discovery in the digital age.

Key findings from the Bowker study show that the primary influencer on kids’ reading choices has shifted from bookstores to the recommendations of family and friends.  “From spring to fall, this was one of the biggest shifts,” McLean said. But though there was a “marked decline” in bookstore and library influence, Kulo said that “the child asking [for a book] in the store” is still a major driver in children’s book purchases.  Also influential are the presence of familiar characters and series.

Though librarian Caserotti spends much time working in tandem with teachers to run book talks championing her favorite mid-list titles, she does find that “peer influence is immediate.”  Libraries and teachers “are part of a fabric” that supports discovery but they don’t always get the credit. 

Hildick-Smith’s Codex study results showed that the “physical store is the single largest contributor to [book] discovery for ages three to five.”  In-store discovery takes place most often when a parent and child are shopping together, as reading up until age seven is a two-person activity.  “Fifty-three percent of the time people go into a physical store, they are there for a planned discovery,” Hildick-Smith noted.  “The bookstore, pound-for-pound, is still incredibly powerful … [it’s] the theater where all of these things can happen.”

Studies into the young adult market also provided some interesting statistics.  McLean remarked that “teen attitudes toward e-books are ‘snapping back’ to print.”  She cited the ability to swap favorite print titles and the decreased novelty of e-readers as possible motivators.  “E-readers,” observed McLean, “are not a social platform.” 

The Codex study uncovered similar attitudes in younger children. “Less than half of kids age three to 12 are reading or experiencing digital books,” Hildick-Smith said.  “Print is still king.”

When asked why teens’ preferences were shifting towards print books, McIntyre remarked, “Kids model their behavior after their parents and … they’re still seeing their parents read physical books.”  Kulo added, “It’s all about focus.”  Print books don’t provide the same distractions that a full-loaded tablet offers, and this remains attractive to a majority of parents.

Regarding Bowker study participants’ preferences for print books, McLean called them “rock solid.” 

“Kids have changing views of what reading is,” Caserotti added.  Young readers are adding magazines, comic books, and websites to their widening definition of what constitutes reading activity.  Parents are slower to adopt this view, but Caserotti predicted, “We might see a shift with Common Core coming through.”  The new Common Core State Standards place much more emphasis on the reading of non-fiction texts. 

The final big reveal of the Bowker study came from Kulo, “Only 16 percent of young adult books are being purchased by teenagers, and these are people who bought for themselves.”  The majority of YA titles are being purchased by those much older than the target audience.  However, McIntyre was not surprised in the least.  There is a “guilty pleasure aspect” to reading these titles, she said.  “It opens up a huge opportunity for us.”