Kristen McLean, project editor of Bookigee, and Carl Kulo, a Bowker Market Research senior project analyst, kicked off the ABA Day of Education that preceded last week’s BEA trade show in New York City by providing a provocative snapshot of the latest trends in the children’s book market.
“This is extremely fresh data” from Bowker’s “Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age” three-year study, McLean and Kulo told an audience of 90 booksellers and publishers. The ongoing study is co-sponsored by nine book publishers. Two thousand parents – half with children up to age six and half with children ages 6-12 – were last surveyed in January and February 2013, in the study’s fifth wave of surveys that began in fall 2011. Also, with their parents’ consent, 1,000 young adults, ages 13-17, were surveyed. For the first time, Bowker was able to break down the results by gender.
Overall, McLean and Kulo said, the children’s book market is much more stable than the adult market. “Changes are incremental, not exponential,” McLean noted. “Kids are omnivorous media consumers across all formats.” Children ages 7-12 are especially a “very clear market force,” she added, urging publishers and booksellers to take advantage of “growth opportunities” in the middle-grade market. According to the latest findings, more than 50% of girls ages 3-12, read at least five days each week; the frequency peaks at ages 9-10 with 57% of girls reading at least five days each week. Only boys ages 7-8 read at that comparable level, dropping to 41% of boys 11-12 reading at least five days a week.
Referring to Bowker’s latest findings regarding consumers’ book buying patterns and children’s reading patterns, McLean and Kulo noted that their latest survey emphasized children’s digital use. Mobile devices are starting to have an impact on young book consumers (up 7%), although book-related online behavior is declining. For instance, in fall 2011, 22% of children visited a Web site to find out more about an author or series they had enjoyed; that number has dropped to 14%.
Hardcover sales, down 8%, are losing ground to e-book sales, up 12%. While teens are becoming more open to e-books, they are not “adopting” them: – about 60% of teens in spring 2013 have never read an e-book; fewer than 10% read e-books “very often,” a trend that has remained fairly steady since fall 2011. Teens in general are reading less for pleasure, due to so many other demands on their free time. More than 30% of teens in spring 2013 never read a book for pleasure, an increase of 9% over fall 2011. Fewer than 20% of teens “very often” read a book for pleasure in spring 2013, down from just over 25% in fall 2011.
When it comes to reading on digital devices though, girls have more access to them with less oversight than boys, McLean and Kulo said. “Girls are outpacing boys in media, except for gaming,” McLean noted. “Girls are getting earlier and deeper access to devices than boys.” Ages 0-2 are the only ages at which boys are handed devices more readily than girls; 58% of girls ages 3-6 have access to devices, while 43% of boys of the same age do. By ages 11-12, 70% of girls and 65% of boys have access to devices. Girls are much more likely to be allowed to download apps with little restriction, beginning with 5% of girls ages 3-4, compared to 1% of boys that age. By ages 11-12, 15% of girls are allowed to download apps with little restriction, compared to 10% of boys.
“Parents have some concerns, but they’re watching their kids, and generally, parents are happy with apps,” McLean said, noting that about 50% – and often more, up to 69%, of apps downloaded by all ages and both genders are free. For children 0-6, 39% of parents think it’s most important that the app be educational; this figure drops to 32% for parents of children 7-12.
Gender differences even play a role in one of the more startling trends that McLean and Kulo emphasized during their presentation. Parents are, more and more, making their book buying decisions without soliciting input first, including 38% of parents of ages 0-6 making their book buying decisions without outside influences or personal recommendations in spring 2013, up from 32% in fall 2012 and 29% in fall 2011. Parents of children 7-12 are also making their book buying decisions without soliciting input first, but the figure has held steady for the past year at 31%.
Parents are most comfortable selecting books for girls ages 0-6, with 45% of them doing so, and are more likely to seek input when purchasing books for boys: 35% of parents purchase books for boys 0-6 without input from others. What’s most critical for both boys and girls ages 0-6 is that the book be “a topic, story, subject” that interests the child – 41% for girls, 46% for boys.
For parents of both girls and boys ages 7-12, selecting books without input from others stands at 30%. It’s critical to 43% of the parents of middle-grade girls that the “topic, story, subject” interest the child, while that is critical to 48% of parents of boys.
“People are making more book buying decisions on their own,” McLean said. “Parents are more comfortable making choices without a lot of outside influences. How do we engage them?”