Teenagers like to shop. Last year, according to a study by Teenage Research Unlimited, American teens spent close to $172 billion, or $104 per teen per week--and that's not counting the other spending that is influenced by teens. With the teen population on the rise (32 million and counting), Generation Y could well outnumber baby boomers at their peak. No wonder that publishers and booksellers, along with clothing retailers, electronics purveyors and just about everyone else with something to sell, want to reach the teen market. The only trouble is that although teens have deep pockets, they don't like to feel as if they've been pitched to. They like to discover things on their own.
At the six-store Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd Booksellers chain in Tennessee and Ohio, children's book buyer Wendi Gratz has finds that increased teen purchasing power means that "young adult books are not just growing in sales but in offerings from publishers. Picture books are our strongest children's section. I don't know if YA will catch up to middle readers, because a lot of teens shop in the adult section. But YA is strong."
From the publishers' perspective, YA is a-changin'. "When I first got to Henry Holt five years ago," says v-p and director of sales and marketing Maggie Richards, "we did Melvin Burgess's Smack. We went after teens who wanted to read adult books, and put it in adult first fiction programs. It was a [B&N] Discover title, and it did really well." Burgess's new in-your-face hardcover, Lady, My Life as a Bitch (May), has had no problem finding a teen audience in YA sections, despite (or perhaps because of) its provocative tagline, "If you gotta be a dog, be a bitch."
What has happened in the last few years with books for teens? How are publishers catering to the elusive teen shoppers, in terms of themes and packaging? And what are booksellers doing to turn their stores into teen havens?
For some publishers, focusing on teenagers has meant the creation of new lines geared to both ends of the YA scale. By and large, these imprints have catchy one-word names meant to imply titles that are both hipper and broader than books geared to younger readers. Scholastic's PUSH imprint, for example, was introduced last February with posters and postcard giveaways for cafés, music stores and bookstores. One of the strongest titles from that first PUSH list was the $6.99 paperback reprint of Patricia McCormick's Cut (Feb.). "It has sold over 60,000 copies in less than six months," says Jennifer Pasanen, v-p of marketing for Scholastic's trade division.
To give PUSH an extra, well, push, Scholastic focused on the Internet. It created a teen-friendly Web site, www.thisispush.com, separate from the corporate Scholastic site. The publisher also did a cross-promotion with www.bolt.com, the number one site for teens. "At the end of the day, the kids are going to have to find the books. Having the kids discuss them online is the best way," Pasanen says. "They really don't want to go into a bookstore and talk about cutting themselves [Cut deals with the topic of self-mutilation], or get together for an in-store event on cutting."
She regards the current state of merchandising teen books as a chicken-and-egg affair. "Merchandising will happen as there's more demand," Pasanen says. "As we continue to drive more demand, it will drive more merchandising."
At Scholastic, PUSH may be the imprint reserved for introducing new writers on edgy subjects, but it's not the only way the house reaches teens. Tanuja Desai Hidier's hardcover coming-of-age novel about an Indian girl caught between two cultures, Born Confused (Oct.), will be published under the Scholastic Press imprint, while German author Cornelia Funke's fantasy about two brothers on the run, The Thief Lord (Sept.), is a Chicken House title. Like the PUSH books, The Thief Lord, a bestseller in Germany, will get an extensive online marketing campaign and postcard marketing. In addition, Scholastic is planning an author tour and national advertising.
Simon & Schuster's Pulse imprint recently moved to the children's division from Pocket Books. The latter, however, continues to collaborate with MTV for books like Stephen Chbosky's 1999 bestseller, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which has close to 200,000 copies in print. MTV handles the packaging and advertising--Perks benefited from six weeks of advertising on MTV--while Pocket takes care of sales and distribution. The target audience of mid-teens through early 20s is close in age to the authors.
Although MTV has seen a sales jump as a result of displays at stores such as Barnes & Noble, publishing director Jacob Hoye is concerned "that we need to bring the books where teens are going, which tends to be the record stores." Hoye is currently working on establishing an MTV section at music stores.
Unlike MTV Books, which tend to be edgy trade paperback originals, Pulse is a more ubiquitous paperback imprint. "It's anything for teens," explains Tracy van Straaten, director of publicity at S&S Children's Publishing. The books run the gamut from the paperback editions of Nancy Mace's autobiographical In the Company of Men (Sept.) and Virginia Euwer Wolff's True Believer (Oct.) to TV tie-ins with Charmed and Sabrina, as well as Francine Pascal's Fearless series.
For van Straaten, the trick is getting teen-oriented media attention. "Teens aren't reading the parenting column in the local newspaper, so the only way to reach them is through magazines like Teen People, YM, Seventeen and Girls Life. And the magazines with the most generous book coverage only review at most three books a month, which includes adult titles."
Van Straaten also seeks out online review media like www.teenreads.com. But she finds that in addition to fighting to make teens aware of new titles, she has to combat reviewer inertia as well. About a year ago, when she noticed that many book reviewers who focus teen books were unwilling to wade through the full children's catalogue, she began producing a separate teen and tweens catalogue on her own. "As a result," she says, "our coverage has increased dramatically." This summer, S&S rolled out a magazine designed to appeal directly to the teen consumer. Simon Pulse Teen Magazine is available free at bookstores, libraries and other teen gathering spots, and contains book excerpts.
Teens have long been drawn to science fiction and fantasy. To increase sales in this area, Penguin Putnam launched a YA fantasy imprint, Firebird, this spring. In the fall, the children's group will release a digest-size edition of Brian Jacques's Mossflower as a Firebird title, while Berkley will continue to publish Jacques's books in mass market. "This way we're broadening Jacques's audience," says Gina Maolucci, v-p, director of marketing. "The mass market obviously gets huge distribution, but the digest guarantees it will be in children's sections also."
Like S&S and Scholastic, Penguin Putnam has been looking for ways to market its more down-to-earth teen titles. Early next year, it will introduce its Speak imprint, for new paperback fiction and nonfiction as well as teen staples previously published under Puffin. "Puffin is a great line, but it skews younger," Gina Maolucci, v-p, director of marketing, observes. To get ready for Speak, Puffin has been removing the logo from its paperbacks for older readers and has increased its number of hardcover fiction titles for teens. The inaugural list will include reprints of AStep from Heaven by An Na and the short story collection On the Fringe, edited by Donald R. Gallo.
That's not to say that Penguin won't have stand-alone series, like its recently released (on 7/7) seven-book series Seven by Scott Wallins. And, yes, there are seven characters and a special introductory price for the first book of $1.77 (the other paperbacks cost $4.99). The promotional dump is shaped like the numeral seven and has pockets for all seven books, which are being released at once, as well as for a postcard pack. The books are also featured in Penguin Putnam's teen zine Razorbill and on www.razorbillzine.com.
HarperCollins has its HarperTempest line, which originally launched in 1999 as Avon Tempest with the paperback reprint of Burgess's Smack. "A lot of the titles are still controversial," notes executive publishing director Elise Howard, adding that "the books have a unique trim size to differentiate them from YA. We wanted to send a message to gatekeepers that they're not for 10- or 11-year-olds."
Howard and her colleagues don't acquire specifically for HarperTempest. Instead, they decide if a book will be part of the line after it is signed. This year, Tempest, which had previously published only paperbacks, added hip-looking hardcovers, some designed by CD artists, such as Joyce Carol Oates's Big Mouth & Ugly Girl. Nor is Tempest just a fiction line. One of its lead titles for the fall is a set of monologues written by students at New York City's Stuyvesant High School in response to what they saw on September 11, With Their Eyes, edited by Annie Thoms. Several students are scheduled to appear on both The Today Show and Donahue on MSNBC at publication.
Once series reach a critical mass, they offer an opportunity to market, promote and advertise books together. But some publishers prefer the more individual attention that not putting a book into a series can bring. Candlewick, which began by publishing books for the very young, made a push into the teen market with Celia Rees's Witch Child, published in hardcover last summer, through on-line advertising on www.teenpeople.com and via its e-newsletter. For the sequel, Sorceress, due in September, Candlewick borrowed a page from romance marketers, and bound a chapter of the new book into the paperback reprint of Witch Child. "Witch Child was one of those books where the story was so compelling, you wanted to know what happened next," explains executive director of marketing Deborah Sloan. "A sneak preview seemed like a natural way to let people know about the sequel."
On the other hand, for M.T. Anderson's satire on consumerism, Feed (Oct.), Sloan said, "Our approach is to go beyond the traditional YA thing and to send it to college radio stations and newspapers. Feed is being published as a YA novel, but in general stores we want it in adult fiction as well."
Despite some doubts that teens are capable of ever cleaning their rooms, Holt is doing a teen-and-parent promotion for Organizing from the Inside Out for Teens by Julie Morgenstern (Sept.), author of the New York Times bestselling Organizing from the Inside Out, and her 16-year-old daughter, Jessi Morgenstern-Colón. An Owl paperback original, the book is double-listed in the house's adult and children's catalogues. "A lot of stores are putting it into YA sections," says Richards. "Jessi helped us design the book to be more appealing to kids. We'd show her designs, and she'd tell us, 'You have to understand that's a little too young.'"
There are no new teen imprints at Random House, or plans for any, according to Andrew Smith, v-p of marketing for children's books. "Delacorte is the press where we do both middle grade and YA books," he says. "Laurel-Leaf are all teen or YA titles." Sales have been strong for books like Ann Brashares's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which came out from Delacorte last fall, or this May's paperback reprint of Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl from Dell/Laurel-Leaf Reader's Circle. To promote these and other YA titles, Smith works on getting out floor displays in teen sections. "We encourage accounts to put like-themed books together and to display backlist by an author with a frontlist book. Sometimes we'll freshen up the backlist and rejacket it. Everybody is looking to merchandise better," he says.
To get that all-important buzz, Random relies on Internet marketing, reviews in teen magazines and postcards, as well as, of course, the book itself. "The key is having a book that really does deliver," Smith says. "Then teens will tell their friends and build the buzz for you." For Sisterhood, Random House did mailings to summer camps and placed an ad in Teen People. This fall, Smith is working on a cross-promotion with ABC's drama Alias. "We're publishing the official TV show companion in paperback with a free DVD, Alias Declassified, and we're publishing Alias 1: Recruited [both Bantam, Oct.], a mass market prequel set before the show began," says Smith.
At Farrar, Straus & Giroux, "Stars in all the right journals work wonderfully well on the institutional side," says Michael Eisenberg, senior v-p and copublisher of Books for Young Readers. But to create word-of-mouth in bookstores, he relies on bound galleys and advance readers copies. "If we're doing 1,500 or 2,000 copies, it's more economical to do an ARC," he explains. But even when there's not that much interest, he still does mailings to what is affectionately known in the industry as "the big mouth list."
For Alan Smagler, senior v-p and associate publisher at S&S Children's Publishing, "Marketing is all about buzz. It's about printing ARCs and bound galleys, talking to booksellers and the sales force, saying, 'Here are the must reads.' " According to Smagler, S&S is printing more ARCs for the sales force than ever before, largely because, he says, "our good friend Harry Potter has opened up the market for fiction. Where we would have sold 4,000 or 5,000 copies in hardcover, now we're printing much higher numbers and getting better distribution. The market is there as it never was before."
Making the Sale
In the last few years, booksellers have responded to the increased demand for teen titles by moving their YA or teen sections out of children's, so that teenagers no longer have to walk past shelves of baby books and parenting guides to get to edgy fiction. Tatnuck Booksellers & Sons in Worcester, Mass., the largest independent in New England, is currently in rearranging its children's area as part of a larger reorganization of the store as a whole. "We used to have the kids' section chronological by age," says children's, teacher resource and kids sidelines buyer Lorna Ruby. "The YA section was way in the back. Girls went back there and shopped, but boys hardly ever came down there. I wanted teen books to move way to the other side of the store, by the magazines and computer books. We made it as far as outside the kids' area, which is right outside the restaurant. The next step is to bring some of their magazines down to finish creating the area for them." Ruby hopes that teens who stop by the store to pick up books on their summer reading lists will like the new YA section and come back.
Space-pressed Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd haven't been able to move all their YA sections out of children's. In some stores, YA bridges children's and fiction, other times it's near the café. "One thing we do," Gratz says, "is divide the books by genre, which is important because teens have preferences just like adults do."
She concurs with Random's Smith that customers respond to themed displays--like one she did last January for "A New Year, a New You"--and to face-outs. She also finds that shelf talkers work well. Although publishers provide slick-looking shelf talkers and slit cards for many titles, Gratz prefers "a nice, little handwritten recommendation that's really brief, such as 'If you like werewolf books, you'll like this,' " she says. "The best thing publishers do is send out review copies," she adds. "It can really make a difference."
As a section title, "'Teen' doesn't do it for me," comments Holly Myers, children's buyer at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, who prefers the term YA. "We've talked about 'Teen' on and off because the books are so terrific and they hit an older audience." Even so, she often finds Teen or YA to be an arbitrary distinction. "I don't understand why Holden Caulfield is in Fiction and Cut is YA," she says. She singles out Speak author Laurie Halse Anderson and After the Rain author Norma Fox Mazer as "wonderful talents [adult] publishers should be courting. Wouldn't it be awesome to read Laurie Halse Anderson at 16 and then five years later see her new novel in Fiction? Then you could say, 'I've read her.'"
For Barnes & Noble fiction buyer Joe Monti, the term YA conveys "a staid attitude toward the literature." Last year, Barnes & Noble created a Teen area for fiction and a Teen Nonfiction section just outside the Children's section, for books for ages 11 to 15. Fiction titles, mostly hardcover middle-grade novels, were pulled from Children's and shelved under Teen, and books like Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul were moved out of the adult section and into Teen Nonfiction. Popular teen magazines were also moved to a waterfall display within Teen Nonfiction. Currently, Monti says, "we are planning on expanding the teen sections as sales have been very strong."
Like Gratz, Monti prefers promotions around themes, such as this September's "Girls in Shining Armor," which will feature the new Tamora Pierce novel as well as other fantasy novels featuring strong female heroines. This month, Neil Gaiman's Coraline is part of a crossover endcap promotion with adult science fiction and fantasy.
At most Borders stores, the YA section is just outside the children's department, although placement varies from store to store. "Stores that still have it in kids'," says a company spokesperson, "will consider moving it out this year." Borders's much-discussed category management system has not yet reached YA. A category plan for Beginning Readers is now in place, and the company is working on an Intermediate plan.
Jill Brooks, children's coordinator of Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville, Ill., likes to encourage kids to break out of their regular reading habits. Five years ago, she came up with a plan for working with schools to get kids to read more widely by setting up a "Mock Newbery" program. "It's a list of 25 books that we make available every September," she explains. "It's used mostly by junior highs. At the high school age, most of the books are a bit young and high school students have more required reading."
Last year 350 students participated, at different levels. "Some kids only read three books," she says. "Others read all 25. It's a ready-made class assignment type of thing, and many teachers think of it as the cream of the crop of what books came out last year and they buy the books for their libraries."
Anderson's, too, has begun re-evaluating its children's section. Children's books and teachers' supplies still take up the entire right half of the store, and middle-grade readers and YA are shelved adjacently, separated only by the classics. But whereas in the past, picture books were the only children's titles displayed up front, the store now makes room for displays of YA titles as well. Still, Brooks says, "the real key is our staff, and how well read they are." One staffer personally handsold 90 copies of Geraldine McCaughrean's The Stones Are Hatching in hardcover before it came out in paperback this summer.
But no matter what booksellers call them, teen titles or YA, size and price do matter, although, like many things in this world, it depends. Random House's Smith notes that "if a book is big enough and the buzz is big enough, we can sell a lot of hardcover copies." Certainly books like Spinelli's Stargirl, Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Brashares's The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants bear this out.
At Joseph-Beth and Davis-Kidd, Gratz observed, "Usually a hardback for YA is less than $20, and we'll sell hardbacks of a book teens really want to read." For her, that $20 threshold is significant, although she hasn't encountered any real price resistance for a popular title. Many publishers down-price to avoid such problems. Burgess's Lady, for example, has a $16.95 tag, while the second book in Kevin Crossley-Holland's Arthur trilogy, At the Crossing Places (Scholastic/Levine, Oct.) will cost $1 more. The first volume, Arthur: The Seeing Stone will be released in paperback in September in both mass market and digest sizes to try to gain placement in both adult and YA fantasy sections.
Still, some booksellers worry about what they see as price creep. "We're competing with the Gap and paying for clothes and gas," says Elliott Bay's Myers. It would be nice if books came out in paperback so that teens could pay for them themselves." Price is just as important at Borders, where a spokesperson noted that "the best promotions tend to be those that are buy two and get a third free, or a buy any three kids' books and receive X for a dollar."
Virgin Entertainment Group book and magazine product manager Martin Joseph Quinn, who buys all the books and plans all the book promotions for Virgin's 22 North American megastores, was the only person interviewed who finds some of the YA books too cheap. "With the exception of our Orlando, Fla., store, which has a full children's section, we shelve all YA fiction in our regular fiction section," he notes. "The way a book is packaged definitely affects sales. Scholastic's PUSH titles did moderately well, but might have done better if they'd been packaged like a regular trade paperback at a somewhat higher price point [than $6.99]. It sounds a tad greedy, but teenagers will pay more for paperbacks. I can sell as many of Cecily Von Ziegesar's Gossip Girl [Little, Brown, Apr.] at an $8.95 price point packaged like a trade paperback as the PUSH books." He also noted that the digest size sends a message that the book is for younger readers.
Not that Virgin doesn't lower prices and rely on marketing standbys like cost-cutting to make teen titles stand out. "We sell more graphic novels to teens than any other books," says Quinn, who is running a special this month at all but two stores: 25% off anime and graphic novels. Quinn is also aggressively pursuing a teen audience, which, he estimates, account for about 20% of Virgin's customers, by cross-merchandising books, music and DVDs, such as Spiderman and Star Wars products.
So where does that leave teen books? For the most part now, they're moving, or have recently moved, into Teen or YA sections. Gone are Teen Issues areas, which have been replaced at many independents, as well as Barnes & Noble, by Teen Nonfiction. But how can bookstores get teens to shop in those sections, no matter how they've been reconfigured and renamed? Many stores use magazines and food to draw teens in, then rely on shelf talkers, special displays and hip covers to get them to buy.
On the publisher side, the main changes are in the packages themselves. Book jackets are simpler, less cluttered and often in eye-catching colors. They use ARCs and galleys, postcards, and what increasingly is coming to seem like "old-fashioned" Internet marketing to get teens to do two of their favorite things--talk and shop.