Children’s books are a secure category in the marketplace and bookstores will continue to play a key role as a driver of sales were among the chief findings of a joint study undertaken by Bowker/PubTrack and the Association of Booksellers for Children, which was unveiled yesterday at Winter Institute. Sponsored by Random House, Little, Brown, Macmillan, Penguin, and Scholastic, the survey examined consumer attitudes toward purchasing children’s books in three categories: adults buying for children ages 0-6, adults buying for children ages 7-12, and teen consumers ages 13-17.

While some of the statistics announced by former ABC executive director Kristen McLean and Kelly Gallagher, v-p of publishers services at Bowker/PubTrack, came as no surprise—women buy nearly 70% of kids' books and most purchasers fit solidly in the middle class in terms of income and education—others were more startling, including the fact that books ranked number one over all other media for the youngest kids. And this was in households inclined to use technology more than other book buyers: to play online games, visit social networks, blog, listen to digital music, and download TV programs.

Parents and those close to children are more influential than ever, McLean noted. For children under seven, friends and family are the number one determinant of which books to buy, followed by browsing at bookstores. Even for teens, the choice of what book to read was most heavily influenced by parents, teachers, and close friends, in that order.

Bookstores and libraries continue to play a leading role in helping children discover books, with bookstores ranking number one, followed by "the child tells me" and public libraries as the reason for book purchases for children ages 0-6. However, when it came to the actual book purchase, independent bookstores fell near the bottom of the chart, slightly edging out Target/Costco. School libraries and public libraries topped the list of place where children obtain books, with Barnes & Noble beating out Sam’s/Wal-Mart, Amazon, and Borders by only a few percentage points.

“A lot of purchasing habits are common across the board,” noted Gallagher, who said that the study found that 80% of purchases were not planned and of those 40% were pure impulse—double that for adult books. Children also have a different set of criteria in choosing what to read. For teen readers, sequels are the most important factor, followed by familiar author, back and flap copy, title, and then cover.

The old paradigm of screen versus books no longer applies, added McLean, who called kids “omnivorous consumers of media.” Teens are heavy texters and Facebookers, but they still rate reading books for fun as their third favorite activity. That’s print books, not electronic ones; over 80% of teens in the study don’t read e-books.

As McLean emphasized, there was much good news embedded in the study for bookstores. It pointed toward the importance of display for attracting the attention of impulse shoppers. But it also highlighted a significant gap between where consumers find books and where they buy. "The real challenge," said Gallagher, "is how to make that conversion."