The book team at Nielsen held its second-annual Children’s Book Summit at Convene in downtown NYC on September 15, to discuss trends found in their data for publishers to make use of, in an effort to better reach consumers. The days’ panels touched on many aspects of the industry, including adult readers of YA, suburban teens, and multicultural consumers.

Jonathan Nowell, president of Nielsen Book, began the day with plenty of figures: for the time period between January 2014 to September 2015, children’s book sales are up 12.6% in the U.S., 28% in Brazil, and 10% in China, with 11 of the 20 bestselling books in the U.S. being children’s titles. The proliferation of tablets has brought the age kids start reading e-books down from seven to five. And board books have seen 20% compound growth over the last three years.

State of the Industry

Turning to the overall state of the industry, conference co-chairs Kristen McLean and Jonathan Stolper showed where the growth was happening. Children’s share of print markets is averaging 34% across the board internationally, in Australia and New Zealand, it’s almost 50%. Some titles are exhibiting strong sales across international markets, including Minecraft, Frozen, and Wimpy Kid titles. Perhaps complementing some of this growth is the recent boom in coloring books for adults (while geared for adults, in the U.S. they are coded as children’s books). The Secret Garden coloring book, which sold 46,000 units last year, is close to the 300,000-copy mark already this year.

While print sales of adult fiction and nonfiction have dropped in the U.S., the juvenile market has grown 40% in the last decade, with a 5% market share growth in the last three years. Children’s religion, holiday, and nonfiction titles are the categories that are most up, while e-books are actually down 14% this year so far.

Highest Value Consumers

And where are these books being bought? Sales in chain bookstores are down (the demise of Borders was mentioned as a big factor), the school book club market seems to be bouncing back, independent bookstores are stable though flat, and sales at etailers are up almost 20%, showing the most sales overall.

Nielsen’s data have also been able to show which consumers seem to be accounting for the most growth. Kids ages 5-8 “are the most important group in terms of market share,” said Jo Henry, v-p, insight and analytics at Nielsen Book. This age group accounts for 39% of dollars spent on children’s books, and for 38% of children’s book sales overall. Nielsen’s surveys were able to paint a more thorough picture of the key consumers of books, and where they hear about books (often through public librarians and websites); see slide.

Multicultural Consumers

Courtney Jones, v-p of multicultural growth and strategy at Nielsen, shared insights on the growth of multicultural consumers that puts very real data behind the cry for more diverse books. Jones showed that the largest sector of population growth in the U.S. is coming from the Hispanic communities, and she showed figures demonstrating a large growth in purchasing power among African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American communities. Perhaps most telling in the shift in demographics was the statistic Jones shared that today’s children under the age of nine are split demographically 50/50 between multicultural and white.

Jones also pointed to popular properties, in particular Doc McStuffins, which features an African-American protagonist, and is demonstrating resonance across all groups. Doc McStuffins is most popular among Asian-American children, but is highly popular among non-Hispanic whites, African-American, and Hispanic groups as well. Jones added, “If you create content that speaks to [specific] cultural segments,” the data shows that “it is resonating across all races and ethnicities.” Furthermore, Doc McStuffins, a female character, also has strong appeal for boys.

Adult Readers of YA

Nielsen’s figures show that 80% of all the YA books that are selling are being bought by adults. Nielsen brought in a panel of eight adult consumers of young adult novels to get insight on how these consumers find books, what they enjoy about the genre, and what they’re looking for.

Overwhelmingly, the panel seemed to suggest that the YA moniker can be limiting, in that because it isn’t a genre, rather an age designation, it doesn’t help say what the book is about. However, one panelist, who is also a mother of two teens, finds the category helpful in ascertaining the appropriateness of a book for her children.

Many of these readers discover books by browsing bookstores, and having their eye caught by good design, by hearing of forthcoming movie adaptations, and through the Internet via GoodReads and Twitter.

The readers overwhelmingly prefer to read fiction within YA rather than nonfiction, and one panelist said that he especially liked the genre because “the biggest growth happens in the child and teen years,” and he enjoyed getting “in the character’s head and growing along with them.” When asked how the YA category might better be characterized to illustrate the books’ wider appeal, one panelist suggested that publishers “change the name from YA to YAH - Young at Heart.”

Path to Purchase

The next panel brought in independent booksellers to discuss which publishers’ strategies help create sales. The panelists said they always appreciate personalized attention from sales reps who attempt to get galleys into the hands of the bookseller in the store most likely to be interested in the book.

All booksellers cited a lack of space and time as their biggest challenges, adding that things like large cardboard book dumps and displays from publishers aren’t practical, and they often found themselves having to get crafty to repurpose displays to grab attention without taking up too much space.

Many of the booksellers agreed that a lot of promotional materials that are sent to them, such as temporary tattoos and toys, aren’t helpful in selling a book, and might be better appreciated by librarians. They did say that co-op money to help events be more successful is helpful, as are thoughtful editiorial letters that say something novel about why a book is strong, rather than saying something like “it’s the next Hunger Games,” which doesn’t tell the busy booksellers much.

As far as new trends, many of the booksellers concurred that requests for history books (not mainstream history, rather books focused on social issues and marginalized groups), as well as science and coding, are becoming more frequent in their stores.

Hearing from Suburban Teens

One of the more popular panels from last year’s summit was a group of NYC teens talking about their reading habits. This year, Nielsen brought in a panel of suburban teenagers to discuss similar topics. The teens had insightful things to say about how little the designation of “YA” does to tell them about what a book is and whether it would appeal to them, and about how they engage with media.

The teens said they are definitely influenced by movie releases when choosing to read books. They cited the Internet, particularly Amazon’s suggested books feature and Wattpad, as a place they find out about new books, and many stated that the recommendations of friends largely inspired their reading choices, as well as those from teachers and librarians.

One teen cited a favorite book, Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, as an example of whether YA is a useful categorization. “YA only describes one thing, it doesn’t specify what kind of story it is. I wouldn’t think of Hatchet as YA fiction, more like ‘adventure.’ ” The possibility of publishers breaking YA into subcategories seemed to resonate across this panel, as well as the adult readers of YA.

Data, Set, Match

Overall, the Nielsen conference offered a wide and deep range of data, and presentations that demonstrated ways to use the data that the company collects, to help publishers target areas of growth. The team also announced that they will be introducing 400 new BISAC codes for subcategories under Juvenile this fall to help make their data more specific and usable for publishers. McLean, in her closing statement, hoped that the day fit publishers with the tools to “identify consumers, locate them efficiently, and inspire them with the right message at the right time.”