At Nielsen's annual Children’s Book Summit, held on October 27 in Manhattan's Financial District, the takeaways were clear: online video is top priority for kids, discoverability still proves the knottiest puzzle to solve in the children's book space, content aimed at children must appeal to parents as well, and the biggest brands are beginning to compete with the biggest platforms.
The conference kicked off with a presentation from Nielsen Book's director of new business development, Kristen McLean, who dug into the some of the numbers behind Nielsen's 2016 findings in its children's book market report. McLean's presentation gave the audience a rare public peek at Nielsen's analysis of children's publishers and their market shares. 2016 saw Penguin Random House on top, which cornered 31% of the market in 2015–2016, followed by HarperCollins at 11% and Scholastic at 9%; the report also found that the top 20 children's publishers control 89% of the market.
The first half of Nielsen's market overview focused on the books, with the latter shifting to technology and its impact on book buyers, readers, and readership. Nielsen found that smartphones are near-ubiquitous, with between 85 and 90% of survey participants between the ages of 0 and 17 having access to them; by comparison, roughly 80% of children ages 0–2, and 90 percent aged 15–17, have access to computers, while tablet usership hovers between 60 and 70%. Smartphones and computers remain the most consistently used devices, with YouTube proving by far the most popular app; consistent YouTube use typically begins in the 9–12 age range, hitting its zenith in the 13–14 age group and play second fiddle to texting for the 15–17 age group.
David Kleeman, senior v-p of global trends for Dubit Limited, followed McLean's presentation with similar findings: kids love video, and when it comes to video content, YouTube is king. That said, Dubit found that brands are giving platforms a run for their money, to the point where brands like Lego and Minecraft—which have pushed their intellectual properties into multiple formats including games, video, and books—are competing with services like YouTube and Netflix for attention. (Lego, for instance, was cited by 20% of Dubit survey participants as a top brand, compared with YouTube's 41% and Netflix's 18%.) Millennial parents also tend to care about which brands they allow their kids to engage with, paying attention to each brand's ethical stances, how its products are made, and the specifics of the content.
Dubit also found that kids are no longer amazed by the technology they use, but are overwhelmed by paradox of choice. Gone are the days of Saturday morning cartoons—content abounds due to digital democratization of distribution, and children's schedules have changed accordingly, with kids under eight most likely to spend time watching (or reading) content in the mornings, and kids 8–10 most likely to do so during the evening.
A live focus group featuring four children and their parents confirmed both Nielsen's and Dubit's findings: phones are the preferred device, and video—specifically YouTube channels—is the preferred form for content. Yet in a conversation on publishers' market shares, Knopf Books for Young Readers publisher Jennifer Brown and Sourcebooks CEO and publisher Dominique Raccah agreed that while discoverability in an oversaturated multimedia remains an issue for kids' publishers, making more and better books is still a priority. That means, Raccah stressed, ensuring a customer-centric, iterative, growth-based mindset when thinking of how to publish and how to grow as a publisher. "We talk about each other as if we were stuck," she added. "We are, in fact, free."