You’ve surely seen them: growing numbers of board books in the children’s sections of your favorite bookstore. For the fifth year in a row, NPD reports a year-over-year increase in children’s board book sales, and data for 2019 shows they are on track to surpass last year’s numbers once again. Although the last decade saw the closing of many standalone bookstores, more retailers are stocking children’s books than ever, and board books, with their small size and lower price points, offer a unique opportunity for consumers and retailers alike.
Target, for instance, with its recent multi-million dollar store redesigns, has increased its dedicated shelf space for children’s books. Strolling the shelves, you’ll find them packed with many smaller formats, including board books.
Barnes & Noble, too, has noted the increased interest in board books over the past few years, “especially for nonfiction board books,” according to Stephanie Fryling, v-p of children’s books merchandising. Titles such as Hello, World! Solar System, Women Who Changed the World, and ABCs of Biology are all in our top 100 sales rank for last year and are contributing to our growth in total board books. There’s also continued interest in perennial favorites such as Goodnight Moon, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and trending topics such as fantastical creatures, including unicorns and dragons, mindfulness and yoga, and innovative ways to introduce touch and feel elements to board books.”
Indie bookstores have experienced the trend as well. Cynthia Compton, owner of 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind., has watched the rise in board book sales and plans to expand that section of her store for the second year running. She says, “As I watch adult customers browse in board books, there is less ‘risk’ in the purchase of these titles as gifts. They are short, can be perused easily, and the lower price point allows customers to group items to just the amount they want to spend,” giving customers a lot of flexibility. She also finds that board books are being purchased for a wider age span. “We see parents of toddlers and preschoolers selecting board books over picture books for durability.”
At The Wild Rumpus children’s bookstore in St. Paul, Minn., manager Drew Sieplinga has watched the store transform. “Board books have grown to become one of our top-selling sections in the store. When I started [here] more than 10 years ago, board books only took up around four or five small shelves. We’ve had to expand the section several times since then, and *it now occupies around five times the space.” And bigger sections mean bigger contributions to the bottom line.
Retailers and consumers aren’t the only ones enjoying a board book boom. Printers have had to adapt as well. Philip Kean, assistant general manager at China’s Starlite Printing, a major supplier for the U.S. children’s book market, reported that the company recently expanded production capacity in its factory by adding an automatic board book machine. “We’re adjusting our production capabilities to cater to the increased demand in board books,” Kean said.
All of this is good news for publishing: publishers are shipping more board books to stores; retailers are expanding sections and offering more titles to customers; and shoppers get a wider selection of durable little books at low price points. NPD’s data confirms that board books aren’t slowing down, so we’re likely to see even more titles on shelves in the coming months.