Spending on children's books rose 10%, to an estimated $840 million, while the number of books purchased declined by 6%, to 188 million, according to figures released by the market research firm Ipsos BookTrends. Spending rose in part because of the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, as well as the increasing popularity of other higher-priced items, such as books with sound pads and interactive books, said BookTrends chief analyst Barrie Rappaport.

BookTrends also revealed a troubling decrease in the number of consumers buying books. During the first half of 2003, 22% of American households purchased at least one book for someone under the age of 14, down from 24% during the comparable period last year. Rappaport said publishers should focus on improving their marketing and merchandising to encourage consumers to buy more books, rather than relying on higher per-book spending to drive sales growth.

Perhaps reflecting consumers' appetite for pricier books, stores known for less expensive items lost market share during the first six months of 2003. The percentage of books purchased at mass merchandisers fell from 14.1% in the first half of 2002 to 11.7% during the comparable period this year. Dollar stores saw their market share fall from 15.4% to 7.9%. Bookstores gained ground, selling 19.8% of the books purchased, up from 16.3% in 2002. The book clubs/ fairs/mail channel also gained market share, selling 29.8% of the books, compared with 26%.

As is typically the case when looking at statistics from any two book industry sources, the figures released by BookTrends vary significantly from those compiled by the Association of American Publishers. But, like BookTrends, the AAP shows a robust market for the more expensive children's books in the first half of 2003. Children's hardcover sales rose by 67%, while children's paperback sales were flat, according to the AAP. BookTrends figures are based on purchasing diaries kept by consumers, while AAP figures represent sales reported by publishers.