Consumer Shifts for Children’s Books
E-books are changing buying habits, but print still has a prominent place
As e-books claim a growing portion of the overall sales of children’s books, the higher penetration of the format in the market is also affecting the way children’s books are discovered and bought. According to the most recent results from Bowker Market Research’s “Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age” study, bookstores and libraries have lost some of their importance as a place where children and their parents learn about books as well as buy or borrow them. But children and teens still like books. Despite the many digital distractions (Facebook, YouTube, etc.), 40% of girls and 29% of boys reported that they read books for fun “very often.”
For children age six and under, 28% of parents in fall 2012 said they got their books from the library, down from 34% in fall 2011, while Barnes & Noble lost even more share, as 15% said they bought books at the chain last fall for the six-and-under age group, compared to 23% in the prior year. Picking up a bit of share was Amazon, where 29% of consumers bought a book in fall 2012, up from 26% a year earlier.
For children ages seven to 12, the trends were similar, with both libraries and B&N losing share between fall 2011 and 2012. Amazon’s share of book buying for that age group fell by two percentage points, but it still increased its importance as a place for consumers to buy books for seven- to 12-year-olds. Thirty-five percent of consumers who buy books for seven-to 12-year-olds reported that they now buy more books at Amazon and fewer from a bookstores compared to three years ago, while 26% said they continue to buy books at a physical bookstore. Another 26% said they buy fewer books overall.
As consumers get fewer books from libraries and bookstores, those locations also have lost their standing as a source of book recommendations. For the six-and-under age bracket, bookstores as a source of recommendation fell to 20% in fall 2012, from 24% a year earlier, and declined from 13% to 8% for libraries over the same period; “friends” picked up the slack, accounting for 30% of recommendations in fall 2012, compared to 26% a year earlier. For the seven–12 age bracket, bookstores as a source of recommendations fell to 17% from 28%, while friends as a recommendation source held steady in the fall 2011–2012 period at 26%.
Even as e-books have a greater impact on the children’s market, there is still a strong attachment to print books. The study found that 37% of parents of children seven–12 believe their kids strongly prefer print books, the same percentage as in fall 2011. Parents of children in that age group also reported a slight decline in the percentage of their kids who prefer e-books, with that rate falling from 22% to 19%.
In looking at the teen market, more than 41% of teens bought books from Amazon in fall 2012, a six-percentage-point increase over fall 2011, while the percentage of teens who got books from the library fell by four points in the year, and dropped three points at B&N. In that same time span, the percentage of teens who read e-books rose from 22% to 29%, though adoption rates among teens were flat between the spring and fall of 2012. The increase in e-book reading is being driven by higher teen ownership of iPhones and smartphones as well as gains in iPad ownership. Looking ahead, the study, which was conducted in November, shows a slight shift in the number of teens who said that they will be reading more e-books in the future, with 10% saying e-books will be their primary book format, up from 8% in fall 2011, while the percentage of teens who said print will be their primary format dipped to 57% from 61%.
So, what does this tell those of us who write for kids? I think it tells us that kids want to read, but we have to provide them content that can compete for their attention with other digital media, and that, at least for now, ebooks are still growing despite kids wanting to be able to feel a print book in their hands. It tells us, too, that word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool, something that I will continue to increase as social media outlets become a place where kids can discuss and recommend books. While I don’t see Goodreads becoming the rage of the k-5th group, I do think it is a promising source for middle school and teen readers. The question that worries me the most is, are brick and mortar stores becoming an endangered species?