For children’s and YA titles, sales through May 2022 were up 17% from the 2019 pre-pandemic baseline, according to Brenna Connor, head of industry insights at NPD Group. For a talk at the recent Children’s Institute titled “Understanding Children’s Book Market Trends,” Connor reviewed BookScan’s analyzes and put the data points into perspective. Rebuilding the kids’ first list market is challenging, Connor said (“since 2020, there are young kids who haven’t even been to a physical bookstore”), but “the outlook for this area remains positive because many parents continue to worry that their children have fallen behind in class, and she projects a “strong need through 2023” for child and YA rates.
Across the industry, comics and graphic novels lead the way in earnings, with manga and children’s comics appearing on overall bestseller lists. From the beginning of the year until May 28, Dav Pilkey’s Cat Kid Comic Club: On Purpose was the #10 best-selling title overall on BookScan, Connor said, after Pilkey’s Dog Man: Mothering Heightsfirst overall title of 2021 in the entire book market. It’s not all Pilkey and Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid. Connor confirmed that the How to Catch picture book series by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton is in high demand, as are the graphic novel editions of The Baby-Sitters Club titles, with their TV tie-in. Connor rated Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series, eliciting a puzzled collective groan from an audience all too familiar with the dragon series. The Official Wings of Fire Coloring Bookreleased in April, is getting a lot of love from Sutherland fans.
Connor led his presentation with a discussion of general trends across the book market as a whole, explaining that since the start of 2022, “adult fiction is the only supercategory that has recorded year-over-year gains. on the other”. Adult nonfiction, which Connor called the “largest and most valuable supercategory,” is down 13%. “It is interesting to note that travel is the only category [within adult nonfiction] showing year-on-year gains,” said Connor, who added that people are buying books about European destinations, likely due to a correlation between Covid vaccination rates in some countries and a decrease in pandemic restrictions.
Even though the high-end market is down about 7% in 2022, that’s from the surprising peaks of 2020 and 2021, “one more year on one more year,” Connor said. In May 2022, “unit sales were up 15% from the 2019 baseline. A typical good year is up 3% and a stellar year is up 5%. More than 8% is historic.
In 2021, the industry crossed the threshold of 800 million print book sales for the first time in BookScan’s history. (Connor’s data showed print book sales at 687 million in 2017, 703 million in 2018, and 701 million in 2019. They hit 757 million in 2020 and 827 million in 2021.)
Connor looked at BookScan’s numbers by age group, showing that sales have declined in 2022 but are nonetheless robust. In May 2022, Young Readers (ages 4-8) accounted for 43% of sales this year, down 6%. Intermediate readers (ages 9-12) account for 30% of sales, down 11%, and rely on series like Baby-Sitters Club and Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys books. Teens (ages 13-22) account for 14% of sales so far this year, down 8%. Connor highlighted Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone books (bolstered by Netflix’s release of shadow and bone), the Heartstopper books by Alice Oseman (which have also been adapted for Netflix), and The Inheritance Games trilogy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Books for babies up to 3 years old, such as You are my little hug and I love you like no otter, represent 9% of the sales market, down 5% since the start of the year. (According to Connor, “Sales of children’s digital audio were down 15% from 2020, but up 12% from the 2019 pre-pandemic baseline.”)
“Series account for two out of three children’s books sold,” Connor said, even though “series as a whole are down 6%.” She pointed to the My Little Golden Book About series, which features the biographies of icons Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Betty White and Dolly Parton. More than 4,000 kids’ shows in BookScan’s data show year-over-year gains, and Connor sees “more opportunity to sell kids’ shows” in the months ahead. Additionally, licensed books account for one in four children’s books sold in the United States; Connor cited Bluey, Spider-Man, Little Blue Truck, Encanto, CoComelon, and Harry Potter as the best examples. “It’s no longer about major movie events driving licensed sales in the children’s book market,” Connor said. “Now it has released streaming licenses that compete directly with major players like Disney.”
BookScan also tracks sales by season, and Connor pointed to evidence of early holiday purchases in 2020 and 2021. Day, Easter, Halloween and Hanukkah/Christmas (or whatever a regional audience celebrates). Between 2019 and 2021, year-over-year sales in October doubled, indicating that even the procrastinators among us are pre-buying gifts.
The BookTok Bump and other trends
Word of mouth in particular drives YA sales. From 8 million units sold in 2018, 7 million in 2019 and 7 million in 2020, YA sales jumped to 12 million units sold in 2021 and 11 million already in 2022. Connor credits peer-to-peer discovery: “YA fiction accounted for 40% of BookTok sales in 2021,” she told the audience. “BookTok’s author sales reached 20 million units in 2021 and grew six times faster than what we’ve seen in the rest of the adult fiction market.” BookTok authors have seen their sales jump by more than 50% compared to the same period last year, “showing how much this social network format resonates with young readers”.
In YA, growth topics all land in the fiction category, dominated by Oseman, Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder trilogy, and Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s video game ties. Sci-fi and fantasy account for 20% of YA sales, LGBTQ+ titles are “all in place” and “JA trauma-informed” titles like Kathleen Glasgow’s 2016 novel Girl in pieces benefit from BookTok’s attention, Connor said. (BookTok drives backlist, as a Ci10 panel also recognized.)
Among children’s books in general, people buy fiction titles about emotions and prejudices, and non-fiction titles in the biography and diversity categories. In Connor’s data, the “diversity and multicultural” children’s non-fiction category grew 993% from 2020 to 2021 and 861% from 2021 to 2022. “These areas are smaller in terms of volume, which is why we have that triple-digit posted there,” Connor said. The numbers suggest the titles available are getting significant notice.
Even though 2022 sales are unlikely to match those of 2021, Connor said: “We are optimistic for stores in 2022 as customers return to browse and retailers have learned to serve customers in both physical and online communities. . If the biggest markets – New York, Los Angeles, Chicago – are underperforming in 2019 and subject to the so-called great migration to more affordable places, NPD sees potential for booksellers in mid-sized markets like Phoenix. , Fresno-Visalia, Calif., Tampa -St. Petersburg and Portland, Maine. As “the book ecosystem rebalances,” Connor said, bookstores have the potential to be a “place of discovery for new children’s authors.”