The Day The Book Publisher Died...

by M. David Peterson

... and went to Book Publisher Sales Heaven!

Teens buying books at fastest rate in decades

Like a lot of teens, Leslie Cornaby has a crowded schedule -- her days crammed with homework, hobbies and an array of techno diversions. When she's not checking e-mail, she's cruising YouTube or scrolling her iPod to tunes by Pink or Christina Aguilera.

She's also reading -- just for the glorious fun of it -- and says, "Most of my friends are readers, too."

The Shorecrest High School sophomore may not realize it, but she's enjoying the fruits of one of the most fertile periods in the history of young adult literature.

It's a time of strong writing and strong sales as readers in the 12-to-18 age group rock the marketplace.

"Kids are buying books in quantities we've never seen before," said Booklist magazine critic Michael Cart, a leading authority on young adult literature. "And publishers are courting young adults in ways we haven't seen since the 1940s."


Wow!

Not only are teen book sales booming -- up by a quarter between 1999 and 2005, by one industry analysis -- but the quality is soaring as well. Older teens in particular are enjoying a surge of sophisticated fare as young adult literature becomes a global phenomenon.


Double *WOW*!

15 Comments

Simon Hibbs
2007-03-09 01:37:18
Harry Potter.


J. K. Rowling changed the face of children's publishing. I think her success persuaded a lot of talented writers to get into that field. It also persuaded publishers that there was a market there.


If you can persuade me that the Potter phenomenon is somehow related to blogging, then maybee...

M. David Peterson
2007-03-09 01:45:02
@Simon,


>> If you can persuade me that the Potter phenomenon is somehow related to blogging, then maybee...


Alas, I can not. ;-) That said, while I can see why the interest in reading books, and in many ways the interest in writing books is a direct result of J.K. Rowling (while I would be hard pressed to call myself a raving fan, I must admit that I do enjoy reading J.K.'s marvelous creations without a doubt!), I do wonder if both overcoming the "fear" of writing as well as the ability to gain a following of potentially interested readers can be attributed to the increase in the blogging culture, and as such, the increase in writing quality?


Thoughts?

Magnus
2007-03-09 03:43:16
I don't think blogging has created many writers (of books). But I do think blogging has created many readers.
M. David Peterson
2007-03-09 04:06:07
@Magnus,


>> I don't think blogging has created many writers (of books). But I do think blogging has created many readers.


That's actually a really good point. Thanks for pointing this out!


Extending from this, it seems that it has also developed a generation of communication amongst people from all parts of the world, and all walks of life, in which would have never been possible without the ability to publish our thoughts and feelings near instantaneously, and doing so from any computer that provides access to the web.


Interesting to think about, for sure. Thanks for spurring the process!

piers
2007-03-09 08:12:53
Sharing of information on a more global scale and at a younger age than was previously possible has certainly increased the demand/quality of teen literature... when I was a young avid reader, I read a lot of, uh, crap books, because I read whatever I could get my hands on, regardless of quality. Joining a book group or an online forum has the effect of raising the bar of quality; do teen readers form book groups? maybe not... do they have access to online forums blogs etc? More and more likely.


Perhaps, speculation here, if you are already spending an inordinate amount of time "texting" friends, you will be looking for quality and not quantity of reading?

W^L+
2007-03-09 09:52:29
It is amazing. The teen in this home has read more books *this year* than I read all of last year. He still spells like an AOL user. I'm happy to see it. And yes, we did the Harry Potter thing and the WishBone thing, but it still seemed like an ordeal for him.


For most of his friends, WishBone, GooseBumps, or Capt. Underpants came before Harry Potter, setting the stage.


Coming from a family of readers, this change (mostly over the last year or two) is very welcome.

orcmid
2007-03-09 12:19:45
That's a great question. And the commenters have already topped anything I could add. I had wondered whether literacy was in the process of disappearing. Apparently not. How grand, and how great that you told us about it.
M. David Peterson
2007-03-09 23:49:35
@piers,


>> Sharing of information on a more global scale and at a younger age than was previously possible has certainly increased the demand/quality of teen literature... when I was a young avid reader, I read a lot of, uh, crap books, because I read whatever I could get my hands on, regardless of quality. Joining a book group or an online forum has the effect of raising the bar of quality; do teen readers form book groups? maybe not... do they have access to online forums blogs etc? More and more likely. <<


Good point!


>> Perhaps, speculation here, if you are already spending an inordinate amount of time "texting" friends, you will be looking for quality and not quantity of reading?


Another good point! Given the fact that a significant portion of the web is written text (speaking from a communication with humans viewpoint, as opposed to text-based markup which would obviously be from more of a machine-based viewpoint) coupled with the fact that the computer has easily taken on a 50/50 split of the average teenagers time spent either watching tv or browsing the net, there is an obvious increase in the amount of information consumed by reading online. The more you read, the more you understand, and the greater your ability to differentiate between writing quality. In short: There is going to be an obvious increase in the level of recognizable quality and therefore expectation that this quality be maintained to a certain level.


Thoughts?

M. David Peterson
2007-03-10 00:18:44
@W^L+,


>> It is amazing.


Isn't it! This totally blew me away when I first read it (in fact, it still kind of does ;)


>> The teen in this home has read more books *this year* than I read all of last year.


WOW!


>> He still spells like an AOL user.


Yeah, well so do I, though my inability to spell is directly rooted in the fact that I have been writing code since I was eleven, though IM is most definitely having its influence now as well.


>> I'm happy to see it.


Well, if I were to guess, I doubt much that texting and IM slang actually does damage to your spelling ability, as to understand what "np" or "lol" means you have to have the ability to mentally expand it into its proper representation, so if anything its probably just making teens much more efficient with communication.


>> And yes, we did the Harry Potter thing and the WishBone thing, but it still seemed like an ordeal for him. For most of his friends, WishBone, GooseBumps, or Capt. Underpants came before Harry Potter, setting the stage.


Harry Potter definitely has an age limit to its appeal. In my previous relationship we had our son, and her two daughters from a previous marriage, the oldest of which was seven, so Capt. Underpants and GooseBumps was most definitely the foundation in which they built both their interest in, and passion for reading upon.


>> Coming from a family of readers, this change (mostly over the last year or two) is very welcome.


Most definitely agree! What amazes me, however, is the fact that (using my son as an example), like most one to two year olds (he's six now), the first books beyond bedtime stories were LeapFrog/LeapPad learning system books. You would think that the electronic feedback, and overall format of the LeapPad would have instilled in him an expectation that all books be that way from that point forward. And yet, that's obviously not the case. When it comes down to it, it seems that by their very nature (and therefore, human nature in general), as they grow older, they seem to prefer a simple printed page book over its electronic counterpart.


- Is this because they feel more in touch with the simplicity of a non-electronic book?
- Is this because they get enough electronic entertainment on the tv/computer/video-game consoles that they don't feel the need to get it from a book as well?
- Or is it (and this is the one I'm voting for) because their imaginations are more free to do just that > imagine < instead of being told that "what you should see" or "what you should think" is this, or that, or something else all together?


In short: Our very nature is to rebel against those things in which we are told we must do, or we must think, preferring to think for ourselves when given the opportunity. Could it be that our children are so overloaded by the electronic world describing to them what it is they should see or think or feel that the act of reading from a simple, printed-on-paper book is, in fact, a representation of human natures tendency to prefer to do and feel and think things on our own terms?


Not sure. But the idea has me suddenly intrigued.


Any thoughts from those of you who have training in the field of child and/or human psychology, or from those of you with children in whom may have noticed (or not noticed, for that matter) the same possible "phenomenon"?

M. David Peterson
2007-03-10 00:30:32
@orcmid,


>> That's a great question.


Thanks!


>> And the commenters have already topped anything I could add.


Oh, I have no doubt you have *PLENTY* you could add. You definitely have a way to see things from a new, interesting, and refreshing perspective, I have noticed.


>> I had wondered whether literacy was in the process of disappearing.


I thought the same before today.


>> Apparently not.


Yup!


>> How grand, and how great that you told us about it.


Well, I really just linked to the article and threw in a few "*Wow*"'s here and there, so credit must, of course, go to the original author (Cecelia Goodnow) and those in whom she quoted/cited/and so forth. But I appreciate the thanks, none-the-less. Definitely seemed like an interesting topic that has a fairly direct relation to O'Reilly Media given the industry itself, so it seemed others would find it interesting as well. Glad to hear you did! :D


Thanks to each of you thus far for your follow-up thoughts and comments! Interesting conversation we've got going on here, without a doubt!

Troy
2007-03-12 12:39:44
I would like to see these numbers...just because Teen books are going up...doesn't mean they're A) actually the ones purchasing or B) actually reading the books. I know plenty of adults who are reading the likes of Potter and Eragon...which could account for these increasing numbers.
piers
2007-03-12 14:00:21
>>> I know plenty of adults who are reading the likes of Potter and Eragon...which could account for these increasing numbers.


Indicating perhaps either a reduction in the reading level of adult readers, or an increase in the adult accessibility of pre-adult literature, or both.


One thing I've noticed about various online communities I have experienced is that I am typically unaware of the age of the people I am communicating with (though spelling and attitude can often serve as indicators, obviously). If a forum dweller recommends a book, I am more likely to follow up on their recommendation based on respect for their opinions and previous comments than because of their age.


The genre labels "adult/young adult" are as much a creation of the book-selling industry than the book-reading public.

M. David Peterson
2007-03-12 21:53:42
@Troy,


>> I would like to see these numbers...just because Teen books are going up...doesn't mean they're A) actually the ones purchasing or B) actually reading the books. I know plenty of adults who are reading the likes of Potter and Eragon...which could account for these increasing numbers.


This is a very good point. And when you consider the fact that Harry Potter, more than likely, fits into this genre, then the numbers are most definitely going to be skewed since the day the first HP title hit the streets.


Hmmmm... Wasn't that around the 1999 time frame? ;-)

M. David Peterson
2007-03-12 22:05:23
@piers,


>> Indicating perhaps either a reduction in the reading level of adult readers, or an increase in the adult accessibility of pre-adult literature, or both.


I'm voting for the second. :)


>> One thing I've noticed about various online communities I have experienced is that I am typically unaware of the age of the people I am communicating with (though spelling and attitude can often serve as indicators, obviously).


Oh, this is without a doubt. While not directly related to teens, take a look @ http://dev.aol.com/blog/mdavidpeterson/2007/07/16/qotd_scoble_on-drive-by-blog-commentors
for my take on the matter.


>> If a forum dweller recommends a book, I am more likely to follow up on their recommendation based on respect for their opinions and previous comments than because of their age.


Very true! It has become a matter of both maturity and common interest.


>> The genre labels "adult/young adult" are as much a creation of the book-selling industry than the book-reading public.


Yup! In fact, having a son of your own, you will most definitely understand what I mean that as a parent, you will discover that there are certain books that you enjoy reading to your children more so than others, developing an actual taste for story books written for "toddlers."


Okay, not a one-to-one comparison > while I might enjoy reading "Goodnight Moon" to my son, it's not exactly something I will read for pleasure on my own time. None-the-less, no doubt you understand my point.


Of course, this isn't a suggestion that we begin a campaign to end "unfair book genre segregation", but I most definitely agree with your point, without a doubt.


Thanks for the follow-up!

brittney
2007-10-09 18:08:05
so i dont care