This Week’s Nielsen’s Children’s Book Summit: Research Over Guesswork

Image - iStockphoto: IPGGutenbergUKLtd
Image – iStockphoto: IPGGutenbergUKLtd

When Your Reader Is Not Your Customer

Most kids aren’t choosing and buying their own books. Parents are the ones at the cash register, right? Of course right. But think about the marketing challenge: are you trying to reach the kid? Or the parent? Don’t be too quick to think you know the answer.

As publishing industry specialists gather on Wednesday (16th September) in New York City for The Nielsen’s Children’s Book Summit, the room will be focused on one of the most complex and yet upbeat stories in contemporary publishing.

It’s upbeat because while much of trade publishing has been sorely tested in recent years by the impact of the digital dynamic, a questionable environment for bookstores, and historically unprecedented competition from the fast rise of electronic media, the children’s sector has stood out as a bright spot of comparatively strong sales.

Jonty Nowell
Jonathan Nowell

Important note for those not in publishing: “children’s” includes YA, the somtimes intensely lucrative young-adult category of the industry’s output. YA is the classification home to such multi-platform blockbusters as the Twilight and Hunger Games material, as well as the Divergent series and The Fault in Our Stars. This puts a lot of wind at the back of a large sector of the industry that clearly isn’t all picture books for tots. This, despite the fact that even these market-making mega hits aren’t always easy fits for the sector: the NA (“New Adult”) category of less restricted content is an unsettled but frequently mentioned adjacent classification.

Granted, the contours of entertainment represented by some of these major hits is relatively well understood. Vampire love, dystopian sacrifice, and attractive suffering are long-honored contexts. By comparison, trying to spot a hit in the vagaries of literary fiction can seem monstrously daunting, with no standing audience of fans, no set age group, no genre definition, no sure themes, no reliable tone or worldview.

And yet life is not simple in the children’s sector of literature, either. It has a wealth of challenging factors that only become apparent as you watch practitioners grapple with them.

Jonathan Stolper
Jonathan Stolper

To show you what I mean, let me share with you some of the titles of reports and panel events coming up Wednesday at Nielsen’s conference, under the direction of co-chairs Kristin McLean, Nielsen Book’s Director of New Business Development, and Jonathan Stolper, Senior Vice President and Global Managing Director.

All Customers Are Not Created Equal: Meet Your Highest Value Consumers

They don’t know they’re “highest value customers”? Right. And what this title tells you is encapsulated in the blurb about a new report from Nielsen:

Until now, the children’s book industry has understood the basic factors about where and how children’s books are being bought and consumed, but we have never had a clear understanding of which segments of our market are the most valuable in terms of both wallet and mindshare. Now, for the first time, Nielsen Book rolls out the results of its first-ever segmentation study of the children’s book market. Starting from “why” certain consumers buy children’s books, and focusing on patterns of influence, spending, and likely triggers to buy, this study will shed light on which of our customers we should be focusing on for maximum impact.

Kristen McLean
Kristen McLean

Go back to the point we started with: most readers of children’s books aren’t the ones buying them.

Whether a kid’s book is bought by a parent, a grandparent, another relation, a friend, a school or a reading program, the reader is not the customer until you get into the teen years.  So part of what this session will seek to do—in a presentation by the always-terrific London-based Jo Henry—is try to parse what’s driving the real buyers to select what they buy and under what circumstances.

Here’s another:

Who Are the Adult Crossover Readers of Young Adult Books?

The bombshell statistic of the year in the US children’s books industry turned up in January when Jonathan Nowell, the affable outgoing Nielsen Book president, spoke at the Children’s Launch program in New York at Digital Book World: Eighty percent, he announced—yes, 80%—of YA titles, are bought by adults, not young adults, according to Nielsen research. And those buyers are buying those books to read, themselves.

Jo Henry
Jo Henry

This puts industry operatives, of course, in a difficult position: what, in fact, does the YA designation mean if 80 percent of its titles aren’t being read by young-adult readers?

Nielsen’s canny approach to this quandary is to haul these readers in.

A “live focus panel, as it’s termed by McLean and Stolper, has been assembled to speak with Stephanie Retblatt of Smarty Pants Research before the conference assembly, and talk through just who they are and what they’re getting from YA literature.

Here is how the conference describes that session:

We focus on the elusive but influential adult consumers that make up nearly 80% of the buying audience for young adult books. The discussion will explore why these readers like young adult books, how they find out about the books they read, what role media and word of mouth play in their choices and what they’d like to see more of in the coming seasons.

When Your Customer Had No Plan To Buy

From Nielsen Insights, a look at impulse buying in children's books.
From Nielsen Insights, a look at impulse buying in children’s books.

Another of the broader issues the children’s book industry grapples with is a widespread report from surveyed buyers—usually parents in this case—that their purchases of children’s books for their kids are impromptu.

In a section of its Spring/Summer 2015 Children’s Deep Dive survey broken out in late August for the media, Nielsen’s staffers wrote:

Last year, US consumers bought 226 million children’s print books, with moms leading the charge to the register. According to Nielsen BookScan, the 2014 sales represent a 13% increase from 2013. And despite growing e-commerce options, consumers purchased half of the year’s books at physical stores. Over one-third of purchasers bought multiple books a month, and new research shows that very few actually planned their purchases. What does that mean? Kids’ books seem to fall squarely into the impulse purchase category.

If children’s book buys are being made on impulse, then trying to market to those consumer-parents is incredibly difficult. How do you target such an unfocused customer base?

Read more

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether:  This Week’s Nielsen’s Children’s Book Summit: Research Over Guesswork

Originally published by Thought Catalog at




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