Nielsen's #KidsBookSummit: Nobody Said YA Books Aren’t For Teens

Image - iStockphoto: Diego Cervo
Image – iStockphoto: Diego Cervo

When The Medium’s Message Gets Rough

It was an odd turnabout in the annual Nielsen Children’s Conference. Led by Kristen McLean—among the most respected people in the business of quantifying and evaluating the young person’s reading scene—the conference was a crackling success.

Kristen McLean
Kristen McLean

Smartly produced at New York’s pristine Convene Center in Lower Manhattan on a bright early-autumn day, a strong contingent of analysts, researchers, and professional publishing people were barreling through quick, succinct insights into one of the few dependably healthy sectors of the bookish industry.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well, this could go wrong, and did:

I had written a walkup to the conference here at Thought Catalog, and was glad to be in place, doing live coverage throughout the sessions, as my good colleague Gayle Feldman, worked to put her report together for The Bookseller (paywall) in London.

Gayle Feldman
Gayle Feldman

Feldman was right to focus her efforts on the conference’s revelations and examination of multi-cultural factors in the children’s book marketplace.

In Nielsen Children’s Book Summit explores demographic change, in fact, she helped give real visibility to the mounting call for diversity and range in our literary landscape, especially in a US field that sees such uptake in reading among Hispanic Americans. Feldman wrote:

Courtney Jones, Nielsen vice-president for multicultural strategy, revealed that 84 percent of the “most significant” markets in the US are “multicultural-majority.”  Forty-four percent of millennials aged 20-39 are from ethnic minorities.  But what concentrated the mind was that 51 percent of “generation next” – kids under nine – also are, constituting the majority of the children’s market now. Publishers ignore that at their peril.

I want to take her first point in particular because it holds real meaning for publishing, for readers, for authors, and for our culture today.

News That Publishing Can Use

What Nielsen is seeing in the US market is an important trend, expressed by charts that Jones showed us. They’ve been shared with me by McLean for our use here at Thought Catalog. Take a good look, I’m going to give you two key slides:

From Nielsen's Children's Book Summit 2015, used by permission of Kristen McLean
From Nielsen’s Children’s Book Summit 2015, used by permission of Kristen McLean
From Nielsen's Children's Book Summit 2015, used by permission of Kristen McLean
From Nielsen’s Children’s Book Summit 2015, used by permission of Kristen McLean

What you’re seeing here dovetails with McLean’s earlier commentary suggesting that the acculturated English-speaking demographic formed by Hispanic Americans is coming to represent a very strong level of buying power, enhanced by a serious interest in buying books—usually on parental impulse—for children in the family.

In its Core Children’s Deep Dive for Summer 2015, for example, Nielsen was able to see that Hispanic families were frequently seeing books as important elements of “quality family time,” coming in neck-and-neck with a nearly-80-percent ranking, with Americans who identify themselves as white, and putting fiction/story books ahead of toys and board games, TV and DVDs, the distractions of the Internet, smartphone apps, etc. This is good news. They’re reading stories together, these families.

From Nielsen's Core Children's Deep Dive, Summer 2015, used by permission
From Nielsen’s Core Children’s Deep Dive, Summer 2015, used by permission

Obviously, the message of commercial and cultural importance of an increasingly diversity-defined readership and audience is rising sharply in the minds of the publishing world, and rightly so.

And if anything, some of us see the fascinating trend of adults reading YA, or Young Adult, literature as something related to such issues of diversity.

The "Who Are The Adult Crossover Readers Of Young Adult Books" panel at Nielsen's Children's Book Summit. Do these people look that scary to you? Image: Porter Anderson
The “Who Are The Adult Crossover Readers Of Young Adult Books?” panel at Nielsen’s Children’s Book Summit. Researcher Stephanie Retblatt is seen standing at the podium. Image: Porter Anderson

When Disconnects Happen Online

We have been fascinated by what Nielsen has reported many times now, the estimate that some 80 percent of YA sales in the States are being made not to young adults but to older adults who buy it to read, themselves (as opposed to buying it for their teen daughters and sons).

But the afternoon Twitter stream at Nielsen’s conference, if not quite interrupted, was sharply impacted by a loud round of objections from far outside the room and the event. And I’ll tell you something of how it looked to some of us at the conference first—this is my take on it, mind you—and then I’ll be able to round out some of what was going on, thanks to the good work of a librarian who’s close to some of the objections we were seeing.

Our hashtag was #KidsBookSummit and we had reached a “live focus panel”—that’s a combination of “focus group” and conference panel—in which adults who purposefully seek out YA work to read had come together to answer the questions of Smarty Pants Research chief Stephanie Retblatt about their fondness for YA.

What could be cooler? Here was a chance to hear from these readers who are out there in force, buying far beyond the Hunger Games dystopian love-‘n’-sacrifice trends and resolutely appreciating what they believe they find in this genre.

I, for one, was grateful to these readers for being willing to discuss their adamant appreciation for YA work and its authors and younger readers. This was a great panel. Its participants and Nielsen deserve our thanks and our praise.

Instead, they got:


No one in the room had suggested that authors or publishers should “think about kids as data.” And no one had shamed readers in any way. Think about it: the industry represented in that room is utterly dependent on readers for its livelihood. Shaming those readers? #cmonson

We had eight avid readers of the work right in front of us and were grateful to be able to hear why they seek out this material for themselves. It’s hard to know how the children’s author Anne Ursu could have understood it in such a different way, although, as we all know, Twitter’s brevity can certainly cause confusion.

These men and women on the panel were wonderfully forthcoming, good-natured, patient with questions and unstinting in their praise and allegiance to YA literature. And yet, on the ether, a strange “YA is for young adults!” backlash had quickly gathered, seemingly led, at least in part, by Ursu.

As an adult who has witnessed Ursu’s tantrum, I’m perfectly happy to honor her wishes and go nowhere near her work, it’s safe from my mature eyes.

But it was clear from such seemingly misguided and occasionally incoherent hostility that some of the tweeters had little idea who or what Nielsen is and could think of a publishing establishment only as dangerous, evil people…never mind that some in the room were responsible for working with some of the most famous YA books in the business, from those endless cow-eyed vampire romances, Bella, to the latest disease-of-the-week for teens.

Read more

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

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether: Nobody Said YA Books Aren’t For Teens: Panel and Pushback At Nielsen’s Fine #KidsBookSummit

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



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