Following a strong 2012, when sales rose 9%, to $3.3 billion, book sales in the children’s market are likely to be slightly down when the final numbers are counted in 2013. Through the first 10 months of 2013, sales in the children’s market (which includes young adult) were down 9.7%, according to the Association of American Publishers’ monthly StatShot program, which collects sales from 23 children’s publishers. Boosted by sales of the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth, sales for the final two months of last year were generally strong, but full-year sales for 2013 will likely be lower than those for 2012.

The sales performance in 2013 reflects in part the huge impact that the Hunger Games trilogy had in 2012 when the series gave a big boost to sales of children’s hardcovers and e-books. Without Hunger Games, sales of children’s hardcovers were down 14.3% in the first 10 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, while e-book sales were down 34.9%.

The popularity of Hunger Games in e-book, however, helped to make e-books more of a factor in the children’s market than they have been in the past. According to data from Nielsen Market Research, e-books accounted for 16% of all unit sales in the children’s market in the January-September period in 2012, up from 7% in the same span in 2011. For the first nine months of 2013, e-book sales accounted for 15% of all children’s units and while that was a slight decline from 2012, e-book sales as a percentage of all sales will likely grow again in 2014 and beyond.

The Nielsen research shows that teen readers who prefer to read e-books rose to 21% in the fall of 2013 compared to 19% in the fall of 2012. While most teens said they still would rather read print books, the increased interest in e-books, combined with the fact that more than 40% of teens already own or plan to buy an iPad, Kindle Fire, iPad Mini, iPhone, or iTouch, suggests that children’s e-book sales are certain to steadily rise.

The increase in e-book sales has a direct impact on where children’s books are bought. As Hunger Games e-books sales surged in 2012 the percentage of books bought from online retailers and through apps rose to 28% in the first nine months of 2012, compared to 23% in the same period in 2011, while sales through physical retailers fell to 63% from 68%. With the decline in e-book sales in 2013, in the first nine months of 2013 online and app outlets dipped to 27% of units bought, while physical retailers share also fell by one percentage point to 62%.

Despite the important inroads made by e-books, the Nielsen numbers show that the majority of children’s books bought are still print books and are still acquired through physical stores. Breaking the numbers down further, Nielsen shows that Barnes & Noble was the most important outlet for children’s book purchases in the first nine months of 2013, accounting for 23% of units sold. Amazon was a close second, accounting for 20% of units. No other single outlet accounted for more than 7% of sales, a slice of the market held by Walmart.


Excluding the catchall “other fiction” category, young adult and picture books are the two largest segments within the children’s market. The Nielsen data shows that in the first nine months of 2013, young adult accounted for 18% of children’s unit purchases, down from 21% in the same period in 2012, while the market share of picture books rose one percentage point to 15%. Series/chapter books, nonfiction, and coloring books rounded out the top five favorite categories.

The popularity of the young adult category is driven largely by adult book buyers. Readers 18 and older accounted for 79% of young adult unit purchases in the December 2012 through November 2013 period, according to Nielsen. The single largest demographic group buying young adult titles in the period was the 18- to 29-year-old age bracket. And even as book buyers age, they still tend to buy most young adult books for themselves rather than for a child or grandchild.

A deeper dive by Nielsen into what teens like to read puts adventure at the top of the list with 48% of teen readers interested in that genre. Fantasy and science fiction ran two-three in popularity. Books made into movies was another popular category and the importance of movies to teen book-buying habits cannot be overstated. Teens reported that among the most important factors that made them aware of particular titles involved either seeing a movie based on a book or having seen a book trailer at a movie theater.

E-book Market Share by Category

2009 - 2012 (units)

Which Format Do Teens Prefer?

Device Ownership & Interest

Trends In How Books are Purchased


Shifts In Where Children's Books are Bought

(excluding YA)

Most Popular Children's Categories

Other Juvenile Fiction 22% 34% 26%
Young Adult 20 21 18
Picture/Story 19 14 15
Series/Chapter Books 9 6 7
Nonfiction 5 4 6
Coloring Books 4 3 5
Beginning/Early Reader 5 4 4
Bible Prayer 2 2 3
Other Juvenile 4 3 3
Activity Book 2 1 2
Leveled Reader 2 1 2
Workbook 2 1 2
Reusable Sticker Book 1 1 1
Sound 1 1 1
Novelty 1 1 1
Crafts/Hobbies 1 1 1
Puzzle Book 1 1 1
Interactive-Electronic 1 0 1
Reference 1 1 1

Age of YA Book Buyers (units)

Most Popular Teen Genres

Trends In Where Children’s Books are Bought