For a number of booksellers summer 2013 has been one of the best. “We’re having an awesome year. We’re projecting we will be up pretty significantly,” said John Cavalier, co-owner of Cavalier House Books in Denham Springs, La. His store not only benefited from strong sales for summer reading titles, but also from a program for younger children, which coupled the store’s summer story-time series with a party every other week. “It did really well for us and got us a lot of attention,” he said. Cavalier’s isn’t the only bookstore where the children’s category continues to be strong and helped raise store sales overall, with standout numbers in particular for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. “I can’t tell you how many we’ve sold,” said Cavalier. “We’re still ordering them 40 at a time.” Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., where children’s books accounts for 16% of total new book sales, attributes the strength of YA, after the Hunger Games, in large part to John Green.
According to PW’s informal post-Labor Day survey of summer sales, even without the Hunger Games trilogy, most independent bookstores with strong children’s sections are doing fine. They’re at least even with last year, and newer stores like year-and-a-half-old Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tenn., are up in the double digits, 27% year to date. “Children’s brings parents in, who buy adult books along with kids’ books. It gives the store a lot of life,” said Parnassus co-owner Karen Hayes. Even stores that were down, like 12-year-old Turning Pages Books & More in Natchez, Miss., which was off by 14% this summer, helped stemmed their losses with kids books. “I don’t know what we would do without children’s book sales,” said co-owner Mary Emrick. “The section is our best.”
Eleven-year-old 4 Kids Books & Toys in Zionsville, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis, is cautiously optimistic that it will beat its figures from last year, especially given that it was up 17% this summer and so far has been having its best year yet, according to owner Cynthia Compton. The store hosted many more activities and events during the summer months, and it emphasized its summer reading program. As a result, said Compton, “daily traffic was up, and there were more purchases.” Of course, books like Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More (Viking) and the first two volumes in Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy (HarperCollins/Tegen) also helped, as did Joelle Charboneau’s The Testing (Houghton), the first book in the mystery writer’s inaugural YA series. Going forward Compton anticipates a positive impact from Indianapolis’s decision to go with year-round school. Up to now the long summer break has meant a drop in August sales, because people spent money on school supplies and clothing rather than books.
“It’s been a strong summer,” said Ellen Scott, children’s department manager at The Bookworm in Omaha, Neb. June through August sales were up 8%, according to co-owner Phillip Black, who added that 2013 is on track to exceed 2012 by a “comfortable margin.” The store partnered with a local theater company for dramatic readings of stories on Saturday mornings and invited kids to attend Friday evening story-times in their pajamas. It also separated out its YA section for younger readers, ages 12–14, which are shelved in the children’s section; its older YA titles are next to adult fiction.
Decatur, Ga.’s Little Shop of Stories is also on track for its best year yet. Year to date sales were up by more than 15%, although the summer is typically a quieter time with many families leaving for extended summer vacations. Owner Diana Capriola attributes part of this year’s success to the store’s summer reading program, begun several years ago. For every 10 hours a child reads, she or he gets a coupon for a treat at another independent business. The store’s summer camps – on the Magic Tree House, comics, and American Girl, among others – have also been effective at driving sales and generating good will.
At Little Shop of Stories picture books are “always hot,” said Capriola. “It’s the first thing you see when you enter the store, and we are quite passionate about their importance in the lives of young readers and their families.” Drew Daywalt’s debut The Day the Crayons Quit (Philomel), illustrated by Oliver Jeffers, which was singled out by many booksellers, was a new favorite with customers. “We couldn’t keep this book on the shelves,” she said. Cassandra Clare’s YA series The Mortal Instruments has also done particularly well thanks to the release of the movie version of volume one, City of Bones.
Bruce DeLaney at Rediscovered Books in Boise, Idaho, whose sales have risen every year since the store was founded eight years ago and were up 8% this summer, said that his store has done especially well with teen books by John Green; Ally Condie, who appeared in the store’s author series for her Matched books (Dutton) last month; and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (St. Martin’s Griffin). Over the years DeLaney’s store, which sells some used books, has become almost evenly split in terms of adult and children’s sales. “An adult will showroom you,” he said. “But they will not do that if their child has a lovely picture book in their hand.” His 15-year-old daughter, who often works at the store on Saturdays, is good at making recommendations. Plus every person on staff has to read children’s books.
For some booksellers, while children’s is definitely a bright spot, YA, because of its appeal to both adults and teens, shines even more brightly. “YA sales are great to excellent. We’ve done a lot of author panels and group readings that continue to complement and increases sales,” said Lauren Harr, sidelines buyer and bookseller at Malaprop’s Books in Asheville, N.C. Two of the books that stood out this summer are Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave (Putnam) and Sarah Dessen’s The Moon and More.
At Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., where many customers go away for the summer, sales were up very slightly, according to owner Margot Sage-El. One trend she’s noticed is that people are still picking up books before they go on vacation. “Not like we did five or six years ago,” she said. “But better than three years ago.” At Watchung, John Green was especially popular, as was R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Knopf). A lot of teens are also discovering Stephen King and Harry Potter for the first time there.
Several booksellers commented on the continued impact of YA titles for adults. At Parnassus, most of the members of the YA book club are adults. “I have friends who are schoolteachers, and they really love reading well-written young adult books,” said Hayes. Cavalier thought that part of the popularity might be due to price, pointing out that YA hardcovers are typically cheaper than adult hardcovers. 4 Kids Books & Toys’ Compton noted that more parents are reading YA along with their kids. “Any reluctance of adults to purchase YA has disappeared,” she said. “If there was a stigma, it’s been removed.”
That’s not to say that middle grade isn’t a large and growing area in many stores. Compton compares the increases in MG sales to those in the store overall. She is especially pleased, because she regards many middle graders as too overscheduled to have time to read for pleasure. Plus, she noted that kids are being pressured to read up. “The time from board books to YA is getting shorter,” she said. Little Shop of Stories’s owner Capriola agrees. “We are seeing more and more kids who are done with middle grade, but not yet ready for YA. That is always a tricky handsell, especially with preteen girls.”
Still, at Warwick’s in La Jolla, Calif., MG is bigger than YA, and overall kids is “huge,” said book buyer/manager Adrian Newell. Further up the coast at Powell’s, MG has been holding its own with standout titles from Rick Riordan, as well as the Wimpy Kid books and Dork Diaries. Portland author Colin Meloy’s the Wildwood Chronicles are also especially strong, according to spokesperson Michal Drannen.
Nonfiction has also been taking off this summer, in large part because of Common Core. “We’re pushing it hard, too,” said Compton. At The Bookworm, one nonfiction title that’s particularly strong is Laura Overdeck and Jim Paillot’s Bedtime Math (Feiwel and Friends). “I didn’t have a clue that it would be so big,” said department manager Scott. “It’s been really interesting to see it selling so well.”
So just how accurate a predictor of holiday sales is the summer season? Many booksellers are optimistic. At Linden Tree in Los Altos, Calif., back-to-school sales were going like “gangbusters” and Halloween sales have already started “in a big way,” according to co-owner Dianne Edmonds. But for some stores that had record years when Borders closed, “it’s difficult to overcome that huge burst we had in 2011,” said Bill Cusumano, buyer at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor, Mich. He also expressed concern about this year’s shorter holiday season, only 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And then there’s the question of Hanukkah, which starts at sundown on the night before Thanksgiving. Together those factors could make it difficult for booksellers, no matter how strong their summer was, to beat 2012 figures. Still, many are optimistic that they can do just that.