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80% of YA titles purchased by adults for themselves

19 January 2015

Nielsen Children's Book Summit has presented a very encouraging picture of what's going on in the children's book world. Children's sales have been rising steadily and, as previously noted, the sales of children's books in the UK market recently exceeded sales of Adult Fiction. Middle grade and YA Fiction has been doing particularly well.

Children and young people are also showing an overwhelming preference for print over digital, which is perhaps surprising when you think how much time they spend on their phones. Tablet use is rising rapidly, a pointer for the future.

Rey Junco, a psychologist and social media researcher, told the summit that no study had yet shown that online activity detracts from social contact, and studies have shown that young people's use of Facebook actually "strengthens bonds," and their online interactions lead to increased engagement within their social networks offline.

In short, it's all booming and we'd all be happy if adult books were doing as well. Perhaps in a way they are though.

One significant figure reported on by Jonathan Nowell, CEO of Nielsen, does not seem to have been discussed more widely at the summit: an astounding 80% of YA titles are purchased by adults for themselves. Since a number of high-profile YA fiction series make up a large part of the volume of children's books sold, perhaps what we're seeing is more a matter of mis-classification rather than a boom in children's publishing.

So what makes these books YA, as opposed to Adult, Fiction? To say that they're written for teenagers is not very helpful when so many adults are reading them. Presumably what's attractive to both adults and young adults are the fast-moving plots, the fact that the books are published in series and have continuing characters and plot-lines, the handsome protagonists and the relatively undemanding writing. Perhaps it's really just the appeal of strong genre story-telling?

Whatever it is, to describe these YA books as part of children's publishing seems misleading when they're mostly being read by adults. But what are the consequences of this, if any? Does it matter, except to marketeers? Teenagers are thought to dislike being categorised as 'YA', but adults seem to have no problem reading books catergorised as for Young Adults.