At BEA 2016 a group of children’s publishing industry experts gathered to talk about current and upcoming trends in picture books and middle grade. Editorial Director Steve Geck of Sourcebooks moderated the panel and David Kleeman (Dubit), Andrew Medlar (Chicago Public Library), Betsy Bird (Evanston Public Library), with surprise guest Jamie Thomas (Women & Children First) provided the expert knowledge.
From left to right, Steve Geck, David Kleeman, Betsy Bird, Jamie Thomas, and Andrew Medlar.
Technology: How Kids Are Reading
Kleeman kicked off the panel with trend information from quarterly research among 1000 families in the UK and the US on the reading habits and preferences of children. His results show that 70% of children prefer to read printed books over digital, and that when children are sharing their favorite books with friends the easiest way to do that is with a printed book.
Kleeman identified five major trends they are seeing:
- Smartphone + tablet + TV = foundation of kid’s technology
- YouTube is a kid’s Google
- Connected worlds – examples include Google Cardboard, Magic Leap and virtual reality
- Gen Z communicates in emojis
Bird shared that they have seen a big increase in people obtaining library cards and many of those people are joining the library in order to have access to ebooks, but ebook sales on picture books are flat to down. Medlar pointed out that children’s behavior patterns are often picked up from their parents, so when they see a parent constantly on their phone texting or playing games, they want to do the same. There is a book out there for every person, but the reader has to find it, which is what librarians help facilitate.
For decades picture books have been a very backlist-driven business. Yearly sales have historically been roughly 75 – 80% backlist and 20 – 25% frontlist, but in recent years there has been a big shift in people purchasing new, frontlist titles. Bird felt that new printing technology has allowed for brighter, more colorful books. Geck pointed out that there has also been a tremendous shift in the way the art for picture books is put together. Most artists now work with some sort of digital art, as opposed to sticking solely with more traditional techniques like watercolor and gouache, which also allows for brighter colors and a wider variety of styles.
Medlar pointed out three trends that he sees represented by the 2016 Newbery Medalists. First, Last Stop on Market Street was an example of a picture book tackling a deeper and more complex issue. This is something that more picture books are taking on. Second, Roller Girl is a graphic novel, an area where demand continues to increase. And third, The War That Saved My Life is very much in the category of classic literature that has always had strong readership.
Thomas is also seeing a lot of stand-alone mystery titles that are expanded into series when the initial book is successful in stores.
Diversity of reading materials and characters continues to be a trend. Thomas said there has been a significant increase in the number of teachers and librarians shopping in the store looking for books that feature diversity. Bird also noted that there has been growth in nonfiction featuring obscure and unknown stories, far more than what has traditionally been published in the past.
Thomas would love to see more authors who are Muslim or biracial writing about biracial children and Muslim children, and Bird would like to see more international books translated to English.
When it comes to social media, Medlar noted that the influence really depends on “the height of the patron.” YouTube is most effective for the youngest readers, Snapchat is where many school-aged children are, and Pinterest is a great platform for reaching adults. Geck told how he saw this play out for the picture book The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. [cover image to be included] Published in the fall of 2011, sales increased dramatically over the summer of 2012 when parents and educators began recommending it on Pinterest for children feeling pressured to succeed in school. The book has enjoyed a similar sales bump every summer. Thomas said that many authors have great success with engagement when posting on Instagram.
These five major trends give both booksellers and publishers some insight not only into what kind of books young readers will be looking for, but also the ways that those readers are discovering, sharing and learning.