Forget Your Preconceptions About Teenagers and Reading

In Feature Articles by Erin L. Cox

Children's Book Summit

The children’s book market has grown 44% in the last decade. Why? Because, as Nielsen’s Children’s Book Summit detailed, kids and teens still read…a lot.

By Erin L. Cox

Last Friday, Nielsen hosted the first annual Children’s Book Summit at the McGraw-Hill Building in New York City, co-chaired by Kristen McLean, editor of Nielsen’s Books & Consumers Children’s research and founder and CEO of Bookigee, and Jonathan Stolper, SVP Nielsen Books America. The focus of the conference was to delve deeply into Nielsen’s body of research in publishing, gaming, and film to dispel popular myths about kids and reading, provide publishers information about their audience that might surprise them, and offer opportunities upon which to act.

In 2014, children and teenagers are reading in record numbers and are often driving the buying of books by influencing their parents and peers. The children’s book market has grown 44% in the last 10 years, while adult publishing had its peak in 2008 and is in decline. International children’s publishing is still the largest sector of content creation at $151 billion (surpassing gaming, which is at $133 billion). And reading is still the #1 leisure activity for children 2-10. It’s at 11-13 that is starts to dip, being beaten out by television and games, and at 14-17 pleasure reading loses ground entirely.

Half of teens still prefer print over ebooks.

In the media, teenagers are often depicted as spending all of their time gaming, on social media, and watching streaming video, but never reading. Keynote speaker Rey Junco, Associate Professor and a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, studies how youth use social media and had some heartening things to share to dispel that image: not only do 67% of teens read for pleasure, 50% of them also still prefer print books over ebooks. And, while we think that kids on their phones checking Facebook or tweeting means that they don’t know how to interact with each other or that it is taking away from their academic pursuits or that they are just playing games, Junco’s research actually proves the opposite. Online interactions build social capital by giving kids the opportunity to learn more about their peers and help strengthen the intimacy of those relationships and, academically, allow students to have more engagement in their subjects. Unlike adults, teens interact with technology in a very different way, so Junco warned the audience against believing those myths.

Selfie from the stage at Nielsen Children's Book Summit  c/o @reyjunko

Selfie from the stage at Nielsen Children’s Book Summit
c/o @reyjunko

Teens Who Play Video Games Also Read

Julianne Schiffer, SVP Insights and Analytics, Nielsen Entertainment and Nicole Pike, Director, Clienting Consulting, Nielsen Games shed even more light on the look at teen reading versus other leisure activities. What the research showed was that, yes, teens only spend 5% of their leisure time reading for pleasure (with watching TV receiving the largest portion of their leisure time at 19%), but book-buying teens are the ones most likely to own gaming consoles and technology like tablets and ereaders. And, with 44% of teens saying they need to disconnect from the internet or take a break, this might help explain their preference for print books. So, while gaming is popular and social media consumes some of their time, it doesn’t mean teens aren’t reading. What is more likely is that they have to read more for school, thus they might need a break from reading during leisure time.

Hearing Directly from Readers

While some of this is data analysis, McLean wanted the audience to hear from the readers themselves. Stephanie Retblatt at Smarty Pants, a full-service market research firm that helps clients understand and connect with youth and families, set up and moderated two panels—the first featuring parents and young children, the second by teens alone—that expanded on the day’s discussion with real-time answers to both the questions from Stephanie and those from the audience. While some of the answers weren’t exactly what the audience wanted to hear, the publishers found the connection to their readers valuable.

On the “In Their Own Words: Live Teen Focus Panel,” the teens, who weren’t in the room when the data was being discussed, illustrated many of the points already discussed in the research—they preferred print, they had to read a lot for school, they influenced their peers. What the teen panel also shared were the number of ways to reach these teen readers for book discovery—Instagram (book covers), YouTube (book trailers), Facebook (ads), and Tumblr (photos of book covers and highlighted passages). And, much like adults, teens are inclined to read books they get for free.

The conference was a day full of data that McLean advised the audience to just let “wash over” them rather than trying to write down every statistic, so for further information, please check out the 2014 Nielsen Children’s Book Industry Report. For information on that report, please contact Jonathan Stolper at

About the Author

Erin L. Cox

Erin L. Cox has worked as Business Development Director for Publishing Perspectives. She is a Senior Associate at Rob Weisbach Creative Management, where she represents writers and handles publicity and advertising clients.