BookExpo Opens With Data for the Industry and a Focus on Consumers

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

As BookExpo’s conference programming looks at the new centricity of consumer data, ReedPOP hits ‘reset’ on mission priorities and approach.

Banners hang in New York City’s Jacob Javits Center’s lobby on Wednesday (May 31) as the trade show is readied to open Thursday. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Passionate Consumers and Creators’

In his opening comments Wednesday (May 31), Lance Fensterman described ReedPOP’s work as “building physical events for passionate communities”—fans.

“You guys are participating in a transition,” he said, “a change in how we look at these shows.

“We really want BookExpo to continue to be a vibrant and focused and very high-level, business-to-business platform where librarians and booksellers and rights professionals and publishers are able to gather and get business done.”

Lance Fensterman

Fensterman and ReedPOP are rebalancing the mission of BookExpo so that engagement with the public is a bigger part of the picture, “as we’re all being driven more and more toward a consumer-driven model.

“We’re trying to reinvent a 110-year-old show,” Fensterman said. “How do we continue to make it relevant in the changing environment?”

Fensterman was leading off a group of six speakers in “Consumer Centric Data: The New Currency of Publishing,” the first session of BookExpo’s conference programming. He reminded the audience that the 2006 first edition of New York Comic Con “was actually an offshoot of BookExpo,” as Reed Exhibitions looked for ways to expand its literature-related programming in the direction of audience.

That search still is underway, and the session would go on to present data from Nielsen in the UK, NPD in the States, OverDrive, BookBub, and the Audio Publishers Association.

And, as the week will reveal, even Fensterman and ReedPOP’s coming Saturday-Sunday BookCon, as Publishing Perspectives has reported, this year begins an effort to widen its own popular appeal—to adult as well as younger readers’ interests.

Nielsen: Understanding the Children’s and YA Book Consumer 2016

Nielsen Data on Children’s Trends in the UK

After Fensterman’s introductory comments on BookExpo, Nielsen’s London-based vice president for insights and analysis, Jo Henry, spoke on trends in children’s reading in the digital age, and what data is telling us about those trends.

Jo Henry

In children up to 17 years old, Henry said, tablet usage in the UK had quadrupled between 2012 and 2015, overtaking the use of PCs in 2015. But by 2016, children using smartphones had exceeded the use of games devices for the first time.

In fact, since 2014, she said, Nielsen data indicates that the use of smartphones for books, comics, and magazines has nearly doubled among kids aged 0 to 17, although such reading remains one of the least common uses of smartphones for children.

Interestingly, while listening to music is the primary activity among children up to 17, but when formats including audiobooks are included, reading (and being read to) goes to the tops of charts.

The disappointment, she said, is that since 2012, when Nielsen’s tracking in this area started, reading on a weekly basis has dropped 9 percent in the UK among children. Analog activity is receding among children in that market, digital rising. And in Q&A afterward, she confirmed something she’d mentioned at London Book Fair: in the UK, girls are seen stepping back a bit from reading, which tends to register as boys reading a bit more.

Among more concerning trends, Nielsen’s Jo Henry sees attitudes toward reading trending negative between 2012 and 2016 among children 0 to 17. Nielsen: Understanding the Children’s and YA Book Consumer 2016

NPD Data on Children’s Trends in the US

The big message in what Kristen McLean’s data from the NPD Group—which acquired much of Nielsen’s book-related unit in the States in October—is that there’s a lot more mixed-format usage going on among younger readers than many might have expected.

Kristen McLean

Rather than a hard line between digital and print, “We’re not where we feared we’d be 10 years ago” at the introduction of the Amazon Kindle and its e-reading ecosystem. In fact, she said, the children’s print book market has been growing faster than the overall market in the States from 2013 to 2016.

Parents, McLean said, still show “complex feelings” about children’s books and a preference for print.

Parents “continue to want print for their kids,” and millennials, she said, show an interesting preference for print—but a willingness to accept digital “when woven into their daily lives.”

“On one side,” she said, “we see the rise of smartphones.” And on the other side, they see “the rise of hygge”—the quasi-fad Danish concept reported on earlier this year by Publishing Perspectives here. That homelife-and-comforts trend seems to be driving analog values in the family setting, McLean said.

McLean has also been careful to track the rise of “maker”-like elements of the children’s market, especially as enabled by YouTube, where youngsters create and share projects with each other.

The NPD Group, Books & Consumers

There’s a worrisome point in the data, however, overall, in terms of what McLean is seeing, first at Nielsen and now at NPD: “In the past two years,” she said, as there hasn’t been a huge YA series or book, we see the percentage of kids’ books purchased for the under-12 group increasing and the share for kids 13 and older decreasing.”

The most dramatic shift in this, she said, is in those 18 and older, where there once was a strong trend of adults purchasing YA books for themselves at a high rate.

As the battle to keep books in the balance of developmental trends, McLean said, the challenge for the industry is to keep the ages 9-to-12 group from diminishing.

OverDrive: Library reader device preferences for times of day

OverDrive Data on Libraries and Digital

Reminding the audience that the United States has more libraries than Starbucks locations, OverDrive’s director of brand marketing and communications David Burleigh spoke to the close relationship of patrons’ digital activities in library collections and those activities impact on sales and discoverability.

David Burleigh

“At a time when digital book sales has been largely flat in retail,” Burleigh said, “we’ve seen continuing, significant sales growth in libraries and schools. The leading indicator is usage–or in library terminology, circulation–of this content.”

Since 2014, OverDrive has tracked a cumulative growth of digital usage of 16 percent, year over year. That breaks down, he said, to 12 percent for ebooks and 27 percent for audiobooks.

The sheer scale of some of OverDrive’s figures is impressive, looking at the overall digital network of library and school users:

  • Reader sessions: 678 million
  • Catalog page views: 3 billion
  • Digital checkouts: 196 million digital titles
  • Holds (unmet demand): 67 million digital titles
  • Circulation growth: Up 21 percent (ebooks up 16 percent, audiobooks up 34 percent)

In one of the most compelling charts Burleigh brought, he showed the audience how OverDrive is tracking overall circulation of digital content from 2014 at 16 percent, comprising ebooks activity at 12 percent and audiobook activity at a big 27 percent.

OverDrive: The climb tracked in library digital usage by patrons, ebooks and audiobooks

And some of the most impressive demonstrations of libraries’ impact that OverDrive has produced has to do with its the Big Library Read program, created in 2013 and now iterated 12 times. In this project, a single title is made available free to OverDrive’s libraries to offer for patron checkouts. The most recent title given this treatment is A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain (Pegasus Books, 2016).

The Big Library Read for the book ran from June 23 to July 7 last year, and sale for the book, Burleigh said, grew by nearly 800 percent in 2016, an upswing also reflected in sales of its sequel, A Twist in Time. Sales of the overall genre grew 15 percent after the campaign.

OverDrive: Aftermath sales effects in Pegasus Books’ ‘A Murder in Time’ after the Big Library Read library promotion

BookBub’s International Data

The direct-email marketing program BookBub is unusual, in that it’s used both by publishers and by independent authors. And its international marketing chief, Annie Stone, arrived with data about the sorts of “power readers”—reading four or more books per month—that the entire industry could be excused for favoring.

Annie Stone

On the global scale, for example, these respondents are 76-percent female and largely over age 40.

In the company’s staged rollouts, however, to the UK (2014), Canada (2015), India (2015) and Australia (2016), there’s a developing body of data that has some insights and surprises, which Stone shared with the audience Wednesday.

For example, in the UK, where the BookBub list comprise more than 1 million recipients, there’s a comparatively high proportion of male readers (29 percent). Those male readers skew older (84 percent are over 55), and they show genre preferences for literary fiction and nonfiction.

BookBub international data

In Canada, BookBub sees its largest concentrations of urban readers, at 36 percent as compared to an overall factor of 26 percent.

And in Australia, the company has its largest group of younger readers in both the under-35 and under-25 categories.

In an intriguing note they seem to be more willing to pay full price for ebooks (BookBub is focused on digital) than others in the BookBub universe; and they read more print books.

BookBub international data

More to Come from the Audio Publishers Association

The day’s presentations concluded with the Audio Publishers Association’s Michele Cobb giving the BookExpo audience an early look at a suite of new data points that won’t be released until next week.

Publishing Perspectives will have that new audiobook data when it’s made public.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.