NPD Cites Strong Outlook for US Children’s Print Nonfiction

In News by Porter Anderson

Juvenile nonfiction in the American market ran 23-percent higher in 2020 than in 2019, says NPD’s Kristen McLean in a focused look at the sector.

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Reim Photo

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

School Readiness Content Sales ‘Remain Strong’
As was clear last year as soon as the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic cleared classrooms, 2020 was a big year for children’s nonfiction print book sales in the United States.

Following her July report on the American market from Monday (August 9), Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst with NPD Books and Entertainment, is back today (August 10) with one of her periodic “insight” closer looks, this time at the children’s nonfiction element of the marketplace this year.

In the process, she points to an opportunity for “nimble independent publishers” on the lookout for where supply-chain slowdowns may be offering an opening.

‘A Historic Year’

With the onset of the pathogen’s assault, 2020 was what McLean sees as “a historic year” for children’s nonfiction print book sales in the United States, “driven by an acute need for materials to entertain and educate children after the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The super-category of juvenile nonfiction, she says, ended 2020 with unit sales that were 23-percent higher than the previous year.

This growth, NPD’s research shows, was being propelled “by several subjects that experienced triple-digit growth in the early stages of the pandemic.”

While unit sales are 2 million units (5 percent) lower this year than they were last year, through the week ending July 24, 2021,” McLean says, they’re up 6 million units (21% percent) over pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“Summer sales of educational workbooks and school readiness materials remain strong this year,” she says in today’s media messaging.

“Books related to science and nature, biographies, and other key topics are growing, indicating that kids and families are still looking to this material, as we head toward the return to school.”

Image: NPD Books

First Half of 2021

McLean, looking at the January-to-July 2021 data (through July 24), says that six juvenile nonfiction book industry standards and communications (BISAC) categories accounted for 44 percent of the juvenile nonfiction print books market in the States:

  • Biography and autobiography, up 23 percent
  • Science and nature, up 9 percent
  • Activity books, down 11 percent year-to-date
  • Concepts, down 11 percent
  • Study aids, down 32 percent
  • Games and activities, down 16 percent

Other growing BISAC categories include:

  • Religion, up 121,000 units
  • Healthy/daily living, up 386,000 units
  • Social topics, up 332,000 units

McLean sees persistent strength on the whole, saying, “While a number of juvenile nonfiction categories declined compared to 2020’s unprecedented spike in sales, the overall unit-sales volume for this super-category remains very strong historically.

“Given that many parents continue to worry that their children could fall behind in the classroom because of coronavirus-related school closures, there will be continuing consumer needs in this area well into 2022.”

‘A Very Diverse Publishing Ecosystem’

In that tip to independent publishers, McLean points to various issues that have dogged publisher market share in the past year, citing supply-chain disruptions, quickly evolving consumer focus, and shifts in retail channels

“This is creating opportunities for nimble independent publishers,” she says, “that can take advantage of domestic printing to gain market share as other publishers wait for overseas orders.

“Unlike some areas of children’s publishing, like comics and graphic novels, the juvenile nonfiction super-category has a very diverse publishing ecosystem,” McLean said. “Small, medium, and large publishers compete on a fairly level playing field, and there are opportunities to take market share, depending on the shifting needs of the marketplace.”

More on the United States market is here, more on the NPD Group’s reports is here, more on children’s books is here, and more from Publishing Perspectives on political books is here. More from us on industry statistics is here.

And more on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

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.