Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Young Readers, e-Books, and the Public Library

Like Clifford the Big Red Dog, interest in e-books has grown exponentially over the past year. Figures from June show e-book sales rocketing 167 percent, to $80.2 million, at the 15 houses that reported figures to the Association of American Publishers monthly sales report. And according to Publisher's Weekly, for the first half of 2011, e-book sales were up 161 percent to $473.8 million.

This red-hot streak should continue as new reading devices continue to enter the market and consumers turn on to digital books. So as e-book sales reach the stratosphere, dotMomming was wondering what's happening at the public library. We reached out to Andrew Medlar, Youth Materials Specialist for the Chicago Public Library, to find out.

Numbers for trade paperback sales dropped off in June, down 64 percent, according to Publisher's Weekly, while children’s hardcover sales fell 31 percent. And for the first half of 2011, sales in all the trade segments were off by more than 10 percent. So the trend seems to be clear in bookstores -- digital books are on fire. Is the library seeing the same spike in e-book demand?

"In a word: yes.  In four words: yes, very much so," Medlar says. "Interest, requests, circulation, and budgets for e-books continue to grow exponentially.

"The subsequent challenges then include balancing this with continued strong demand for the many other formats CPL provides, and working with publishers and distributors to make more e-content available to the library market in the first place."

So where are the kids? The adult market seems to be out ahead of children's books, which makes sense as adults have the buying power to make use of reading tablets. But as more schools try out e-reader technology, demand for kids e-books will rise. Are Kindles, Nooks, iPads, and beyond capturing tween and preteen attention?

"Ten percent of e-book requests placed on our website are for teen titles," Medlar says, "and about 1 percent are for materials for kids up through age 13."

So what are the trends Medlar is seeing at the Chicago Public Library?

"Well, in the interest of user privacy, of course, we don’t track who is checking out what," he says. "But it is clear that many whos are checking out a lot of whats.

"Circulation of e-books has been consistently rising, and leading the charge is teen-directed literature, such as series by Meg Cabot, James Patterson, Maggie Stiefvater, Kristin Cast, Suzanne Collins, and more."

And what's ahead?

"Regardless of the age of the reader selecting these titles, this is definitely where the bulk of youth e-publishing and use is," Medlar says.

"This will continue, and the production of e-titles for tweens and younger will certainly grow itself, especially as more schools embrace e-readers. Interestingly, many of the tween titles immensely popular in paper (authors such as R. L. Stine and Erin Hunter, to name just two) are not seeing the same demand in e-formats, so this is likely still to take a while to catch up."


  1. If I could afford color ereaders for both of my kids, they'd already have them. The Kindle Fire is moving in the right direction. I think this is the single largest hurdle holding everyone back.

  2. Very interesting post. I do think children's books will become more popular in ebooks once the price of color ereaders drop. Thanks for sharing!

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