Ci6 Featured Speaker Allison Risbridger on Trends Driving the Children’s Book Industry

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Allison Risbridger, a client development specialist at NPD Book, presented a review of the most recent U.S. children’s book market data at the ABC Children’s Institute in New Orleans to help booksellers maximize their business in the coming year.

Allison Risbridger at Ci6Including NPD Book, the different divisions of NPD collect consumer data on more than 20 industries, including apparel, food services, and the automotive industry. In addition to looking at consumer and market research and macroeconomic analysis, NPD Book measures print book sales through BookScan, a system that aggregates data from approximately 85 percent of the U.S. trade market for physical books. Reporting parties include the more than 500 ABA member bookstores that report to BookScan; large retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble; and Walmart, Target, and grocery chains.

As indie booksellers, said Risbridger, “You guys are really in a great position to compete in this retail environment. I hope that maybe you’ll walk away from this session feeling that in today’s retail environment you are an example for many, many retailers who are trying to emulate the experience that you naturally give to your buyers. That’s not to say it’s easy, at all, but just to keep succeeding, keep thriving, and keep being an example for retailers in other industries because what you’re doing is working.”

Here, Bookselling This Week presents some of the insights from Risbridger’s Wednesday, June 20, presentation.


  • The total U.S. book market, including both print and digital books, is flat, with its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) rising about 1 percent from 2010 to 2017.
  • Sales of e-books decreased since 2013, while sales of print books have risen, posting incremental 2 to 3 percent increases over the past four years.
  • Much of the print sales growth from 2013 to 2017 has been driven by rising adult nonfiction sales and rising children’s book sales. The adult fiction category, though, has been largely flat.
  • Sales of hardcover books have surpassed those of e-books.
  • Print book sales during the eight-week period leading up to Christmas increased 1.8 percent in 2017 over 2016.


  • Sales in the children’s and YA category have grown faster than the overall print book market in the U.S., with a CAGR of 5 percent over the last five years.
  • In the juvenile market, NPD Book saw gains of 6 percent in 2016 (when the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child book and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie came out) and 3 percent in 2017, as the children’s market continued to grow. The YA market has stabilized since 2014, when movies based on Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars were released.
  • Juvenile print books posted more significant sales growth than the adult nonfiction, adult fiction, or young adult fiction categories in 2018. Total yearly print sales in the juvenile category, according to data collected up until May 2018, grew 5.7 percent in 2018 compared to 2017, driven in part by sales of A Wrinkle in Time spurred by the release of the feature film, and A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo. Sales in the young adult category grew 4 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.
  • Continued content trends in the children’s book market include girl power, diversity, STEM and STEAM books, wellness and social issues, and classic and nostalgia.
  • Almost every content category in children’s books has shown growth in 2018. Year to date, the fastest growing content categories in the market are books about social situations and books related to holidays and religion. Weekly sales volumes of titles related to Easter grew by 26 percent over last year and those related to Valentine’s Day grew by 71 percent over last year.
  • In the category of juvenile nonfiction, education and reference books saw the largest increases year over year.
  • Children’s comics and graphic novels show a compound annual growth rate of 32 percent since 2014, driven in part by hugely popular series by authors including Raina Telgemeier and Dav Pilkey.
  • Compared to 2016, 2017 children’s hardcover sales were stable, while trade paperback sales saw a bump of two percent and sales of board books grew by 11 percent.
  • Sales of classic board books have grown steadily since 2012 in part due to the nostalgia factor, which is driven by millennial parents. Some of these bestselling titles include 1989’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, first published as a board book in 1990, with a CAGR of 23 percent, and 1947’s Goodnight Moon, first published as a board book in 1991, with a CAGR of 7 percent.
  • Of all of the kids’ books sold in 2017, 29 percent were licensed properties. The top-selling brands in 2017 included Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, Dairy of a Wimpy Kid, Peppa Pig, Disney Princesses, and Minecraft, among others. Two of these series — Dr. Seuss and Berenstain Bears —  are over 50 years old.
  • The top 20 publishers generated nearly all licensed book sales in 2017, which has made it more difficult for nonbranded frontlist books to break into the marketplace. 
  • Clearly, backlist is a key driving factor for growth in the children’s market; in fact, only three of the top 20 kids’ titles were books published in 2017. That year, sales volume of frontlist titles in the children’s book market was down 15 percent, while backlist titles were up 9 percent in volume. This backlist trend is amplified by mass merchandisers, making indie bookstores even more important venues for discovery of new titles.


  • Nostalgia is one of the broader retail trends of the moment, something that is also reflected by the popularity of backlist titles. Other current retail trends include a penchant for nesting and quality family time, and the desire for experiences, rather than material objects. Consumer spending has shifted to creating memories rather than buying goods.
  • Sales at indie bookstores grew by 2.6 percent in 2017. Indies, because of their model, are well-positioned for succeeding at experiential retail due to their affinity for curation and their ability to create community and put on events.
  • In terms of consumer habits, people are saving less money even though the economy is strong, unemployment is low, and consumer confidence is up. Consumers also have more sunk costs each month, including utilities, food, and car insurance, but are also paying for more monthly subscription services, such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Stitch Fix, and Blue Apron.
  • Book subscription programs in the market include Amazon’s new Prime Book Box. This new product is one reason indies may want to look into leveraging the growing subscription programs trend, which could also incorporate the recent “unboxing” trend.

Risbridger’s presentation can be found here. Watch ABA’s Education Curriculum in the coming weeks for PowerPoint presentations and handouts from a number of Ci6 sessions.