A glimpse of the e-future. Or not.

Kristen McLean

Last week I had the great fortune to spend several hours with Kristen McLean, CEO of Bookigee and former executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children (which recently merged into ABA). Kristen was on the West Coast sharing the results of recent Bowker research with surprising (to me, anyway) results and implications for the future of books and digital media for kids. Basically the same info was presented at Digital Book World in New York in January.

If you get a chance to hear Kristen speak on this topic, you should go. I can’t do it justice here. She’s generously put her presentations on her website, though (see the first two links, .pptx downloads, though others there are great, too). I highly recommend checking these out.

But to share a little, here are a few random highlights that struck me in the results of the research and her comments (admittedly, with my interpretive slant, but you can see the data and put your own slant on it, too). The research focused on households where at least one children’s or YA title was bought in the last year. (Based on the sound logic that it’s way easier and smarter to keep customers you have than chase after those you don’t.)

  • Grandparents get press and are supposed to have the cash, but they actually don’t buy a big percentage of books. It’s mostly parents between 18 and 44.
  • Reading kids (and their parents) value books highly — really highly, as in more important than any other media, including TV — and are not likely to give them up anytime soon. (Even teens, who text and FB a lot but generally spend less time online than conventional wisdom thinks.) They may *add* digital media, but by and large they’re not replacing paper with digital. Yay!
  • That said, households buying kids’ books are somewhat more tech oriented than adult book buyers. So they’re open to digital. But the penetration of ebooks in this market is tiny. Tiny tiny. There’s a strong preference for paper at this point, in part because teens use technology for social networking, and ebooks are less social than paper books, which can be more easily shared.
  • The bad news: Books are overwhelmingly impulse purchases. They have to be seen. Even the books that get checked out of the library are often first identified in a store. That means if you don’t get bookstore/retail distribution, and lots of it, you’re, well… screwed fighting an uphill battle.
  • Here’s an interesting one, though: teens at least say they’re more influenced to make a purchase based on the jacket blurb than either the cover or the title (though those are moderately important, too). But the single greatest factor is if it’s an author or series they know. (And as usual, this study reinforced the evidence that blurbs are almost pointless, except maybe to make the author feel good.)
  • All that time you spend with social media? Or updating your website? Uh… those things have a pretty tiny influence on book purchases compared to readers’ immediate circles: parents, friends, other family members, and then teachers and school librarians. And while your social media may well target teachers or librarians rather than readers or parents, it’s pretty well established that the prime movers for them are reviews. Not anything they see anywhere online. (About the only significant exception is mommy blogs.)
  • Extending stories across different platforms (e.g, book, movie, app, ebook, website); making story worlds somewhere readers can “live;” and allowing readers to participate in those worlds (e.g., with fanfic) are all likely to grow, grow, grow. Which is why one of the emerging challenges is helping people to find the stuff they’ll like among all that other stuff. Which in turn is why Kristen founded Bookigee — to come up with a discovery tool that would work. (‘Cause we all know how crappy Amazon’s searches and recommendations are, and that they have nothing to do with what we might like.)

There are other goodies in the presentations; the data’s worth studying, and the Bookigee site’s worth a peek, too — it sounds like it could be pretty useful for authors as well as readers. It’s most effective to have Kristin talk through this stuff and share implications, etc., — but it’s all good reading even without that bonus. And it’s optimistic about the future of kids’ books, too!

— Joni, who’s trying to think more about transmedia while reducing her social media time commitment

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Filed under Joni Sensel

6 responses to “A glimpse of the e-future. Or not.

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    Thanks for sharing this. It’s always interesting to see what influences parents and kids in deciding what books to buy.

  2. Claire Merle

    Interesting, thanks. Actually, I’ve never heard the research idea that blurbs are pointless. Personally, I always check out the blurb. Even if a book’s had amazing success if the blurb makes me feel like it’s just not my sort of thing, I might put off getting it. (Mind you, I’m not a teenager!) I was also curious about what was said about impulse buying and how it fitted with WHO was buying for teenagers. It left me wondering, if it’s the parents who are mostly buying for teenage kids, are they the ones supposedly buying on impulse? And if the teenagers want to read what they’ve heard about either by way of friends or because they already know the author, surely their making informed decisions? The facts here didn’t quite fit together for me — I guess I’ll have to check out the links!

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      I also often buy books based on blurbs. I’ve found some great new authors that way.

      As for impulse buys, I would think that a teen might want to buy a book on impulse and then the parent would pay for it, not that the parent is picking out the book for the teen. I would also guess that a teen would buy on impulse if they didn’t see anything on the shelf by their favorite authors already. Just my own thinking, though.

  3. This is why it’s useful to hear the entire research presentation (even more than is in the PPT), not just get outtakes, if you have the chance — so you can hear about the methodology, too. For books for ages 12+, it was primarily the kids doing the buying (or at least the selection) themselves, not the parents, and answering the survey questions. For kids under 12, it was parents answering the questions (and primarily selecting the books, although often because a kid asked for it.)

  4. Also, having heard of the author or a series was a big factor for teens — but it was still more a matter of being in the bookstore and making the impulse decision then, much more than going to the bookstore with the intent of purchasing that specific book. (Which is why impulse shopping and Amazon browsing/searching raises interesting questions.)

  5. Elisabeth

    This is fascinating! Thanks for the summary and the links. I’ll definitely check those out.

    I’m quite interested in the last bullet point about extending stories across platforms. I was just talking about that with someone the other night. I think there’s so much that can be done now with the technology we have. There is so much potential for creating rich, immersive experiences for the reader.

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