What happened? Why did people stop searching for teen books? Why did it stay down?
Looking back at the hot Christmas gifts in 2013 for teens, topping the list were Beats by Dre Headphones (boys) and bath sets (girls).
Well, none of those gifts were the cause.
The top teen books published in 2013 were:
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell, a story of teenagers dealing with race issues and child abuse.
The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider, a story about a varsity jock on his way to becoming homecoming king, but shatters his legs in a car accident.
Allegiant, by Veronica Roth, the conclusion of the Divergent series, discussing how people are divided up by personality traits and genetics, ending with the main character going on a suicide mission and killing herself.
Imagine you’re a mother searching for the top books to buy your teenager to read for fun. This is the list that comes up.
There’s nothing wrong with these books, or the authors, but what is the appeal to teenagers? What is it about these books that teenagers can’t live without and they must have them?
Leading up to 2013, Hunger Games was the top teen book being searched, despite the series being released between the years of 2008-2010.
Stop and think about that for a moment. The most popular searched books was a series that completed two years earlier.
To make things worse, November of 2013 was the height of unemployment. 5.7 million people were looking for work; a number that had been steadily climbing. Many of those who did have a job hadn’t seen a raise since the economy crashed.
Black Friday sales in 2013 were low and eBay sales were up. Money was tight and Christmas was just around the corner.
Paint the picture of a possible scenario on November 30th, 2013.
A mother had spent what little money they had purchasing Christmas gifts on eBay. Her husband is out of work and she hasn’t seen a significant raise in ten years. The top teen books had depressing themes, which is something her teenager doesn’t need right now.
This explains the sudden cliff dive of searching for teen books, adding to the ever-growing decline of reading for fun, especially in teens.
Why did the search for teen books remain low?
The Atlantic did an article in January of 2014 titled, “The Decline of the American Book Lover.” The article stated that nearly 25% of Americans did not read any type of books, including print, eBook, or listen to an audio book in the car.
Time Magazine followed up with an article in the spring of 2014, stating 45% of teens opened just one book for pleasure in a year. Another study showed 27% of teens absolutely do not read for pleasure; a number that steadily risen.
The Time article had their reasons for this dramatic fall in reading. “Teenagers have more Instagrams to post, but they also have more homework to do.”
Expanding on the social media and homework issue, teenagers have more distractions today, then at any time throughout history.
The article also stated 58% of teens were still loyal to paperback, despite eReaders being pushed as the new way to read books.
A survey conducted by The Booksellers of 16–24-year-olds discovered nearly 75% preferred print to eBooks or audiobooks.
Despite these numbers, authors of both traditional and self-published were at the height of pushing eBooks and marketing on Facebook. The reason? It’s less expensive than printing books and printing marketing materials.
Back in 2014, Publishers Weekly stated that technical “visual trends” were the future of books, which again, didn’t seem to be the case.
Now we’re painting a second picture. eBooks are promoted as the future, people were discussing this trend, authors and publishers were excited because they could save tons of money, but there was just one small problem…
Reading print was still preferred over eBooks, a trend that has continued to this day.
With self-publishing just under 50% of the market, large traditional publishers discovered an opening to fight back.
First of all, self-published authors would take a huge hit with lack of eBooks sales and soon discover Facebook and Amazon weren’t marketing programs.
Next, traditional publishers squeezed out self-published authors, along with small and mid-size publishers by purchasing all significant shelf space in bookstores and mass chain stores.
Once again painting a picture of the struggling mom who really wants her teenager to read, she now realized the Kindle Fire was a waste of money. The only books to choose in stores are from large publishing houses. If she did search for a teen book, it became confusing and frustrating with the flood of authors publishing books.
What were other companies doing to reach teenagers?
Coke began putting names on their bottles. Obviously their marketing research showed personalization had become a key link to sales.
With text messaging, Tweets, and posts, shorter content was the trend.
George Lossius, CEO at Publishing Technology stated, “In many ways, publishers will revert back to serializing works, chapter by chapter, like many Victorian novels.”
Shorter books had become necessary, because the culture, especially in teens, is short content driven.
In response, large publishing houses dropped their average submissions from 70,000 words to 50,000 words, but that clearly wasn’t the answer.
What is the solution?
Smaller printed books with quick bursting content, personalized themes, being marketed in more traditional ways such as flyers, events, and reaching the schools.
Smaller printed books can be priced between $3.00 and $5.00. It’s also more appealing with the shorter content and can be turned into a series, which will always be popular with the teen market.
Personalized themes can be developed with shorter books, based on a specific teenager’s interest. Examples are books for theatre, football, soccer, marching band, and other interests.
Since the search on Google for teen books is currently non-existent and social media is not the proven way to market books, authors and publishers will need to spend money on paper marketing and attending events, just like it used to be.
November 30th, 2013 should have been a wakeup call for authors and publishers, but has yet to occur. Hopefully this article is just what we need.
Ron Knight, Co-Founder of 9 Minute Books and the 9 Minute Reading Challenge
(Sources: Pew Research, Common Sense Media, Economy Policy Institute, Google Trends, The Atlantic, Time Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, George Lossius, CEO at Publishing Technology, Wall Street Journal, USA Today.)