Baby boom: The growth of children’s and young adult market

Baby boom: The growth of children’s and young adult market

21 February, 2023

Children’s and young adult (CYA) titles have been driving the growth of the Australian book market in the past year, with titles like Heartstopper, Bluey and The Bad Guys becoming regular presences on the bestsellers chart. The numbers from Nielsen BookData confirm this: looking at children’s and young adult fiction alone, the CYA fiction category (which doesn’t include picture books or children’s nonfiction titles) grew 16% in value and had a 0.7% lift in market share in the year to 1 October 2022, compared to the same time in 2021. Nielsen’s 2022 overall market report also revealed the children’s category was up 7.7% compared to the previous year, with the category representing 29% of the Australian book market.

Compared to overseas markets, this growth places Australia ahead of its counterparts in relation to the children’s market. In mid-2022, the Bookseller reported that Australia is ‘the only BookScan territory where the overall children’s category outpaces nonfiction’ (comparing territories covered by Nielsen).

Affirm’s kids publisher Tash Besliev suggests this boom is partly due to the fact that Australia is still a young market. ‘But I also think our industry has been clever enough to tap into the single category that ensures the future viability of our industry,’ Besliev told Books+Publishing (B+P). Besliev believes the growth of the CYA category directly affects the sales of adult books in the future.

‘Without a thriving and growing children’s sector, we won’t have a reading audience for grown-up categories in 10–20 years. It’s a refreshing category as well. It makes sense for it to be in constant and consistent growth—so long as we are publishing the right content!’

The success of UK author Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper series (Hachette), which straddles both graphic novels and YA fiction, has trickled over into more traditional YA fiction, especially novels of the romance genre. On the bestselling children’s and young adult charts, the four volumes of Heartstopper have all secured a spot in the top 10, with volume one taking the top spot. Its success is also attributed to BookTok and its Gen-Z users, as well as the series adaptation which released on Netflix in April 2022 and saw Heartstopper Volume 1 enter the Australian top 10 bestsellers the very next week.

Similarly, The Summer I Turned Pretty (Penguin), which sits at number six on the CYA fiction charts, saw an increase in sales following the release of its TV adaptation. The film adaptation of Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys series (Scholastic) seems to also have contributed to the series’ meteoric rise, with book #15 Open Wide and Say Arrrgh! sitting at number three overall. Blabey and beloved duo Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton (The 156-Storey Treehouse, Pan) are the only Australian authors to make the list.

Top 10 CYA fiction 

Heartstopper Volume 1 (Alice Oseman, Hachette)
Heartstopper Volume 2 (Alice Oseman, Hachette)
Open Wide and Say Arrrgh!: The Bad Guys #15 (Aaron Blabey, Scholastic)
Heartstopper Volume 3 (Alice Oseman, Hachette)
The World’s Worst Pets (David Walliams, HarperCollins)
The Summer I Turned Pretty (Jenny Han, Penguin)
Heartstopper Volume 4 (Alice Oseman, Hachette)
The 156-Storey Treehouse (Andy Griffiths & Terry Denton, Pan)
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (Holly Jackson, Electric Monkey)
On Purpose: Cat Kid Comic Club #3 (Dav Pilkey, Scholastic)

Based on sales for the period 2 January 2022 to 1 October 2022, excludes picture books and children’s nonfiction titles     

Homegrown favourites

Although it seems overseas children’s and young adult titles are dominating the overall charts, homegrown titles are continuing to sell well in the Australian market.

Affirm Press, which has been growing its kids list over the past two and a half years, is publishing between 40 and 50 new CYA titles a year, Besliev tells B+P. ‘This has afforded us a wonderful backlist of books that continue to sell well, right across the market, year in and year out and our picture books, the largest part of our publishing, does especially well with beautiful ranges from homegrown creators like Jess Racklyeft (a star on our back and forward publishing lists!).’

‘Picture books are a wonderful way to explore big topics in the classroom and in the home,’ says Besliev of the popularity of Jess Sanders’s new picture book series ‘Life Lessons From Little Ones’, where the first title You Are Enough is on its third reprint, just six months after publication. Kylie Howarth’s Koala Stole My Undies has also been reprinted since publication and ‘continues to sell solidly each week’; meanwhile, debut author-illustrator Brentos’s From Dawn to Dusk performed ‘brilliantly’ through the Christmas season and into the new year.

At Affirm, picture books aren’t the only CYA category selling well. Amelia Mellor’s The Grandest Bookshop in the World was the publisher’s ‘first real success in middle-grade fiction [and] has paved the way for a bigger middle-grade fiction category on our list,’ says Besliev, who adds that the second book The Bookseller’s Apprentice has sold ‘just as strongly’ as the first.

For Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing, the success of titles in its CYA list also reflect the diverse interests of children and young adult readers in Australia. Over Christmas, HGCP celebrated a ‘major milestone’ for the Real Pigeon series by Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood, which published its tenth book in November last year; the series has 350,000 copies in print in Australia and is published in 21 languages. ‘The series is a stand-out in the category thanks to Andrew McDonald and Ben Wood’s extraordinary collaboration, which marries the textual and artwork narratives seamlessly and is riotously good fun for child and adult readers alike,’ HGCP publishing director Marisa Pintado told B+P.

HGCP has also seen a ‘huge amount of love’ for The Boy Who Tried to Shrink His Name and other picture books by Sandhya Prappukkaran and Michelle Pereira, whose collaborative titles celebrate and explore the immigrant experience from a younger perspective. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lachlan’s middle-grade series ‘Jane Doe Chronicles’ has appealed to fantasy and adventure lovers, with HGCP reporting ‘strong’ sales for the first two books, with the third Jane Doe and the Quill of All Tales to be published next month.

On the look out 

A 2021 report from the Australian Council for the Arts showed international rights sales of Australian books has increased by almost 25% between 2008–2018, with almost half of the deals pertaining to children’s books. Anecdotally, it’s no secret Australian children’s and young adult books continue to sell well in international markets. But what overseas titles are Australian rights buyers looking to acquire in the CYA category?

It seems publishers are eager to tap into the growing graphic novel category which saw a 34% growth in 2022. ‘When acquiring children’s titles, we are particularly focused on graphic novels at the moment,’ said Pintado. ‘It’s a format that has been growing steadily in our market, and we are looking to supplement our locally originated titles with high-quality stories from overseas.’

The same goes for Affirm, which, although acquiring fewer foreign titles, is looking for books that are ‘clever and interesting’, according to Besliev, who recently acquired an Italian nonfiction graphic novel about genetics which will be publishing later this year.

While the trends on #BookTok, and screen adaptations, have assisted with the sales of children’s and young adult books in the overall bestseller charts, there has been a quiet success of local titles that are diverse and reflect the myriad ways Australia’s young readers engage with books.

‘There are always new trends, new sub-categories in growth, others in decline, whether it be riding the high wave of YA dystopia, enjoying the popularity of a video-game tie-in handbook or jumping onto the bandwagon of graphic novels. These are all healthy signs of a dynamic industry trying new things, listening to retailers, responding to readers—we are so lucky to have such fun jobs!’ shared Besliev, who has spent almost all of her 20 years in publishing in the children’s space.

‘But at the heart of all of it, what works, what really sells, are books that connect with the most number of readers, irrespective of trend or fad, often running against the current favourite (a trend only becomes a trend once something takes off after all).’

Originally published by Books and Publishing (Read More)