This is a post originally posted on Azure Fire Publishing.
People refer to it as young adults market, segment, or genre. Whatever you call it, there is something definitely going on with it. According to Valerie Peterson, the number of Young Adult (YA) titles published more than doubled in the decade between 2002 and 2012 (this doesn’t even include Indie titles). This growth in sales for YA far exceeds the percentage of growth in the adult e-book sales, indicating a dramatic overall increase.
We do not have the 2018 numbers yet, but judging by the number of new titles in Amazon, the trend is strong and thriving—at least from the publishing point of view.
But who is reading all these books? Are we looking at a wave of young readers?
Who’s Reading All These Books?
Looking for sales numbers is a harder task. According to 2012 data, the “children and young adults” segment generated $2.87 billion in net revenue. However, this number refers to the pre-YA era, when books were segmented as aimed at either children or adults.
Even so, some estimate that 55-70% of the books are bought by adults (defined as anyone over 18-years-old): not so young adults after all. Some of these may be parents or family members buying books for a teenager, and some may be 19-20 years old and close to the YA segment.
It is likely than no more than 30-45% of the YA books are actually bought by teenagers.
A Seeming Contradiction
Whatever the true size of the YA market is, the fact that it exists suggests that teenagers are actually reading, which comes as a contradiction to what some reports on reading habits suggest. For example, the ‘Kids & Family Reading Report’ found that only 24% of 12 to 14-year-olds read five to seven days a week, while 76% of them do visit social media websites daily.
The percentage goes down to a mere 17% when it comes to 15 to 17-year-olds.
Up-coming teenagers are being attracted to the screens too: 48% of six to eight-year-olds surveyed play on apps and 34% watch YouTube videos five to seven times a week.
The National Library Trust survey also demonstrated that 52% of young adults prefer to read on screen.
Where’s the Truth?
So which numbers tell the story best?
Probably both. Yes, teens spend time on their screens, from mobile phones to video games. And yet, the digital age comes with extra incentives for reading that we don’t normally think about.
First, we often forget that being active on social media involves writing and reading, even if it resembles shorthand or hieroglyphs to us. The fact remains that our youngsters communicate through writing and reading. If the generation before them was spending hours on their phones, our youngsters seem to have re-invented written correspondence!
Second, today’s teens are exposed—indeed, overexposed—to the facts of life. Whereas previous generations sought in books all that which their parents would not discuss, from love to sex to revolution, teens today already have at hand all the information they need.
What they lack is what all teens have always sought: a sense of belonging; a need for peer advise; the expectation not to be treated like children.
This is exactly what YA books offer them: they address them as young adults instead of children. The book themes typically involve tales of autonomy and adulthood, with characters who live their first love or revolt against authority and end up saving the world.
Young Adult books address important coming-of-age issues without adopting the patronizing tone an older adult might take to advise teen: bullying and popularity, sex and pregnancy, racism and exclusion, drugs and violence, dysfunctional families, or plain stress for what lies ahead.
The third effect of our digital age is that movies and books are intertwined more than ever, not necessarily at the expense of reading. As Amy Vieira points out, the release of the TV hit show “Game of Thrones” motivated a lot of teens to buy George R. R. Martin’s best-selling book series. Sales skyrocketed after the show premiered in 2011, selling 9 million copies in one year, with many teens and young adults believed to have contributed to this statistic. In contrast, the book series had “only” sold 5 million since the first book’s release and until 2011.
Therefore, screen time does not necessarily repel youngsters from reading. On the contrary, it can bring to their attention books and genres they had never heard of.
All these reasons explain why a percentage of teens will always turn to reading, be it paperback or Kindle, to find solace and discover solutions to their daily struggles, read inspiring tales of autonomy, or just escape and dream.