Who Buys (And Who Reads) Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein
The headline of an article published on September 13, 2012 in the Los Angeles Times announces, Most Young Adult Book Buyers Are Not Young Adults.
My kneejerk reaction to this was, ‘WELL, DUH.’
When I was a teen I never had any money. I got all my books out of the public library and the school library. Every now and then I would love a book so much that after I’d read it about, oh, five times, I’d beg my grownup caretakers (my grandparents) to buy it for me. Occasionally a new book would be released in a series or by a favourite author which I desperately wanted as soon as it came out, and then I’d have to ask for it for Christmas or my birthday or something. Or, if I really couldn’t wait, I’d buy it and not go out for lunch for three weeks.
My teenage daughter is caught in the same bind, except that I have more money to spend on books than my grandparents did, and my daughter doesn’t have to wait for her birthday or go without lunch.
If you read beyond the headline of the LA Times article, you’ll see that the statistics say 55% of buyers of books aimed at 12 to 17 year olds are 18 years or older. Of these, 78% claim to be buying the books for themselves. Let’s twist these statistics another way. Out of 100 sample shoppers buying YA books, 45 are between 12 and 17. Another 12 are buying books for their children or grandchildren. 45 plus 12 makes 57… So in fact most young adult books bought in retail ARE actually bought for young adults. Maybe ‘most young adult book buyers are not young adults,’ but it looks like most young adult book readers are.
The thing that astonishes me is that 45% of people buying books aimed at 12 to 17 year olds are 12 to 17 year olds. Nearly half of all printed YA books purchased in retail stores are bought by this disenfranchised segment of the market? That seems like good news to me.
The other good news here is that adults are reading teen books, too.
Patricia McCormick, in a New York Times blog post defending the power of young adult literature, points out why adults might be interested in reading books aimed at teens.
McCormick comments that YA fiction is innovative and risky, and points to some of the more exciting literature to come out in the past ten years – in addition to the obvious (such as the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games series).
As a reader who never stopped reading books aimed at teens, even after I stopped being a teen, I kind of wonder what all the fuss is about. As a writer who is constantly badgered with the question, ‘But why are your books young adult?’, I am proud and honoured to be part of this risky business, where the pay is lower, the stakes are higher, the audience is fickle and the bar for excellence is constantly being raised.
Elizabeth Wein’s author website: www.elizabethwein.com
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