Thanks to the success of book series such as Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and Twilight, the young adult (YA) demographic has gone from a niche category to a boundary-pushing, highly critiqued and booming industry. While this growth was primarily found in traditional publishing to begin with, the biggest increase in recent years has been YA eBook sales. In 2012, whereas the sales of physical YA book were up 13% from the year before, eBook sales were up a staggering 117%. This is twice the rate of growth than was seen in the adult fiction market over the same period of time.
But why is this? Why is the young adult book industry flourishing so much more than other categories? The answer, it would appear, is made up of a number of distinct and interesting facets.
The Tech Savvy Generation
According to studies, modern day teenagers spend nearly eight hours a day consuming media, including surfing the web, playing video games and social networking. Figures also suggest that as of 2013, 97% of young adults in America owned mobile phones, 34% owned a tablet computer and 29% owned a dedicated e-reader. This means that they have easier access to digital content than ever before. They have the platforms necessary for getting hold of the content, as well as the technical know-how of how to do so. According to Cristina Gilbert, director of marketing and publicity at Bloomsbury,
‘(Teenagers) are on their devices all the time. They’re so mobile, so digital. e-reading is an extension of how they live. And they are already old hands at accessing digital content—downloading movies, TV shows, and music.’
Buying digital copies of books fits in perfectly with modern young adults’ behavioural and spending habits, meaning that it’s no surprise that eBook sales for this demographic are on the rise.
The current day publishing industry is one with little in the way of extra money to go around, resulting in marketing departments having to find ways of maximising the reach of their advertisements on the tightest of budgets. Authors are widely encouraged to do what they can to publicise their own work, and this frequently involves them working at creating an online presence for themselves via social media.
The YA author who has had the most success in this field is without a doubt the multi-award-winning writer John Green. He currently has over 3.6 million followers on Twitter alone, and nearly 6.7 million subscribers on the YouTube channel he shares with his brother, Hank Green. This allows him to reach a vast audience of potential book buyers, many of whom will be attracted to buying eBook copies of his books over the physical copies because of how much cheaper the Kindle editions are being sold for on Amazon. The cheapest, Looking for Alaska is currently for sale for £1.49 while The Fault in Our Stars has been priced at just £2.49.
According to Janne Mollar of Black & White Publishing,
‘The shift over the last few years in the YA market is not least due to blogs. There is an extremely well-established online community and it is incredibly welcoming to new readers and to new authors. What blog tours do is offer interview opportunities and allow for direct interaction. This is a massive help from a publisher’s perspective as the readers are very active online. You can chat directly with authors on Twitter, and I think many readers are looking to blogs and social media to find like-minded chatter about the next big thing.’
So the internet isn’t just a way of directly selling YA books to people, it’s also a very effective tool for authors and publishers to get into contact with the desired audience in the first place.
Something For Free
In an age where anyone with access to the Internet or a smart phone can get hold of apps, games, videos and all sorts of other forms of digital content for no cost at all, eBooks also have another advantage over traditionally published ones; they can easily be distributed for free. Though, as many publishers can attest, the cost of creating an eBook isn’t necessarily cheaper than that of a physical book, free copies of eBooks can be given out as easily as sold.
The practice of pricing the first book in a series as free on Amazon has been widely embraced, especially among self-published authors. In putting up the first book for free, writers are able to draw new readers to the series while also boosting its overall popularity rating on websites such as Amazon.
Other similar practices that flourish in digital publishing include releasing excerpts online for a limited time only, allowing readers to view the first few chapters of a book for free and releasing short tie-in novellas in eBook form only for a small price, or no cost at all. These kind of practices resonate well with an audience that is used to be able to get hold of free content at the click of a button and have helped greatly in boosting YA digital book sales.
One of the most interesting aspects of the of YA eBook phenomenon is that a large amount of the audience for them appears to be outside of the targeted demographic entirely. There have been crossover books in existence for years (both Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are classic examples of series that appeal to readers both young and old) but with the more modern day success of books such as the Harry Potter series and John Green’s work, more adults than ever are picking up books labelled as ‘teen’ or ‘young adult’.
According to studies by Bowker Market Research, 55% of of books labelled as being aimed at readers aged 12-17 are bought by people aged 18 or over, with 30-44 year-olds making up the largest percentage of buyers. Though some of these purchases are on behalf of those in the 12-17 category, 78% of the adults asked reported that they were buying the books for themselves.
eBooks allow YA authors to reach a much wider audience due to the anonymity they provide. Though the stigma attached to reading YA fiction is fading, buying the digital versions of books allows adults to purchase and read them without fear of judgement. With eBooks there’s no public browsing through shelves under the banner of ‘teens’ required, and it’s much harder to tell the difference between someone reading War and Peace and Twilight when their copy is on a Kindle.
Bypassing the Gatekeepers
One of the reasons YA books are so popular, even outside of their defined demographic is due to how versatile, varied and challenging their subject matters tend to be. In a time where so many young adults are looking for diversity beyond what they see in most mainstream forms of media, eBooks hold a special sort of appeal. People, teenagers especially, don’t want to feel like they are being treated condescendingly. They don’t want the books they read to present an overly wholesome, white-washed, traditional values version of the world. They are looking for modern, boundary-breaking content and stories that remind them of real teenagers and their real problems, even in fantasy or supernatural settings.
According to Elissa Petruzzi, a section editor for Book Club Magazine,
‘Because young adult fiction is always changing, anything goes. From sci-fi/fantasy, paranormal and dystopian to classic romance, mystery and contemporary favourites, writers can explore any subject, and readers are eager for new worlds.’
YA eBooks, especially self-published ones, allow authors to directly reach an audience looking for stories on subjects such as sexuality, race issues, gender identity and taboos often barred to them by the traditional literary gatekeepers. Just as eBooks allow adults easier access to series they may class as guilty pleasures, digital publishing platforms allow teenagers to read the content that interests them without the usual restrictions imposed on them by parents, editors and librarians.
Though the increase in eBook sales has started to slow down over the last couple of years, YA eBook sales are still increasing all the same. With so many new movies adapted from young adult books becoming box office hits (such as the 2014 release, Divergent, which made nearly $55 million during its opening weekend) it’s clear that the interest in YA fiction is only likely to increase.
Similarly, as e-readers become easier to afford and their presence more widespread, it is likely that the sales of YA eBooks will continue to increase, if perhaps at a more steady pace than before.