Reading is a profoundly engrained human habit and despite predictions of the opposite, we remain a nation of readers. Last year, a respectably performing author like Tom Clancy could still rack up sales of over half a million copies ─ paltry compared to Eric Carle’s classic picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, with worldwide sales of over 33 million copies, and the mega-watt author J.K. Rowling, whose Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has now easily surpassed a hundred million.
Those kinds of titles, aimed at a millennial audience and younger, are a particular shining light in the book publishing world, and so it’s not surprising that Pew research recently revealed that as a group, younger Americans under age 30 are more likely to read a book, at least weekly and in any format, than those over 30. “Sales have been very positive to our plan this year, and better than the industry,” admits Jack Barney, Director of Trade Books for Barnes & Noble College, adding that those sales are likely to carry through this year’s holiday season.
While the holiday season can be a key sales event in the book world, this year has produced a crop of good books that have found particular appeal with a younger collegiate audience, such as Amy Poehler’s Yes Please; 41: A Portrait of My Father, President George W. Bush’s biography of his father; and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl. There have also been some fortuitous movie tie-ins, with The Hunger Games’ Mockingjay, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and Angelina Jolie’s upcoming movie adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. “Individual titles such as Poehler’s or Dunham’s are always going to be perfect for us and for the student customer,” Barney says, “but at this time of year, there’s also always growth in our standard back-list tiles when people revisit them over the holidays.”
It’s also a time when shoppers are looking for the bigger or more lavish gift books, boxed-sets and stocking stuffers, and that’s especially true of the children’s and young adult market. “The popularity of teen books that are series driven, is always tremendously consistent,” Barney notes, pointing to The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, and anything by the author John Greene, both as new releases and back-list titles. Particularly noteworthy at the larger ‘town and gown’ college bookstores is the demand from younger customers for picture and pop-up books, seasonal programs, and story-time events that draw young families to those locations in the run up to the holidays.
If retailers are complaining that this year has delivered a particularly short holiday sales season, that time-frame is particularly compounded at college bookstores. “As the students start going home for the holidays, we’re not going to sell through to the 24th the way a mall retailer will,” Barney notes, and store managers and booksellers will be switching out stock for the start of a new college semester in January.
Customers won’t be done with reading for pleasure though. As author Stephen King recently told the Huffington Post, “Books are going to be here for a long time to come — there’s a deeply implanted desire and understanding of wanting them.” And that’s true year round, not just for the holidays.