Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 7, 2011

2011 Children’s Book Market, Part Three

In yesterday’s installment, we shared editor and agent takes on whether historicals, fantasy, dystopian and vampire segments were hot or not.  In this final installment, we take a look at how Borders and Amazon have affected the market, electronic publishing, and finally, good and bad market trends.


Where Borders is concerned, it seems like a week doesn’t pass by without more bad news from the once storied chain.  Not surprisingly, it was on the minds of many industry professionals surveyed:
“I don’t see Borders being around much longer,” said one editor, reflecting the view of many.  “The effect is we print less books.”  But at the same time, many professionals expressed relief that where Borders is concerned, it appears the other shoe has finally

While predictions of Borders’ ultimate demise may be premature, industry predictions of revenue shifting either to other outlets (B&N, or other formats (epublishing revenue), seem feasible.

Where the real sense of loss seems to reside amongst the surveyed editors and agents isn’t so much with Borders as with the possible loss of brick and mortar stores.  Still, when asked, a number were consistent in stating they can’t imagine the loss of all book stores.  The consensus: in some form or another, they will survive.

Several agents also pointed out an additional negative stemming from the Borders situation: “Publishers are using it as a reason to offer up lower advances.  I feel like that says it all.”  This sentiment seemed consistent with agent panel discussion at the NJ-SCBWI conference itself.

Market Survey Concerns

In addition to Borders, Amazon was cited by a number of surveyed industry professionals as an area of concern.  “As Amazon gets stronger, we’re losing the browser experience.  So it becomes a question of how the online retailers choose which books to highlight.  It’s a whole new game in that market.”  Amazon was also compared, by several, as comporting itself more and more
like Microsoft—a reference that was not intended as a positive.

Amazon has also announced the formation of a publishing arm, headed by industry veteran Larry Kirshbaum.  What exactly that will mean is unclear at the time of the survey.  It will be interesting to see what’s next for the online retailer.

Electronic Publishing

At the NJ-SCBWI conference, during one of the agent panels, the topic of electronic publishing was raised, and nearly derailed all other topics and questions.  Clearly, writers and illustrators in attendance were very interested in what the ebook field will mean moving forward.

Here’s one industry professional’s take on it:  “The first generation of readers that Mom and Dad bought are being handed to kids as Christmas and birthday presents.  Look out!”

Clearly, as eReaders become less expensive, more proficient (with the addition of color), and more accessible to teens, the market for electronic content will grow.  However, as of this survey the market is more pronounced on the adult side of the industry, and just beginning to get a toehold in YA.  Where one house reports a 20%-30% boost in electronic sales, another reports not quite seeing the sales in children’s books yet.  “To me it says kids are still reading physical books, which might change in the coming years,” an agent commented.

It’s worth noting that all the houses we spoke with reported actively converting front list titles to digital format, with most seeing an uptick in digital sales.  When Amazon reported first quarter 2011 results, among the top ten bestsellers, they sold more ebooks than pbooks (p being hipspeak for print books).  However, after the top ten, pbooks dominated.

There is no denying that a handful of authors, most notably Amanda Hawking, have had great success self publishing their own ebooks.  However, as many editors and agents pointed out, a proliferation of self published books—books that lack professional editing, packaging and marketing, is not necessarily a good thing.  It will be interesting to track the impact of self-published ebooks next year.

The economics of ebooks were also cited by a number of agents as being less than favorable to most authors.  Independently published ebooks bring writers approximately 60%- 70% of their royalties. Traditionally published ebooks bring 25% of net, about 17.5% per copy.  With an average ecover price of just under $10, the math speaks for itself.

Still, virtually everyone surveyed elieved that ebooks will continue to make great strides in the years ahead.

2011 Market Trends Good

A number of industry professionals concurred:

“Middle Grade.  It’s not as sexy as YA, but I think it’s going to be stronger in the coming years!”

  • Science Fiction was cited multiple times as the next  big thing.  “We’re looking for a big sci fi book,” was a common refrain.
  • YA books continue crossing over to adults.
  • Slight improvement of the picture book market.  High interest in author-illustrator projects.
  • RIP: paranormal, vampires.  Waning: dystopian.

2011 Market Trends Bad

  • Agents report houses interested more in series.  “People want series, not one-offs.  I think it’s a drag,” commented one agent.
  • YA saturation.
  • Houses wanting all the same thing.  “Projects evaluated less on execution than on the concept and the publisher’s list,” causing a sanitized list.
  • Developing an author’s career has gone the way of the dodo.  “It’s just gone.  Publishers are demanding success at the outset.  It’s just the way it is.”
  • Grey area surrounding the proprietary parameters of editorial notes.  With editors demanding revisions without a signed contract, can a manuscript revised based on an editor’s notes be  submitted to a completely different house?

I’d like to end the year’s survey by thanking the editors and agents who were kind enough to participate.  The purpose of the survey was to share industry insight, in the form of a snapshot, with SCBWI members.  I appreciate everyone’s time and enthusiasm in discussing the market.  Comments are welcome and can be emailed to me at  See everyone next year.


  1. Yay, Middle Grade! Yay, Author/Illustrator projects! Maybe there is hope.

    Thanks David for another great survey.


  2. A terrific report! Lots of honest facts and some actual hope. And things I never thought of–like an editor’s possibly propriety notes. Not THAT is a scary thought.

    David, I did a mini-version of a market report many, many years ago for a freelance article. I put hours into that much smaller version–and that was back when the issues were very clear-cut. But even with that experience, I can’t imagine how much time and work this took you. You always have the chapter at heart. Thank you.


  3. Thanks Susan and Mary. I appreciate your comments. Hope to see you both soon.


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