What Do Teens Want? By Carol Fitzgerald — Publishers Weekly, 10/26/2009

In an industry without a lot of good news to report, the one consistent bright spot has been publishing for teens. While adult trade sales are expected to fall 4% this year, juvenile and young adult sales are expected to increase 5.1%, according to the PW/IPR Book Sales Index. Although it’s impossible to completely break out juvenile from young adult (YA), it is possible to look at expected growth rates for different categories. In the fiction/fantasy/sci-fi segment, where most sales in the YA category fall, we expect nearly 13% growth in 2009, reaching $744 million. By 2013, sales in this segment are anticipated to hit $861 million, a 30.6% increase over 2008.

Sure, lots of the growth in the teen category can be attributed to some phenomenally successful, blood-sucking bestsellers. And there is no doubt that there is a great deal of crossover readership from adult buyers. Nevertheless, this buying bubble is being fueled by a teen demographic about which we know very little.

Teenreads.com, the second site in what is now TheBookReportNetwork.com, provides an opportunity to investigate this teen readership. Back in 1997, when Teenreads.com was launched, we had two goals. One was to give teens a place to learn about books and authors—and to discuss these books. To attract this hypercritical audience, we tried to write in a style that was smart, not pandering; we wanted teens to see reading as fun, not as a chore. We found the sweet spot: Teenreads.com now has more than 230,000 unique monthly visitors.

Our second goal was to create an environment that could serve as a laboratory to study this demographic, which, after all, is the future of publishing. In 2005, we conducted our first survey to learn what teens react to in the marketplace and what influences their reading choices. By this past summer, so much had changed—the evolution of e-book readers, social networking, the economic recession—we knew it was time to launch another survey. What impact have these had on young readers? What turns today’s teens on and off? Are they as digitally focused as we have been led to think they are?

What They Read

We recognized that we were surveying an exceptional group, what we call über readers. So the results reflect teens who are already drawn to books; we are not studying what keeps nonreaders from picking up a book. Also, while we purposely marketed the survey to attract male readers, females are the vast majority (96%) of responders. This reflects what we see on Teenreads.com; perhaps more girls seek book information, and want to share their opinions, through Web sites such as ours. Also, Teenreads.com covers more fiction—and girls are reported to read more fiction than boys.

Not surprisingly, the respondents reported that they are avid readers during the summer, with 41% reading more than 20 books during the vacation months, 26% reading 11–20 and 18% reading six to 10 books.

They continue their reading once school begins, with 34% reading more than 10 books a month for pleasure during the school year; 24% read six to 10, and 28% read three to five.

For those who read graphic novels or manga, the top five genres they enjoy in this format are romance (51%), humor (45%), mystery (33%), sci-fi/fantasy (31%) and action/superhero (26%).

When asked what formats they prefer, 79% noted paperback while 74% said hardcovers. Audiobooks were favored by 6%, while e-books were noted only by 6% and 13% had no preference as to format.

While 31% read adult titles without reservation, 58% report that their reading of adult titles depends on the book. Only 11% do not read adult titles. The most popular adult authors include Mitch Albom, Jane Austen, Meg Cabot, Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Suzanne Collins, Michael Crichton, Janet Evanovich, John Grisham, Charlaine Harris, Sophie Kinsella, Dean Koontz, George Orwell, Chuck Palahniuk, James Patterson, Jodi Picoult, David Sedaris, Nicholas Sparks and John Steinbeck.

Since teens read adult titles in significant numbers, it would make sense for adult publishers to reach out to them and for bookseller and librarians to cross promote titles.

Book-Buying Habits

Over the period surveyed (see sidebar for survey methodology), 31% bought three to five new books, 21% bought one to two and 21% bought six to 10; 13% bought more than 10 while 13% didn’t buy any new books.

Only 9% said that price does not matter. One third (34%) always consider price while 52% consider price depending upon the book. Fewer than 5% said they always wait for the paperback.

Digging deeper, we asked if their book-buying habits have changed in the previous six months. Many reported that their habits had changed (44%), 38% said they had not, and 18% were not sure. What changed? Many are visiting the library more (52%), 42% are browsing in bookstores more, 31% are buying fewer books, 25% are buying more paperbacks, and 9 % are browsing in bookstores less. Yet 39% said they are buying more books, and 27% said they are shopping online more.

More than two-thirds (68%) share the cost of book purchases with their parents while 19% buy their own books and 12% said their parents always buy their books. Only 1% do not own their books.

Bookstores: Where They Shop, What They Want

One quarter visit their neighborhood bookstore at least once a month, with 44% visiting stores even more frequently.

Chain bookstores are their most popular destinations (78%), with local booksellers (45%) and online retailers (44%) trailing. More than one-third shop library book sales (36%), and 33% shop at big-box stores.

What would enhance their shopping experience in a bookstore? Four suggestions dominated: more books to chose from (63%); book reviews and recommendations from experts and others (48%); events with favorite authors (45%); and comfortable places to sit (40%).

Because better selection is so important to them, stores should have a way for teens to request books that are not available. How often do they not make a purchase just because the book they wanted was not available? This may well be why 27% noted that they are buying more online.

As for libraries, we didn’t pose questions about library use per se, but layered queries about libraries into other questions. We do know that 44% visit their local library at least once a week and an additional 37% visit at least once a month.

The Influencers

Not surprisingly, 83% of teens are influenced by their friends’ book recommendations. What did surprise us is that 52% were influenced by family members (perhaps their siblings), ahead of teachers (47%) and librarians (36%).

More than one-third (36%) frequently talk about books with friends, while 49% do this sometimes. As for recommendations, 49% always recommend books to their friends and 46% do so sometimes.

What else influences the teen book consumer? Figure 3 lists the top five influences.

We asked teens how they like to interact with their favorite authors. More than eight out of 10 (85%) visit the Web sites of their favorite authors for information about upcoming titles, and 65% would like to interact with an author at an in-store event. Other choices: library events (55%), book festivals (54%), in-school events (44%) and blogs (32%); and book and reader blogs (31%). Social networking sites like Facebook, Good Reads and My Space come in at 19%, lower than we expected.

Figure 4 shows other book review and information Web sites teens visit.

What Motivates Them to Buy

Consistent with our 2005 survey, book copy was the most important factor that would make teens pick up a book. A stunning 91% saw this as the most important influence. The cover was important to 79%. The next most important influence, with 77%, was familiarity with an author’s previous work; 74% were looking for the next book in a series. For 73%, the title was important.

While we are not exploring results of those over 18 in this article, it is noteworthy that 89% of those over 18 chose familiarity with the author first, with the description on the back flap (86%) and the next book in the series (79%) all more significant than the cover (76%). There’s likely a difference between the way that teens and adults make book choices.

Most reported that parents don’t monitor what they read (55%), while 23% said their parents do weigh in some of the time, and 13% said they are monitored by their parents, but still read what they want. Only 9% follow parental monitors.

More on What They Read

Surprisingly, for all the chatter about summer reading, 56% of the survey respondents don’t have a summer reading list, while 36% do. Somewhat humorously, 8% are unsure about whether or not they have a list. Of those with summer reading lists, 24% enjoy having one; 66% sometimes enjoy them, depending on the books; and 10% say they did not enjoy them.

When asked how they would like summer reading to be done differently, 70% asked for more current books, 69% would prefer a better selection of titles, and 53% would like to have a requirement of how many books to read as opposed to a list. Only 13% embrace the idea that many colleges and universities have adopted: one book that each grade will read and then discuss once school begins.

Summer reading is clearly a hot button topic, a tremendous opportunity to engage readers. If reading is seen as a chore—which clearly summer reading is for even the über reader—then it can dissuade teens from becoming lifelong readers. Our respondents have a clear message for educators: think about the selections being offered.

Book Clubs

Even in this group, only 17% are in book clubs and 3% are not active. But 45% are interested in either being in a club (38%) or starting one (7%). More than one-third noted they are not interested in this or do not have time. Of those in a club, 42% meet at school, 37% meet at their library, 25% meet online, 12% get together at a bookstore, and 23% meet at members’ houses—much less than we see with adult readers. Teens may well need a structured environment for book clubs to succeed.

Of those in a book group, 48% meet with their group at least once a month while one-third meet more than once a month. For 41%, their discussions vary between reading one book or a number of books, 36% discuss one book, and 23% discuss a variety of books.

Half use discussion guides, while another 64% would like to, which indicates a value in having these available. As far as using discussion guides on the Teenreads site, 42% would like to see more guides, with an additional 35% thinking this might be a good idea.

More than half (54%) have theme-related book group meetings, while another 10% would like to do this. While there is a lot of chatter about children in book clubs with their parents, only 11% are in a book club with a parent.

Books into Movies

In a statistic that will warm the hearts of publishers, librarians, educators and authors, 83% of those surveyed like to read the book before they see the movie version. Only 4% like to see the movie first; 13% do not have a preference.

With so many teens enjoying reading a book before it is released as a movie, it makes sense to promote these titles to them well in advance of movie releases.

Marketing and Social Networks

With time on their hands, teens gravitate to YouTube; 46% of the respondents watch online book trailers, and 45% have purchased books after watching them. Before every marketing department races to create more trailers, though, 55% report that trailers have not influenced them.

Author interviews, either podcast or video, attract 24%, with an additional 21% who like video but not podcast. Yet 53% do not like either podcast or video interviews or are not sure how they feel.

When asked if they enter contests to win free books, more than half (56%) said they do this often or some of the time. A surprising 37% said they do not do this but would like to, and 7% said they are uninterested.

Social Networking

Facebook is used by 71% of the respondents, with 26% checking in more than once a day and 14% clocking time on the site daily. Another 42% are on My Space, but only 8% use it several times a day and 7% every day. Our results match other findings that we have seen: teens are not using Twitter. Only 25.7% have a Twitter account, and only 6% use it several times a day, while 2.8% use it once a day.

They are using Goodreads, Shelfari, Library Thing and, surprisingly, Flickr, although the latter in very negligible numbers. To give a glimpse of what book-related information they would like from social networking, we asked what they would like to see on the Teenreads.com Facebook page (see Fig. 6).

Note that 38% were not interested in a Teenreads.com Facebook page.


While 58% do not read author blogs, 22% do this now and an additional 21% have done so in the past. In reply to an open-ended question, here are the author blogs they read the most: Libba Bray, Meg Cabot, Ally Carter, P.C. Cast, Cassandra Clark, Zoey Dean, Sarah Dessen, John Green, Richelle Mead, Stephenie Meyer, Christopher Paolini, James Patterson, Tamora Pierce, Sarah Shepard, Melissa Walker and Scott Westerfeld.

To give examples of what they would like to see in a book-related blog, we asked what they would like on the Teenreads.com blog. News about book releases led (67%), followed by author contributions (48%), author news (43%), links to book trailers (39%) and links to author interviews (23%).

It’s worth noting that 18% have their own blog or blog for someone else while 25% would like to do this.


More than 56% click on online ads about books, and 8% do this regularly. In fact, 6% said they get all the information they need from the ad itself. For nearly three-quarters (72%), recognizing the author/title grabs their attention when they see an online ad. But 52% respond to colors or art, and 35% react to offers of contests/giveaways. Moving/flash ads only influence 11%, while 21% noted that photographs of people on the cover matter.

What About E-books?

While we hear that teens have embraced all things digital and thus have a large interest in reading e-books, our findings didn’t support this claim.

When we asked about their affection for a digital reading device for fun reading (not schoolwork) if the price were affordable, 46% said they preferred printed books. Another 38% said they would like one, and 16% indicated they were not sure how they felt about this.

When asked if they’d like to read textbooks as e-books, they were evenly split, with 36% saying yes, 33% saying they were not sure, and 31% saying they would not be interested.

Nearly one-quarter (24%) have read an e-book, while 27% would like to read one. Almost half (49%) said they have no interest in reading e-books.

When asked how they have read an e-book, 26% have done so on a computer while 33% used a dedicated digital reading device and 5% used another method. Seven out of 10 (71%) say they have never read one.

Competition for Their Time

In a number that we thought was low, only one-quarter regularly record programming on DVR, TIVO or Direct TV; 15% record sometimes; while 59% never do this.

When asked how much TV they watch per week between recorded and live programming, one-quarter said four to five hours; 22% said six to eight hours, and 27% said eight hours or more. Another 22% watch three hours or less, and 4% said they do not watch at all.

Less than half (46%) have a Netflix, Redbox, Blockbuster or other movie rental account at their house. As for going to the movies, 6% do not go at all; 41% go less than once a month, 24% go about once a month, and 23% go several times a month. As far as watching movies on television, 29% watch fewer than one a week, 23% watch one, 25% watch two, and 22% watch three or more.

YouTube is more popular than iTunes, with one-third (33%) visiting it at least once a day and another 38% visiting at least once a week. With iTunes, 25% visit at least once a day, and 28% visit at least once a week.

More than three-quarters (77%) play games online, and 56% would like to see interactive online components and extras for books (Web site, YouTube videos, downloads, etc.) if they made sense with the content. Only 23% said this does not matter to them.

Surprisingly, 70% have never been to Hulu.com.

Under 18 Over 18
Description copy on the back/flap 91% 86%
Cover 79% 76%
Familiarity with author’s previous work 77% 89%
Looking for next book in a series 74% 78%

News about book releases 61%
Information about Teenreads.com contests 48%
Contests exclusively for Facebook fans 40%
News about authors 38%
Links to book trailers 36%
Games or quizzes 32%
Links to video interviews with authors 21%
Links to audio interviews with authors 11%

About the Survey

The Teenreads.com 2009 Reader Survey was conducted between July 2 and August 31 using Survey Monkey software; 4,073 completed the 77-question survey. Of these, 3,895 (74%) were 18 years old or younger. Their responses on what they had read in the previous three or six months are the basis of this article.

Respondents were offered a reward (books) for completing the survey and submitting their contact information; 3,168 of the total survey respondents took advantage of this.

Information about the survey was sent to Teenreads.com newsletter subscribers in a dedicated newsletter as well as in additional newsletters. It was featured on the Teenreads.com Web site and the Teenreads.com Facebook page, and promoted in newsletters for other sites in the Book Report Network.

To reach a wider audience than Teenreads.com readers, it was publicized to 200 Web sites that attract book groups and readers. Also, to reach the library market, the survey was shared with young adult librarians and posted on EarlyWord.com. To reach booksellers, it was shared with the American Booksellers Association. Of the survey respondents, 77% had visited Teenreads.com before the survey, while 23.5% had not.

Most of the teens lived in the United States, with 26% in the Northeast, 18% each in the Southeast and Midwest, 8% in the Southwest and 7% each in the Northwest and West; 17% were from outside the United States. Females were the vast majority, 96%. The age spread was 11–18 (see Fig. 1).

For the complete survey results, contact Carol Fitzgerald, Carol@bookreporter.com.