2020 was a historic year for children’s non-fiction print book sales in the U.S., driven by an acute need for materials to entertain and educate children after the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire supercategory of juvenile non-fiction ended 2020 with unit sales that were 23% higher than the previous year. This growth was powered by several subjects that experienced triple-digit growth in the early stages of the pandemic. While unit sales are 2 million units (5%) lower this year than they were last year, through the week ending July 24, 2021, they are up 6 million units (21%) over pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to The NPD Group.
“Summer sales of educational workbooks and school readiness materials remain strong this year,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst for NPD. “Books related to science and nature, biographies, and other key topics are growing, indicating kids and families are still looking to this material, as we head toward the return to school.”
Trends in top juvenile non-fiction BISAC categories
Six juvenile non-fiction book industry standards and communications (BISAC) categories accounted for 44% of the juvenile non-fiction print books market in the U.S. from January through July 24, 2021. They are as follows: biography and autobiography (up 23%), science and nature (up 9%), activity books (down 11% YTD), concepts (down 11%), study aids (down 32%), games and activities (down 16%). Other growing BISAC categories include religion (up 121,000 units), healthy/daily living (up 386,000), social topics (up 332,000).
“While a number of juvenile non-fiction categories declined compared to 2020’s unprecedented spike in sales, the overall unit-sales volume for this supercategory remains very strong historically,” McLean said. “Given that many parents continue to worry that their children could fall behind in the classroom due to coronavirus-related school closures, there will be continuing consumer needs in this area well into 2022.”
Publisher market share in juvenile non-fiction
Supply-chain disruptions, quickly evolving consumer focus, and shifts in retail channels have all affected publisher market share over the last 52 weeks. This is creating opportunities for nimble independent publishers that can take advantage of domestic printing to gain market share as other publishers wait for overseas orders.
“Unlike some areas of children’s publishing, like comics and graphic novels, the juvenile non-fiction supercategory has a very diverse publishing ecosystem,” McLean said. “Small, medium, and large publishers compete on a fairly level playing field, and there are opportunities to take market share, depending on the shifting needs of the marketplace.”