Children’s Books Sell Online: Data Guy on Juvenile Sales

Data Guy is a statistician who has taken on the role of analyzing book sales and comparing traditional v. indie publishing in many ways. He presented his latest report at Digital Book World in January, 2107. Slides from his presentation are available at

The results have been discussed and analyzed in many ways. One of the most startling findings is that for traditional publishers, 48% of their sales are online in the form of either audiobooks or ebooks. And overall, about 70% of US fiction sales are online as either audiobooks or ebooks.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes the starting conclusion that these statistics means there is no compelling reason to look for a traditional publisher. If your goal has been to be in a brick and mortar store, then traditional publisher can only deliver that half the time. In other words, with books sales moving online, they are selling on venues where indie authors can compete effectively. That includes upselling in digital formats, control over pricing and having a great reach than traditional publishers.

Is that true of children’s books, too? Or is that only adult fiction? Fortunately, Data Guy gives genre breakdowns in many of his slides. Let’s look at what it says about children’s fiction and non-fiction.

Raw Numbers

First, I love the raw numbers. In 2016, there were 35 million print sales of juvenile non-fiction at tradition brick & mortar stores. Wow! That’s a lot of books. The National Center for Education Statistics says that in Fall, 2016, there were 35.4 million students in K-8 public schools. That means about one non-fiction book per child. There are an additional 26 million books from combined online print, ebooks and audio sales. That puts it at about 1.6 books per student.

For juvenile fiction, there are 117 million print books sold at brick and mortar stores, or about 3.3 books per student. Online there were 77.2 million sold (print, ebook and audio) or about 2 per student. Totaling up all of that, 7.9 or about 8 children’s books published each year for every student. Of course, if you include private schools, that number will go down some. Still, there are a lot of new books to go around each year.

Online v Brick & Mortar – Children’s Books

Data Guy asserts that the real question for the coming years is the difference in online sales versus offline sales in a real store. For adult books the shift is clear. But it’s not quite as clear for juvenile fiction. One reason for this is that Data Guy is looking mostly at Amazon’s data obtained by spidering the site with a bot. He doesn’t look at sales from educational distributors like Follett, Mackin, Permabound and so on. That’s a huge market just by itself, and isn’t counted in the data here. However, going just with Data Guy’s data, we’ll look at trends.

For the data below, ONLINE means online print sales, audiobooks and ebooks.
Indie means self-published.

For traditionally published books only:
41% of children’s non-fiction book sales are online
40% of children’s fiction books are online.

You can almost ignore these figures because it ignores the impact of indie sales. Instead, look at the combined sales below.

For traditional, Indie, and Amazon-imprint:
5% juvenile non-fiction are Indie.
14% juvenile fiction are Indie.

For traditional, Indie, and Amazon-imprint:
45% juvenile non-fiction are bought online
48% juvenile fiction are bought online

In other words, indie publishers of juvenile materials have an incredible opportunity right now. Just under half the books are sold online, where indies can compete easier. With only 5% and 14% of juvenile non-fiction and fiction sales, respectively, coming from Indies, there’s tremendous possibility for growth.

For example, in adult fiction 42% are from indie publishers and 77% are bought online, compared to 14% of juvenile fiction from indie publisher and 48% bought online. If juvenile books can bring the numbers closer to the adult fiction market, indie juvenile sales will boom. In other words, juvenile books (fiction and non-fiction) are an area under-served by indie publishers.

Category of sales

Data Guy has one fascinating chart that breaks down the categories of books for juvenile non-fiction online sales from Indies or Amazon imprints. He charts the percentage of US online book purchases of Indie + Amazon imprint titles (first percentage below) against the percentage of US online book purchases that have gone digital (ebooks, audio) (second percentage below). All percentages are approximate. See the chart because otherwise, this can get confusing!

Animals – Less than 1% | Less than 1/5
Concepts –8 % | 5%
Holidays/festivals/religion –9% | 3%
History/sports/people/places –10% | 5%
Education/reference/language –15% | 10%
Games/activities/hobbies – 20% | 18%
Biographies/autobiographies – 28% | 12%
Social situation/family/health – 22% | 65%

Data Guy data on juvenile non-fiction categories. |

Does this mean that the sales go to traditional publishers because their books are better illustrated and published? Or because there are so few indie books in these areas? When I see that sales are very low percentages for Indie books, I think growth potential. For example the social situation/family/health category is 65% sales online, yet indies only represent 22% of titles. In every juvenile category, the percentage of indies is low and represent incredible growth categories. If you choose a sub-category, it would be even easier to find success with great books.

For juvenile fiction categories, online sales.
The first % is digital sales (ebooks and audiobooks); the second is % indie titles. Again, see the chart.

Concepts – 6% | 5%
Classics – 18% | 2%
History/people/places/sports 25% | 10%
Social situations/family/health 30% | 8%
Holidays 32% | 12%
Animals 40% | 18%
General juvenile fiction 52% | 35%
Juvenile Sci-fi & fantasy 70% | 38%

Data Guy's statistics on juvenile fiction categories. |

However, Data Guy breaks the Juvenile sci-fi/fantasy into YA/Teen and Children’s.
The first % is the digital sales (ebooks and audiobooks); the second % is indie titles.

Children’s science fiction/fantasy 28% | 10%
YA/Teen science fiction/fantasy 85% | 58%

Clearly, the YA/Teen market is strong in the science fiction/fantasy category, and much weaker for children’s. The average ebook for self-published YA/Teen SFF was $3.23 for indie publisher and $7.41 for traditional publisher (Non Top 5) and $9.06 for the top 5 publishers.

BIG Opportunity: Growth Potential

There is immense growth potential for children’s indie published books; this includes digital and print books. In almost every category except YA/Teen SFF, indie books are under-represented. Since about half of all juvenile books (45% non-fiction; 48% fiction) are sold online, indie publisher need to sharpen their marketing skills to reach more of their audience online. It’s time to focus on up-selling the digital formats, experimenting with prices to find the maximum profit range, and connecting with your readers.

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