Most young adult book buyers are not young adults

Many readers of young adult books are not, in fact, young adults. According to a new study from Bowker Market Research, released Thursday, 55% of buyers of books designated for children aged 12 to 17 are actually age 18 or older. Buyers between the ages of 30 and 44 account for the largest percentage of young adult sales, according to Understanding the Children’s Book Consumer in the Digital Age, an ongoing biannual study from Bowker.

The adults are not purchasing the books for others, the study found; 78% of the adults who reported buying young adult titles said they were purchasing the books to read themselves.

“The investigation into who is reading [young adult] books began when we noticed a disparity between the number of [young adult] ebooks being purchased and the relatively low number of kids who claim to read ebooks,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice president of Bowker Market Research in New Jersey, one of the world’s top providers of book information. “The extent and age breakout of adult consumers of these works was surprising. And while the trend is influenced to some extent by the popularity of ‘The Hunger Games,’ our data shows it’s a much larger phenomenon than readership of this single series.”

Indeed, the Bowker study corroborates what the publishers of two bestselling series recently reported in a story for the L.A. Times about the fast-growing genre of children’s books. A spokesperson for Scholastic estimated that half of the 50 million+ buyers of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young-adult series, “The Hunger Games,” are adults. A spokesperson for HarperCollins, publisher of Veronica Roth’s bestselling “Divergent” series, also said that 50% of the series’ readers were older than 25, based on information on the book-referral website,


“Interestingly enough, more teens are still reading in paper format, but what we’re finding is that the ebook sales are really the result of 20- to 65-year-olds or over,” HarperCollins Children’s Books publisher and president, Susan Katz, told The Times in July. “A lot of our books are read by adults. We’re getting a lot of comments on our own sites where we can see there’s a lot of enthusiasm beyond just teenagers.”

The Bowker study reported that more than 40% of young-adult book buyers read ebooks, a statistic equivalent to the highest adoption rates of adult genres, such as mystery and romance. Two thirds of adult buyers of young-adult titles said enjoying an author’s previous books had either a moderate or major influence on their book choices. More than half of the survey’s respondents reported they often get book recommendations from friends.