CHICAGO – October 16, 2023 Sales of books for children ages 8-11 are posting the steepest year over year declines within the children’s book market in the U.S. According to Circana, formerly IRI and The NPD Group, print sales of children’s books decreased by 3% this year through September, with middle-grade reader books declining by 10%. 

Middle-grade readers, the second largest segment within the children’s book market, accounted for 50.5 million units sold this year through September, according to data from Circana BookScan. Declines in the middle-grade segment are coming from all formats, with paperback posting the most declines. 

“There are less children reading for enjoyment, and book discovery for this age group has been an  ongoing issue since the pandemic,” said Kristen McLean, books industry analyst at Circana. “There was a break in the chain of peer-to-peer discovery when schools, libraries, and bookstores closed,​ and there is no broad discovery mechanism like ‘#BookTok’ when it comes to middle-grade readers. Also, some readers are likely aging out of middle-grade books and reading into older genres such as manga, webtoons, and young adult.”

Circana sales data coincides with findings from The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which quantify the decline in middle-grade children reading for pleasure. This year, 14% of 13-year-olds report reading for fun almost every day, which is down from 30% in 2004. The NAEP findings also shed light on the impact reading has on overall academic performance: over half of 13-year-old students scoring at or above the 75th percentile read for fun at least once a week, whereas 28% of those scoring below the 25th percentile practice such reading habits.

“There is still a significant market for middle-grade books, and it’s up to publishers and retailers to help spread the word about the positive value of reading, and all of the great authors and stories out there,” said McLean. “It’s time to think about new voices, formats, and stories to inspire and reengage middle-grade readers.”

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