There’s a certain demographic out there of people who are the backbone of the publishing industry, its bread and butter, the reason for its continued existence. Without this group of people, the publishing industry might be faring far worse than it is now. This group of people is willing to go out and buy the hardback book the day it hits the shelves, buy the print book over the e-book, stay loyal to an author. This audience is mostly adult women, who buy books for their children and who go in with a list of titles and buy them all without necessarily looking at the price tag. My mother is in this category, although she reads more on her e-reader these days than she used to. I probably will be one day, assuming brick-and-mortar bookstores are still around.
And there’s a certain kind of book that attracts these adult readers (male and female alike): the young adult crossover. Young adult crossover books are those that are written/marketed for young adults but are successfully with adults as well. Some big examples of course would be The Hunger Games series, Harry Potter series, and alas, The Twilight series (or do we call it “saga” these days?) Smaller examples would be Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. These books appeal to ages 10-60, or possibly older depending on the person. A new study (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/53937-new-study-55-of-ya-books-bought-by-adults.html) found that 55% of YA sales are bought and read by adults. And those 55% fall into my category above of the coveted reader demographic. The article says:
- Early adopters: More than 40% read e-books, equivalent to the highest adoption rates of adult genres of mystery and romance
- Committed: 71% say that if an e-book of their desired title was unavailable, they would buy the print book instead
- Loyal: Enjoying the author’s previous books has a moderate or major influence over the book choice for more than two-thirds of the respondents
- Socially active: Although more than half of respondents reported having “no interest” in participating in a reading group, these readers are very active in social networks and often get recommendations from friends.
The popularity of YA can even be seen in how publishers are packaging their books. A few months back I saw an article on the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/28/business/media/to-lure-twilight-fans-classic-books-get-bold-looks.html?pagewanted=all) that said that publishers are putting young-adult-style covers on old-school classics to lure in those who buy YA books. Publishers realize how important YA is, and they have devoted a lot of energy and resources into publishing more and more YA titles each year, and bookstores have taken the hint. I’m sure we’ve all seen the unfortunate “Teen Paranormal Romance” sections at your local Barnes and Noble.
Publishers realize that those stuffy covers featuring depressed-looking young women in Georgian/Victorian/Edwardian clothing standing in English gardens are not attracting anybody except those who already like the classics. And although these booksellers are appealing to the Twilight teen, it’s possible that adults will buy these books as well, considering how they are already drawn to YA books. And hopefully a teenager might just pick up a classic or two.
I abhor classics worship–classics endure because of how their stories mesh into the overarching human story we are all a part of, not because the writing is flawless. I grit my teeth every time I hear a high school English teacher waxing nostalgic about how amazing every singe word in The Scarlet Letter is. Nathaniel Hawthorne isn’t perfect, either. Just because it’s published and it’s endured doesn’t mean it’s infallible. Anyway. Now that I’ve got that off my chest. But I do think classics are important as part of our cultural and literary heritage, so I think we should probably keep them around. I hope both teens and adults alike keep reading, and I certainly pray that we all keep valuing the transformative power of the written word.