Monday, September 24, 2012

New Study Says 55% of YA Book Readers are Adults

More than half of readers of
young adult literature are adults.
A new study by Bowker says that more than half of consumers of young adult literature (targeted toward ages 12-17) are actually adults aged 18 or older with the largest segment aged 30-44. As an author of young adult books, who is herself a reader of YA and is between the ages of 30-44, I would like to offer my personal opinion about why adults are venturing outside their bookstore "aisle" for good reading.

1. Adult books are weird and getting weirder - In my opinion, there are two types of popular adult fiction out there: the type that tries to shock you with graphic sex, violence, or bizarre situations (50 Shades anyone?) or the type that tries to challenge you with it's literary elitism.  I'd put The Time Keeper in this second category. Picking a book off the adult best-seller list can be like Russian roulette. Will this novel be entertaining, give me nightmares, cause headaches by forcing my brain into ever increasing complexity of plot and character? I'm not sure.

In contrast, young adult literature has boundaries. I think there's a sense when you pick up a YA book that you can still count on a relatively non-graphic, entertaining read, with a usually happy or satisfying ending.   

2. Young adult books delve into character - When you pull the curtain every time your characters get hot and bothered or throw a punch, you've got to develop character and plot in other ways.  That means, young adult authors often walk the reader through their character's emotional growth.  Those who write in the romance genre also do this exceedingly well.  YA and romance authors know that the journey takes place within. They make their characters easy to connect to in a personal way. This connection drives the reader forward through the tale, putting them tightly within the character's head. If you are an older reader, this can give you the illusion of feeling young again, reliving youthful experiences through the character. 

3. Readers today want escape and entertainment - People lead exceedingly busy and stressful lives today.  When they buy a book, they don't want to feel like they're doing homework for an English literature class. They want to be entertained. Young adult books in some ways are predictable and are almost always fast moving. I think many adult readers run for the safety and predictability that are hallmarks of the genre. And why not?

4. Screening books for younger relatives - One thing about young adult literature is there is a huge spectrum between Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and no clear rating system. Eleven and twelve year olds often find themselves in limbo, no longer interested in the content of middle grade fiction but not ready for much in the young adult category.  For this reason, parents of 11-12 year olds, who often happen to fall in the 30-44 age group, often become voracious consumers of young adult fiction, screening the books for their kids. Like anything else, if the book is engaging, it is only natural that these readers spread the word to their adult friends.  And since so much of book buying is social these days, you see viral reading activity bloom across this age bracket.

All of this of course is only theory, based on my experience as a mom, an author, and a voracious YA reader.  What's your opinion?  Why do you think more adults are reading YA?


G.P. Ching is the author of The Soulkeepers Series and a variety of short fiction. She specializes in cross-genre paranormal stories, loves old cemeteries, and enjoys a good ghost tour. She lives in central Illinois with her husband, two children, and one very demanding guinea pig. 

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  1. I find it fascinating that a lot of adults read YA. But just looking at the teens I know...they don't have the money to buy a lot of new releases. If they are advanced readers, they've gone on to adult or older YA - and not the commercial kind - but the more literary. So a lot of them go with what's in the library and lots of the readers for YA are tweens.

    I think it's awesome!

  2. I can understand this. I recently discovered John Green, who writes for young adults, and it's the best writing I've read in ages.

  3. Excellent points! I think it's partly because YA has evolved and grown so much. It's authors have had to raise their game, push through boundaries, and come up with something different. From that I think a lot of growth has emerged.

  4. Another theory I have is that adults have more disposable time. Teens have mountains of school work, sports, sometimes jobs, volunteering, and all kinds of things expected of them now. Their reading time is spent on what's assigned to them. As adults, though we may be busy, we have the luxury of reading for pleasure before bed at night or while our kids are at sports practice, etc.

  5. #4 Definitely. I'm reading much more middle grade lately because of my daughter, and am looking forward to sharing YA books with her soon. My book club is still very much focused on adult novels though. They've been open to YA when I've suggested them, but only as an occasional break from the usual.

  6. I'm sorry, I know this makes me the ghost at the feast...but I would like to humbly put forth the notion that this actually says something very damning about our culture.

    Though I'm sympathetic to the idea that anyone who's reading books at all these days is to be commended, we could stand to have more grown-ups reading grown-up books. For (ostensibly) adult women to spend their literate lives reading endless variations on pubescent romance...I find this a little disturbing, and a lot depressing.

    -A Fart at the Funeral