Scholastic and PRH Remain Untouchable as Top Children’s Publishers

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From Publishers Weekly:

Scholastic’s trade group has been on a hot streak for over a year, and that performance is reflected in the publisher’s dominance of PW’s children’s fiction bestseller list in 2020. The company had 53 books that made the frontlist fiction chart last year, up from 43 in 2019. Those titles also averaged longer stays on the chart, occupying 574 bestseller list positions. There are 25 titles on each of PW’s weekly children’s lists, for a total of 1,300 positions on each list over the course of a year—meaning that Scholastic had 44.1% of the frontlist fiction bestseller positions, up from 28.8% a year ago.

Scholastic author Dav Pilkey’s Fetch-22 (Dog Man #8) was on our frontlist fiction chart every week in 2020, and Scholastic published six of the top 10 titles with the longest runs on last year’s bestseller list. Another title in Pilkey’s Dog Man series, For Whom the Ball Rolls, spent 34 weeks on the list.

Pilkey is a mainstay of PW’s annual review of the children’s fiction bestseller lists, but Scott Cawthon, while a bestselling author, has not always finished high in our year-end tallies. In 2020, though, he had two books in his Five Nights at Freddy’s series with long frontlist fiction chart runs: The Silver Eyes was on the list for 44 weeks, and Into the Pit had a 33-week run. Other Scholastic top sellers were the 10th volume in Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys series, The Bad Guys in the Baddest Day Ever, which had a 35-week stay, as did J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, illustrated by Jim Kay.

Scholastic’s tremendous 2020 showing on the children’s frontlist fiction chart meant down years for most other publishers. Simon & Schuster took the biggest hit in 2020, falling from second place on the ranking in 2019 to fifth place. In 2019, S&S’s bestseller performance benefitted from the release of the movie Five Feet Apart; the original Five Feet Apart novel by Rachael Lippincott was on our list for 35 weeks, and the tie-in edition had a 28-week run.

HarperCollins slipped into second place on the children’s frontlist fiction bestsellers by corporation ranking, with a 10.5% share of chart positions. HC had two titles with long frontlist fiction bestseller runs last year: The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate hit the list for 33 weeks, and FGTeeV Presents: Into the Game!, published by HarperAlley, stayed on the list for 32 weeks.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

20 thoughts on “Scholastic and PRH Remain Untouchable as Top Children’s Publishers”

  1. Of course, this analysis is no better than the underlying data. Or the assumption that unit sales of physical copies accurately reflect teen and preteen (and even younger in this Plague Year) reading habits. Or, perhaps most to the point, that libraries don’t count… because the stated statistics are utterly inconsistent with library circulation statistics and visible holding lists (that is, the privacy-respecting stuff like “You are #64 for 22 copies”). PW is… umm… not ordinarily extolled for its consideration of the mere possibility of GIGO, let alone (institutionally) capable of distinguishing between “readership” and “purchase.”

    And the less said about noise, about smoothing functions and their problems, and about the difference between “sales to bookstores” and “actual nonreturnable sales”, the better the harried executives trying to justify their bonuses will sleep. Oops, that assumes that they have consciences to be disturbed, doesn’t it?

    • There you go again, C., picking on those poor publishers once again. They’re just trying to do their thankless job of curating culture for the adults who buy children’s books and you mention trivialities like mere accounting and reporting practices.

      If it’s good enough for Publishers Weekly, who are we to question?

      • I’m a curmudgeon about things like that, and I still follow the commissioned officer’s rubric (if it looks like a conflict of interest, it is a conflict of interest — a rule that is utterly incomprehensible to the legal profession, and most of the words in it can’t even be spelled by entertainment-industry executives).

        So sue me. I need the business. <vbeg>

    • To be fair to Publishers Weekly – not words I’ve used before – though the headline is misleading (as is the way of headlines) the article itself makes it very clear that all they are doing is reporting on the placement of books in their bestseller lists. I don’t think that they claim to reflect their audiences’ reading habits, or that PW has any interest in what kids really want rather than who is publishing the books bought for them.

      As for the data quality this comes back to the coverage of Nielsen Bookscan, which Nielsen likes to claim is 85% of print sales, though this is known to be overly optimistic for some market segments.

      • There’s another problem with relying upon any sales data for preadults: Who is actually making the purchasing decision?

        Here’s an example (serial numbers filed off). A few, but not too many, years ago, Scholastic was extremely proud of the sales success of a Certain Series. Until, that is, someone started looking into actual readership and discovered that sales were disproportionately to a certain subset of grandparents, and the books were being read at most once (and often, due to certain characteristics of that Certain Series, not even that much) and then donated to thrift shops.

        Far be it for me to suggest that this is far more common than PW or other Manhattan-echobox sources would acknowledge ever happens… let alone happens repeatedly, and to such an extent that one “children’s imprint” went through a forced acquisition when its “grandparent connection” closed up shop and the truth about its product lines’ attractiveness to the actual target audience became abundantly clear through the overwhelming quantity of returns.

        Nielsen hasn’t claimed “85% of print sales” for a decade and a half. It has at most claimed “85% of bookstore sales” (libraries, warehouse clubs, non-book stores like comic shops, and a certain Seattle-based online vendor being “not bookstores”).

    • Does library circulation more accurately reflect teen and preteen (and even younger in this Plague Year) reading habits?

      • Very likely.
        A rite of passage for young bookworms is getting their own library card.
        And it’s not as if too many adults check out kids books for themselves.

        • Lots of parents check them out for kids. Depends a lot on age and transportation. I’d suggest that both sales and libraries are good sources.

          I haven’t set foot in a B&N for several years, but I recall seeing many kids with parents in the children’s section. I expect the parents were paying.

          • Right.
            And parents check out what their kids like.
            It is only teachers who foist books on kids”because they’re good for you”.
            That parenting theory died with the 19th century.
            Today, especially, if parents bring in a book the kid doesn’t like, they’ll just turn on the TV and grab the XBOX controller.

            What libraries see going out is what pleases the kids.
            If anything, it is the bookstores that are more likely to be moving kid books that end up on ebay or the trash.

            • And parents check out what their kids like.

              Of course they do. And they do the same when they buy what kids like.

              Buy or borrow? What makes one more likely to reflect tastes and preferences than the other.

              So, how do we know if sales or libraries most accurately reflect teen and preteen (and even younger in this Plague Year) reading habits.

              • You forget stores have *paid* front tables and endcaps, steering shoppers to what the publishers want to move?
                Libraries have no paid biases.
                No reason to steer parents or kids towards the flavor of the week over Seuss or Oz.
                Closer to a level playing field.

                • Libraries have has displays in the kids section for the last 100 years.

                  Is there some reason to think the kids don’t like what is on a table? Parents keep buying what the kids don’t like because it’s on a table?

                • Libraries have has displays in the kids section for the last 100 years.

                  Is there some reason to think the kids don’t like what is on a table? Parents keep buying what the kids don’t like because it’s on a table?

                  Does it work the same way for adults? They buy what is on the table, find they don’t like it, so they keep buying from the table?

                • And who chooses what libraries shelve?
                  Not the publishers.

                  Payola distorts bookstore sales so unless you know of publishers paying libraries, instead of trying to cripple them, I’m betting on them having a better feel for what kids actually like.

                  So, is library payola a thing in your neck of the woods?

                • If the table is such a strong and enduring influence, it doesn’t matter how the book gets on the table.

                  Table theory tells us consumers will choose whatever is on the table, not like it, and continue buying from the table to get more books they don’t like.

      • I don’t think anyone pays attention to used book sales.

        I’m acquainted with a woman who has built a substantial (and nicely curated and organized) physical home library for her children (and other children in the neighborhood) entirely from used children’s books in good condition. (She has a large carpeted basement with lots of natural light.)

        I think she also found some sort of open-source library management/book management program to allow children to check out and return books.

  2. I have written before on how, in my opinion, Scholastic as an entity knows what it is doing. They go straight to their audience (kids) bypassing middlemen (booksellers) by reaching them where they spend their time (classrooms). Their marketing is inexpensive but effective (folded sheets of newsprint with compelling book descriptions and an order form on the back.) They co-opt teachers as unpaid sales representatives (teachers distribute the marketing material, take the money, consolidate the orders, submit the orders and distribute the consolidated order once it is received) – by throwing them some additional books as bones. Their books are cheaply made, as befits the content and use, and are sold at affordable prices. They simplify their shipping by doing so on a per-school basis, making one shipment for hundreds of students. They have an excellent web presence. Many of their books are available digitally. While it is true you can get scholastic books in bookstores, classroom sales are their bread and butter, and are very efficient when you look at the big picture of how they are done.

    Consider. By teaming up with teachers and school librarians, Scholastic reaches almost every kid that goes to school, which is almost every kid — darn near (I’ll bet) 100% of their target market — and fills that conduit with only books published by them. Not bad, I say.

    • Their own flavor of B2C.
      Gives them their own big database.
      It’s more of a *push* channel than libraries, though. Like bookstores, they push what they have, which isn’t always what the kids would prefer, given full choice. But it’s closer.
      Better than bokkstore payola.

    • Once upon a time, perhaps.

      The demise of the order-form system with restrictions on how much schools can sell without having to do sales-tax accounting, and other back-end things, combined with the rise of Amazon and specialty online retailing, has eaten away at Scholastic. It’s a far, far lower proportion of Scholastic’s business now than it was ten years ago, and 2011 was a far, far lower proportion of Scholastic’s business then than a decade before that. (Hint: What happened to “Troll Book Club,” and when?)

      It’s really difficult to say, but my suspicion is that the data coming from in-school sales is near, at, and probably below the random-noise threshold, and gets little reliance in-house. Of course, getting people at Scholastic to admit to such would prove rather difficult because it might seem disloyal…

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