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Score: Teen Fiction 1, Video games 0

An encouraging piece of news appeared in Newsweek’s web edition on May 19:

Generation R (R Is for Reader)

The book business may be flat, but there’s at least one bright spot: the booming sales of books for teens–and no, it’s not all Harry Potter. Contrary to the depressing proclamations that American teens aren’t reading, the surprising truth is they are reading novels in unprecedented numbers. Young-adult fiction (ages twelve to eighteen) is enjoying a bona fide boom with sales up more than 25 percent in the past few years, according to a Children’s Book Council sales survey. Virtually every major publishing house now has a teen imprint, many bookstores and libraries have created teen reading groups and an infusion of talented new authors has energized the genre.

And one publishing executive quoted sheds some light on a trend that might be behind this development:

“because of MySpace, Facebook, blogs and authors’ and publishers’ Web sites, young readers are communicating interactively now with each other and with authors.” Another reason for the YA boom cited by Levithan and others is that teen books have become an integral part of today’s overall pop-culture entertainment menu. They segue into television series, movies, videogames, cartoons and the Internet. If teens see that, say, “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” is coming out in theaters, they’ll read the book in advance of the movie.

This is a trend that smart publishers will pick up on, and leverage the rise of social media to drive a huge market that lives on the net to become lifelong readers. Think of it: releasing a new chapter a week of an up and coming YA author’s latest novel in digital format, building audience and loyalty as readers post them on their blogs, on their Facebook page, create fan clubs, etc. THis is one use case in which free will lead to higher sales, because unless everyone has a Kindle (or possibly an iPhone), many readers will opt to go out and buy the book rather than read the whole thing on a tiny cellphone screen. Maybe this strategy would’t move the needle on sales of Harry Potter books, but there are plenty of lesser known works that could find a new audience using this approach. It could also breathe new life into publisher’s backlist.