One of the biggest challenges for an author, a publisher AND readers consists of the increasing difficulty of matching a wannabe reader with the type of book he or she is looking to buy. A new survey recently was conducted to determine how readers discover books.
While the survey that the report was based on was conceived before the pandemic, it was carried out from September 18 to November 15, 2020. As a result, it reflects possible changes in book discoverability that occurred during the time most bookstores were either closed or limited in the number of shoppers in the store at a given time.
Entitled “Immersive Media & Books 2020,” The report’s conclusions were written about by Jim Milliot in an article for the February 22, 2021 issue of Publishers Weekly. Below is a summary of “Immersive Media & Books 2020” report.
How much do other media compete for consumers’ time and money?
One surprise element of the survey found that “avid book engagers”–those who engage with at least four books each month–also actively engage with other media. Ultimately, the report states, They “don’t choose between books and games or books and TV/movies; they engage with all of these forms in a large, networked media consumption ecosystem.”
This means that, when publicizing one’s book, using a variety of media could mean avid readers have multiple avenues through which they might discover your book.
What does an avid book engager look like?
The study found consumers of more than four books per month tend to be:
- young (millennials)
- ethnically diverse (high concentration of Black and Latinx)
- active on social media
Major ways readers discover books
The four ways readers found new books they wanted to read or give as a gift are:
- Recommendations from friends (this is perennially the most used method to finding books)
- Familiarity with the author
- Recommendations from family
- Recommendations on social media
#4 is a new entrant to the list and should encourage those authors/publishers who have wondered if showcasing a book on social media actually sells books. The answer is yes, it can.
But one other element of the study found that no one way of discovering books is dominant. Many paths can lead to a reader connecting with a book.
Major places readers discover books
The top four in this category include:
- Browsing online bookstores
- Browsing shelves in brick-and-mortar bookstores
- In-person author events in bookstores, libraries, etc.
- Browsing shelves in public libraries
For authors/publishers who wonder if in-person events can have an affect, clearly they can.
The survey found only 5 percent of readers discovered a book through a virtual event, which has become a significant way publicists have worked during the pandemic to lead to book sales. Fortunately those who put together the survey plan to conduct it each year; that will enable us to learn if virtual events will grow in popularity or fade, as socializing returns to physical gatherings.
Do bookstores serve as showrooms for online book-buying?
Certainly many bookstores believe they do serve this non-money-making role for readers. But the survey found that 44 percent of respondents bought books in bookstores that they first found online, while 45 percent bought books online they first found in bookstores. So, that results in a virtual draw–both sources can be the point of discovering a book but won’t necessarily be the source from which the book is purchased.
It’s possible, those who wrote up the report remarked, that bookstores’ decision to offer curbside pickup for book purchases may have positively affected those percentages. Bookstore owners observe that book lovers seem to have consciously supported brick-and-mortar bookstores, not wanting to see them shuttered as a result of the pandemic. That desire might well have driven local book purchasing.
What does this mean for the writer, author, and publisher?
For those of us who pay attention to the issues of discoverability, this survey revealed some significant surprises. The profile of who is an avid reader isn’t what many would anticipate. That these readers live in a complex media ecosystem that doesn’t favor one medium over the other is good news for those in the book biz. Seeing new ways being added to the top four ways readers find books is encouraging. Recognizing that bookstores aren’t just showrooms most certainly is good news. But it will remain interesting to see how virtual events, curbside pickup, etc. affect what books are bought where.
What surprised you most about the survey results? How can you, as a writer/author use readers’ buying habits to inform how you promote your books?
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A new survey provides insights into how readers discovered books in 2020. Click to tweet.
What does an avid reader look like nowadays? Read the results from a recent survey. Click to tweet.
Kristen Joy Wilks
This is great! Hmmm … what surprised me most? How young avid readers are. Although it shouldn’t as I have three teenage sons who zoom through stacks of giant books that take me far longer to consume. They then pass these books on to their teenage friends. I picked up a Christian horror novel from Tyndale for one son and saw it wander through the seventh grade class of our local public school for months. So awesome! Of course book sharing is harder now, but when our library was closed, the boys and their friends exchanged boxes and bags of books. Our library now does curbside pickup and will purchase almost everything we ask for, which is fabulous. We have a little general market bookstore 30 minutes away and a Christian bookstore 45 minutes away. I just call in to our bookstore and they order whatever I want and then hold it for my next visit. I mostly find new books through word of mouth recommendations, but also from recommendations by favorite authors, through listening to podcasts, and through the Avid Readers of Christian Fiction group on facebook. But whenever I got to pick up my books at the bookstore, I always talk with the owner about what she’s reading and once in a while, I’ll pick up a book that she loves as well. What an interesting survey, thank you Janet!
Kristen, I so agree with you. I, too, was surprised at how young avid readers are. That’s fantastic for the future of books!
The prognosis, it was final,
and wasn’t in the author’s plan,
but the talk he gave went viral,
a blessing from a dying man
that made the world catch in its throat
the sobs for him, and us as well,
and for the joy that overrode
the sorrow of that closing bell.
He told us how we might achieve
the dreams that live within our breast
and that, at end, he did believe
that hope is antidote to death,
and though it’s bittersweet, that mixture,
readers found, and loved, “Last Lecture”.
This is fascinating. I think my biggest surprise was reading that young people are so likely to engage with books. And, I was surprised that avid readers are also so engaged with other forms of media in the “media ecosystem.” But, I guess, knowing that younger people are more engaged readers would also explain why they are also actively engaged in other forms of media as well.
I had hoped that the multiple ways people can engage in media would include a healthy dose of reading. But it was nice to have that hope verified by the survey.
I’ve never really been a library browser, as I prefer to go in, pick up what I want, and head back out. I make those choices based on recommendations from other writer/reader friends through FB more than anything else. The biggest problem? My library was closed for the first three months of the pandemic, open for six months to curbside only, and is now closed again for massive repairs! So no new releases for me unless I actually purchase a book or wait for the library to reopen. My young adult children, however, are making good use of Amazon’s digital library, especially the son living (stuck) in Spain. I’m pretty thrilled to learn so many other young adults are reading as much as they are during this pandemic.
Fascinating info–thank you, Janet! I too was somewhat surprised by the profile of an avid reader, though when I think about people I know, it makes sense. How encouraging that these avid readers are young, diverse, and active on social media! Now, we just need to write books that will bless and reach them, i guess.
Oh, searching for new books is torture. I find out from all my friends and new acquaintances what they read or read, go over what I heard and sometimes go to the forums to see what they are reading now.