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Book industries and trade, Publishers and publishing -- United States, Books -- Marketing, Consumer behavior


This is the first study to capture data about how people engage with books, video games and TV/movies. The study’s main emphasis is on behavior with books, with demographic data in three age groups, five U.S. regions, and seven racial/ethnic groups. Books exist in a connected media ecosystem where the most important customers are avid: avid book engagers (4+ books per month), but also avid consumers of other media. It is possible that these people are the ones who drove the 8.2% increase in book sales during 2020. This study finds that customers who engage avidly with books do so with other media, too. Cross-media discovery (discovering books through video games or TV/movies and vice versa) is highest with millennials. This suggests not a competition for scarce dollars and attention, but opportunities for cross-media collaboration.

Based on this study, avid book engagers are more ethnically diverse and younger than the general survey population. The demographics for the industry to watch are Black and Latinx, millennials, and men. They engage with more books than middle-class baby boomer women, except in the context of book gifting. In the general survey population, book buying stayed the same during COVID. However, we know that there was an 8.2% increase in book sales in 2020 (as reported by NPD). Therefore, one of the possible reasons is that avid book engagers (Black and Latinx millennials) drove the biggest book sales jump in a decade.

Consumers aren’t just engaging with books for entertainment (83% engage for other reasons). While print engagement is still strong, it is not the only format to consider, especially given the growth of ebooks in 2020. Compared to the immersive reading experience of print books, most audiobook and ebook engagers are multitasking (70% for audiobooks, 61% for ebooks). There are also many ways that consumers engage with books: borrowing, subscribing, buying, and also pirating. Book pirates are also customers: 41% of book pirates not only buy books, but buy the same book in multiple formats.

Book discovery is context-agnostic and highly distributed. Even the largest category (recommendations from friends) accounts for just 1/5th of survey respondents. This indicates that there are many ways people discover books and thus there are many ways to reach potential book buyers, borrowers, and gifters. Word-of-mouth circulates rampantly, but there’s not a dominant context. Consumers of all ages are unaware of how metadata shapes book discovery.

Libraries, bookstores, and online channels mutually reinforce each other, leading to engagement and sales in other channels. 75% of respondents have library cards, and of those, 54.7% (41.5% of general survey respondents) buy the book rather than wait when a book is unavailable from the library. More library card holders are buying books during COVID (in all formats) than the general survey population. Author events at libraries, browsing library shelves, and browsing online library catalogs, all lead to new book discovery.


© Portland State University 2021. Published by Panorama Project

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Short Report Version_Feb25-2021.pdf (433 kB)
Short Report Version