Facts About Readers: What People Read and How

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The secret to success in book publishing has always been knowing the market. Diving deeply into current reading habits is just the start, and knowing how and why folks buy is the next step after learning what they read. Understanding your audience is key to building your author platform. Some great data has come from a December 2016 Gallup Poll that can help inform our next steps when creating sales and book marketing plans.

Are People Reading?

Short answer? Yes. Here's a high-level look at that Gallup Poll data:

  • 39% of Americans 18+ read more than 10 books last year
  • 91% of Americans read at least 1 book in the last year
  • In the last four years, the percentage of Americans reading one or more books increased from 68% to 85%
  • 27% of Americans prefer reading ebooks (which means 73% prefer print books)
  • Young folks (18-29) read slightly more books than folks over 45 (53% vs. 48%)

According to Gallup, the bottom line is this:

“Despite Americans' ability to access more information, social networks, games and media than ever before, as well as the lingering rumors of the book's demise, Americans still say they are reading books.”

What Are People Reading?

The Guardian released a study last year that gave the top 5 fiction categories by sales dollars as follows:

  1. Romance/Erotica
  2. Crime/Mystery
  3. Religious/Inspirational
  4. Science Fiction and Fantasy
  5. Horror

The American Library Association and Library Journal listed in their last Material’s Survey Report  the top 10 categories by demand.

Library Survey.png      Library Survey 2.png

How Do Readers Get Book Recommendations?

There are also great studies to show how people find out about books. The Pew Foundation conducted a study a few years back that is still incredibly relevant. It revealed that personal recommendations from family members, friends, or co-workers dominate the book recommendation game with 64% of respondents siting these individuals as the ones from whom they get their recommendations. 28% of respondents said they get recommendations from online bookstores or other websites, 23% said they get them from staffers in bookstores they visit in person, and 19% said they get them from librarians or library websites.

Bottom line here: word of mouth sells books. No matter how many times you tell me your book is amazing, unless we're close or you're a tastemaker in the book publishing industry, I probably won't just accept your word for it. I'll need a bit more proof before I purchase, and if you can get someone I DO know and trust to like your book, you're that much closer to getting me to like it too.

Applying What You've Learned

This is all great information, but how do you actually use it? Here are some quick takeaways from these numbers:

  1. If you don’t have your book in an ebook format, you are losing sales from those who prefer to read ebooks over print books.
  1. Adult fiction is outselling YA fiction. (Don’t let the idea that younger readers read more than older readers sway you.)
  1. Yes, memoir and bio’s are the number one non-fiction category at libraries, but those are almost exclusively driven by famous people who wrote their memoirs.
  1. The religious/inspirational category is also driven by a few, extremely popular personalities.
  1. The effects of recommendations online, by others, and by bookstore and librarian staffers cannot be overestimated.

If you have a self-help/inspirational guide, a business book, or any other non-fiction book consider these steps:

  1. Pick a potential reader and narrow your age range of 10 years in order to focus your book marketing efforts (micro-focus).
  2. Use the data coming out from Gallup, Pew, BISG, Publishers Weekly and Library Journal to determine where that age/gender group shops for books.
  3. Work daily to get your book in front of the influencers who are most likely to enjoy and recommend your book to others.
  4. Spend a little time each day promoting your book onto the shelves of stores, libraries, and online retailers.

Remember, the key is finding, understanding, and using the numbers and data available to all of us. It is too tempting to sit behind what we believe to be true. Many of us are guilty of making decisions based on assumptions. The best way to proceed is with hard data and facts behind your book marketing plans and activities. 

So what is your reader base? Who reads your type of books? Where do they shop? Get the facts!


How to Build an Author Platform

Amy Collins

Amy Collins is the President of New Shelves Books, one of the best-known book sales and marketing agencies in the US. Amy is a trusted expert, speaker, and recommended sales consultant for some of the largest book and library retailers and wholesalers in the publishing industry. In the last 20 years, Amy and her team have sold over 40 million books into the bookstore, library, and chain store market for small and midsized publishers.