Guest Column: Keeping Pace With Today’s Consumer
*Editor's note: Results are based on a survey of consumers who purchased e-books in the past year; it does not necessarily reflect the habits of the overall consumer (or book-buying) market.
The consumer market for U.S. book publishers has changed significantly in the past three years, driven largely by fundamental shifts in the way books are published, found and ultimately purchased by readers. These changes sometimes leave publishers with more questions than answers in determining what their next move ought to be to keep pace with today's consumer.
While there is no denying that e-book sales are growing at a rapid clip, we're still in the process of learning whether those unit purchases are adding to overall sales totals or merely cannibalizing sales of hardcover books and other formats. We've all seen how the Internet's substantial growth over the past several years has significantly diversified consumers' options in how and when they purchase books—and therefore cannibalized sales for traditional bricks-and-mortar stores.
Factors Influencing Book Buying
Now more than ever, it is crucial for the book publishing industry to keep a careful and ongoing watch on book consumers to help publishers make content, awareness and selling decisions. This idea is behind the genesis of Bowker's PubTrack Consumer service, which attempts to gather this kind of data with a nationally representative panel of U.S adult men, women and teens that complete weekly online surveys about their book purchase behaviors.
What the research has revealed about today's book consumer is that there are three key market dynamics shaping book behavior right now:
1. The economy and the resulting decline of book purchasing. Book buyers as a percentage of the U.S. population dropped below 50 percent for the first time ever in 2008.
2. Reading's competition for our leisure time with the ever-growing choices available. Last year, online activities even surpassed television viewing as the No. 1 leisure activity among American adults, who now spend on average more than 15 hours per week online. Reading books comes in at a paltry 5.5 hours per week.