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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Finding readers is complicated–but not as complicated as making them buyers

Last week, Kelly Gallagher, Bowker‘s VP of Publishing Services, took the stage at the Digital Book World Discoverability and Marketing Conference to present the research company’s findings on how readers discovered and bought new content in 2011.

The Bowker data confirms what we’ve known all along—finding readers can be complicated. In addition to keeping in mind gender, income, age, geography, and personal taste,  publishers need to narrow down exactly where their readers spend their time. They shop in a variety of places; 29 percent of book dollars spent in 2011 (about $7.89 billion of the $27.2 billion in sales publishers generated in 2011) were spent somewhere other than online, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores. And readers consume information differently; they read on paper, tablets, dedicated ereaders. They see different ads, shop in different places, rely on different sources of information.

But, Gallagher explains, no matter their preferred format or genre, the number one way people discover new books is the same: someone they know tells them about it. Publishers have lots of tricks up their sleeves for getting their books out there, and if the book is interesting or noteworthy enough, people will pick up the baton and talk amongst themselves.

But discovering is not the same as buying. Once publishers find readers, getting them to spend their money becomes a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. For a host of reasons—the economy, the devaluation of ebooks thanks to pricing wars, and the increased competition books face from other forms of entertainment, among others—people seem to be spending less money on books. While half of those surveyed by Bowker did not change their buying behavior at all, the other half found ways to spend less. Sales figures appear to support this: while sales had grown for both pbooks and ebooks between 2007 and 2010, print sales dropped off in 2011 even as ebook sales continued to rise. But that wasn’t enough to make up the difference in revenue; publishers took in 2.5 percent less than they had the previous year.

So what gets people to pull the trigger? For some, it’s probably peer pressure from that person who first told them about the book. For many people, it’s the stamp of approval from a trusted authority—just look at Oprah’s Book Club. Or a mildly interesting concept paired with the right price. Or a tried-and-true author. For me, it’s reviews, both user and professional.

What about you? What makes you buy books?

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This entry was posted on September 25, 2012 by in Opinion and tagged , , , .

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