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Lost and Found: Trends in Book Discovery

by Rebeca Schiller

We recently came across an article from Shelf Awareness Pro, an email newsletter that gives us the scoop of what’s occurring in the publishing industry. The article Lost and Found: Trends in Publishing, caught our eye because it’s on a subject that’s been hitting several threads on Facebook and Twitter and that’s how as readers we discover books.I can only note that for myself that the way I learn about new books is by reading reviews from traditional sources (albeit I read the first two online): Kirkus Reviews, The New York Times, The New Yorker, as well as certain blogs, but if a Facebook friend makes a recommendation, I purchase the book and thanks to owning a Kindle and having a wifi connection, I can have it with a click of a key stroke. However, I have to add that my book discoveries have been greatly altered since owning a Kindle (and even before I had one) because I often use Amazon for the majority of my book purchases; browsing seems so much easier than perusing the shelves at the library or a bookstore.

Bookshelves

Although I wasn’t surveyed, it appears that my way of discovering new books isn’t unique. According to the article, after interviewing 250,000 readers, the Codex Group found a major shift in the past two years has taken place when it comes to discovery, and the reason behind that is digital books have become an integral element in the world of publishing.

From the survey, Codex found that two years ago, 35 percent of book purchases were made in traditional bricks-and-mortar bookstores—the single-largest site of discovery. However this year, that number dropped to 17 percent, which can be accounted to the closing of Borders, but more significant the popularity of e-readers. Personal recommendations also grew from 14 percent to 22 percent. These came in the form of face-to-face, via email (eight percent), phone (seven percent), Facebook (four percent) and other social media venues (three percent).

There is a glitch for authors and publishers because many of these personal recommendations are from backlist titles. Only six percent of the books recommended have been published in the past six months, and just two percent were publishedthree months ago. These personal recommendations are a part of what Codex calls “random discovery,” a dynamic that does not lend itself to easy influence by publishers, booksellers and authors.Now in spite of what I noted of how I get reading recommendations and how I use Amazon to browse, digital mass media including Facebook and Twitter, wasn’t as big a contributor—that increased to 4.5 percent from 1.9 percent. But here’s the whopper: The online channel represents just nine percent of discovery, which Codex says is “way underperforming” despite the amount of online purchases. The rationale behind this is that many readers already know what they want to buy as opposed to readers who go into a shop to browse and tend to have an “open mind.” Codex cited as an example that “many books get lost in the long tail.” Amazon, for example, has 32 million book offerings.”The growth in reading devices has changed reading habits. On average, tablet owners read two hours a week on their tablets while e-reader owners read more than four hours a week on their e-readers. Tablet owners buy fewer books than e-reader owners, which can be attributed to a tablet’s distractions, like the Internet and e-mail—two most popular uses for tablets, following by reading books, gaming and using apps.The article also notes that this year, 43 percent of frequent book buyers now own tablets, up from 17 percent in 2011. At the same time, just 33 precent of frequent book buyers own dedicated e-reading devices, up from 21 percent. Despite the growth of tablets and e-readers, as far as book format goes, it’s a “hybrid world,” according to the survey’s results. In May, 41 percent of those surveyed read print only and two percent read digital only while 57 percent read books in both print and digital form.

photo credit: Mr. T in DC via photopin cc

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