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Bowker: Gen Y Zooms to the Lead in Book Buying

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According to Bowker, Generation Y, those born between 1979 and 1989, spent the most money on books in 2011, taking over long-held book-buying leadership from Baby Boomers.  That’s according to its 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review, a publishing industry’s consumer-based report integrating channel, motivation, and category analysis of U.S. book buyers.

The Review, prepared by Bowker Market Research and industry trade magazine Publishers Weekly, notes that Gen Y’s 2011 book expenditures rose to 30%—up from 24% in 2010—passing Boomers, with a 25% share.  And with 43% of Gen Y’s purchases going to online channels, they are adding momentum to the industry shift to digital.

“The book industry is operating in a new and dynamic landscape that puts much more power in the hands of consumers,” said Kelly Gallagher, vice-president of Bowker Market Research.  “Consumers can now very easily purchase virtually any book they want, whenever they want it, and get it at a competitive price.  It’s more essential than ever before to understand who is buying and what their expectations and habits are.”

The Review explores demographic changes in the context of overall market trends culled from the Bowker Market Research consumer panel of almost 70,000 Americans who bought books of any format and from any source in 2011.  It reveals another pivotal year in the evolution of the book industry, marked by such significant events as:

  • The collapse of Borders Group, Inc., which accelerated movement of book sales to online retailers and away from bookstore chains.  By the fourth quarter of 2011, online retailers’ share of unit purchases had risen to 39%, up from 31% at the close of 2010.  Conversely, chains’ share fell to 30% in the fourth quarter of 2011 from 36% in the last period of 2010.
  • Continued growth of e-book consumption, which rose from 4% of unit sales in 2010 to 14% in 2011.  Among major sub-genres, e-books had the most impact in the mystery/detective category, accounting for 17% of spending, followed by romance and science fiction, where the format accounted for 15% of dollars spent.
  • The slow economic recovery continued to nudge more book spending into affluent households in 2011, where 57% of book spending came from households earning more than $50,000 annually, up from 54% in 2010.
  • Though still a more powerful spending group than men, women’s lead in book buying slipped a bit as purchases declined to 62% from 65% in 2010 and their share of spending dropped to 55% from 58% in 2010.

“There has never been a more dynamic time in the publishing industry than the one we are in now,” said Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly co-editorial director and editor of the annual Review.  “The information in the annual review is just what is needed to help all industry members adjust to the new publishing reality.”

Bowker Market Research is a service of Bowker, an affiliate of global information company ProQuest.


Here & there: Bits of information

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Moe Girkins, president & CEO of Zondervan, is quoted in the May/June 2010 Book Business: “We expect e-book revenue to exceed 12% next year, and 15% to 20% the following.”


According to a Simba Information’s report, “Trade E-Book Publishing 2010,” that draws data from a nationally representative survey, an estimated 9% of the U.S. adult population bought at least one e-book in 2009, compared to an estimated 8% in 2008.

“You can read this two ways,” says Michael Norris, senior analyst with Simba. “On one hand, about 91% of the U.S. adult population shrugged off e-books in 2009, but on the other hand, about 6,000 new people per day entered the e-book market in 2009.”

There is a big however, he notes:  “I haven’t seen a comparable loss of consumers on the print side, which has also seen a big rise in consumers between 2008 and 2009. So I think any generic narrative that says ‘a shift away from print and toward digital’ may be premature. They both are growing, and both can grow as long as the quality of the content remains high.”


According to statistics on the most recent e-book sales, released from the Association of American Publishers, which collects statistics in conjunction with the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), trade e-book sales were $28.9 million for the month of February 2010, a 339.3% increase over February 2009 ($6.6 million). Year-to-date sales are up 292.2%.

The IDPF noted in the announcement about the new sales figures, “[A] new [sales-revenue] barrier has been breached. The first two months (January and February) of Q1 2010 already total $60.8 million vs. Q4 2009, which was previously [the] highest quarter at $55.9 million.”

The statistics represent U.S. sales of books delivered electronically over the Internet or to handheld reading devices via wholesale channels by 12 to 15 trade publishers, but does not include library, educational, or professional electronic sales.

To put this in perspective, in 2009, according to AAP, U.S. publishers saw $23.9 billion in net sales, down 1.8% from $24.3 billion in 2008.


According to Bowker, a provider of bibliographic information management solutions, there was a 181% increase from 2008 to 2009 in the number of titles produced by self-publishers and “micro-niche” publishers. These types of publishers produced 764,448 titles last year.


In the May/June 2010 Book Business “Guest Column”, author Rudy Shur, founder and publisher of Long Island, N.Y.-based Square One Publishers, writes: “Recent figures suggest that approximately 3% ($200 million) of total book-market revenue ($80 billion) comes from e-book sales. Experts estimate that this number could double over the next two years to 6%. Let’s say that in five years, that 6% figure then triples. This would mean that 18% ($1.2 billion) of market revenue would come from e-book sales, and 82% ($78.8 billion) still would come from books on paper. That certainly would impact our sales, but it would hardly spell the end of the book world as we know it.”

He concludes: “So, is there an e-gorilla in the room? Sure, there is. But it’s a lot smaller than you might think.”


According to the Quarterly Disaster Resource Guide, a recent study predicts that data traffic on cellular networks in the U.S. alone will go from 8 petabytes/month this year to 327 petabytes/month in 2015. The study says that we will be receiving nearly all that data on smartphones: Traffic will increase on smartphones from its current 79% of data traffic to 98% of that traffic in 2015.


Also from the May/June 2010 Book Business: Ron Mobed, president, Academic & Professional Group, Cengage Learning: “[Print] may not be as large as it’s been. …It doesn’t really matter to us. We’re perfectly capable of delivering millions of print books … [or] servicing millions of online users. And we’ll make that adjustment depending on how quickly things change in the marketplace.”