Reading the Future: 2

<p>The two overriding themes of the last year are unquestionably the economy and digitisation. The recession, coming at a time of increasing unease on the high street, seems to have bitten harder then previous downturns. And the digital age, while offering a wealth of opportunities, threatens to change decades, even centuries, old publishing and bookselling <br />
practices.</p>
<p>These two strands have cropped up in almost every aspect of our second annual Reading the Future survey, with consumer wariness about the economy and increasing acceptance of technology being reflected in almost every question. Last week we focused on marketing and buying behaviour. This week, we are taking the issues head on, with questions aimed directly at the downturn and digitisation.</p>
<p>Some of it is uncomfortable reading. The bottom line is that the overwhelming majority of the 3,159 consumers we surveyed say they will spend less on books. Yet it is not all bad&mdash;10% say they will actually spend more on books this year, up from less than 1% last year. And as we drill deeper to discover what genres people want to buy, there are some interesting lessons for booksellers and publishers. Encouragingly, technological innovations are becoming more ingrained in book buyers. If anything, the survey shows that the digital age, while challenging, is full of possibilities.</p>
<p><u><b>Question one:</b></u><br />
<b>The downturn</b><br />
Our previous survey was conducted at this time last year before the economic downturn really began to bite. This year's outing shows just to what extent consumer worries are deepening. When asked about buying habits if the economy continues to suffer (see graph 1), 38% of respondents said they would continue to buy the same amount of books. But it is a dramatic fall from 2008 when 71% said they would continue to buy books regardless. <br />
The majority (52%) of consumers said they would buy fewer books in the continuing downturn, 30% &quot;slightly fewer&quot; and 22% &quot;a lot fewer&quot;. Again, a dramatic increase over 2008 when 29% thought they would buy fewer. The &quot;slightly fewer&quot; category jumped from 22% to 30%; while those thinking they will buy a &quot;lot fewer&quot; books rose sharply from 7% to 22%.<br />
So is it all doom and gloom? Well, not exactly. Our findings chimes with the wider context. By February this year, 70% of the public were already claiming to be spending less because of the recession according to a poll by consumer analysts &shy;Mintel. This can be seen even among those who have not yet been personally affected by the recession. Around 30% of adults have reined in their spending not through necessity but through fear of how the recession might affect them in future. That 38% of res&shy;pondents will continue to spend the same in this climate is, if not an encouraging statistic, at least not wholly dispiriting.<br />
There are some green shoots. In 2008, less than 1% of those polled said they would increase their book spending. This year 10% said they would; 7% &quot;slightly more&quot; and 3% &quot;a lot more&quot;.&nbsp; <br />
<br />
<b>Age and gender</b><br />
Those aged 25&ndash;45 are typically the most likely to reduce spending in a recession: they have the most commitments and are also typically most affected by household price rises such as fuel costs. We have seen this in our survey with 26- to 30-year-olds having the most consistently negative attitude towards future book buying. Few (32%) say they'll buy the same number of titles, many say they will buy slightly fewer (34%), or a lot fewer (23%).<br />
The over-45s are the most likely to say they will buy the same amount of books; 41% of over-45s say they will buy the same amount of books compared to just 34% of 16- to 30-year-olds. Almost half (48%) of the oldest cat&shy;egory, the 61-plus age group, will continue to buy the same volume of books.</p>
<p>Men are more likely than women to say they will buy the same amount of books (40% against 36%), while women are more likely to say they will buy slightly fewer (32% women versus 28% men) or a lot fewer (23% against 22%). <br />
<b><br />
Genre and retail behaviour</b><br />
Crime/thrillers and science-fiction fans are the two categories that are more likely than average to continue to buy books at the same rate, at 45.5% and 41% respectively. The least likely are fans of celebrity biography (31.6%). These trends are consistent with the patterns of 2008 for crime and celebs, but sci-fi fans are now more likely to say they will buy more.</p>
<p>Those who are fans of the more commercial end of the market say they are thinking more carefully about shelling out for books. The celebrity biography genre is top among the &quot;buy a lot fewer books&quot; category (33.7%), while romance/chick lit leads &quot;slightly fewer&quot; at 32%.<br />
Admittedly this is a small percentage, but fans of serious non-fiction (9.7%) and literary fiction (8.3%) will be more apt to spend slightly more money on books. Sci-fi fans top the &quot;a lot more money&quot; category (4.9%)</p>
<p>Those who favour independent bookshops (39.8%) or online browsing (39.2%) are most likely to say they will buy the same amount of books. Those who favour chain bookstores (24.2%) and supermarkets (25%) are most likely to say they will buy a lot fewer books.<br />
<br />
<u><b>Question two: </b></u><br />
<b>Genres in the downturn</b><br />
In the 2008 poll we asked respondents about their favourite genres, and we repeated the question this year too. Yet we wanted to narrow the focus even further to also assess buying patterns in the downturn so we asked two questions: Now we are in an economic downturn what type of books do you find yourself preferring to read (see graph 2A) ; and which of the following book genres do you like best (see graph 2B)? The use of two separate questions ensured that respondents were describing their current favourite genre.</p>
<p>The overall favoured genres compared closely to those favoured &quot;in a downturn&quot;. The most popular genre in the downturn is the same as in the better economic climate: crime/thrillers with 25% and 28% respectively. But the second most popular genre in question 2B is contemporary and classic literary fiction; at 19%, much higher than one might expect.<br />
The second least popular genre is economics at just 2%, trailed only by poetry. This may be of concern to the trade, with publishing schedules stuffed with a number of serious tomes aiming to explain the roots of the recession.</p>
<p>Genre questions were phrased slightly differently in 2008 (we split them into fiction and non-fiction), so an exact comparison is not possible. However, by comparing similar questions we can certainly draw some inferences. In 2008, the true-life/misery memoirs genre was actually the most popular non-fiction genre at 20%. In our downturn poll it clocks in at just 8% and has fallen below history and celebrity biography. As many people today claim they like to read classics as well as mis mems, perhaps the &quot;real misery&quot; of life in the current economic climate has put people off published misery.</p>
<p>The popularity of literary fiction appears to have risen. In 2008 it was behind romance but in 2009 it is on a par. There are several factors that might have influenced this however: it will be interesting to see if the figures change in 2010. <br />
<b><br />
Age and gender</b><br />
The data typically mirrors standard age-based genre trends. The crime/thriller genre is most popular with the over-40s, and serious non-fiction with the over-35s. Romance and chick lit is more popular with 16- to 35-year-olds, while celebrity biography has a broad range of popularity with 16-&nbsp; to 55-year-olds.</p>
<p>But younger readers are now proving more interested in literary fiction. In 2008, few readers under the age of 35 enjoyed reading literary fiction: 81% were aged over-35. Yet in this year's poll, readers of contemporary fiction are spread relatively evenly across age groups. And younger readers are actually the most likely to read old or classic literary fiction: 10% of 16- 35-year-olds read it compared with 6% of over-35s. This ties in with a trend suggesting younger Britons today may be a more &quot;serious&quot; generation.</p>
<p>In contrast, science fiction is now proving more popular with older readers than it did last year. In 2008, science fiction was most popular with 18- to 44-year-olds: but today it is most popular with those aged 41&ndash;60. Perhaps this is because those older consumers are reading old science fiction for nostalgia?</p>
<p>As with age, our gender findings mirror typical genre trends. Men are slightly more interested in crime/thrillers than women (30% against 27%) and they are also much more interested in serious non-fiction (21% versus 9%) and science fiction (14% against 6%). Women are much more interested than men in romance (26% against 11%) and literary fiction (22% versus 15%).<br />
<b><br />
Retail Behaviour</b><br />
The crime/thriller genre is spread fairly evenly across those who buy and browse in chain bookstores (27.5%), supermarkets (27%) and independent bookshops (26%). Online as a shopping channel choice, however, trails by a decent margin (20.8%), perhaps reflecting the widespread availability in shops and low average selling prices of at least the top selling titles in the genre.</p>
<p>Those who favour indie shops are most likely to go for classics (10.7%). For both contemporary and classic literary fiction, chains come out tops (17.5%), with indies second (16.7%).</p>
<p>Those who favour independent bookshops are also more likely to be fans of serious non-fiction and science fiction. Those who favour the internet or supermarkets are both more likely to be fans of celebrity biography and romance/chick lit.<br />
<u><br />
<b>Question three: </b></u><b><br />
Technological innovation</b><br />
The underlying trend in this question (see graph 3) is that all of the innovations were more popular with readers this year than they were last year (respondents could tick as many of the innovations as appealed). This suggests book readers may be becoming increasingly adventurous and more receptive to the confluence of books and technology.</p>
<p>While so much has been written about e-readers, the coming of the Kindle and books to mobiles, it is the physical book that still tops the list: for the second successive year&nbsp; the highest percentage of consumers (37.8%) like the idea of an instore print-on-demand machine. One-third of consumers are interested in the idea of a stand-alone e-book reader, though it should perhaps be noted that we stipulated an &quot;easy-to-read&quot; e-reader. Whether the current Sony Reader and Kindle achieve that ideal is debatable. A further one-third of consumers are interested in the convenience of book vending machines.</p>
<p>The comparative popularity of each innovation remains essentially unchanged from last year, and the only difference is that last year the e-reader and the iPod/mobile book were equally popular. Yet this year the e-reader pulled ahead, perhaps as a result of the media exposure of the Sony and Amazon devices. Interestingly, the biggest rise in popularity is for arguably the most niche of these innovations: the optional/customisable covers. Although it is still the least popular category, it doubled in popularity to 20% from 10% in 2008.<br />
<br />
<b>Age and gender</b><br />
As we have seen time and again throughout the survey, it is not the youngest readers who are the keenest on new technologies, and that&nbsp; continues to be true here: 36% of over-35s like the idea of an e-reader, compared to 29% of 16- to 35-year-olds. This is a change from 2008, when it was &shy;younger readers who were most interested in e-readers.</p>
<p>But the younger generation, as in 2008, vastly favour the idea of books downloadable to a mobile phone/iPod. A third of 16- to 30-year-olds like the idea of such a book, compared to 23% of over-30s. This rises to 35% among 16- to 25-year-olds. This is perhaps indicative of how younger people engage with written content and how important smart phones are, and will become, for them. It ties in with trends for mobile phones compared to other stand-alone devices, from iPods to cameras. The former are still most popular with the young, but the latter are increasingly popular with older consumers. It perhaps also raises questions of the long-term viability of a stand-alone e-reader.</p>
<p>Optional/customisable books are also more popular with the young: 26% of 16- to 40-year-olds are interested, against only 14% of over-40s. Print-on-demand machines are more popular with older consumers; 44% of over-45s like the idea of such a machine, compared to 34% of 16- to 45-year-olds. This is probably because older consumers may have read and enjoyed books when young that have since gone out of print.</p>
<p>Men are more likely than women to want an e-reader (37% versus 30%), continuing the trend from the 2008 survey. Women are more likely than men to want a machine that prints out-of-stock books (41% vs 35%). There was little difference in the other three categories.<br />
<br />
<b>Genres and retail behaviour</b><br />
There is a perhaps a less than obvious commercial/literary split between the two groups which least like e-readers: fans of romance/chick lit (26.3%) and literary fiction (30.6%) are less than average to be interested in e-readers. Fans of all other genres are all fairly equally interested in e-readers, with science fiction (39.5%) and celebrity biography (36.8%) slightly ahead.</p>
<p>Crime/thriller, serious non-fiction and sci-fi fans particularly like the idea of a p.o.d. machine. Crime/thrillers and romance/chick lit fans are more likely to favour book &quot;vending machines which offer the bestselling titles&quot;. This obviously has much to do with the commercial, mass market nature of both categories. As in 2008, fans of romance/chick lit are more likely than average to like the idea of optional/customisable &shy;covers, whereas fans of crime/thrillers are less likely to like them.</p>
<p>As might be expected, people who buy books online are the leading group who like the e-readers (33.76%). Yet, interestingly, they are in a statistical dead heat with &shy;people who buy in chains (33.71%) and independent bookshops (33.68%). In fact, the results show an increasing acceptance of technology among people who buy in the traditional bricks-and-mortar shops. Indie and chain buyers are particularly keen on p.o.d. machines (40.7% and 40.5%).</p>
<p>Those who buy books from supermarkets are the people least enamoured of technology, and are at the bottom of all our technology categories save book vending machines. They are by far the furthest behind the rest of the pack in expressing preference for an e-reader (29.9%). <br />
<br />
<u><b>Question four:</b></u><b><br />
Buying e-book readers</b><br />
It is perhaps unsurprising in the current economic climate that the most important factor has to do with money (see graph 4). But interestingly, the cost of the books (23%) is actually a &shy;stronger driver than the cost of the device (17%). The most powerful driver for purchase is actually that downloadable books cost less than conventional books. Customers seem to understand that an e-reader will be a one-off cost, but they are thinking more of the longer-term implications. The seemingly ever-growing consumer notion that downloadable content should be either free or at least cheap is one that publishers and booksellers will have to think hard to counter.</p>
<p>The fact that the device itself costs less than &pound;100 is only the third-largest driver. The second biggest (at 43%) is if the device is as easy to read as a printed book. This concern over ease of reading (versus ease of use, which was just 25%) suggests a continuing concern over screen quality, and that replicating the printed book experience may matter a&nbsp; good deal.</p>
<p>The design of the device is not considered particularly important (5%), but the success of &quot;stylish&quot; devices such as the iPod and iPhone suggests that this might be a stronger factor than consumers admit. Consumers may be ready now to purchase a stand-alone device: only 11% saw a combination reader/phone as a key driver.<br />
<br />
<b>Age and gender</b><br />
Throughout the survey we have seen some surprising results, with older consumers being in some cases more tech-savvy than younger groups. But here we have seen some trends reverting to type: issues of simplicity and ease of use are of more concern to older consumers, with 46% of over-35s saying they might be persuaded to buy one if it were as easy to read as a book, compared to 39% of 16- to 35-year-olds. Meanwhile, 37% of over-50s might be persuaded by the fact that it was easy/simple to use compared to only 17% of 16- to 50 year-olds.</p>
<p>Although, overall, having a combined phone/e-reader was one of the least popular drivers, it is more important to the younger respondents: 14.4% of 16- to 35-year-olds are keen, compared to just 4.9% of the 45+ age range.</p>
<p>The mid-age ranges (16- to 40-year-olds) care more about the number of books available than older respondents do, while middle-youth/middle- aged respondents care most about the cost of the books, with interest highest among 26 to 50-year-olds.</p>
<p>Opinions on e-readers are typically held equally by both genders, but men are more likely to worry about the cost of the device than women are: 38% considered this key against 31% of women&mdash;interesting enough, given that much of the survey showed women to be more price-savvy. Women are more likely to worry about ease or simplicity of use: 29% considered it key versus 22% of men.<br />
<br />
<b>Retail behaviour</b><br />
Those who buy most of their books online are the least concerned of any other category of buyer as to whether an e-reader is as easy to read as a printed book (40.3%) or whether the device itself is easy to use (21.8%). Yet they are price-sensitive both in terms of the initial cost of the device and of downloads costing less than conventional books, and are more inclined than any other category to want the device to look good (10.6%).</p>
<p>Supermarket buyers are most concerned about ease of use (31.6%). Indie bookshop buyers are concerned about the reading experience: they are tops in the &quot;as easy to read as print category&quot; (47.1%), and second in &quot;ease of use&quot; (27.1%). </p>
<p><b>Subscribers can now download the full report, Reading the Future, at the following link: </b><a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/in-depth/feature/89110-reading-the-future-d... the Future download</b></a><b>. None subscribers shoud email <a href="mailto:tom.tivnan@bookseller.co.uk?subject=Reading%20the%20Future">Tom Tivnan</a> to buy the report.</b><br />
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<i>William Higham is the founder of research and trends consultancy The Next Big Thing. He studies consumer change across a range of industries, working with clients including the BBC, BSkyB, Budweiser and Barclays. He is the author of the forthcoming The Next Big Thing: Spotting and Forecasting Consumer Trends for Profit (Kogan Page, September 2009).</i></p>