The potential for digital to grow readership and increase revenue has been seriously called into question by Reading the Future, The Bookseller and research firm BML's survey into UK consumers' book buying and reading habits, which found that the heaviest book buyers are migrating to digital.
Other top-line findings of the report include that bricks-and-mortar bookshops remain vital for book discoverability; Amazon is gaining further traction with the trade's core customers; and the majority of consumers will not be buying an e-reader in 2012.
Reading the Future, officially presented at last week's FutureBook Conference, is an online survey of 4,000 UK adults conducted in August 2011. The survey has been run annually since 2008, this year in expanded form, and for the first time in conjunction with BML.
The wide-ranging study also includes a look into the children's market, sales drivers for shops, readers' views on piracy and e-book pricing, and the book trade promotions and initiatives that resonate with consumers.
The new report challenges the received wisdom that as e-books gain more traction they will open up the market, with new customer bases of non-readers or light readers.
Reading the Future shows that heavy book buyers—those surveyed who bought 11 or more print books in the past six months—are becoming the heaviest e-book buyers.
Eleven per cent of heavy book buyers say they have downloaded 11 or more e-books in the past six months—compared to 3% of medium book buyers, 2% of light book buyers and 3% of non-book buyers.
Amazon is dominant among Reading the Future's e-book buyers—59% of respondents who had bought at least one e-book in the past six months used Amazon as their e-tailer of choice. Significantly, that number skyrockets with heavy book buyers, 76% of whom use Amazon for digital book purchases.
Reading the Future underscores how vital physical shops are to title discoverability. For the second time in three years, respondents chose "displays in bookshops" as the number one driver of finding out about new books and authors. Indeed, the "personal touch" and authoritative recomendations are consistently important to discoverability.
Bookshop displays, recommendations from family and friends, and newspaper/magazine reviews have been the top three in this category in every year of the survey to date.
Social media, an increasing part of marketing spend, barely rates for Reading the Future respondents: just 3% said it helped them to discover new titles.
It is worth underlining that the market is still overwhelmingly print-based. Of book-buyers in the survey, 76% did not buy any digital books, with a marked gender split: 79% of women did not buy any e-books, compared to 69% of men.
Kindles were the most popular dedicated e-reader, with 13% of respondents owning the device, compared to 2% of all other dedicated e-readers and 10% for iPads. Asked about device purchasing plans for 2012, 16% said they would be buying an iPad, while 12% planned to purchase a Kindle.
Taking current and future purchasing into account, one in four (26%) will own an iPad or Kindle by the end of 2012. However, half (51%) of respondents said they would not be purchasing any kind of device in 2012.