Who buys books and what do they buy?

While looking for information on how people decide what books to buy, I found a helpful PowerPoint presentation from Bowker that summarizes research from the first quarter of 2011.

The information presented probably hasn’t changed dramatically since then (with the exception being the growth of e-books, but even with older research, you can see the trends), so I’m sharing a few highlights from the research here and including the presentation, too, so that you can review the slides for more information.

The Bowker research studied:

  • Who buys books
  • Categories and formats they buy (the information shared is skewed toward fiction — the categories are all fiction, graphic novels, mystery, romance, biography, cooking)
  • Where they buy books
  • Why they buy them

Here are a few facts that stood out for me and might help you.

Who buys books?

  • Of the categories reported on (all fiction, graphic novels, mystery, romance, biography, cooking), women buy most books except graphic novels (men buy two-thirds of them).
  • Men buy almost half of all biographies.
  • The two strongest categories for men in this research are graphic novels and biographies.
  • 18-29 year olds buy the most books, but those 30-44 are right behind them.
  • The people with the most money bought the least amount of books.
  • Those in the mid-income range of the study, $54,000-$74,900 in annual income, bought the most books.
  • When combining age ranges, those 13-17, 18-29, and 30-44 buy more books collectively than those 45-54, 55-64, and 65+.

Categories and format they buy

  • Those ages 18-29 buy 60 percent of the graphic novels.
  • People 65+ buy the least number of books, favor mysteries, and don’t buy graphic novels ( that part is a big surprise, eh?).
  • Trade paperback is the most popular format for graphic novels.
  • Hardcover is the favored format for biography and cooking books.
  • The most popular choice for mysteries and romance novels is mass market paperback.
  • All categories cited were seeing an upward trend in e-book purchasing except graphic novels.

Where do they buy books?

  • The information shared only addresses mystery books — those buyers purchase online and at large chains.
  • Mystery buyers with the highest income buy at Amazon while those with the lowest buy at Walmart.

Why they buy them

  • Mystery and romance lovers are influenced the most by the author.
  • Biography and cooking readers say they buy because they like the topic or subject.
  • Graphic novel purchasers like the series.
  • Those buying graphic novels, mysteries, and romance novels cite “other awareness” for how they learn about the books they purchase over options ranging from a friend’s recommendation to reviews.
  • Biography buyers learn about books through recommendations.
  • Cooking category buyers discover books through in-store displays.
  • Those buying cooking books are the most impulsive with their purchases; those purchasing graphic novels are the least impulsive.
  • Mystery and romance readers plan to buy at a specific time, but don’t have a specific book in mind.
  • Graphic novel and biography buyers purchase a specific book at a specific time — it’s all planned and not impulsive.

Here’s the file

Interested in learning more? Here’s the file. My thanks for the folks at Bowker for sharing this on SlideShare.

What do you do to research your book’s target audience? How do you learn what you need to know about them?

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    1. I agree, Barbara! When I clicked through the slides, I was surpised there weren’t more 65+ book buyers. I wonder if they’re readers, but borrowing from the library because of fixed income limits, instead of buying. What do you think?

  1. Very interesting and informative. The demographics blew me away.To listen to the news you would think young people don’t read anymore and they read the most in reality. I’m really going to use this info in so many ways.

    1. I’m so glad it’s helpful to you, Brian! I was glad to see that info on young readers, too — very encouraging!


  2. As the cliché goes, books are the cheapest way to travel. Mystery and romance will never get old. That was a very meaningful and useful research. It will be of great assistance to authors and book-lovers alike.

    1. Tari, I haven’t heard that cliche, but I love it! Thank you! I’m glad you found Bowker’s research helpful — and how generous of the company to share it.


  3. Thanks for this info! However, I’m not sure what to make of this phrasing: “Men buy almost half of all biographies.” So do women buy slightly more than half of all biographies? It seems like an odd way of stating the statistics.

    1. Val, you can get the specific numbers by viewing the research above. It will answer any questions.


    1. Thanks, Michael. From my perspective, the more authors know about what makes a buyer decide to purchase a specific type of book, the better able they are to select the promotion tactics that will have the greatest impact. There was some helpful info. on that topic farther into the report.


  4. I am glad to see that younger people are reading, but I wonder if there’s wisdom to be sought in the finding that 65+ folk do not buy many books. perhaps they are underserved in topic or tone, and/or poorly marketed to…

    1. Kerry, I was thinking fixed income = more borrowed library books or interpersonal loaning!


  5. i buy only biographies or historical background books and usually online.
    so i guess i fit the prototype.
    i’ve read close to 300 biographies in the past two to three years.

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