Verso Study Spotlights Consumer Book Buying Behavior

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Jack McKeown, director of business development for Verso Digital and co-owner of Books & Books in Westhampton, New York, presented results of the third annual “Survey of Book Buying Behavior With Verso Digital” at last month’s Winter Institute. The study looked at consumers’ overall book buying behavior, including e-reader and tablet ownership, the split between e-book/print book purchasing, and the effect of the Borders closing on book buying.

“This survey allowed us to compare three years’ worth of data to draw some conclusions about the dynamic evolution of consumer book buying behavior since e-readers and e-books became significant factors,” said McKeown.

The new norm for a large part of the market is “split-purchasing behavior,” not just between retail channels (bricks-and-mortar indies, chains, online retail) but also between formats (print and digital).  “The opportunity for indies with these customers is to win the ‘next sale’ and to not think in terms of converting them to become exclusive customers,” said McKeown. ”Small Business Saturday is indicative of the success of this strategy precisely because it was focused on changing marginal shopping behavior over a specific and time-limited promotion.”

The results of the 2011 survey showed that e-readers have moved beyond early adopters, with ownership numbers doubling since 2010. Among 2011 respondents, 15.8 percent own an e-reader, and 16.3 percent indicated that they very or somewhat likely to buy one in the next year. However, the survey showed that even as an increasing number of book buyers purchase e-readers, resistance increases among the rest of the population. “The majority (52 percent) of U.S. readers are resisting screen reading and their numbers are consistently growing across all surveys,” said McKeown. “Print and digital are best viewed as symbiotic formats occupying the same ecosystem and not narrowly as zero-sum competitors.”

The survey confirmed that tablet ownership is accelerating, with over a third of book buyers indicating that they already own or are very likely or somewhat likely to buy a tablet this year. And it’s estimated that e-reader and tablet ownership will reach the 25 - 30 percent range within three years.

Among the owners of e-readers and tablets, there is an equal number of respondents (29.6 percent) who indicated that they would purchase 10 or more e-books or 10 or more print books in the next 12 months.

The Verso survey also analyzed the book buying behavior of former Borders customers, and found that 60 percent of book buyers had visited Borders at least once a year. Since the chain closed, nearly a quarter of those ex-Borders shoppers have increased their visits to independent bookstores.

While indies have already gained some ex-Borders customers, McKeown noted that “opportunities abound for indies to capture more market share from the 61 percent of ex-Borders shoppers who have yet to appreciably adjust their behavior.” He also pointed out that more than two-thirds of past Borders shoppers were occasional customers, so it’s likely that “their impact will be most keenly felt around gift-giving holidays,” and booksellers might want to structure their marketing accordingly.

The entire study is available on the Verso Advertising website.