Last time, I talked about publishing trends and the ways readers and their relationship with books might be changing. I also provided a link to a survey, and said I’d share the results.
So 100 responses later, this is hardly statistically significant for all readers everywhere, or all genre readers. But since those 100 come out of my social media reach and are likely my readers, it may say something about things I can keep in mind as I tailor outreach to people to read my books.
Q 1: How many books do you read in a year?
I wasn’t surprised at this one. 48% read 11-50 books in a year, 30% read 51-99 books, and 20% read over 100 books, leaving a measly 2% who read less than 10. I am scratching my head wondering who those 2% are!
Q 2: Thanks to Netflix, people ‘binge watch’ whole series at once. Do you ‘binge read’ favorite authors? What best describes your preference?
I’ve binge read some series either for comfort or because I just glommed on to a new author late in the game and wanted to get caught up, so I was interested (nosy) to see what other people do. As I mentioned last time, binge-reading has the potential to affect sales (positively when they’re binging, negatively if they are waiting for a series to end to binge), so I have a dog in this hunt, as the saying goes.
As it turns out, ‘only’ 8% prefer to read all of a series at once and will wait to purchase or stockpile. 13% prefer to read books as they come out. BUT 66% will binge-read a newly-discovered series AND read long-time favorites as they come out. 13% say they never binge-read.
Results here are a mixed bag. Good to know at 79% are trying to keep up with favorite series as new books come out. The 8% who wait do have the potential, however, to impact sales. Think of your total sales numbers for a year. Now figure 8% of that number. That’s a nice boost if they are purchasing all the books in your series at once, but if you lose 8% who won’t buy the newest book until the series is over, that stings.
Q3: How many ‘free’ books do you read in a year?
I wondered how much the free book phenomenon affected readers. And it does have an impact, especially if you cross-correlate the answers on this question with the total amount of books read from question 1. On the other hand, the next question mitigates this a bit (but not completely).
So 35% say they read fewer than 10 free books a year. 36% read more than 10 but less than 50, while 17% read more than 50 but less than 100. 3% says they never pay for books (!) while 7% say they always pay for books (thank you!).
Now before you think they’re all out on the pirate sites, take a look at the next question.
Q4: If you read free books, which sources do you utilize?
The replies here will tally to more than 100% because people could pick all the answers that apply.
Almost 70% get their ‘free’ books from libraries. That’s good news, since libraries actually pay for their books. 48% borrow from friends and family. 30% get their free books from Bookbub, Promocave, Wattpad or other promotional services. 1% use Scribd or a similar service (online rental like the now-defunct Oyster). 1% use the airport rent-a-book service (where you buy in one airport and return to swap out for another book or get money back at the next airport). Nearly 8% have an Audible subscription. 21% use Kindle Lending, Kindle First and Kindle Unlimited. 10% get theirs from NetGalley, and another 28% rely on publisher ARCs. Almost 43% get their free books from Amazon. I did not ask who downloads from pirate sites because I figured they’d lie anyhow.
In the comments sections, people also mentioned publishers’ free list (I’m assuming like the Baen Free Library), Goodreads giveaways and other author-generated giveaways. Also mentioned was being a beta reader, ‘academia’ (I’m guessing review copies?), gifts from family, Ex Libris, convention giveaways (World Fantasy, we’re lookin’ at you!) and the Hugo voters’ packet. Interestingly, no one mentioned the Gutenburg Project and similar sources for public domain books.
So, libraries and (hopefully) family and friends are paid book purchases somewhere in the stream. As for the rest–I offer a heartfelt plea that if you read free books, please ‘pay’ the author with reviews on Amazon and stars/reviews on Goodreads!
Q5: How likely would you be to buy a novel that was serialized over weeks or months?
Again, my interest was in seeing the viability of providing such content (which I’ve already done with the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, which will end up being the equivalent of three serialized novels).
And the winner is…serials rock! 63% said they would consider buying a serialized novel, while 14% said it was very likely that they would. So 77% were either likely or favorably inclined, compared to 23% who considered it unlikely. Would you like some milk with your serial?
Q6: Do you prefer to ‘starve’ between books in a series or read short stories/novellas of characters’ additional adventures between books?
Again, I’ve got a personal interest in this answer, since I’ve already bet on the popularity of extra adventures. And I wasn’t disappointed.
50% said they enjoy between-book stories, while 33% had no preference (but weren’t against it). 17% say anticipation makes the next book sweeter, bless their hearts!
The take-away on this is that extra content appeals to at least half of your audience, doesn’t matter to about a third of readers, and will probably be ignored by the hardy 17% who are into between-book abstinence.
Q7: How do you consume books?
This is another one where people could reply to all that apply, so totals will be over 100%
Print isn’t dead! 33% are print-only readers. Important to know in an ebook world. By comparison, 20% are ebook only readers. 70% read a combination of print and ebook. (I didn’t ask, but I’m betting setting/situation make a big impact. I’m a Kindle reader when I travel, but like paper when I’m home.) 4% are audiobook only. Again, I didn’t ask why, but anecdotally, readers of mine have told me they like audiobooks because they can listen at work, listen in the car, or have a vision problem that precludes reading.
Q8: How do you acquire books?
Another question where they could click all that apply, so totals are over 100% and so reflect multiple purchasing methods.
To my surprise, 84% still buy from bookstores. 91% buy books online. 55% borrow books, and 66% patronize used books stores. 25% buy books at non-bookstore locations like grocery stores, drug stores, airport, Wal-Mart, etc. 19% read ARCs or NetGalley. An additional 13% filled out ‘other’ with responses that mentioned con giveaways, used book sales (I’m assuming library sales, yard sales, etc.), giveaways/contests, gifts, flea markets, swap meets, rummage sales, academic publishers (What is it with academia? AJ and David and Emily, please fill me in on this!) Someone said ‘library’ so I hope they are borrowing instead of ‘acquiring’!
Q9: How do you find new books/authors? (Again, click all that apply)
I was a little disappointed that only 34% said sci-fi or comics conventions, but I’ve got a theory about that I’ll mention at the end. 79% say they live-browse bookstores and libraries! 61% browse online booksellers or the computerized library catalog. 49% pay attention to Amazon’s ‘also-bought’ suggestions. 53% get ideas from Goodreads. 41% are influenced by blogs and book review sites. 35% read the book reviews on amazon. 35% meet authors at signings and book festivals. 74% value recommendations from friends, librarians and booksellers. 53% get new book ideas from social media. 11% pay attention to book ads and videos, 12% from book clubs and 15% from award winners. 37% will borrow the first book in a series to ‘try out’ an author. 22% pick up on new books/authors from Bookbub and similar services, and 32% find new authors in anthologies.
In the ‘other’ category–contests, Tor.com, the B&N daily find and books under $2.99, a good cover, Pullitzer Prize winners, NYT list and books printed by the same publisher as other favorite books. One person took note when an author recommends other authors, while a loyal author reads books by other author friends.
Question 10 was a sign-up for my newsletter, which netted me about 80 new people. I will be doing a prize drawing from the email addresses.
So, about that theory in Question 9…Long ago, when I was running the marketing department for a large hospital, we did a lot of advertising, PR and marketing. I got grief from the Chief Medical Officer, who wanted to know why we were doing all that marketing when people only picked a hospital because of their doctor’s recommendation (it was a facility that required prior authorization, not one you could check yourself into). I looked at our patient satisfaction survey. We asked “what made you pick XXX hospital” and gave them a blank line. Most people put ‘doctor referral’ because that was fresh in mind. So I redesigned the survey, and changed the question to “what made you pick XXX hospital–check all that apply’ and listed all the things we did: TV and radio ads, signage, community events, nurse home evaluations, newspaper ads and billboards, newsletters, newspaper articles, facility tours, health screenings, etc.–and doctor referrals. Amazingly, we started getting surveys back with 15 or 20 choices checked.
Why? Marketing studies show it takes 7-30 ‘touches’ to convert a window-shopper to a buyer. In the case of the hospital, all those other marketing actions gave them a positive impression of the hospital, so when a doctor said ‘do you want to go to hospital A, B or C,’ they picked us because they ‘knew’ us and we were familiar in a positive way. So I suspect that when someone finally buys a book, it’s often a function of repeated exposure from a lot of contact points–at cons, in the library and book store, through blogs and social media, on Goodreads–through a dozen or more ‘touches’ before they whip out the wallet and pay money. At least, that’s my strong suspicion.
What’s your take on the survey results? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
I’ll be asking a new research question each month, and I’ll let you know what I find out. Here’s the link to the February survey–with a prize drawing!
Oh, and if you still haven’t signed up for my newsletter, the February prize drawing is for a Starbucks or Tim Horton’s gift card plus an envelope of signed swag. Two drawings–one from new sign-ups and one from existing subscribers.
And here’s my latest ‘experiment’–if you haven’t already read Iron & Blood, our Steampunk novel set in an alternative history Pittsburgh in 1898, the first 200 buyers can get a free Storm and Fury steampunk novella (set in the same world) with proof of purchase if you buy between 2/14-2/29. Details here