Sorry baby boomer. Where millennials have been tasked with killing things like fitted sheets, home purchases, luxury gifts, and more, it is thanks to millennials that the preoccupation with books has remained stable – and even increased – since the pandemic began.

New research by authors Rachel Noorda and Kathi Inman Berenes, both of Portland State University, published by the Panorama Project and funded by OverDrive, the American Library Association, the Book Industry Study Group, and the Independent Book Publishers Association, examined attitudes towards consumers Media and books. The results are fascinating and revealing when examining who buys books, where readers engage with books, where and how books are discovered, and much more.

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The research conducted as part of the COVID-19 pandemic involved interviewing over 4,300 qualified individuals across a range of ages, races, and regions in the United States. To qualify, individuals must have indicated that they have studied a book during the previous year. The data examined three age groups: Baby Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials. The researchers also looked at five US regions and numerous racial demographics. It is believed to be the first such study, and it provides conclusions on questions and assumptions that many in the industry, from booksellers to publishers to librarians and book influencers, have been eager to learn.

Engagement with books was the key measure in the study. Rather than focusing solely on the number of books read and “avid readers” that are of most interest to members of the industry, the researchers looked at how individuals engaged with books, including:

  • People who check out materials from the library but don’t always read or watch
  • People who give books away but don’t necessarily read a lot themselves or
    consider themselves readers;
  • People discovering books through other media such as video games or films and television;
  • People who buy books but don’t always read them;
  • People who buy books for a purpose other than reading, such as collecting or collecting
  • People who use books for work, school, or hobbies.

A broad definition of “engagement” meant that a deeper insight into buying, renting and sharing books was possible.

The entire study and all of its results can be read in full here. The Panorama Project and researchers from Portland State University are planning a webinar to discuss the results on March 10th, open for registration.

Main results

Of the three age groups examined, millennials were more interested in books than anyone else. But more precisely, it was eager Black, Latin and Male Identifying Millennials who were most concerned with books, although in all age groups it was people who did not identify as whites who were most concerned. The only exception was buying books as gifts. This was the only area where white female baby boomers outperformed any other group.

Book sales last year during COVID-19 rose over 8 percent, and study participants said they had not changed their habits during that time. Instead, it was avid bookmakers – those who dealt with four or more books a month – who helped drive that revenue surge.

And it’s not just books that people deal with. Research found that those who engaged in books also engaged in other media, from television to movies to more. The same millennial demographics that busied themselves with books did so with other media, and researchers found that media types do not compete with one another. Rather, there are opportunities for cross-media collaboration waiting to be explored.

In other words, readers who loved books also loved other media, and one did not divert attention from another.

Book discovery is highly fragmented, even for younger populations. Although recommendations from friends were highest among all groups, they only made up about 1/5 of the total survey population. Readers find books and study them in a variety of ways. Likewise, bookstores, libraries, and other similar channels benefit from one another, so each of these resources is a stronger source of engagement and sales in other channels. Bookstores and libraries are not in competition; They work together.

Additional notable study results

While the above were the most notable results, there are others that deserve special mention. Most important findings on the general beech commitment and on the age groups:

  • The most important factors in buying a book were the genre or category of the book, followed by the author, and the reviews of the book. Only nine percent of the respondents said that price plays an important role.
  • The main reason people engage with books is for entertainment, followed by self-improvement or project-related purposes.
  • The survey participants stated that they dealt with 2.44 e-books, 3.88 printed books and 1.89 audio books per month. Millennials were most interested in books: 3.1 e-books, 5.3 printed books, and 3.1 audio books.
  • While millennials were the least likely to have library cards – 70.5% compared to 75.8% in other age groups – they borrowed more books from the library than other groups during the COVID.
  • Approximately 40% of survey responses said they were posting an online review or recommendation for a book.
  • Gen X was less concerned with printed books than other age groups, but they were more concerned with audiobooks and e-books than other groups.
  • Baby boomers turned to books that were the least demographic, and during COVID they turned to books that were the least of any age group, preferring to keep themselves busy with television or movies. They also borrowed fewer books from the library.

Main findings about the race:

  • Black Americans had a higher number of books per month than the general survey: 4.2 e-books per month, 5.2 printed books, and 2.7 audiobooks.
  • Asian Americans had the highest percentage of library cards at 81%. They publish more reviews of books and are the most influenced by reviews.
  • Latinx people were the least likely to have library cards at 69.9%, but borrowed more material from the library than other groups during the COVID. They also borrow and buy more material in all formats than the general survey. Latinx readers bought more books than other groups during COVID.

And when it comes to the locale:

  • The Midwest discovers books through the library more than any other US region and holds library cards at a higher percentage. Still they were Not borrow more from the library than other regional colleagues during COVID.
  • Readers in the Southwest were the least likely to have library cards and the least likely to study audio books. They were more into e-books than any other region, but they did not buy e-books at a higher price than other regions.
  • In the west, e-books were bought at higher prices during COVID than in any other region. These readers were also the least likely to buy print.
  • Northeast Europeans bought print and audio books at higher prices than any other region. They were most likely to exchange reviews online and borrow money from libraries during COVID at higher levels.
  • Readers in the Southeast were most interested in audiobooks and printed books than other regions.

So much more fascinating and insightful data can be gleaned from the full report, including a deep dive into gender differences and exploring where and how Generation Z engages with literature. If you’re looking to dig into book discovery, demographics, and preoccupation with books, take a few hours and do your research.