Research into reading and library habits has lessons for publishers

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Pew Research Center’s study into the behaviour of younger Americans provides insight into a digitised generation, writes Andy Richardson

Pew Research Center has just released a new research study – Younger Americans’ Reading and Library Habits. It provides a fascinating look at the behaviours of young adults and their attitudes towards reading and libraries.

Based upon a nationally-representative phone survey of 2,986 people aged 16 and over, and the insights of an online panel of library patrons aged 16-29, the research examines how younger people are encountering and consuming books. This research provides a window into the habits of the digitised generation and into the readers who will drive the market over the coming decades. As such, the findings deliver a means of understanding, perhaps even predicting, the consumer-driven decisions that will shape the future of publishing.

The research reveals that 75 per cent of young Americans (those under the age of 30) read a book in the traditional print format in the last year. On one hand, this should be read as a positive sign for the longevity of the industry – young people are still choosing to connect with books through the print medium. However, 19 per cent of young people read books in e-format, and 11 per cent chose to listen to books in audio format. These numbers are, by general acknowledgement, increasing and it is therefore vitally important that publishers continue to commit to being format-forward with as much content as they can. This means having systems that are capable of processing and storing multi-format data.

This is certainly highlighted by later findings within the research that would suggest that younger Americans are reading more due to the availability of e-content. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby producing e-content encourages greater levels of consumption, which emboldens publishers to produce more e-content, and so on.  This would suggest that publishers need to further their efforts to connect with young readers and offer them digital content. By developing the awareness and usage of e-books, especially within schools for academic purposes, publishers are expanding consumer awareness in their most important markets– the market that will drive the next decade of publishing.

Perhaps most interestingly, the Pew Research study finds that young Americans are e-reading long-form content, and they are not using Kindles or other tablet devices to do this. Generally speaking, they are using computers or laptops (55 per cent) and mobile phones (41 per cent). These figures are staggering. Younger readers are using their existing gadgets to read; they don’t see owning an e-reader as necessitous; and nor does the purchase of an e-reader or tablet signify the beginning of e-book consumption. Publishers must make content readily available and easily transferrable across devices. Content must be enjoyable to read regardless of the device. Moreover, publishers must embrace mobile technology as a real contributor of their revenue and work to ensure that marketing initiatives encourage readers to connect with content, through audio or text, via this medium.

The Pew Research also explores the library usage of young Americans. These findings generally support my earlier comments: young Americans do not shy away from reading books, regardless of content, and they are keen to use new technology wherever possible. In fact, the need for improved digital services is more apparent for consumers who need a book for a limited period of time, especially for academic study, where 58 per cent of young Americas who do not currently borrow e-books from libraries saying they would be likely to borrow a preloaded e-reading device in order to get hold of content. It seems that librarians and publishers should work together to invest in systems that can handle and streamline the process of lending across formats, and extend the use of pre-loaded e-readers.

I don’t deny that the traditional market will continue to have a place within the publishing industry, and that members of the younger generation will continue to cherish their print books. The statistics prove this. But publishers would be foolhardy to look at the top-line data and interpret the market as continuing without change. It’s positive information, definitely, but the market is evolving. By acknowledging new reader predilections and behaviours, and meeting demands as they are made, publishers give young people what they want. Updating systems to cope with the ensuing blizzard of data and processing requirements may seem like an expensive indulgence in passing technological fads, but this is not the case. By doing so, publishers bolster the industry and safeguard consumer consumption of books (regardless of format) for the future.

Andy Richardson is CEO of Influential Software (