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'New Regulars' join the heavy readers

2 June 2008

'Heavy readers' are changing. Book covers do influence purchase. Three recent reports relating to book consumers paint a striking picture of changes in book purchasing.

Book Marketing Limited has just published new research which shows that a third of British adults think the cover is important in influencing purchase. Three out of five of those surveyed say they are more likely to buy a book if it is on offer, but recommendations by friends and family are still very important, as in previous studies. Measuring the response against actual purchases, supermarket buyers are just as keen on browsing for books as those using specialist bookshops. Perhaps surprisingly, online book buyers are more likely than those using other channels to consider the look of the cover to be important.

An American survey conducted by Ipsos in 2007 showed that, although 27% of Americans had not read a book in the past year, a further 27%, the 'heavy buyers', had read 15 or more books. When Americans who had not read a single book were excluded, the average number of books read was 20, raised by the 8% who read 51 books or more.

Although what people read and what they buy is not the same thing, new research by the Bookseller and consumer insight agency Next Big Thing suggests that a new segment of heavy readers is emerging in the UK. Lured by the supermarkets and the Internet, this group is buying as many books as those who frequent bookshops. These 'New Regulars' are fans of crime fiction and true life stories, and they look to recommendations on the television and radio, as well as advertising, to guide their purchases. They now make up more than a third of the 'heavy readers', who are defined as people who buy one or more books every month.

The 'Highbrow Browsers' who make up the rest of the heavy readers are the well- educated bookshop visitors familiar to the book trade around the world. The new study shows that this combined group of heavy readers is more responsive than other readers to a book's price. This makes sense as they are buying a lot more books and price therefore becomes a significant issue.

What has changed is that, for the first time in history, readers can go online to check out book prices. Also, since value is a key element of the big supermarket chains' offer across the globe, they are finding that heavily discounted books make a perfect non-food item to promote. For the shopper, putting a discounted book into the trolley along with the week's shopping is painless, and may be turning a lot of light buyers into the 'New Regulars'.

We should all be grateful to the heavy readers who keep the book trade afloat. Although it is causing pain to traditional bookstores - chains and independents alike - this restructuring of the book market does offer hope for the future. The emergence of the 'New Regulars' and their buying power may be crucial to the future of the book trade.