Following up on a survey of readers that was the most-discussed presentation of the Winter Institute in San Jose, Calif. (Shelf Awareness, February 4, 2010), Jack McKeown, director of new business development for Verso Digital--and now a bookstore owner (Shelf Awareness, May 12, 2010)--presented findings at BEA based on the initial surveys as well as another conducted this spring. Some of the data was "as fresh as three weeks ago," he said, and altogether the surveys polled 9,300 respondents.
The data reiterated much of what he emphasized earlier this year or showed some shifts, all of which continue to present opportunities to independent booksellers, McKeown stressed. One of major areas of importance has to do with independents capitalizing more on their "mindshare," that is, the preference of many book buyers for independent bookstores but their tendency to buy a significant number of books at chains and online retailers.
Fully 27.3% of avid book buyers--those who buy 10 or more books a year, who number an estimated 62.4 million Americans--say local independents are their first preference as places to buy books. Of all book buyers, 25.4% say indies are their first choice for buying books and 17.1% call indies second choice, meaning that 42.5% of all book buyers mention indies as top choices for book purchases.
Commenting on this gap between that "mind share" and indies' market share of 10%, McKeown said, "What's missing? Why aren't indies able to convert this preference into sales? If there is a more pressing question for the future of independent retailing, I don't know what it is."
Average buyers who prefer indies are split about evenly by gender. While 46% of them are 46 and older (somewhat expected), 37% are 18–34, which McKeown called "pretty astonishing. This is a very, very promising development." (Avid readers are overwhelmingly female.)
In the past year 36.2% of all book buyers visited an indie between three and nine times. McKeown said that a "real opportunity" exists for increasing the frequency of visits of this group beyond "just" trips to find gifts or around holiday times.
Pointing to data about age groups and store visits, he noted that "boomers and seniors aren't coming to indies enough," not as often as 18–24-year-olds (40% of this age group visit an indie five or more times a year, more often than every other age group).
In another critical phenomenon, more than 26% of independent bookstore customers browse at their favorite indies and then buy books they've discovered there online or at chain stores. Some 10% of indie customers do this "frequently," and that tendency is more pronounced among book buyers aged 18–34. More than a third of this age group have browsed at indies but purchased elsewhere within the past year. Such "sales leakage" could be costing indies more than $260 million in sales and 1.8% of market share, McKeown estimated.
The survey found three particular factors that would prompt readers to shop in indies more than they do now: discounted bestsellers, better selection and improved proximity. Indies should thus consider, he continued, doing some discounting as well as using e-mail and online marketing, which alleviate questions about the stores' distance and sometimes comparatively limited selection. In fact, 45.3% of respondents indicated that they are willing to provide e-mail addresses to receive information and material from stores; shoppers aged 18–34 were more disposed to do so than older respondents. McKeown pointed out that "12 million customers want to give you their e-mail addresses. If indies fail to realize this asset, someone else will."
Based on preferred hardcover discounts, McKeown estimated that a 15% bestseller discount would increase sales 4%. Women are more concerned about price than men, whereas men tend to want better selection.E-Books
Since November, e-reader ownership by general readers has risen to 6.8% from 3%, and e-reader owners are buying more e-books per capita, which reflects more "mainstream" ownership of the devices rather than early adopters who tend not to read as many books on average, McKeown said.
E-reader owners continue to buy printed books as well as e-books. Fully 27.7% of surveyed e-reader owners predict they would buy 10 or more printed books in the next year, while 17.2% likely will buy five to nine printed books. McKeown commented: "This is not a mutually exclusive universe. Quite possibly we are seeing an increase of readership moving seamlessly between print and e-books."
The number of readers who are "not at all likely" to buy an e-reader grew since late last year to a majority, 52.2%, which suggests "limits to e-book penetration," McKeown said. "The e-book market may not be 60% of the book market in three years."
Printed books and e-books bundled together continue to be attractive to a significant group of readers. At least 42% of book buyers are at least somewhat likely to consider buying bundled books.--John Mutter