Pew Research Center: Younger Americans’ Reading and Library Habits

Posted on Thursday 8th November 2012 2:22

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. On the face of it, this research may seem to be of little relevance to the UK publishing market, but that could not be further from the truth.

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. Given that America’s uptake of eBooks and readers is generally considered to be more advanced than the UK’s, this research provides a window into the habits of the digitised generation, those 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 within the UK.

The research reveals that, of those 83% of young Americans (those under the age of thirty) that have read a book in the last year, 75% read in the traditional print format. 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% of young people are choosing to read books in e-format, and a further 11% choose 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 eBooks, 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%) and mobile phones (41%). These figures are staggering. Younger readers are using their existing gadgets to read, they don’t see owning an e-reader as necessitous, nor does the purchase of an e-reader or tablet signify the beginning of e-book consumption. Publishers must make content freely 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% of young Americas who do not currently borrow eBooks 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 eReaders.

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.