Spotlight Book retailing

Face-to-face retailers still attract the majority of book-buying customers, although independents are losing ground to multiple specialists. As long as shelf and window displays remain a big influence on book choice, Internet retailers are unl

NEW BOOKS BOUGHT IN THE PAST 3 MONTHS % ALL ADULTS One or two 17 Three, four or five 18 Between six and ten 12 More than ten 6 None 48

Reasons for choice of books % of all book buyers Caught my eye on the shelf 51 Saw it in a bookshop window 31 Saw it advertised 26 It was part of a money-off offer 22 Saw it in a printed catalogue or newsletter 20 Saw it in an Internet listing 11

In spite of the proliferation of new media entertainments, books are holding their own in the British public’s affections, according to exclusive research by NOP.

Just over half of all British adults bought at least one book during May, June and July 2000 – and that under-25 year olds were no less likely than their elders to be book purchasers. NOP’s research focused on new books. Secondhand purchases were specifically excluded to enable the study to concentrate on the marketing, promotional and retailing aspects of the booktrade.

About a third of those who bought books bought one or two, and slightly more bought between three and five. Twenty-two per cent – the “regular buyers” – bought between six and ten books, and 12 per cent – the “bookworms” – bought more than ten. Each of these two types of frequent customer purchased about 30 per cent of all books sold in the period, meaning that a third of purchasers made up 60 per cent of sales by volume.

Women are a more important market for books than men, making up 55 per cent of all buyers and 60 per cent of “bookworms”. The most important predictor, however, was socio-economic status. Seventy-three per cent of the professional or managerial class – the ABs – were book purchasers, compared with 60 per cent of the white-collar C1s. Sixty per cent of buyers came from these two categories of consumers, although they represent only 45 per cent of the adult population. The bias was even more marked among major purchasers: two-thirds of people buying six or more books were ABC1s.

Retail outlets for books

In spite of media interest in alternative retailers, specialist bookshops are still the major force in book sales. Six out of ten purchasers had bought from a chain bookseller in the previous three months, 17 per cent more than those who had bought from their nearest rivals – chain newsagents; a third had used independent bookshops. Supermarkets and airport or station stores had each been used by a quarter of purchasers, and department stores by 14 per cent.

NOP also looked at three types of direct sales: bookclubs, newspaper/magazine ordering services and Internet retailers, and found that bookclubs attracted 23 per cent of purchasers, nearly twice as many as either of the other direct retailers.

Although frequent purchasers are an important market for all types of booksellers, they showed a particular preference for chain bookstores. Seven out of ten bought from a multiple, compared with half using newsagents and 31 per cent bookclubs. However, their use of independent bookstores is no higher than average, so that the usual salvation of small specialists – their ability to gain volume through high-spending customers – is not occurring in this market. In fact, independent bookstores attract about the same number of frequent buyers as supermarket book departments.

Customer profiles were remarkably similar across most types of outlets, but there were a few noticeable exceptions. For example, seventy per cent of purchasers at multiple bookstores were upmarket customers, ten per cent higher than the market average. And 40 per cent of book buyers in the North had purchased from independent bookstores, compared with a third for the rest of the country.

Internet purchasing largely reflects overall Internet usage: two-thirds of the purchasers are male, and three-quarters are upmarket. However, there are less young users than general Internet studies would have predicted. Under 35-year-olds make up less than half of Internet book buyers, and they are far more likely to buy through physical retail outlets, especially multiple bookstores and newsagents.

The most extreme profile, however, was that of book clubs. Only eight per cent of 15- to 24-year-old purchasers bought from a book club, and although the penetration doubled for 25- to 34-year-olds, this was still 11 per cent short of the figure for older buyers.

Influences on book selection

The biggest influence on book selection was previous experience of the author. Two-thirds of purchasers chose a book because it was “by an author I like”. For 56 per cent this was a major impetus – nearly twice as many as those who quoted the next best reason.

Fifty-two per cent of purchasers bought a book because they “read or heard a review of it”. Slightly fewer – 47 per cent – chose a book because they were “attracted by the description on the cover”, rising to two-thirds of the most frequent buyers.

Other external influences seemed far less important – at least in the self-assessment of readers. A fifth had bought a book because “it was nominated or awarded a prize”. Television and radio had surprisingly little perceived impact – 15 per cent had purchased a book “because it was serialised or adapted on television”, or “had a television tie-in”. Eight per cent were similarly motivated by radio serialisations – although this may reflect the comparative dearth of new series or serials on summer-time TV schedules.

Cover design seemed a particularly potent weapon in the book marketers armoury, drawing attention at the point of purchase. Half of all purchasers chose a book which “caught their eye on the shelf ” and three out of ten bought something which they “saw in a bookshop window”, highlighting the importance of the retail outlet, and the place of leisurely browsing in this market. Published or on-screen descriptions of books influenced far fewer buyers. A fifth of buyers chose a book from its description “in a printed catalogue or newsletter” and 11 per cent from an Internet listing – both reflecting almost exactly the size of their customer franchises.

Conventional marketing methods had less impact on readers. A quarter were directly influenced by advertising for a specific book, and a fifth had bought a book because it was “part of a money-off offer”.

Frequent purchasers’ preferences reflect the priorities of the total market, but to a greater degree. They were even more likely to be influenced by author loyalty and by reviews; but the most striking characteristic is their susceptibility to impulse purchase. Six out of ten – 15 per cent more than occasional purchasers – bought a book which “caught their eye on the shelf; and four out of ten were influenced by a window display, compared with a quarter of infrequent buyers.

Main Findings

– 61 per cent of purchasers used a multiple bookseller

– 44 per cent bought from a multiple newsagent

– 56 per cent bought a book because they liked the author

– 51 per cent bought on impulse from the shelf

ANALYSIS: The Human Factor

Contact: Elaine Hunt

Telephone: 01993 831202

NOP Research Group interviewed a sample of 998 adults over 15 years old using its Weekend Telephone Omnibus

CONTACT: Carol Bernasconi on 020 7890 9565

Vital Statistics

NEW BOOKS BOUGHT IN THE PAST 3 MONTHS % ALL ADULTS One or two 17 Three, four or five 18 Between six and ten 12 More than ten 6 None 48

Influence on choice of books bought % all book buyers agreeing – a lot a little not at all It is by an author I like 56 12 33 I read or heard a review of it 28 24 48 I was attracted by the description on the cover 24 23 53 It was nominated or awarded a prize 11 12 78 It was serialised or adapted on TV 6 9 85 It ties in with a TV programme 7 9 85 It was serialised or adapted on radio 3 5 92

Reasons for choice of books % of all book buyers Caught my eye on the shelf 51 Saw it in a bookshop window 31 Saw it advertised 26 It was part of a money-off offer 22 Saw it in a printed catalogue or newsletter 20 Saw it in an Internet listing 11

Outlets where books bought in past 3 months % all book buyers Chain bookshop 61 Chain newsagent 44 Bookshop which is part of a chain 34 Supermarket 26 Book club 23 Shop at airport or railway station 25 Department store 14 Through the Internet 13 Newspaper or magazine ordering service 13

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