Friday, August 18, 2017

Do American's Reading Habits Dictate How Book Publishing Markets Books?

Americans love lists, statistics, and factoids that reveal some metric that they can compare themselves by.  If the numbers affirm their views, experiences, and circumstances they are happy.  If it appears they are better than average, they’re even happier. Out of ego, curiosity, or opportunity, we crave to know how we stack up against others. I recently came across stats on geography-based tendencies of Americans and wondered what this could mean for the book world.

For instance, in a recent New York Times piece that highlighted findings from Facebook data that showed where users “check in when they are traveling abroad" the last four summers, a map can be constructed for each state.  Looks like Californians, Texans and a few other states each find Mexico to be the most popular overseas country. Oregon, Washington, and a few other states up north chose Canada.  But some states chose Liberia, Somalia, Ireland, Bolivia, Tonga and Marshall Islands.  Do these demographics help the book industry figure out how to market books regionally?

A very recent Entertainment Weekly article picked one film per each state that best captures the spirit and story of each state. New York had Do The Right Thing while South Carolina had The Big Chill and Pennsylvania had Rocky.  My favorite book-themed movie?  Vermont and Dead Poets Society.  Actually, a lot of these films were based on books, including Missouri’s Gone Girl, Kansas’ The Wizard of Oz, Colorado’s Misery, and Montana’s A River Runs Through It.

Last year, Business Insider put together its list, “The Most Famous Book That Takes Place in Every State” that should’ve been correctly titled as “Each State’s Most Famous Book.”  Alabama had To Kill a Mockingbird, Alaska Into the Wild, Arizona The Bean Trees, Arkansas A Painted House, and so on.

We live in a nation where one in four American adults say they have not read a book in the past year.  One in five haven’t visited a library or book mobile in that time either. Three in five people in U.S. prisons are illiterate.  These are stunning stats that show our nation needs to give reading a boost.

Will books change to meet the needs, abilities, and preferences of a new America, one that sees other languages besides English growing and one in which free online content is starting to replace a domain that used to be filled by books?  Should book publishers market to those who read more books (women average 14 books annually to men, 9) or should it make an emphasis to reach out to the under-served – ethnic minorities, high school drop outs, and those who speak English as a second language?

Since at least half of all new books released in 2017 are self-published and thus, turning authors into publishers, such writers need to confront the same marketing questions that big publishers struggle to address.  One cannot simply write whatever he or she desires and then demand the marketplace embrace the book without making a smart, strategic, and invested effort to reach targeted consumers.

Globally, the United States, according to World Culture Score Index, doesn’t even rank in the top 20 nations when the amount of time spent reading books is taken into account.  For instance, India doubles the US output, with the average Indian reading more than 10.5 hours per week and the typical American languishes at 5.5 hours.  Russia, China, France, Indonesia, and Hungary are way ahead of us.  Maybe selling books overseas or foreign rights needs more attention.

Perhaps publishers and authors need to market most heavily to young readers and those who buy books for them.  If we don’t nurture a new generation of book readers, the industry will die out.  The Guardian reported a Scholastic study from a few years ago showed only 51% of children claim they love or like reading books for fun -- down from 58% three years prior to the 2015 study.  It was 60% in 2010.

As the new school year is about to heat up, the book industry will need to not just sell books to its base of readers.  It will have to grow by reaching beyond its repeat customer and reliable demographics.  Get kids, illiterates, and people who say that don’t read books often to start buying books.  Create new consumers and in turn, not only will society benefit, but book publishers and authors will be able to reassure themselves that there is a marketplace for them.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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