In the Internet age, there’s been no shortage of talk about the future of libraries, and much speculation about where libraries fit in the increasingly digital-rich media market for American consumers. Now, there is data. This month Library Journal released the first issue of a quarterly publication called Patron Profiles. Based on surveys and data collected from library users across the country, the first issue—on libraries and e-book usage—indicates that libraries are a powerful economic engine for the book business.
“There are a lot of assumptions about what library users do,” said LJ executive editor Rebecca Miller. “We wanted to dispel the assumptions and fill in the gaps in data. We wanted to get a realistic picture of the digital transition, so we thought a national trending survey that reveals the media consumption of library users made great sense.”
The data is being collected with the help of Bowker PubTrack Consumer. The first issue summarizes the findings of an August 2011 survey pinpointing usage patterns of library patrons, with special attention to e-book usage. In all, 3,193 people participated in the initial survey, and that number was screened so that the frequency of “library patronage and book buying behaviors were similar to statistically derived norms,” resulting in a sample of 2,421. Responders were all U.S. residents aged 18 and over.
Miller says LJ editors have been amazed by the strength of the findings so far—including the degree to which libraries are boosting book sales. “Our data show that over 50% of all library users report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library,” Miller noted. “This debunks the myth that when a library buys a book the publisher loses future sales. Instead, it confirms that the public library does not only incubate and support literacy, as is well understood in our culture, but it is an active partner with the publishing industry in building the book market, not to mention the burgeoning e-book market.”
When it comes to e-books, the numbers are especially notable, because only half of the big six currently allow libraries to lend e-books (Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan currently do not enable e-book lending). In 2010, Macmillan CEO John Sargent called library e-books “a thorny problem” for publishers. “It’s like Netflix, but you don’t pay for it,” Sargent famously said. “How is that a good model for us?”
According to Patron Profiles, in addition to the billions libraries spend buying books, the data show those books in turn are spurring individual readers to buy more books. “Public libraries collect and serve carefully crafted, patron-focused print and digital collections,” Miller explained. “They add significant value to the content ecosystem as well as being a sustaining sales channel in and of themselves. We can only imagine what the numbers would look like if [S&S, Macmillan, and Hachette] jumped into the e-book mix.”
The LJ data measure a range of library patrons, across all incomes and education levels, but, notably, the study has identified what the editors have dubbed “Power Patrons,” voracious consumers of media who log more than 47 books read per year—as compared to 27 on average read by all survey respondents.
Patron Profiles will trend e-books over the year, with additional focus areas for each release. Next up for the series, in January 2012, is a look at “Mobile Devices, Mobile Content, and Library Apps.” That will be followed in April 2012 with a look at “Library Web Sites and Virtual Services” and in July 2012 a volume on “Media Consumption and Library Use.”
The data should prove to be an invaluable resource for all sectors of the publishing ecosystem. “Publishers now have the first really broad, deep look at what library users do with books and e-books, other media, and—perhaps most importantly—what library users do with their wallets outside of libraries,” Miller said. “If they’ve ever doubted the role of libraries in launching an author, this will set them straight. In turn, librarians get new insight into what their patrons want and need. And they are getting many of their hunches confirmed: that library users are avid readers, listeners, and talkers, and that the library is an important part of a rich ecosystem of cultural exchange that is seamlessly connected to the marketplace.”
For more information on the study, visit www.patronprofiles.com.