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'PW'/BEA Survey Finds Some Good News About Reading Habits
Jim Milliot -- 9/14/98
A study conducted on behalf of Publishers Weekly and BookExpo America on the consumer book-buying habits of Americans found that the reading habit isn't in such dire straits among young people as some reports have indicated. A survey of 400 adults who buy books for children found that they bought an average of 18 books over the last year. In addition, a poll of 100 teenage readers (from age 12 to 17) found that they spent approximately 10% of their disposable income on books over the last 12 months.
As important as the number of books being purchased for or by children and teenagers is the attitude teenagers displayed toward reading. Approximately 86% of the teenagers surveyed said they read "for fun," while 60% said they believe kids who read a lot are smarter than their peers. In addition, 78% said they consider reading to be a "cool thing to do," an attitude that would fit well with the fledgling industry campaign to promote reading as entertainment that is being coordinated by the AAP.

The survey found that 76% of teenagers usually buy their books at chain stores, with Barnes &Noble the most popular destination at 39% of total sales. School, either through book fairs or school bookstores, was the second most popular book-buying source for teenagers.

On the adult side, bookstore chains were cited by 51% of the respondents as the outlet where they most often purchase either a book for themselves or for their children. Once again, B&N was found to be the most popular chain, with a response rate of 23%. Mass-merchandise stores were picked by 10% of adults as the place where they most often buy books, followed by independent stores at 9%. (Unlike the Consumer Research Study on Book Purchasing, the PW/BEA survey asked where books are usually purchased and did not take into account the number of units bought through the various outlets, as the Consumer study measured. The large discrepancy between chains and independents in the PW survey most likely reflects the success B&N has had in branding its identity, as well as the fact that respondents were merely asked if they shop at an independent store; it's likely that if the name of a specific store had been given, independent bookstores would have garnered a higher percentage.)

The study also examined what influences people to buy books. Among adults, the name and author's reputation were found to be far and away the most important factors, followed by recommendations by a friend. For adults buying books for children, 75% of those surveyed indicated that they choose titles that they think their children will want to keep for a long time. Another important factor considered by adults is a request for a specific book from their children. Book-buying decisions among teenagers were found to be based on recommendations from parents, favorite authors, book covers and movie-related titles.

Commenting on the survey, PW editor-in-chief Nora Rawlinson observed that while teenagers "often get a bad rap [when it comes to reading], our survey paints an encouraging picture of them. Not only are they reading, and reading classic literature, they think reading is cool and people who read are smarter. And they're demonstrating that with the percentage of their own money they're spending on books."
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