Aims for Sweet Spot of American Readers

In English Language by Edward Nawotka

• BookSwim’s proprietary data shows that 80% of its users are library users and high income suburban women who read between 40 and 50 books per year — and buy as many as 30.

• An analysis of reading habits reveals that BookSwim’s subscribers don’t tend to read in isolated silos. Instead, readers are just as likely to sample numerous types of books rather than merely stick to their personal preference.

By Edward Nawotka

NEWARK, NJ:, the three year-old book rental company that is known to many as the “Netflix of books,” has over the past six months compiled statistical data that offers a glimpse into the reading habits of a swath of two important subsets American readers: high-income suburban women and library users.

The Readers

“Eighty percent of our users are female, soccer mom types, with a high income and socioeconomic strata, who frequent non-profit events, read 40 to 50 books per year, and buy as many as 30,” says Nick Ruffilo R, BookSwim’s CIO and CTO. They come primarily from suburban neighborhoods “and like having the convenience of having books delivered to their door,” says Ruffilo, or they’re from communities where library services have been cut or they are finding long waiting lists for hot bestsellers that they’re anxious to read.

It is, in short, BookSwim’s group of readers represent a true “sweet spot” for publishers.

The company, which remains privately held and funded, would not reveal the total number of subscribers to the site, but CEO/CFO Jevan Padiyar did say that the company has had “significant year to year growth since its inception.”

The Data

BookSwim’s research revealed that voracious readers don’t always stay within their comfort zone.

“What we did was look at reader trends amongst category-based readers,” says Ruffilo. “For example we looked at romance readers and calculated the percentage of those readers that also rented books in other categories. The percentages are reflected in the chart. Many books fall into 2+ categories (you can have sci-fi romance, mystery romance, mystery sci-fi, etc, which is how you can have a readers with multiple preference). A reader was considered a genre reader when 60+ % of the books they read fell within a given high-level category.”

Among the surprises in the data was the news that those most catholic in their tastes appear to be comics and graphic novel readers, who read broadly across the spectrum, with fully 87.5% reading sci-fi and fantasy novels — the highest degree of crossover on the chart, and another 72.02% also reading children’s books.

Romance readers, proved avid fans of mysteries as well, with  86.72% clocking in the occasional who-done-it, but less than half included science fiction and fantasy, non-fiction, or childrens books into their mix.

Mystery/thrillers were by far the most popular genre for crossover readers — a statistic that likely reflects the ephemeral “use once” character of the genre, which might attract such readers to BookSwim’s type of service which doesn’t commit them to owning the book.

“The core of our business is in bestsellers, not backlist,” noted Jeevan Padiyar, BookSwim’s CEO/CFO, “so yes, the numbers reflect that, but it’s also a good way for the industry to note that high volume readers tend to be very eclectic in their taste.”

Inventory Control and E-book Subscription Models

The company itself operates in such a way that it limits its own ordering to just-in-time purchases and deliveries, a process that is aided by the fact that customers maintain a queue of titles they are waiting for, thus allowing BookSwim to accurately assess demand. When titles that are most in demand lose desirability, such as when they fall off the bestseller lists, BookSwim then sells any excess inventory onto the secondary market.

The ideal form of inventory control would be to eliminate the need to ship physical books out altogether and to merely “rent” readers a digital edition. On this point Padiyar is circumspect, admitting that the company is developing an e-book strategy and has had numerous conversations with publishers about how this might work. But, he admits, “its still not a workable model.”

Subscription models are increasingly popular among publishers, but they tend to work best in niches. Small-scale indie publishers, like Open Letter Press which focuses on translation or military history publishers like Osprey, operate successful subscription services, though in reality, these operate much the same way the old book club model did, with individuals self-selecting/identifying themselves with a particular type of book.

Exporting the subscription model into the e-book world offers a chance to break this model open, since readers have a risk-free method of consuming bestselling titles on-demand. It has been done, to varying degrees of success, in the library market already. Taking it commercial is the next logical step, but one that has become more and not less complicated by the introduction in the past year of the agency model, as well as numerous new formats and devices.

Still, says Padiyar, though “e-books for many represent a kind of holy grail, BookSwim is primarily about convenience and saving money over time,” adding “Whether that remains in the form of physical books or digital ones, we intend to offer our customers superior value for money — no matter what kind of book they read or how they want to read it.”

Bookswim’s Top 20 Rented Titles (July 8 )

#1 – The Search
#2 – The Island: A Novel
#3 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
#4 – The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
#5 – Still Missing
#6 – Sizzling Sixteen (Stephanie Plum)
#7 – Undead and Unfinished (Queen Betsy, Book 9)
#8 – The Girl Who Played with Fire
#9 – Sh*t My Dad Says
#10 – The Help
#11 – Private
#12 – The Passage
#13 – Broken: A Novel (Grant County)
#14 – Sliding Into Home
#15 – One Day (Vintage Contemporaries Original)
#16 – The Overton Window
#17 – 61 Hours: A Reacher Novel (Jack Reacher Novels)
#18 – The 9th Judgment (The Women’s Murder Club)
#19 – Best Friends Forever: A Novel
#20 – Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

DISCUSS: Do Publishers Inadvertently Dictate the Demographics of Readers?

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.