Canadian Study: Library Patrons Tell Researchers They Buy More Books

In News by Porter Anderson

New research from BookNet Canada indicates that consumers who borrow books from libraries also purchase more books per month than those who don’t use libraries.

At Calgary’s Central Public Library. Image – iStockphoto: JE Whyte

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Study: Library Users Also Are Likelier to Read Print Daily
In the results of a study released today (May 28) to the news media, BookNet Canada is reporting an apparent correlation between library patronage and book buying.

The research, titled Borrow, Buy, Read: Library Use and Book Buying in Canada, found that “those who had both borrowed a book from a library and purchased one in the last year purchased an average of three books per month, whereas those who had purchased a book but said they never visit a library bought the least amount of books, with 2.6 purchases.”

Data for the study was collected through 2018 using online surveys asked of adult, English-speaking Canadians. And it is, of course, a frequent desire of those in the library world to prove their efficacy to the trade as consumer-builders so as not to appear to be cannibalizing book sales.

The study developed a profile of the typical Canadian book borrower with these attributes:

  • Female-identifying (58 percent
  • In her mid-50s, on average
  • partnered (59 percent)
  • living in central Canada (58 percent)
  • not living with kids (51 percent)
  • a university graduate (51 percent)
  • living in an urban area (47 percent)

At the peak, buyers who visited the library 10-14 times in the previous month said they purchased an average of 6.1 books in a given month.

Image: BookNet Canada

Library borrowers were also seen as “more likely to read print books daily (24 percent) or several times a week (28 percent), when compared to readers (20 percent and 22 percent, respectively), who are more likely than borrowers to read less often than once a month or rarely.”

Other insights from the study include buying preferences by format, with 41 percent of borrowers purchasing a new print book in the past year, 12 percent buying an ebook, and 4 percent buying an audiobook.

“In terms of frequency,” the BookNet staff reports, “borrowers [say they] are listening to audiobooks more often than readers in general.”

For example, of adult Canadians who had read or listened to at least one book in the past year, regardless of format or buying habits, 9 percent said they listened daily, compared to 7 percent of readers overall, and 18 percent said they listened several times per week, compared to 16 percent of readers.

Image: BookNet Canada

In terms of discovering books, the study’s report says:

  • The public library is the fourth most popular way readers generally discover books
  • For borrowers, public libraries are even more popular, coming in second most popular (46 percent)
  • The most popular way borrowers discover books is through word-of-mouth (48 percent)
  • Other popular methods for borrowers are: browsing through physical stores (34 percent); browsing retailer sites (32 percent); social media (27 percent); and bestseller lists (24 percent).

And as to the concern about leisure time in a crowded lifestyle and how it impacts reading, the study found that “the majority of borrowers (60 percent) said that the amount they read in 2018 stayed the same as in 2017, while 28 percent felt that their reading time had increased.

“Only 12 percent reported that the amount of time they spent reading in 2018 decreased from 2017.”

And is reading time staying the same because leisure time is staying the same, the researchers wanted to know?

“Most borrowers (53k percent) said that their amount of leisure time had not changed over the previous two years. Almost half of all borrowers reported that they had enough free time, while 36 percent reported that they didn’t.”

Image: BookNet Canada

In an interesting comparison of what’s popular in sales vs. library borrowing, one finding was that literary fiction readers are likelier to be buying than borrowing their books, while several categories appeared in the Top 10 as buys but not at all in library interests (historical fiction, fantasy and magic, biography and autobiography).

Image: BookNet Canada

According to The Canadian Book Market 2018, which uses data from SalesData, the BookNet team reports, “The market share of top-level subjects in the Canadian retail market in 2018 was:

  • 39  percent juvenile and YA
  • 34 percent adult nonfiction
  • 26 percent adult fiction

The public library market reported more than 8.5 million loans to LibraryData from June to December 2018:

  • 48 percent juvenile and YA
  • 27 percent adult fiction
  • 25 percent adult nonfiction

As Publishing Perspectives readers know, BookNet Canada is a nonprofit organization that develops technology, standards, and education to serve the Canadian book industry. Founded in 2002 to address systemic challenges in the industry, it supports publishing companies, booksellers, wholesalers, distributors, sales agents, and libraries.

More from Publishing Perspectives on BookNet Canada and its research is here. And more from us on the Canadian market is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.