New Data From BookNet: Canadian Book Buying in 2023

In News by Porter Anderson

In a new BookNet Canada survey, consumers say that in 2023 their visits both to physical and digital booksellers increased.

Reading in Vancouver. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Wirestock

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

Purchases: 53 Percent Paperback, 25 Percent Hardcover
As many of our readers will recall, BookNet Canada is a standards and research organization for the English-language Canadian market, as well as a provider of supply-chain technology.

Later this spring, the organization is to release complete results from a new book-consumer survey, but this month is providing members of the news media with early looks at some of the key trends and issues being surfaced in the study.

The Canadian Book Consumer survey was begun in 2012, designed as an annual look “at Canadians and Canadian book consumers.” Structured to make its observations on a quarterly basis, the program in 2023 surveyed what the company says was a sample of 4,270 Canadians, 48 percent of whom said they bought new books.

Highlights From the 2023 Canadian Book Consumption Study

In English-language online consumption, survey responses from Canadians say they visited both digital and physical-store retailers more in a given month than in years prior to 2023.

Consumption Venue: Online vs. Physical Retail

“During a given month in 2023,” BookNet’s staff writes, “79 percent of Canadian book buyers visited a bookstore online, up from 73 percent in 2022. Another 70 percent of Canadian book buyers [said they] visited a bookstore in person, up from 64 percent in 2022.”

Most Canadian book buyers responding to the 2023 BookNet Canada study, said they visited bookstores of either type [brick-and-mortar or digital] between one and four times in a given month — 61 percent of online book buyers and 63 percent of in-person book buyers. Image: BookNet Canada

Some of the new survey’s input also clarifies a frequently recognized distinction between physical-store shoppers and online shoppers, the question of finding a book by serendipity.

“As in past years,” BookNet’s report says, “books purchased online were first encountered through searching for a particular book (42 percent), while books bought in-person were first seen on a main shelf (54 percent),” according to responses.

Canadian book buyers say they purchased at a specific location in 2023 for these top reasons:

  • Convenient place to shop — 31 percent
  • Book(s) in stock/available immediately — 31 percent
  • Good price/offer/promo — 29 percent
  • Good selection of books — 23 percent
  • Easy checkout process to buy books — 21 percent

While 38 percent of Canadian book buyers said they’d planned to buy a particular book at a specific time, most book purchases in 2023 were spontaneous to some degree, according to these responses:

  • 26 percent said they’d planned to buy a particular book, but not necessarily at that specific time
  • 18 percent said they weren’t planning to buy a book at that specific time, it was an impulse purchase
  • 16 percent said they were planning to buy a book at that specific time, but had not planned to buy a particular book

Survey respondents’ input indicates that in 2023 55 percent of book purchases made by the surveyed consumers were accomplished online, 45 percent in person. As BookNet points out, such numbers are close to where they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. Image: BookNet Canada

Format Trends

“Similar to past years,” the staff at BookNet writes, the majority of book purchases that Canadians said they made were print, with 53 percent in paperback and 25 percent in hardcover.

“In 2023, 14 percent of books purchases by book buyers,” according to respondents, “were ebooks and 4 percent were audiobooks.”

In this quarter-by-quarter track, Canadian paperback purchases are seen being up year-over-year while ebook purchases decline. Image: BookNet Canada

One especially interesting point tested by this survey: If a consumer’s preferred format of a book isn’t available, how likely is that consumer to buy another format? Some 27 percent told researchers that they they’d buy another format if unable to get their preferred one. Some 32 percent said they would make such a substitute purchase some times, and 26 percent said they simply wouldn’t accept another format.

According to their survey responses, consumers who usually are audiobook or ebook buyers were the most likely to buy a book in another format if their preferred format wasn’t available. Image: BookNet Canada

We hope to add more results from the new 2023 BookNet Canada survey results and will update this story as that opportunity arises.

More from Publishing Perspectives on the Canadian market is here, more on industry statistics is here, and more on bookselling in the international publishing industry 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.