Millennials spent more money than any other generation on books in 2011 according to the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review.** This Christian Science Monitor article reports that millennials knocked Baby Boomers off their long-held spot as top literary consumers.
But why the sudden shift in dynamic? The answer may be less straightforward than you think.
Electronic readers are the most obvious reason for this phenomena. eBook consumption raised from 4 to 14% in 2011. It also helps answer the first question that came to my mind, “since when does a 25 year-old have more time to read than a 65 year-old?”. eReaders, such as iPads, Nooks, Kindles allow people to read just about anywhere, including the subway to and from work.
For some millennials, having an eReader is enough to get motivated to start reading. Take my friend Ian for instance. After receiving a Kindle Fire for graduation, he started the blog Ian Can Read. All his friends submitted book recommendations, and now he’s reading them all. Over 50 of them. This kid is an engineer who hasn’t picked up a literary book in years, yet with the purchase of a Kindle, he’s tearing through classics like Irving and Vonnegut in just a few months. Yes, most people buy Kindles to read more, but when I purchased an iPad for entirely different reasons, having the option available it was enough to make me read more eBooks.
However, just because millennials can read anytime anyplace doesn’t automatically mean they want to. Unless, of course they have friends who won’t shut up about it.
Social Reading and Book Crazes
The Hunger Games. Harry Potter. Twilight. These are all young adult fiction novels whose record sales led them that became repackaged as millennial blockbuster movie series. Even more adult books, such as the Game of Thrones, are all the buzz. After the television series, George R.R. Martin’s release of the fifth book broke records. The books are taking off now, even though his first book in the series was published in 1997.
Moral of the story? Reading is cool again.
With websites like Goodreads, reading has become much more social. You can see what your friends are reading, what they recommend and what they dislike. When a book is well-liked today, it has a much higher chance of going viral, even self-published books like Fifty Shades of Gray.
Different Reading Style
Aside from peer pressure, millennials have an inherent thirst for content. As the generation most connected to the internet, we’re constantly reading new information, looking up answers and getting distracted by novel content. According to this millennial marketing firm, we read differently than our predecessors. Millennials are more likely to skim, scan and read for a purpose.
While this may not be a good thing for textbook sales (why spend $300 when you have Google?), I think it’s made us more well-practiced and efficient readers. Since the average 15-24 year old spends 50 minutes a day reading (more than GenXers, but less than Baby Boomers), we’re getting more well-practiced at reading quickly and efficiently. Thus, it will probably take millennials much less time to read a book than a Baby Boomer, which leads to increased book purchases per year for millennials.
Less Non-Tech Book Avenues for Seniors
Yes, millennial book consumption increased from 25 to 30% in 2011, but Baby Boomers dropped from 30 to 25%. The question here isn’t just why are millennials reading more, but also why are Baby Boomers reading less.
The answer could lie in a depressing, yet inevitable trend. There are significantly less brick-and-mortar avenues for book purchases. Not only did The Borders Group fall in 2011, but existing book stores are focusing more effort on eBooks rather than retail in accordance to sales. I remember visiting a Barnes and Noble in January, looking for a specific copy of a paperback. After entering the store to multiple Nook booths, picking up a basket with a Nook advertisement, I asked an employee to help me find a copy. Once we got to the author’s section, he said that they must not have it and that I could order one. The catch? It was staring us in front of the face the whole time.
With the increased reliance on eReaders and Amazon.com as a physical book suppliers, less tech savvy seniors may not be able to buy the books that they want. Even libraries, once a study source of physical books, are closing due to budget cuts. The same article states that the ones that do secure funding are encouraged to meet Wi-Fi and electronic needs.
As a bookworm, I couldn’t be happier to hear that my generation is getting more well-read. Here’s to continuing this trend! However, I would hate to think that seniors are missing out on an opportunity to read as much as they would like to. Anyone hear of any charities that are addressing this issue? As always, thank you for reading (hooray for reading!). Lindsey Kirchoff
**Disclaimer: I normally like to read the studies that I report on to really dig into the sample size, survey type, external factors etc. However, access to this study cost $799. This round I’ll be relying on secondary sources, unless someone wants to make a really big donation!