Generation Bookworm: Why Millennials Buy More Books Than Baby Boomers

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.

See Grandma, I told you I can read something other than my cell phone!

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 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!

11 thoughts on “Generation Bookworm: Why Millennials Buy More Books Than Baby Boomers

  1. This is a fascinating post. I am actually very surprised at this research, but it makes a lot of sense given your analysis. I think you are right on the money about the reason for the drop in baby boomers too.

  2. coachmiami says:

    Hey Lindsey. Great post. It all makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing the research. I’m a “senior” (77) and love my iPad. My huge physical library is mostly technical books for my executive coaching business. I’ve now started buying eBooks to keep up with business, since I can access them 24/7, and I have no more bookshelf room. Just finished all 3 Hunger Games books on the iPad. Wow, what fun. Very much enjoy your blog.

  3. drewtewell1 says:

    I think this is good news because being a life-long learner may be the most important thing a person can do today if they want to be successful. Thanks for the post, Lindsey!

  4. @LReath: I was surprised too! Isn’t it nice to read some positive statistics about millennials for a change?

    coachmiami: Thank you for commenting and stopping by! This was some millennial news that I was more than ready to share. You and your iPad are a great example of why it can sometimes be misleading to generalize a generation based on a single statistic. You’ve read The Hunger Games before I have! I can relate to running out of space on my bookshelf (what a great problem to have! although it does drive my mom crazy). eBooks are much easier to take on the go (especially on the plane). Glad you enjoy the blog and I appreciate your insight!

    Drew Tewell: I agree! There are so many interesting things to learn–why stop being a student when you leave school?

  5. Edward Smith says:

    Very interesting. I coach authors how to get on TV and that will be helpful in picking shows that will sell the most books. Shows with millennial demographics can be found if you know how to work the system. Thanks, Edward Smith.

  6. As a fellow bookworm, this information makes me happy! Reading has always been cool in my book, but it’s exciting to see it on the rise within our generation. I think you’re right about Goodreads; it’s fun and simple to use (and it integrates well with Facebook), so people are drawn to it. Plus, I love the book recommendations it provides.

    I was anti e-readers for the longest time because I like to collect books, arrange them on my shelves, and actually flip through physical pages. But I can see the perks of a Kindle now! If anything, e-readers are more dangerous for fiction addicts like me because it only takes a few seconds to have access to a book once you purchase it — 24/7. Ah, temptation.

    Thanks for the info, Lindsey!

  7. Edward Smith: Thanks for reading and stopping by! It sounds like you have a fascinating job. I would love to get a chance to work with authors and help them promote their work. I bet you learn (and read) a lot! As an avid television watcher, I know there are lots of shows millennials like. While I can’t say much for talk and news shows (in my experience, we get a lot of that online), with the rise in online television consumption and “binge” programming, I’d say millennials watch more tv than ever. The way we might be watching it is different though. Since this is your area of expertise, I thought you’d like I published two articles a while back on how college students and twentysomethings consume television differently.

    College students:

  8. Hi Jill,
    I always love it when you stop by to comment! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve always been a big reader too. I still can’t fully commit to eReaders yet–after a day on the internet, the last thing I want to do is stare at more screens. However, there is definitely an instant gratification there. Plus, save the trees! I’m not that into Goodreads…yet! I need to spend some time on there.

    On that note, any book recommendations/read anything good lately? I just finished mine and I’m on the hunt! I like fiction too.

    • Jill Tooley says:

      I love leaving comments, so it’s good to hear that you aren’t annoyed yet!

      I said the same thing about the e-readers; computer screens are brutal when you stare at them for half the day. However, the Kindle’s screen isn’t backlit like a tablet, so it’s not hard on the eyes at all. The electronic “ink” looks exactly like a book page! So much, in fact, that sometimes I forget I’m not reading a physical copy. I used to be hardcore opposed to them (to the point where I’d argue with people about how they were going to destroy the integrity of publishing), but now my Kindle is always with me. Amazon should just pay me to do commercials for them…I’d sell the crap out of them! ;)

      You’ll get sucked into Goodreads soon enough, I’m sure! I’m totally obsessed with the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) right now, but epic fantasy has always been my main squeeze. What do you like to read?

  9. Rudee says:

    I am one of those baby boomers that doesn’t read as much. I agree with you about the closing of book stores. Downloading a book into a kindle or ipad doesn’t really do it for me. I like to feel and touch. Ordering a book online is that the same either, I like to thumb through the pages to make a decision what to buy. I would say my age group still like to turn the pages of a book and smell the pages. Where do you buy a book today, so yes I do not read as much. I find my reading is done when I go to an airport and I go to the bookstore to find something to read while on a trip. It is sad the closing of bookstores and the take over of the technology world.

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