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Expanding the market?

14 March 2005

Expanding the Market, a major study carried out by Book Marketing Limited and financed by the Arts Council, has revealed some disturbing facts about British book-buyers. In spite of the fact that 130,000 books are published every year, a third of adults do not buy books at all and a quarter don’t feel welcome in bookshops.

Publishers spend large sums on marketing and bookshops follow through with instore promotions, but word of mouth is still a hugely powerful marketing tool. The recommendation of a friend or relative – often accompanied by them passing along their copy of the book - is a more potent influence on reader’s choices than all the promotional work which may have gone into the book. One in four of those polled said that this was the most important factor in deciding what to read, with only the power of the author’s name having the same sort of influence.

Advertising has little effect and so does the jacket, whilst readers said that they did not trust the cover blurb, even though other studies have shown that the jacket does influence browsers to pick up books in shops.

The general conclusion is that more still needs to be done to attract people into bookshops, although, slightly confusingly, the fact is that bookshops, or at least the chain ones, now look and behave far more like other shops than they used to. Supermarkets are praised for putting books into people’s hands, but elsewhere they have been blamed for the increasing focus on the bestseller lists and they do only try to sell a limited range of titles.

Perhaps the study’s conclusion that light and non-book-buyers should be the major target is a bit flawed though. Many of these people will not be good readers, which brings us back to the adult literacy drive which will be the subject of next year’s World Book Day (see News Review 7 February). It’s heresy to say so, but isn’t it possible that some of these non-readers simply prefer watching television, playing computer games or just going to the pub?