Books as Christmas gifts? (2015 Nielsen Estimates)

Up to crunching some Nielsen Book-buyer data out of London? Brace yourself!

The Books & Consumers Survey (Dec 2015) found that, overall, more consumers expected they’d buy books this year than last. Now, hold on to that tidbit like it’s a zippy golden snitch. It will get you through the dark times that are the rest of the paragraph. And its implications.

If it’s good news, why not write it clearly?

“In November, when the research was undertaken, nearly a third weren’t sure whether they would buy a book as a gift this Christmas, and so were still open to persuasion. However, of those who were more certain, just over half thought they would buy a book for Christmas, whereas just under half of all UK consumers had done so in 2014.”

Yes. The skies part!

Maybe! Maybe not. Because there are three questions with three related ‘numbers’ in this paragraph, and not all the numbers are actually presented. (Why do that? Why, it would be confusing!)

  • Have you thought of buying a book as a Christmas gift this year?
    • The answer to this was that 1/3rd of the total number (no idea) of surveyed people said they hadn’t thought of that, but were open to the idea – thanks!
  • How many of the rest of you are sure you’ll buy a book as a Christmas gift this year?
    • Meanwhile, among the rest of the survey respondents, just over a half knew they would be badly wrapping a book, pasting on a To/From tag, and calling that prezzie done! And it would be, dammit! Books are magic!
  • All of which is interesting, because, in 2014, just under 50% of all UK buyers bought a book for Christmas.

That means we started at 2/3rds of respondents (who thought they might give a book), and cut that number nearly in half (a little better than half knew they’d give a book). But the key here is that ‘just over half’ in 2015 is better than ‘just under half’ in 2014.

Book in gift wrap

What’s more, the biggest predictor of gift book buys was whether the household had children in it. That does suggest some bump in the volume of Children’s books purchased (possibly including books for Young Adults). But it also presents data that begs the question of whether adults see the value of reading.

It would be interesting to see data about where numbers fall off, where these once avid Child and YA readers become… non-readers. Though, possibly, the lack of adult readers indicates a generational difference in the perceived value of books and stories.

I have to wonder:

  1. Are we failing to instill the value of reading into the minds of adults? They think of buying books for kids… but not themselves or their peers?
  2. Are adults too busy to read? Forced into a kind of ‘techxtroversion’ with the demands to plug-in, perform, and overwork?
  3. Is the solitary act of reading seen as an adult personality deficit? As I saw suggested on quora when a young man asked how he should handle his bookish, reader girlfriend?

Whatever other questions it raises, the data does point out that adults aren’t giving books as gifts unless children are involved. Scarily enough, it brings to mind that old Corinthians quote:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.


Gift wrapped book

Dead Set series covers.

Well, The Dead Set, my first novel in the Dead Set series, has a neophyte Sixtine Soto on the cover — a fledgling to the ghost-hunting world. This girl is still numb from the hardscrabble life she’s trying to leave behind:


The new cover (which is about ready to go), has a much more confident and self-contained Sixtine (though still with her trusty camera and dark nail polish)! Here’s a snip of how it looks:


Still working on edits to the second book, but it’s close, and that’s gratifying!

The one line challenge!

I saw this challenge on Tumblr: Can you sum up the plot of your novel’s main story line in one sentence? Upon reading it, I felt that I needed, very badly, to find where I’d put my aspirin bottle! Next, I decided I should try. And here is my attempt:

The Dead SetThe world is a hostile place, and death is no different, so Sixtine must find people who will stand with her to prevail in both.

(By the way, the book is here.)

NOW, what would your one line be?!

E-readers. Who are we?

Unless you have a cool 1000 dollars to blow on the latest 110 page ‘U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behavior Annual Review‘, there’s not much of it a self-published author can read. The rest of us have access to 1 page of summary information.

The price tag is, I think, not just prohibitive, but bizarrely out-of-step with the shift in the market from big publishers to e-book and indie outfits driven, one must assume, by mountains of motivated self-publishers. Given that’s so, it may be more helpful to sell many copies, even at 10 or 15 dollars, putting them in more hands, but who am I to pose a suggestion to Nielsen Market Research? Their pricing would argue No one until I can foot a 999 dollar fee.

The 2013 report suggests that there is an emerging groundswell when it comes to self-publishing. If, in 2012, the rise of self-publishers made the radar, how much greater a force must it be in 2015? The report, powered by Bowker Market Research and their poll of 70,000 American readers, noted that 3% of books Americans are buying, and 8% of purchases through 2012 were by self-publishers. In fact, a self-publisher wrote, edited, posted, and marketed 10% of all the adult fiction bought in that year. And even if the trend flattens, did you know online sales represents the largest channel for buying books? How’s that for getting a foot in the door?

So, who buys these books? Over the last few years the publishing world has had one constant.


Women are the largest segment of buyers in the 30-40 year old age range, the so-called ‘”sweet spot” for the book business’, in particular. But women and girls dominate across the board no matter the age range, or book category. Women pwn book buying at ages 45-54 with such a powerful influence that it was called out in the report.

woman reads a book

Are you surprised?

This is, in a way, a shocker to me. I’ll tell you why. It’s an open secret that women’s book tastes are not just disregarded, they’re often outright denigrated in publishing culture. Terms like ‘Chick-lit’, indicating something bubble-gum and small, or ‘Sex and Shopping’ (known as ‘Shopping and fucking’ in the industry), are not borne of an excess of gratitude and respect. And don’t they sound like terms of endearment aimed at the women and girls keeping publishing alive? Not so much. And they’re not meant to.

Even very recently, articles have sought to explain how publishers treat them “When Women’s Literary Tastes are Deemed Less Worthy“. It’s like some strange form of Male Literary Gaze that has no grasp of the modern marketplace. You may ask how this kind of ignorance can hold true when the vast majority of people buying the books are the same as are disregarded by the establishment? And who, exactly, critics like James Wood (The New Yorker) are talking about when they say things like “I think that the rapture with which [The Goldfinch] has been received is further proof of the infantilization of our literary culture: a world in which adults go around reading Harry Potter.”? Everyone. Every-reader. Yes. But also those readers that our culture famously loves infantilize, and then dismiss for ‘soggy emotionalism’.

You guessed it. Those types. It’s hard not to argue that he must also be addressing the rising book-buying force in the market. Those buyers who don’t behave as if convinced the New York Review of Books has the divine right of it. You know, the people that Bowker Market Research assures us make up 58% of book sales.

Publishers and critics? Okay. But in the midst of the ocean of books yet to come, maybe it’s wiser not to snub the North Star.

Girl reads a book