We’ve speculated for years on the impact library users have on consumer book sales. We’ve repeated anecdotal evidence from library marketing folks who told us they sold twice as many books at library author appearances as they did at bookstores. We’ve basked in statements by authors like Dennis Lehane, who attributed early successes to librarians and said that a single library loan could trigger multiple consumer sales of a book. (I once heard him say ten.) And we’ve tried to convert the naysayers, including several heads of major trade publishing houses, who cling to the belief that every library sale is a “lost” sale. Not surprisingly some holdouts to making ebooks available to libraries are in this group.
Now we finally have real data to back up the assertion that library sales drive consumer book purchases through a revealing new LJ online publication, Patron Profiles: Understanding the Behavior and Preferences of U.S. Public Library Users (www.PatronProfiles.com). The first quarterly report, Library Patrons and Ebook Usage, came out in October, focusing on patrons’ use of ebooks, along with print books and other media, not only as library users but also as consumers. As the preface states, “We wanted to place library patrons within their larger ecosystem as consumers of content and understand the relationship between the library and other channels, from bricks-and-mortar bookstores to Netflix.” (Succeeding reports are scheduled on mobile, library web sites and virtual services, and media consumption and library use, but we’ll be trending the ebook story throughout.)
What did we find? First of all, the survey effectively debunks the old saw about libraries “stealing” sales from publishers. It reports that over 50 percent of all library users go on to buy books by an author they were first introduced to at the library. This figure holds true for infrequent library users as well as for those who go to the library often to borrow materials. Both buy nearly the same number of books each year, too. Publishers who ignore libraries are missing out on an important channel for marketing and selling their books, as we’ve long said.
The report also pinpoints the habits and impact of a group called Power Patrons, the 20 percent of library users who visit the library at least once a week and drive much of the library’s circulation of all media (print, ebooks, movies, music CDs, audiobooks, and games). They are not just borrowers, but active buyers as well of books and other media, including ebooks. They have a comfort level with social media and use library databases frequently. And they vote at a higher rate than other patrons.
These are influential folks for publishers as well as for libraries. They spread the word about books, visit online and brick-and-mortar bookstores more often than infrequent library users, and purchase specific books they’ve borrowed from the library as well. These “influencers” (more likely to be college graduates) can be tapped as library advocates, too. While libraries often focus on outreach to nonusers, it’s equally or more important to bind these power users even closer to the library, creating specific programs for them (Goodreads-type networking opportunities, readers’ advisory, ebook reader demos and loans, and so on).
For librarians, publishers, and vendors negotiating the digital shift (www.thedigitalshift.com), Patron Profiles is a rich resource. It gives insight into what patrons want and need, from current to new services, and will guide strategic planning. It reinforces the centrality and importance of the library in the cultural landscape both for library funders and publishers, and it attests to the need for libraries as place in a digital world.