Are people still reading physical books?

We mark World Book Day by looking at purchase behaviour and reported reading habits in the UK…
06 March 2019
Kirsty Cooke

Editor, Kantar, UK

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51% of UK adults say they have read a book in the last year, and it was most likely a physical book, according to Kantar data. 34% of those adults who read books are categorised as ‘heavy readers’ – that is, those who have read 10 or more books in the past year.* 

Claire McClelland, Category Analyst for Entertainment at Kantar's Worldpanel division, says the market is looking healthy. “The average book shopper in Great Britain spent £60.98 on hardback and paperback books in the past year**, which is up by £3.34 since last year. 40.6% of the adult population have purchased a book in the past 12 months.”

“The average shopper has purchased 9 physical books each in the past year, compared to 8 the year before.”

Who is reading what?

James Powell, Senior Marketing Manager in the Media division, highlights that there are differences in book preferences based on gender and age. “Men are 40% more likely than the average book reader to read science fiction and almost twice as likely to read about sports, whilst women are 58% more likely to read romance novels and 25% more likely to read contemporary literature.”

“Those aged 15 to 24 are almost twice as likely to read fantasy and adventure books and 59% more likely to read science fiction. But those aged 65 or over are 35% more likely to read about home, gardening and DIY, and 37% more likely to read historical fiction.”

Who are the heavy readers?

The 34% of book-reading adults who are ‘heavy readers’ are 26% more likely than the average reader to be aged 65 or over, according to TGI data.

Meanwhile, looking at purchase behaviour, we see that 50% of heavy book shoppers (that is, those in the top 20%) are from a 55+ shopper base, who have grown share since last year by +0.8ppts. McClelland notes: “Heavy book shoppers spend on average a whopping £202.15 a year on physical books, which is £36 more than the heavy book shoppers spent last year, and just over 3 times more than the average physical book shopper (£60.98). So, it can be argued that these heavy shoppers are becoming more engaged in the books category.”

15 to 24 year olds are 32% less likely than the average reader to be heavy readers, according to TGI data, with only 23% of them reading 10 or more books per year.

Powell notes: “Senior Sole Decision Makers (aged 55 or over, not married or living as a couple, and living alone) are 23% more likely to be heavy readers, but Flown the Nest-ers (aged 15-34, not married or living as a couple and do not live with relations) are 28% less likely.”

68% of ‘heavy readers’ say they buy their books online, whilst 56% do so in a shop and 5% via mail order, according to TGI data.

Are we reading digital books?

40.6% of the GB adult population have purchased a book in the past year, with 38% of adults purchasing a physical book, and just 8.5% purchasing an e-book, according to Kantar purchase data. Reading habits follow a similar trend.

“Reading via eBooks is prominent amongst the heavy readers, but still lags behind paperbacks and hardbacks,” says Powell. “Three quarters of heavy readers read paperbacks, 53% read hardbacks and 44% read eBooks.” Purchase data from Kantar shows that the penetration of e-books has actually diminished over the last few years (Feb 2015: 11.5%, Feb 2016: 10.4%, Feb 2017: 9.4%, Feb 2018: 9.1%, Feb 2019: 8.5%).

McClelland comments: “Although the books market has been in a gradual decline over the years, with shopper losses being the key reason for decline, the category still sees some growth through a more engaged shopper base purchasing more frequently, and through a rise in average prices.”


*Great Britain TGI consumer data: fieldwork Oct 2017 – Sept 2018

**Data from 52w/e to 10 February 2019, GB


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