Gen Y: the most book-loving generation alive?

A new study says that in 2011 Gen Y surpassed baby boomers by a healthy margin when it comes to spending on books.

Melanie Stetson Freeman
It turns out that while everyone was paying attention to the switch from print to electronic books, “a significant shift" – the rise of Gen Y book-buying habits – has been taking place "under the radar.”

So much for Gen Y stereotypes. Turns out they aren’t sun-deprived geeks sitting alone in the basement, with only a controller, joystick, or keyboard, and the final level of Skyrim to keep them company.

There’s a pile of books next to the game console, too.

Believe it or not, Generation Y might just be the most bibliophilic generation alive, according to a new consumer study. Gen Y – those born between 1979 and 1989 – spent the most money on books in 2011, knocking the longtime book-buying leaders, baby boomers, from the top spot, according to the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review.

It turns out that while everyone was paying attention to more high-profile, headline-grabbing changes like the switch from print to electronic books, “a significant shift that has been under the radar” was quietly toppling traditional consumer publishing expectations. “With Baby Boomers accounting for the highest percentage of the general population, that age group has historically spent the most on books,” writes the Bowker Market Research panel, which, along with Publishers Weekly, helped conduct the report. “In 2011, however, that changed, when Generation Y… took over the book-buying leadership from Baby Boomers…”

The details, according to the Sacramento Bee’s reporting: baby boomers’ share of book expenditures fell from 30 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2011, while Gen Y’s expenditure grew from 24 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2011 – a near-mirror-image swap. Not as surprising, about 43 percent of Gen Y’s purchases are geared toward online book buying, ”adding momentum to the industry shift to digital,” according to the report.

This news piqued our interest, but we can’t say we were entirely surprised. As The Beat wrote, “…this is really just a matter of time and aging…” It’s also, they pointed out, a message to publishers of a potential shift in audience taste. After all, this newly dominant Gen Y audience “was raised on Bruce Timm, The X-Men, and Buffy,” says The Beat.

Scary times ahead in publishing.

The report also charted the continued growth of e-book consumption, which rose from 4 percent of sales in 2010 to 14 percent in 2011. And due to the slow economic recovery, more affluent households have taken over a larger share of book expenditures. Some 57 percent of book spending came from households earning more than $50,000 in 2011, up from 54 percent in 2010.

Though the change is small, we found this interesting: Women appear to be buying slightly less. Though they’re still a more active buying group than men, women’s share of book spending dropped from 58 percent in 2010 to 55 percent in 2011. It’s a small enough drop that it’s too soon to analyze, but we’re curious to keep tabs on this trend.

“There has never been a more dynamic time in the publishing industry than the one we are in now,” Jim Milliot, editor of the Annual Review and Co-Editorial Director of Publishers Weekly, said in a statement. Added vice-president of Bowker Market Research Kelly Gallagher, “It’s more essential than ever before to understand who is buying and what their expectations and habits are.”

In other words, the industry’s target audience just sprouted whiskers, has earphones snaking out of his head, and thumbs his favorite tome with nimble, game console-trained fingers.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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