why people buy books

In marketing and sales, having a clear understanding of consumer behavior is vital to your business’s success. This means being able to interpret the thought process that potential buyers go through before they end up actually purchasing a product or service. 

As an author, you also need to understand why readers buy books. If you can understand this, you’ll be better able to reach your potential customers and convince them to give your book a chance. 

13 Reasons Why Readers Buy Books

So what are the most common reasons that readers buy books? 

1. They liked the author’s previous book(s). 

In a recent webinar, book marketing expert Amy Collins and President of New Shelves Books Keri Barnum discussed a Statista survey of about 300,000 people on how they found new books. For 47% of respondents, the answer was that they had enjoyed the author’s previous books. 

This is one reason why many writing coaches recommend that aspiring writers consider writing more than one book. They might be joined in a series, or they might be individual, unrelated books; but having more than one book gives you the chance to build a fan base, with the same customers buying from you over and over again. 

2. They found the author’s book while browsing in libraries.

According to the same webinar, browsing in libraries was considered a major influence for 29% of respondents. This is confirmed by information from Library Journal, whose data shows that more than 50% of library users say they have purchased a book by an author they encountered in the library. 

This is why experts also recommend aspiring authors pay close attention to the library market when marketing their books. 

3. They found the author’s book while browsing in a bookstore.

According to the Association of American Publishers, print books sold $22.6 billion in 2019, while e-books only sold $2.04 billion. Although this may be attributed to the generally higher prices of print books, it still proves the continued demand for actual hard copy books that readers can hold in their hands. 

Browsing in bookstores was considered a major influence for 28% of the respondents in the Statistica data shared in the same webinar. Discover how to get your book into bookstores so you can unlock this potential market.

4. They found it online and read reviews.

According to the Pew Foundation, one of the best ways to get your books in front of readers is through recommendations and reviews. And the impact of these recommendations follow a sort of hierarchy, in the following order, with loyal fans being the most influential: 

  • Loyal fans 
  • Addressable audience
  • Chosen reviewers
  • The public 

During the webinar, Collins and Barnum share that potential readers browsing in bookstores can still pause and check Amazon reviews before making a purchase. Even though online reviews are usually written by strangers to the potential buyer, the social proof in the form of several reviews can still be a big influence to potential buyers. 

5. The book has won awards.

Let’s face it: more people are interested in buying a book that has won awards than one that hasn’t. According to the survey, 31% of the respondents said award-winning books had a moderate influence on their buying decision, while 20% felt that it was a major influence. 

6. They found it in in-store displays.

Bookstore owners and shopkeepers can be an author’s best friend: with the right relationships and negotiation, you can get your book onto a prominent in-store display, giving you a greater chance of having customers see your book. 

Thirty-one percent of respondents in the survey feel that in-store displays had a moderate influence on their book-buying behavior, while 21% believe it plays a major influence. 

7. The book is on a bestseller list.

One example of a book that came with some social pressure to read simply because it made the bestseller list is 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James. 

However, simply being a bestseller doesn’t always guarantee that readers will finish the book, especially since it may turn out to be something the reader isn’t really interested in.

8. They found it on social networking sites.

A unique “power” that social networking sites have for book authors is that the recommendations shared on these sites can have a deep influence. Recommendations for readers can come from the following sources: 

  • Family members, colleagues, and friends 
  • A thought leader that the reader follows
  • An authority figure like a pastor, government leader, librarian, or teacher 
  • A trusted publication like a website or book review publication 
  • Online reviews

The closer you are to the person giving the recommendation, the greater the chances are of you acting on that recommendation. This makes social media a powerful tool in making book buyers out of their audience. 

9. They found it on teen-oriented websites with reviews or interviews.

Reviews on different platforms continue to have moderate to major influence on why readers buy books. This is why authors need to be intentional about getting reviews, and to keep getting them consistently over the years. 

Some authors actively pursue reviews in the first year but then slack off in the following years. When a potential buyer checks your reviews online and finds that the last review is more than one year old, chances are, he will think that your book is dated. 

10. They found it in magazines/newspapers.

Although print media may not be as easily accessible, 26% of the respondents felt that it still has moderate influence on why readers buy books. Newspapers and magazines are still regarded as authority figures in their areas of expertise, and many readers take their recommendations seriously. 

An important reason why readers buy books is that they know the author. It doesn’t mean they have to know the author personally, but it can also happen when they have read an article by the author published in a magazine or on a website or blog, or when an author is mentioned in book reviews.

11. They found it through the author’s website.

Every author needs a platform to reach a wide audience, and the author’s website is another great way to spread the word about their new book.

In fact, 24% of the respondents considered the author website as a moderate influence on their decision to buy a book.

12. They saw print ads about the author’s new book.

Though no longer as powerful as they were decades ago, print ads carried a moderate influence for 24% of the respondents.

13. They found it on book reader sites (such as Goodreads).

The new generation of readers get recommendations from book review sites, sellers like Amazon, and social networking book sites such as Goodreads. 

The good thing about Goodreads is that the reviewers can also share their profiles, which often include their age and gender, making these sites a good way for authors to find out more about their target audience. 

Understand Your Audience

Understanding your target audience, including why those people buy books in the first place, is critical to your success as an author.

That’s why even before you start writing, it’s important to do some thorough market research and determine what your readers want and where they will be able to find your book.

What was the last book you bought? Why did you buy it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


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