Are people still reading physical books?

53% of UK adults say they have read a book in the last year, and the lockdown has led more of us to e-books and shopping online...
12 March 2021

Client Executive, Worldpanel Division

James Powell

Senior Marketing Manager, Media Division, UK & Ireland

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53% 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. 35% 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.*

Data from Kantar’s Worldpanel division shows that the market is looking healthy, with 2.3% growth year-on-year. The average book shopper in Great Britain spent £64.83 on books in the past year**, which is up from £64.15 last year. 40% of the adult population have purchased a book in the past 12 months.

Our panel data also shows that the average shopper has purchased 8 physical books each in the past year, compared to 9 the year before.

Who is reading what?

Data from our 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 more than twice as likely to read about sports, whilst women are 57% more likely to read romance novels and 25% more likely to read contemporary literature.

Those aged 15 to 24 are almost two-thirds likely to read fantasy and adventure books and 38% more likely to read science fiction. But those aged 65 or over are 46% more likely to read historical fiction, and 26% more likely to read crime and thriller books.

Who are the heavy readers?

The 35% of book-reading adults who are ‘heavy readers’ are 35% more likely than the average reader to be aged 65 or over, according to TGI data.

Meanwhile, looking at purchase behaviour, we see that 49% of heavy book shoppers (that is, those in the top 20%) are over 55 years old. Heavy book shoppers spend on average £195.54 (£6 less than last year), three times more than the average shopper.

15 to 24 year olds are 51% less likely than the average reader to be heavy readers, according to TGI data, with only 6% of them reading 10 or more books per year. (This is down from 23% in 2018.)

Senior Sole Decision Makers (aged 55 or over, not married or living as a couple, and living alone) are 67% more likely than the average adult 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 52% less likely.

73% of ‘heavy readers’ say they buy their books online, whilst 51% do so in a shop and 4% via mail order, according to TGI data.

Are we reading digital books?

40% of the GB adult population have purchased a book in the past year, with 37% of adults purchasing a physical book, and 10% purchasing an e-book, according to purchase data.

Reading via e-books is prominent amongst the heavy readers, but still lags behind paperbacks and hardbacks: 74% of heavy readers read paperbacks, 53% read hardbacks and 49% read e-books.

The physical books market struggled during 2020 due to shoppers shopping less frequently, though in Q4 the physical market did recover into growth for the first time since December 2019. This was through a rise in average prices, and bigger basket sizes. E-books grew at 29.1% – aided by penetration gains and a more engaged shopper shopping more frequently. Likely these shoppers couldn’t get to their preferred book stores due to shop closures.

Lockdown also impacted how we shopped for books: 63.1% of physical books were bought online during 2020 (up from 41.6% the previous year).


*GB TGI 2021 (fieldwork: October 2019 – September 2020)

**Data from Worldpanel division panels, 52w/e to 10 Jan 2021 (vs same time last year where relevant)

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