Russian focus: What happened to our sweet reader?

April 10, 2012
Even 5 years ago publishers were working blind when releasing new books out on to the market. New technologies allow them to sell directly to customers. No worries; just network, engage and connect, but just get it right. 

Is it really that simple? If nowadays publishers can get easy access to their potential readers through new means of communication, why is it that the number of readers has been gradually decreasing worldwide? And another question is whether those who surf online actually read books? These issues are certainly relevant for Russia. Let see what publishers can do to retain those who know the taste of good read.

The latest official data published on the Russian Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication reveals that the number of those who do not read for entertainment increased in the last two decades by a dramatic 30%; from 15% in 1990 to 45% in 2010. During the same period the number of people reading at least a book per week dropped from 30% to 20%.

It is commonly thought that the Internet related activities are to blame partially for the loss. There may be some truth to this although in Russia 56% of the population does not have an access to the Internet. This figure drops to “only” 30% for those who read book. It gives us about 45% of the total Russian population or over 50 million connected readers, which seems quite an audience for publishers. Especially considering that 60% of them according to the research are engaged in web-based social interaction.

It is a modern concept nowadays that publishers cannot set up an intellectual treat and then just sit back and wait for readers to come to our partly. We suppose to bring our products to some virtual space where users are happily parting according to their interests. However, could social networks, that modern equivalent of word-of-mouth, work for book marketing?

Indeed, at first glance over 50% of respondents who read paper-books confirm that their friend’s recommendations influenced their choice of books.

The factors that influence the choice of reading

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But are these necessarily internet recommendations? The research reveals that whilst people eagerly discuss books with friends (44%) and within the family (38%), only 2% discuss them over the Internet. Unfortunately, amongst the Internet users books are certainly not the main focus and falling far behind movies, music and photo sharing. In other words, publishers’ social networking efforts are aimed at these 2% of active readers, which seems like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

Unfortunately, the research does not provide the data of how many internet users surf the web in choosing a book to read. Indirectly this figure can be estimated to about 25% of readers. It does seem more cost effective for a middle-size publishing house to concentrate on these “silent” users and to provide them with topical, engaging, and entertaining information possibly on our websites. As on the Internet people tend less to buy on impulse; good annotations, reviews, and extra writing material help a lot.

The fact that in Russia books are still very much the real-life object is indirectly proved by another graph showing people’s priorities when picking up a book to read.

Channels to acquire books for reading

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Bookstores (58%), friends (49%), and the traditional home libraries (39%) are still the top 3 channels for acquiring books in Russia although the internet is gradually taking over and in general over 26% of the population use the Internet for on-line purchase. However, only 6% of all orders are for books ranging from 40% in Moscow to 2% in the outer regions. Internet-trade is responsible for 6-7% of the market in value.

In 2011 the legal e-book market struggled to reach 1% (about $ 2.8 million), which is only tenth of the size of the e-content market. Piracy in Russia has its reasons and history but it is the topic of a separate post. Digital market is growing fast and is believed to reach 7-10% in value in 2015. Even now about 28% of the readers, or 18.2% of the total population, read books in digital format.

Reader’s choice

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It is considered that the number of dedicated e-readers in Russia has exceeded 2 million although the PC is still the main vehicle for reading e-books.

E-book reading devices

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It is not surprising therefore that e-books are mainly read at home (54%), on transport (23%), business trips (14%) with holidays lagging far behind (5%).

A restraining factor in e-market development is piracy. This is fuelled by a firm belief by some Internet-nomads in the free nature of knowledge on the Internet. Some 79% includes legal libraries and public domain works but there is no doubt that the proportion of illegally download content still prevails.

E-books reading priorities

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Therefore currently for Russia:
1) Word of mouth in its basic sense is still the main tool for selling books.
2) Only about 2% of the customers are engaged in book-related social interaction.
3) Majority of users prefer free to quality.
4) Quality publishers’ and book-store web-sites together with their ratings, reviews and recommendations seem to be the most cost effective means of marketing that embraced about 25% of the readers connected to the Internet. Readers continue to follow good content.