Season’s Readings: How Book Buying Fits Into The Holiday Gift Hysteria

Season’s Readings: How Book Buying Fits Into The Holiday Gift Hysteria

With Thanksgiving around the corner, everyone’s gearing up for the season when our waistlines get a little bigger and our wallets get a little thinner. When we typically think of the Black Friday/Cyber Monday frenzy, it’s common to think more about electronics, clothing or housewares, and less about books. However, the last nine weeks of the year made up nearly a quarter of print book sales in 2012—a trend we expect to continue over the coming weeks.


Giving the Gift of Reading

Last year, consumers bought about 4% of books as Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gifts, a rate which is relatively unchanged over the last few years. In contrast, books purchased as gifts overall have declined over the last four years (sales were 15% in 2009 and down to 11% in 2012). Of all gift books bought for any holiday or special occasion, 61% were bought for Christmas.

About half of all gift books are bought online, with another 45% bought in store (the remainder is mostly by mail or subject to “re-gifting”). However, these percentages are nearly reversed for kids’ books, as most are bought in store, especially when a grandparent is buying for a grandchild.

Why Books?

What inspires readers to shell out the cash for a book? We found that reading for pleasure and relaxation remained the most popular use for a book, followed by “for information” and “for reading during vacation”*. The top reasons why consumers bought a book was because of the topic/subject (36%), the author (33%), and because it was part of a series or recommended by a friend (21% for both reasons).

The most common reason for giving a gift book is that the recipient enjoys the topic or subject (38% of gift givers felt this way), and this is even higher among those buying gift books for a spouse or parent. The second most common reason is “I like giving books as gifts,” which is especially strong when the giver is buying for a grandchild or a friend. The third most common reason for gifting books—”the person asked for it”—was especially high when the recipient was a spouse, child or parent. Meanwhile, books bought for kids are most likely given because the child or grandchild likes the character or series.

Unwrapping Gift Genres

Gifts by genre differ based on the recipient. For example, wives are more likely to find a cookbook under the tree from their husbands (and rarely get romance books). Meanwhile, husbands are most likely to open history, espionage and sports books from their wives.

When buying for parents, dads are more likely to receive history, biography and espionage; whereas the moms are more likely to get cooking and religious books. And then there’s the gender split—male friends are more likely to get humor books, whereas female friends are more likely to get cooking, general fiction and religious books.

Untying the Ribbon on E-Readers

When it came to giving e-readers as gifts, 7.5% of book buyers gave them as gifts (and as a result, equal numbers received them). Tablets purchases were slightly lower–6% of book buyers gave and received tablets. Out of e-readers, the Kindle Fire was gifted the most (approximately 29%), followed by the regular Kindle (21%) and Nook (12%)–and as a result, the ones received over the holidays were similarly proportioned. Switching gears to iDevices, the iPad or iPad mini was given by 31% and received by up to 26%. The Kindle Fire** was given by 24% and received by 21%.

*Among the list provided in the monthly survey of 6,000 buyers.

**The Kindle Fire actually tends to straddle the line in a consumer’s mind as both a tablet and an e-reader and was offered as a choice for both e-readers and tablets.