Survey Finds Age a Factor in How Readers Discover Books

The Book Discovery Survey 2020 found that age may impact what sources readers use to discover books to read. The survey asked 490 anonymous readers in the United States to indicate their use of book discovery sources such as friends and family, Amazon search, libraries, bookstores, and social media. Participants were asked to indicate whether they used these sources often, occasionally, or never.

Even though friends and family was the most popular source choice for the overall survey, younger readers age 18-29 and 30-44 reported searching on Amazon or online bookstores at least occasionally (60.18% and 55.56%) more than those age 45-60 and over 60 (43.85% and 28.57%).

Over half (53.10%) of those age 18-29 also report never using mass media (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) to discover books to read, the highest non-use of this source among all age groups. This was also significantly higher than the 45-60 age group who had the second highest reported percentage of never using mass media for book discovery at 32.46%.

Readers age 18-29 also had the highest reported often and occasional use of libraries (33.63% and 43.36%) among all age groups.

Newer forms of content (blogs and podcasts) did not fare well with all age groups for book discovery. However, these sources had highest reported never use among older readers. Seventy percent (70.18%) of age 45-60 reported never using blogs and 72.73% of age 60+ reported never using podcasts for book discovery.

Social media had a fair amount of participants reporting at least occasional use for book discovery in all age groups, ranging from 36.36% for those over 60, up to 53.98% for 18-29. However, social media was not in the top four most often used sources for any age group. The highest reported often use for learning about books through social media was reported for age 30-44 at 24.96%.

Book clubs were the least popular source for book discovery, with 65.92% of all participants reporting never using them. For age 18-29, the reported never use of book clubs jumped to 79.65%, the highest never used percentage of all age and demographic subgroups.

There was no major difference between fiction and nonfiction readers in terms of most popular often-used and never-used book discovery sources, which also concurred with the overall survey results.

“Some of these results can be explained by generational issues and technology developments. Younger, Generation Z and Millennial readers grew up in a world surrounded by a buffet of book discovery sources and channels through the internet, social media, and Amazon, all enabled by advanced technologies. Even such a traditional source as the library, which had the highest use for readers age 18-29, isn’t what it used to be since it now allows readers to access books and other media through apps such as Overdrive and Hoopla,” says Dr. Heidi Thorne, MBA/DBA, who conducted the 2020 Book Discovery Survey research.

“While social media did have significant reported occasional use for readers age 18-29, it did not have high often use. In that way, younger readers concurred with older readers. This may be less of a generational issue and have more to do with what people want to do on social media. They want to to be social with friends and family. And with friends and family being the overwhelming top choice for discovering books to read in this survey, authors and publishers should take note for their book marketing efforts. ‘Tell a friend,’ word of mouth marketing can be an effective long-term strategy.”

In addition to book discovery source use, all participants were asked to state a preference for either fiction or nonfiction reading. But anonymous demographic data was collected only for those survey participants recruited via SurveyMonkey. This comprised approximately 80% of all survey participants and all were located within the United States. Demographic information included age, gender, and household income. For more about the survey, read Survey Finds Friends and Family to be Key Influence for Readers’ Book Discovery

Dr. Heidi Thorne, MBA/DBA, is a self publishing expert and author of several books and audio books on business and publishing topics. Prior to her self publishing career, she was a trade newspaper editor for over 15 years, and taught at the college level for 5 years. She also had a long career in sales and advertising. To learn more about the Book Discovery Survey or use this research, or to connect with Dr. Thorne for interviews, visit her website at