I_AM REPORTING FROM Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar 2015


We recently attended the Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar 2015, and brought back some great research on the book market and tips for authors on maximising your sales. Nielsen are a leading global information company that provides insights and data into what people buy, watch, listen to and – most importantly – read. Nielsen Book manage the UK ISBN Agency, providing unique ISBNs to 200,000 books published in the UK every year. In addition, Nielsen Book surveys 3,000 people every month to provide the most accurate portrait of who is buying books, what they are buying, why they are buying them and what would prevent or encourage them to buy a book in the future. Nielsen’s consumer-focused approach is equally important to publishers and writers, and even more important for self-published authors. As a self-published writer, a good understanding of your reader and their book-buying habits will help you understand not only what to write, but how to market and sell your books.

The aim of the Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar was, as Nielsen Managing Director of Client Services Ann Betts said, “to help you sell more books”. The seminar was intended to provide independent publishers with the digital skills and tools they need to boost their sales and promote their books as widely and effectively as possible. Here, we’ll give you a rundown of the key points we picked up from the seminar that could benefit self-published writers.

Insights from Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar 2015

UK shoppers buy 46% of all books (print and digital) online

Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar Retailers

Only 54% of all sales in the UK in 2014 were made through brick and mortar bookshops, and only 31% through chain bookshops like Waterstones. A staggering 46% of all books (print and digital) were sold online.

35% of all print books are sold online

This means fantastic things for self-publishers. It can still be difficult for self-published books to make their way into bookstores. Although it’s a wonderful opportunity to get your paperback on the shelves of a bookshop, the data shows that it’s no longer the be all and end all. With so many books being sold online, it’s becoming increasingly possible to achieve fantastic success through a largely or solely online platform.

The #1 influence for a reader to purchase a book is the author

Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar Influencers

We were surprised to see how influential things like cover descriptions and extracts were in readers’ decisions. The 7th and 8th biggest contributors to a reader buying a book were appealing front covers and an extract that sparked their interest. As a self-published author, making extracts available on your website or retail platform, taking the time to revise your blurb and investing in a good cover design are achievable goals that have a huge impact on getting people to buy your work. Although they might seem small, they’re vital to making your book as appealing as possible to potential readers. Following this, the 9th biggest motivator for book purchases are reviews. This is particularly relevant for eBooks, where in a few seconds a reader can go from ambivalent to intrigued by the dozens of fantastic reviews your book has received. Read more about the importance of online reviews here. So, if you give your book a great cover and description, provide an extract, and get a few top reviews, you’re already 41.4% of the way there.

Although it can be difficult for a debut self-published author to achieve name recognition, it is important to build up as much brand recognition as possible. Throughout 2014, 24.4% of books were sold because of the author – because the reader recognised the name and trusted that they would deliver a great reading experience. It is important for self-published writers to invest time in building their reader base both before they begin to publish and then continuously as their writing career progresses; making your name familiar to your audience and synonymous with excellent content is key to maximising your sales. Which brings us to…

Build your own brand

Creating an established reader base for your books may seem an impossible task, but with slow and steady progress it is achievable. From attending literary festivals and conferences to connecting with bloggers, reviewers, fellow writers, and publications on social media, every move you make will gradually increase your profile, and you will pick up new readers every step of the way. Most importantly of all is to produce consistently good work – the more compelling and well-written books you deliver, the more reader loyalty you’ll command.

Readers live everywhere – and 72% of them are women

Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar Audience Location

As you can see, there’s a fairly equal spread of readers throughout the country, with London, Lancashire and the Midlands just edging out into the top three spots, but only by small percentages. From this, we can see the value of authors promoting their books all over the UK. One or two events overflowing with people in the centre of London may not entice as many readers as a longer string of events all across the country. Taking the time to promote your books outside of the larger cities, at book signings, talks or conferences, or pitching your books to independent bookshops, will reach an audience you may not have considered.

Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar Audience

Are you as surprised as we were? Although women have historically always comprised the majority of readers, 72% is a much larger proportion than most people expect. The chart above shows data for general fiction, demonstrating that women are likely to be buying all types of general fiction (crime, thriller, SF/F etc.) at the same rate as, or even a higher rate than, men. Consider whether you’re marketing your books to women effectively. If not, try to refocus your marketing strategy and reach out to women reviewers and bloggers, or research advertisement or review possibilities in women’s magazines or websites.

Good research is vital – if you know how to use it

The emphasis is on good. Good research is objective and scientifically based. If you’re unsure about the validity of the research you’re examining, ask questions; who was conducting this research? Why? What methodology was used to produce these results? Good sources include trade magazines and newsletters, research companies, and the Bookseller Association, for example. Once you’re satisfied that you’re looking at reliable research, make sure you’re able to use it effectively. Nielsen Book Research Director Andre Breedt said that ‘not all information is created equal, or used equally’. If you’re going to allow a piece of data to influence your writing or your marketing plan, make sure you understand fully what the data means, and that you’re using it in a productive way.

We hope that this information from the Nielsen Independent Publisher Seminar has given you some ideas about incorporating research and data into your role as an author. Even making the smallest changes to your marketing strategy or online presence can have a huge effect on your overall sales. Let us know in the comments below or on any of our social media whether this data has spurred you to any realisations or decisions about your books.

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