Books vs BookTok: Understanding the reading habits of young adults

In 2022, UK book consumers aged 14-25 bought an estimated 61m books and spent £496m, representing 18% of the overall book market, according to Nielsen BookData’s monthly Books & Consumers survey. While the total market declined 4% in 2022 vs 2021, purchases by 14-25s grew 1%, with growth especially strong in romance, crime & thriller, fantasy and graphic novels. The largest portion of their purchases stemmed from children’s/YA print books, at about a third, but adult fiction in print gained 5% compared to 2022, with non-fiction print losing 5% share. Overall, nearly 80% of books bought by 14-25s last year were print formats, although their audiobook and fiction e-book purchases did slightly grow, just not enough to cut into that print dominance.

The preference for print is backed up by results from our deep dive study into YA consumers, recently published as Understanding the UK Young Adult Consumer 2022. Among survey respondents aged 14-25, 80% said they like print formats, compared to 30% for e-books and 18% for audiobooks. Female 18-25s had the highest share for print and e-books, at 86% and 41% respectively, while 21% of males in that age range reported liking audiobooks, along with a third liking comics/graphic novels. By more narrower age ranges, audiobooks are most popular among 22-25s, with graphic novels peaking among 18-21s.

We also see variations in favourite genres when breaking the group into 14-17s, 18-21s and 22-25s. While fantasy action/adventure stories top the list overall and for 18-25s, funny stories are just slightly ahead for 14-17s. However, results from the survey show that 14-17s are generally less engaged with books than 18-25s, and for most genres, they trail their older counterparts, with the top ten shown below. On the other hand, 18-21s emerged from the survey as the most enthusiastic readers, leading the way for several top genres, although 22-25s had a higher share liking stories about families/friendships/relationships and stories set in the past. The largest gaps between the different age groups can be seen in crime & thriller stories (liked by 39% of 18-21s and 18% of 14-17s), classic stories (32% of 18-21s vs 15% of 14-17s) and romantic stories (30% of 18-21s and only 12% of 14-17s).

The pattern of 18-21s being more into reading than other age groups comes through in the results in multiple facets. They’re the most likely to be heavy readers, at 23%, and for attitudes toward books and reading, they have the highest share who like watching adaptations, wish they spent more time reading and like collecting books/series. Respondents aged 22-25 appear more socially-driven, however, with the highest numbers who recommend/discuss books and like to read what their friends read, although both were popular responses for 18-21s as well. The 14-17 group leaned more toward the negative attitudes, with more than three-quarters preferring TV/online/games to books along with a higher share than the other groups saying that they don’t enjoy reading and books aren’t cool.

Despite those negative attitudes, 31% of 14-17s could be encouraged to read more if offered more interesting books, rising to 34% of 22-25s and 38% of 18-21s. A routine before bed was also a popular option to increase reading, particularly for female 18-25s, along with restricting online activities/TV/gaming and earning rewards for reading more. But of course it’s a tricky balance with those restrictions, as a lot of book discovery happens online: 34% of 14-25s reported finding out about books on YouTube, with 32% doing so on TikTok/BookTok. So you’ll want them spending enough time online to find out about the books but then have an incentive to put the phones down!

The full report provides additional insights into other factors at play in the lives of 14-25s, including how they spend their time online, what they watch on video sites, where they buy their books and what influences their book purchases. A preview with the list of contents can be found here, and contact for more information.