‘New year, new me’: the consumers driving the self-help boom
It’s annual analysis time here at Nielsen BookData Research HQ, and we’re digging into all the data after another remarkable year for the UK book industry. We have a full overview of the print and digital market and consumer trends coming up in March (more info at the end of the post), but here I’ve picked a standout genre and examined some of the factors behind its prolonged popularity.
One of the strongest performing areas of the UK book market in recent years has been personal development. The sector has expanded at a rapid rate, with print sales crossing £50m in 2022 after setting new BookScan records every year since 2015. And that’s just the straightforward categories, with ‘stealth help’ reverberating across memoirs, nature writing, current affairs, anthologies, poetry, take your pick. On top of the success in print, it’s also the most digital-friendly part of non-fiction; according to our Books & Consumers survey, from January to October 2022 38% of purchases and nearly 30% of money spent on self-help/popular psychology books came from e-books and audiobooks. While e-books have lost share of the category year-on-year, audiobooks have continued to gain, going from 18% in 2021 to 21% in 2022 so far, overtaking e-books for the first time.
With any good trend, success begets success, and self-help books are no exception, especially coupled with that connection to the similarly upward audiobook market. Many of the key factors behind consumers finding and buying these books stem from increased prominence and visibility in the market: a quarter of self-help books in 2022 were bought due to recommendations/reviews, compared to only 15% of wider non-fiction, while 12% were influenced by bestseller status, double the overall non-fiction number. Bestseller lists and word of mouth also drive discovery at a higher rate than seen in non-fiction, but one very of-the-moment method ranks above bestseller lists. Social media/video sites contributed to discovery for 14% of purchases of self-help books in 2022, compared to only 5% of overall books and 7% of non-fiction.
Naturally that social media/video site stat includes TikTok, impossible to cover 2022 without at least one mention of the app! And while TikTok users bought 30% of self-help books last year (vs 25% for the total market), we see a larger discrepancy for YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn between the overall market and self-help, pointing to a wider picture when it comes to potential discovery. Two-thirds of self-help books were bought by consumers who use YouTube regularly, along with 61% for Instagram and 30% for LinkedIn, compared to 51%, 47% and 18% respectively for books overall. Across the board, buyers of self-help books are more likely to be using most social media platforms to varying levels, with the biggest exception being Goodreads, which comes in 3% behind the overall market figure.
The widespread use of varied social media points to the younger audience for self-help books, while the relatively lower share for book-centric sites points to a base that are generally lighter book buyers/readers. The latter also comes through in attitudes toward books and reading, with self-help buyers more likely to say they prefer other things to reading and less likely to say they’re passionate about books; reading for knowledge and personal development rank above reading for pleasure and relaxation for these consumers. However, a sizeable portion do wish they had more time to read and say that they like to recommend books, calling back to the importance of word of mouth for discovery.
In terms of the audience, more than half of self-help/popular psychology purchases in 2022 to October were bought by under 35s, compared to 36% of overall non-fiction, and after women pulled ahead in 2020 and 2021, men rose back above 50% for the latest year. The largest segment of buyers is typically men aged 25-34, although they have lost share year-on-year, with some male purchases shifting older to 35-59s. The broad split by age and sex does show an expanding consumer base over the last few years, with six different segments having over 10% of purchases each, and two more just shy of that, compared to only four in 2021. Purchases becoming more widespread across the book buying population can certainly help with extending the runaway success the sector has experienced.
Of course self-help/popular psychology is only one corner of the industry’s bookshelves, whether physical or digital. To find out more about how the wider UK market and consumer base shaped up in 2022, join us at the London Transport Museum on 22 March (in person or virtually) for Steve Bohme’s annual UK Book Consumer presentation – impressively delivered with a new theme each year, 2021’s featured a certain bestselling author portrayed as Richard the Lionheart as we explored the book market through a history lesson. Visit https://nielsenbook.co.uk/uk-book-consumer-talk/ for more info, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place.