The buyers behind the book sales

Consumers in their 30s are consistently the largest segment of book buyers in the UK each year, with 30-34s buying 12% of books in 2022 according to Nielsen BookData’s Books & Consumers survey, ahead of 11% bought by those aged 35-39. Of course, this varies by sector, with 30-34s holding the lead for print, audiobooks and non-fiction in the latest year and 35-39s pulling ahead for children’s/YA books for the first time. Non-fiction has been led by 30-34s for six years in a row now, but the five years prior to that it was 20-24s who bought the largest number of non-fiction books. In 2022, however, consumers in their early 20s made more of a mark in fiction, increasing their share by 2.5% and rising to the top of the list. (Based on five-year age bands, they were behind all groups age 30 to 74 in 2021, so it was quite a rapid rise.) This was the second time consumers in their early 20s have been the most prominent fiction consumers, after 2016, with 65-69s the usual frontrunners (2012 to 2015, 2020 to 2021) and 30-34s leading in 2017 to 2019.

Romance books (and Colleen Hoover) were a big part of the gains for 20-24s in 2022, as they increased their share by 5% to become the largest buying group for the genre, with 25-34s also growing. 20-24s also bought more graphic novels than other age bands and took over from 16-19s as the largest segment for YA fiction, although if we extend that to 13-19s, teens remain ahead, at 36% of YA books. It wasn’t just the buyers aged 20-24 who increased their fiction share, with 13-44s collectively gaining more than 5% of the fiction market, putting them at 50% for the first time since 2017. For key fiction categories, however, older consumers still lead. Buyers aged 65-69 were the largest segment for crime & thriller, adventure/war stories, historical fiction and sagas in 2022, while 50-54s bought the largest number of science fiction books. Among the major fiction categories, 30-34s only top the list for fantasy, but they appear more prominent in non-fiction, taking the highest share in categories such as auto/biographies, self-help, cookery, mind/body/spirit, business and humour.

But what does all that mean for how the book market is performing? Many of the most recently successful categories have been more driven by consumers under 45, such as romance, fantasy, YA fiction, graphic novels and self-help/MBS, so that portion of consumers often has a hand in following and driving trends. But the largest category for the book market remains crime & thriller, and half were bought by consumers aged 50-74 in the latest year, highlighting the importance of that base for large, consistently selling categories. And looking at how purchases break down for 13-44s and 45-84s respectively, filtered on books bought for own use, the 45+ group tends to be steadier in the shape of their purchases, with fiction not dropping below 60% of their purchases over the last ten years, and peaking at 64%. In the same time span, fiction’s share of self-purchases by 13-44s ranged from 40% to 47%, fluctuating more to accommodate popular books/trends in non-fiction and children’s/YA.

Shown in the graph, across purchases for oneself and others, children’s/YA books bought by 13-44s came out on top in 2022 (and pre-2020) and have generally had the steadiest pattern over the years, while non-fiction declined across both broad age segments for the last two years. Fiction is the area with the most interesting, and divergent, pattern recently, with 13-44s back at the same level as 45-84s for the first time since 2018, thanks to growth for the former and decline for the latter. Of course the book market thrives on both trend-driven ups and downs as well as steady core sales and consumers, so we’ll see what happens with that fiction pattern in 2023.

Based on data from the Books & Consumers monthly survey. For more information about ad hoc reports or the annual UK Book Market in Review, please contact