24 June 08 | Chad W. Post

Now that I’m going to be in the office until late-July, I’ll finally have a chance to start interviewing booksellers across the country about the future of bookstores and bookselling.

Coincidentally, I came across this article yesterday from The Bookseller (essentially the UK’s version of Publishers Weekly) about the “Reading the Future” conference that took place last week and “presented new consumer research into the reading and buying habits of 1,000 adults across the country.”

I haven’t read the entire study (it’s a mere $400 to purchase), but based on this article, the scope seems a bit different from the recent NEA Reading at Risk reports and similar “future of reading” studies that have come out in the U.S. in that the reported results of this survey focus more on how we’ll get and read books in coming years than the question of whether or not anyone will be reading.

Delegates heard from William Higham of agency Next Big Thing, which conducted the research. Higham reported that 56% of 18-24s think people will still be using bookshops in 20 years’ time. Looking deeper into 18-24 year olds’ reading habits, he found that 28% were favourable towards the idea of e-readers, compared to 9% of 65+ year olds, and 40% liked the idea of downloadable chapters of books, compared to 7% of 65+ year olds.

It’s unclear whether the 44% of 18-24s that were surveyed believe that a) no one will be buying books, or b) most sales will occur online, but either way this is a bit dismaying.

In terms of ebooks, these statements are rather interesting:

Speaking at a panel session after the research was presented, Transworld publisher Bill Scott-Kerr said the statistics about younger readers all pointed “to where we as publishers are going in the future”. He added: “We all know the book is a great piece of technology – you can’t drop e-books in the bath. But we as an industry are in a lot of trouble; we don’t know where we are going.”

“Should we follow the iTunes model of providing content and making money out of the hardware, like Amazon with the Kindle, or the Google model which is all about content? Looking at the level of indifference of 18-24 year olds has got to give us all cause for concern. They will be wanting to take a role in the devolution of content, and we must provide them with an environment to do it in.”

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