December 2, 2021

The Panorama Project Releases Findings From Public Library Events & Book Sales Survey

From The Panorama Project:

The Panorama Project has released a new report on the results of its recent Public Library Events & Book Sales Survey. The full report offers key findings and critical takeaways to help measure and analyze the full impact of library marketing and events.

“Every year, public libraries across the United States produce and host thousands of readings, literary festivals, book clubs, and other experiential events that directly connect local readers to books and authors,” said Panorama Project lead, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez. “Unfortunately, the full value of those events hasn’t usually been terribly transparent to the overall publishing industry, while the current public health crisis has demonstrated how important such events are to book discovery and sales.”

Surveying nearly 200 public librarians in 30 states who produced book-related events and programming in 2019, more than 90% of respondents said they worked directly with authors rather than publishers. Local authors were far more likely to be featured at library events than those on tour, and all authors were more likely to bring their own books to sell at a library event. For bestselling authors, librarians will often order books through a local New York Times-reporting bookseller partner.

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Some Key Findings

  • Multi-event libraries produce a variety of event formats, while those producing fewer events focus community book clubs and topical speaker series.

  • Marketing channels are similar, but multi-event libraries say their websites are far more effective than those producing fewer events for whom social platforms are the second most effective channel.

  • Both groups of libraries tend to feature authors of all kinds, but traditionally published nonfiction authors are the most common for multi-event libraries, while those producing fewer events are more varied due to 90% relying on local authors vs. 67% for the other.

  • More than 90% of libraries work directly with authors, but multi-event libraries are far more likely to also work with publishers than those producing fewer events: 60% vs. 26%.

  • The vast majority of libraries sell books at their events: 95% of multi-event libraries, 86% of those producing fewer events.

  • Authors are more likely to bring their own books to sell at library events—85% for multi-event libraries, 76% for those producing fewer events—while many will also order them through a local bookseller (61% vs. 45%). Relatively few work directly with a publisher (25% vs. 14%), suggesting most publishers, and the industry in general, are unaware of library events’ direct commercial impact.

  • Interestingly, a bookstore partner is as likely to handle book sales for multi-event libraries (78% vs. 65%), while libraries producing fewer events are more likely to rely on the author than a bookstore (73% vs. 50%). In many cases, library staff are not allowed to handle sales so a bookstore partner or Friends of the Library volunteer are often the main alternatives to the author handling sales themselves.

  • Multi-event libraries are far more likely to occasionally produce paid events—and half those events include a copy of a book as part of admission—but the vast majority (77%) never require paid admission. 92% of libraries producing fewer events never charge admission to their events.

  • 45% of multi-event libraries sell more than 25 copies/book at their events, with 23% reporting sales of > 200 copies at their best event in 2019. 50% of those producing fewer events sell more than 25 copies/book at their events, with 18% reporting sales of > 200 copies at their best event in 2019. This suggests a combination of strong curation for an audience of borrowers who are also buyers.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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