Millennials Buy The Most Books, Will Save The (Publishing) World

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If you were born between 1979-1989 and live under a rock, you may be shocked to find that the mainstream media loves talking about how our generation is afflicted with social-media-induced-ADD-and-narcissism. If you have not been living under a rock you may be significantly less shocked, because seriously the media — particularly the New York Times — is obsessed with talking about how worthless millennials are as human beings. They usually blame it on technology and laziness, which implies that if we would just stop being such “internet girls” all would be right in the world.

It’s really aggravating.

Emma Watson is a millennial and she buys a lot of books

Which is why I was particularly delighted to discover that according to the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review, millennials spent more money on books in 2011 than any other humans. We bought 30% of the books sold in 2011, which is impressive when you consider that many of us do not have large disposable incomes (because we are so lazy and just want to live it up at home with mom and dad, of course).

Aside from feeling slightly smug, I also felt unsurprised. Are you surprised? I dunno, I feel like most people my age love books and reading, and really enjoy the feeling of owning (or making!) something tangible. I think if anything, the fact that we’re all immersed in technology and digital messages and screens 24/7 makes us really respect and revere physical objects like books (and records and zines and mix tapes). The study pointed out that 43 percent of millennials do buy books through online vendors, and apparently we’re leading the way in the adoption of digital texts. GOOD joked that unless our generation “gets a sudden nostalgia for perusing the stacks,” we’ll see more bookstores shutting down, but I’m not convinced. I do see nostalgia from my peers, even the ones who are not, like me, obsessed with DIY community. I also see opportunities to support independent bookstores that sell digital texts, which is not a bad thing. Besides, I think it’s time for us to acknowledge that online publishing is a valid medium, and that the “death of print” will not automatically lead to the “death of publishing.”

So whew, crisis averted. The mainstream media is going to be super sad to learn that not only are millennials smart and well-read, but that the world of publishing is actually going to be okay, too. How sad for them. While they try to get over it, I’m gonna go buy a book.

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Vanessa is a writer, a teacher, and the community editor at Autostraddle. Very hot, very fun, very weird. Find her on twitter and instagram.

Vanessa has written 404 articles for us.


  1. “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” – Erasmus. Also, that picture of Emma Watson sums up my interests perfectly.

  2. I must surely have been responsible for a good portion of that 30%…
    I imposed a ban on myself yesterday, as my bookcase is literally falling apart because it is overloaded with books…and there are stacks elsewhere around the house. My new obsession with collecting poignant children’s picture books does little to help.
    And I constantly buy ebooks.

    I bet when they invented the codex, the media was like “OMG no one is buying papyrus scrolls anymore, it’s the end of culture as we know it!!!”

    • I’m in the process of moving to a new apartment in a new state, and I’m pretty sure that at least half of the contents of my moving van will be boxes of books. My parents have been urging me to get a Kindle for years, but I just love physical books too much… (though that didn’t keep me from taking advantage of some of the free books in the Apple store when I got my iPhone)

      • Just a word of advice: don’t stuff you boxes with books only! Put some clothes/dvds/something light in half of the box as well. It will be too heavy to carry and your friends will be unhappy.

        Unless you’re paying professional movers of course, they can probably handle it.

        • Also helpful! Do NOT put all your books in one big box. This will make your life and/or your helpful-friends’ lives and/or your hired movers’ lives miserable. Wine boxes are the perfect size for packing a good number of books in and still keeping them lift-able. You may need a lot of wine boxes (I had 13 at my last move…and that was 2 years and at least 70 books ago…), but most local liquor stores are more than happy to give away their boxes.
          Oh, and: don’t label your boxes as books. This will help you maintain your friendships with the friends who help you move.

          • as someone who is moving in 10 days and has yet to start packing, i greatly appreciate this advice.

  3. Thoughts/feelings from somebody who was born in 1988:
    1. Our family house (in the province) have books more than our actual furniture thanks to me ofcourse.
    2. If I didn’t move these books (to the province), I wouldn’t have enough space in my room for things such as a bed.
    3. I spend more than my budget because of books. It’s like I work to support my love of reading books.
    4. “I think it’s time for us to acknowledge that online publishing is a valid medium, and that the “death of print” will not automatically lead to the “death of publishing.” –> YES and YES. It would never be tantamount to the death of publishing. I actually still read the actual news papers over a cup of coffee. Very old soul.
    5. “the fact that we’re all immersed in technology and digital messages and screens 24/7 makes us really respect and revere physical objects like books (and records and zines and mix tapes).” –> I find book stores and library a sanctuary and my happy place and when somebody borrows my book/s, I always tell them to never break the spine of the book. HAHA
    6. Last but certainly not the least… Very well written Vanessa ^___^

    • awww thank you. as a fellow old soul, i love everything about this comment. let’s meet up and read newspapers over coffee (except i don’t like coffee so i will drink tea.)

      • thank you thank you ^__^
        **aaw i would love that, except that im in the other side of the planet!haha (The PI)

  4. I am not surprised and equally as delighted. Thanks for the chuckle, and the useful statistics. :)

  5. I made a rule that everytime I purchase a book for my Kindle, I have to purchase a real book too. Consequently I no longer have a dresser or hamper as both are now filled to the brim…and then I have another 100+ on the Kindle. Its getting bad/wonderful.

    • The Kindle one-click buy option is super addictive. But I like to think I’m doing my part to “save the publishing world.” LOL.

  6. Could it not be because Millennials are more likely to be college students, who buy a lot of textbooks?

    Source: I am a college student, who just spent a lot of money on textbooks and novels for school

    • But college students have always had to buy lots of textbooks, so that wouldn’t really explain why we’re buying more books than previous generations of college students. Also, I doubt that college textbooks count for that high of a percentage of all books sold.

      • All the study says is that we’re buying a lot of books in 2011 though. I mean, I love books, but I would not be buying that many if I weren’t a literature major, since I would normally borrow them from the library. My classes require 5-6 books each, and I take 5-6 of them per semester.

    • I dont believe there’s more students this year than any other year. It’s an annual report, so Im sure they’d have noticed the trend increasing as more and more go back to school in this painful job market, which would up the numbers bought in general. To aim specifically at our age group, you have to keep in mind that though you’re going to school, the ‘millennial’ group includes those in their 30’s who are well past school with new families, like my peers who keep having children and making my biological clock twitch. >.> Are we buying books for our children? Maybe it’s that…I know of several friends who have gone out of their way to buy books they loved as a child so their own kid could have a copy and not harm theirs.

      But I like to think that we still have a love for the good old printed word. Curling up with a Kindle just lacks something that a physical book has while in bed..

  7. In addition to buying books, I also feel it’s my responsibility to keep the library running by checking out as many books as possible

  8. (because i’m a millennial who actually WANTS a career, thanks very much, Fortune Editor Patricia Sellers!)

  9. I’m actually not that surprised. I feel like people in our generation have been getting the message from a young age that reading is the best thing ever, it makes you smarter, and any kind of reading is better than not reading (the latter of which is something I don’t totally agree with, despite being a book lover myself – I don’t think the medium is what matters, I think it’s the content, and I think the “as long as they’re reading!” mentality has led to the promotion of poorly-written, regressive crap like the Twilight series when there are a million movies, TV shows and video games that expand your mind and vocabulary more than those books do. But that’s a topic for another time.)

    The other thing is that I think that, thanks to the Internet, we’ve returned to being a more text-based culture than when the radio and TV were the dominant media. So while our parents and grandparents grew up in an era of hearing or watching, we grew up in an era of reading. And we all write on the Internet, too, so the ability to communicate well, having an expansive, intelligent vocabulary and debating skills are seen as important in a way they weren’t a decade or two ago.

    So yeah, I’m not surprised because I’ve pretty much always felt like the charge that the kids aren’t reading enough books is about 20 years out of date, at least when it comes to kids who are middle-class on up (and thus, have disposable income for books and computers and e-readers). Ever since Harry Potter, there’s ALWAYS been some hot new kids/YA book craze. Our generation loves reading.

  10. Did anyone else notice that the 2012 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review costs $799 as a single use PDF? Woof. Who is buying this thing?

    • i’m starting school for my master’s in library & info science in 3 weeks. thanks for providing the theme song for the rest of my life.

  11. So is this generation officially called “Millenials” now? I’m a 1980 baby so I always wanted to be Gen X. It just sounded cooler. Especially because when I was a kid the media would call the generation after Gen X either “Generation Y” (lame) or “Generation Next” which was from a Pepsi commercial and therefore SUPER LAME. This has nothing to do with the fact that we apparently buy a lot of books, and therefore clearly learned a lot from Lavar Burton. Go us.

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