Image courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

Dear readers: I have a poll for you to take this week. Thanks in advance!

How many times have you been asked the question: which do you prefer most, print or digital books?

For me, the answer is… yes. Both.

I am not unusual. The Pew Research Center questions Americans about their reading habits and preferred book format every year. The survey for 2021 shows there are plenty of readers just like me who read both print and digital formats. Here are the topline numbers:

  • 75 percent of adults in the United States read a book in some format over the last year.
  • 33 percent say they read both print books and eBooks.
  • Nine percent say they only read eBooks or audiobooks.

And, although libraries don’t sell titles, book sales provide more evidence of our readers’ format preference.

  • Sales of print books increased in 2021 by about 9 percent.
  • eBook sales decreased, but that was to be expected after skyrocketing during the 2020 pandemic.
  • Audiobook sales continue to rise, up six percent in 2021 over the previous year.

The bottom line is that readers love to read. When they’re searching for a title, many readers want to get their hands on it in whatever format it’s available, as quickly as they can.

Who are these cross-format readers?

One email company I know has a name for people who read both digital and print books. They call them “transitionals”. But I think that’s not an entirely accurate way to describe cross-format readers.

First, most people are not transitioning from one format to the next. They are using both.

Secondly, that term lends an air of credibility to the notion that your print and digital collection are two separate things that need to be marketed in two separate ways. But they are not.

The collection is the collection, no matter what format our community members use. And the reasons they read both digital and print formats are opportunities for our marketing.

How to promote to cross-format readers

Remember, if your community is checking out books in all formats, circulation numbers will increase for your library. And you’ll be fostering a deeper level of engagement for these readers.

They’ll become dependent on your library for their reading material. And they’re more likely to volunteer, donate, and advocate for your library.

Cross-promote readalikes using context clues during in-person interactions.

Most people who visit your physical library branch are there to check out print. But you can cross-promote readalikes in digital formats to these readers.

To do this, look at your current print circulation statistics. Identify the three genres or topics of physical books most often checked out by your patrons. Next, create a bookmark or a quarter sheet flyer with three readalike suggestions for each of these topics. Specifically suggest your readalikes in a digital format.

Or, instead of suggesting three specific titles on your print piece, create a booklist of readalikes in digital format on your website. Your readalike bookmark or flyer should include a shortened URL link that leads to your online booklist.

When you see someone checking out print materials that might match your digital readalikes, hand them your digital readalike bookmark or flyer. Or slip the bookmark or flyer into holds.

You can also cross-promote print readalikes to your digital readers. Most digital format vendors will let you download the email addresses for your eBook and audiobook users.

Pull those lists and then send an email to those digital users promoting readalike titles, both new and backlist, in print formats.

Remember if you live in the US, you are not breaking any laws by emailing patrons, even if they don’t opt-in to an email. In fact, they expect you to market to them.

If they don’t want to receive emails from your library, they will opt-out. The overwhelming majority will appreciate your reading suggestions.

Libraries outside of the U.S. can add a section to their library news email to promote their digital and print collection. Use a link that allows your readers to check out your book suggestions in whatever format they prefer.

Make sure you track holds and checkouts of the titles you promote in your emails. That will give you data to help you make decisions about what to promote next. It will also be proof of the effectiveness of your work.

In my experience, one collection-based email a month can drive a circulation increase on average from 125 percent to 375 percent!

Include a digital option for your physical library book displays.

A patron who visits your library and sees your display may want to read those books in digital format. You can serve that patron by including a small sign or a bookmark with a QR code that allows readers to check out those same books in digital formats.

Offer titles in the format with a shorter wait list.

A few weeks ago, a staffer at my library was helping me search for a book I’d been wanting to read. She mentioned the holds list for the title was shorter for the audiobook version than for the print or eBook versions.

I honestly appreciated that! It’s a simple thing, but it’s good customer service. It gets books into the hands of your patrons more quickly and drives circulation.

Promote the benefits of each format.

In library marketing, we often focus on the title itself. But the format is a promotional opportunity too.

People find it easier to retain information when they read print. Readers also talk about the tangible experience of a print book: the feel and smell of it.

This is an opportunity for you to create experience-based marketing. Talk about the physical and emotional experiences readers have when they read print materials.

Likewise, you can talk about the benefits of digital formats in your promotions. eBooks let readers adjust font and background color for accessibility. They take up less physical space and they’re automatically returned at the end of a loan period. And audiobooks allow readers to get lost in a book while doing something else like exercising or cleaning.

Incorporate these features into your collection promotion. Your marketing will resonate with readers who feel comfortable jumping between formats.

Further Reading

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, enter your email address and click on the “Follow” button in the lower left-hand corner of the page.