Reading and writing – a matter of generations?

IUBH University of Applied Sciences, together with Books on Demand, examined the reading and writing behaviour of generations X, Y, Z.


A few years ago, publishing one’s own book was a hopeless undertaking without the help of a publisher. The success of the e-book has removed this hurdle and self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular. IUBH University of Applied Sciences has now collaborated with Books on Demand (BoD), the European market and technology leader in digital book publishing, to examine the reading and writing habits of different age groups. The results reveal remarkable differences between generations X, Y, and Z, results from which one can extrapolate tips for the book industry.

Self-publishing is trendy

Self-publishing is booming. At the end of 2016 around one out of every four first edition books was a self-published title, at the end of 2017 it was already one out of every three. The authors tend to be enthusiastic hobbyists as well as people with a niche of expertise. However, overall relatively little data is available about the market and its authors. Reason enough for IUBH to collaborate with BoD to examine how generations X, Y and Z use the media and the extent of their interest in their own self-publishing. The survey, which is  which is an integrative research project with students of the IUBH campus at Hamburg, Berlin, Bremen and Düsseldorf, provides valuable information to address potential self-publishing authors more efficiently and effectively.

How generations X, Y and Z read

There are clear differences between the generations in terms of their reading habits and use of media. Generation X – birth cohorts 1965 to 1980 – read the most (80% read daily), followed by generation Y – birth cohorts 1980 to 1995 – (66% read daily) and generation Z – birth cohorts 1995 to 2010 – (62% read daily). Generation X primarily reads books and magazines in paper format as well as e-books. Generations Y and Z, on the other hand, prefer blogs and social media. There are also deviations in reading content. For generation X and Z reading for relaxation and information is at the forefront. For generation Y, on the other hand, further education is top priority. Favourite content varies accordingly: news, novels and non-fiction are popular with everyone, but generation X has particular interest in medical and health topics, while generation Y prefers fitness and beauty content. Generation Z is particularly interested in science fiction, fantasy and literature for young adults. In terms of reading behaviours, there are also similarities. Nobody likes to read with others, most of them read mainly at home, during vacation or as a pastime, for example to bridge waiting times. In terms of spending on books per month, generation X is clearly in the lead with 18.21 euro, followed by generation Y with 10.25 euro and generation Z with 8.93 euro.

Uncertainties of potential authors

Who not only reads, but also writes? After all, every fourth generation X person writes their own texts, albeit mostly on Facebook or in blogs. Generation Y and Z also write primarily in social media. Nevertheless, 13% of all respondents across all generations are interested in self-publishing. Of particular interest are scientific, journalistic and factual pieces, whereby novels, poetry and do-it-yourself guides are also conceivable. The fact that they do not self-publish has different reasons. Many worry that their text will not be read (56%) or not bought (47%). They also want support from experts to help them through the writing and publication process. Moreover, for every third person self-publishing is still a completely unknown concept.

Recommendations for the book industry

“Given the fact that there is a decline in younger readers, booksellers should pay special attention to a target group-oriented sales approach,” recommends Prof Dr Gabriele Schuster from IUBH. “This should be tailored to their respective media use, level of knowledge about self-publishing, and their reading and writing needs.”


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