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Doubting the Web’s Power to Save Us All from Ruin?

clipart-senior-readers.jpgAfter reading Friday’s item about Business Week columnist Sarah Lacy‘s recommendations for using social media to revitalize book publishing, Cindy Weaver emailed to call attention to what she viewed as a major flaw in Lacy’s thinking: “The online marketing sounds all well and fine,” Weaver writes, “until one realizes that the vast majority of people who read books today do not find their information on books via the web. Most readers of books are 45-plus and [the] even more important demo is 55-plus. If you ask most people in their 20s and 30s, they will tell you that books are so 20th-century.”

Weaver seems to be assuming that older people don’t use the Internet much—but as early as 2004, Nielsen polls indicated that 63.4 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 55 was online—and so were just under 81 percent of the men and women between the ages of 35 and 54, as compared to 76.3 percent of the men and women between the ages of 25 and 34. And bear in mind that a Zogby survey released earlier this summer reported that 43 percent of book buyers of all ages turn to online vendors as their most frequent point of purchase—that’s in addition to the 77 percent who say they’ve bought at least one book online. And then there was the Reading Tub survey in July where 43.1 percent of the respondents said they learn about books to read with their children online—one might well anticipate a similar response to questions about how adults discover books they want to read on their own.

clipart-young-reader.jpgNow, technically, it’s true: If 43.1 percent of the population are learning about books online, 56.9 percent aren’t, and you might even go so far as to call that a “vast majority.” Still, the numbers cited above are not insignificant—and, more than that, true marketing visionaries recognize that you don’t just market to today’s audience, which eventually dies on you, but with an eye on tomorrow’s. Sure, you can look at last year’s NEA survey and conclude that the youth have abandoned books, if you’re so inclined, and it’s entirely possible our schools may not nurture a love of reading, but does that mean book publishers should give up on the young men and women who do escape from high school still knowing the pleasures of a good book and are need something to entertain themselves for a good part of the next half-century?

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