How are we buying and borrowing books? – National Reading Survey

Whether browsing your local library or shopping online, we explore the book-buying and borrowing behaviours of Australian readers as revealed in our inaugural National Reading Survey.


The National Reading Survey by Australia Reads collected data from more than 3,000 Australians across two groups of respondents:

  • ‘General readers’ from multiple panel sources, collectively representative of Australian state and gender populations over 16 years of age;
  • ‘Engaged readers’ sourced from e-newsletter subscribers of Australian publishing houses and social media followers of Australia Reads – meaning they engage with book related news.

From these responses, researchers delivered the following findings about how we buy and borrow books.


We mostly buy books for ourselves

The number one reason Australian readers buy books is for ourselves – either as a planned purchase (51%), or an impulse buy (50%). Readers are less likely to buy books as gifts – either planned (18%) or on impulse (13%).


Word-of-mouth is the magic influencer

When it comes to promotional campaigns for specific titles it is word-of-mouth that mostly influences book buying decisions, followed by publicity, then advertising, and then catalogues.


Previous enjoyment of an author #1 factor

The top three factors that positively influence Australian readers when buying books are:

  • Previous enjoyment of book by same author
  • Recommendations of family & friends
  • Descriptive blurb on inside flap/back cover (not including cover review quotes or endorsements which had lowest influence.)


Browsing in a bookshop leads to sales

The National Reading Survey highlights the value of browsing in bookshops as it is one of the most ‘usual reasons’ most people buy books, with more Australian readers (54%) indicating they’ve bought books while browsing in-person in a bookshop than while browsing online (38%).


Online shopping, libraries & Indies make books easy to find

According to Australian readers, the top three easiest places to find a specific title and/browse for a new book to read are:

1) An Australian online bookseller (60%)

2) In a library (56%)

3) In-store at a local indie bookshop (54%)


Libraries help sustain strong reading habits

Almost all Australian readers (89%) have used a library. Engaged readers (54%) are more likely than general readers (34%) to borrow books.


Some like to try first, then buy later

Some (12%) Australian readers love a book they’ve borrowed from the library so much they buy their very own copy!



These findings point to several opportunities that may be utilised by bookstores and libraries in engaging readers and potential readers.

  • Encouraging inter-personal discussions between family, friends, and fellow book-lovers is a valuable way of motivating book buying and borrowing decisions.
  • Booksellers and publishers may find it valuable to research and invest in ways to make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for online and in-store. 

Read the key findings or full report of the National Reading Survey (2021) to find out more.