Half of Canadians discover the books they go on to read online, and more than a third of them now buy their books online as well, according to BookNet Canada’s recent research report, How Canadians Buy Books 2015as well as combined BookNet Canada/Nielsen data also published in 2015.

If you ever needed proof that how – and where – your books appear online is crucial to sales, those two statistics are it.

Discovery Jumps Online

When asked how they became aware of a book, Canadians most frequently cited “Saw while browsing online or at a physical store.” Moreover, “The number of people who browse for books online compared to in-person is almost equal: 47.9% of respondents found books in person and 50% were browsing online.” In 2012, only 31.8% of Canadians discovered their books online, so in three years, online discovery has grown by 57%.*

This is absolutely essential news for Canadian publishers, who are operating in a book marketplace in which:

  • A single national bookstore chain, Chapters-Indigo, continues to dominate in English Canada and is allotting less and less space to book inventory in favour of other product categories;
  • The number of independent bookstores has declined dramatically over 10 years;
  • Non-traditional book retail, i.e., general or specialty retailers not focused on books, including Costco and Walmart, are commanding more and more book sales, and can be very difficult or risky for smaller publishers to get their books into;
  • Consumers are gravitating online for everything, including book purchasing.

Online Now the Main Destination for Book Buyers

Now for the kicker. According to eMarketer“BookNet Canada and Nielsen Book found that the share of Internet users in Canada who said digital was their primary location for buying books rose by 13.5 percentage points between 2013 and 2015, reaching 36.4%—and, in the process, becoming the leading primary book-buying destination in the country.”

The Canadian proportion is very similar to the American one, in case you’re wondering: The Association of American Publishers tracks 38% of 2015 trade sales to online sources.

What the Statistics Mean for Publishers

Online book retail, aka the “primary book-buying destination,” is largely fuelled by publisher metadata, and the better that data is – for example, complete with book jacket, description, review and award information, and excerpts – the more a book can be discovered and bought.

Metadata travels, too. Once you establish it and maintain it properly, it fuels not only your publisher website but also makes its way to online stores, organic search, and community book sites. Every place it travels is another chance your books will be discovered by people who could then go on to buy it.

Good book data also encourages enthusiastic readers to share your books on social media, because the links they include in their post will actually lead to a robust, exciting page. The influence of social media on book sales is growing, not the least because of how much we – particularly women, who buy more books than men do – are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like.

The good news is there are lots of ways to reach readers online. For tips on how to put your best foot forward, check out last month’s post on how to improve your book data.

*BookNet Canada’s The Canadian Book Consumer 2012