The Invisible Reader You Don’t Want to Ignore

I recently attended the 2021 Publishing Year in Review: Opportunities & Continuing Trends, an online publishing seminar put on by Ingram Content Group. The entire presentation was encouraging and fascinating.

One moment caught my attention during the presentation by Pete McCarthy, the Director of Consumer Insights from Ingram Book Company. This is a man who makes it his business to be up on the trends among readers. With his permission, I’m going to share some of these trends with you.

The Visible Trends

He pointed out the trends both before and during the pandemic. Note that the growth in the e-book and audiobook markets are good, but perhaps less than we would expect. Print was essentially flat, whereas reading in any format is up. It has fallen from 2011, perhaps, but not by much.

This is great news. People still like to read books!

Print vs Digital

He described 33% of the book readers as omnivorous. They’ll read a book in any format depending on price point, availability, and other factors. These folks just want to read.

Next, he shared information showing that most people buy books both online and in physical stores.

The takeaway here is that the modern consumer will buy a book in any format and from whatever location is most convenient.


Then he did a deep dive into e-book statistics.

Are e-book sales up or down? He said the answer is nuanced with the range being dependent on genre. Adult fiction is doing well with some areas up 6%. In general, he sees overall growth in e-books.

But then he showed something fascinating.

Non-Ownership Reading

“Non-ownership” reading refers to areas like Kindle Unlimited and libraries, where it is possible to borrow a book and read it without necessarily being tracked in the sales numbers.

This area is growing significantly, but doesn’t show up on the trend charts.

The Invisible Readers of the Future

There’s another readership that doesn’t show on any of the charts, an invisible demographic.

Most of the statistics we track are for adults, but younger readers are interacting with stories in a completely different way.

Wattpad, WebToon, and others are extremely popular among younger readers. These are websites and applications that get numbers like 400 million monthly visits with average time spent on the apps in excess of 20 minutes each visit. Online statistics for Wattpad show that it had 90 million monthly users as of November 2021.

If you haven’t seen these venues yet, they’re places where people share stories. Like Kindle Vella, these stories are often released periodically or episodically. These stories are generally free, often supported by Patreon or Ko-fi donations.

And there are more venues like this. Venues like Archive of Our Own, one that my daughter loves. She loves the fresh and unusual voices of the authors. She loves that this is a place where fans can hang out and write fan fiction as well as create new worlds in fresh ways. Here are their statistics from 2020, where they were tracking in excess of 50 million views per day.

These statistics and trends are difficult for us to compare and quantify to industry standards, but they are examples of digital reading. According to Pete McCarthy, this is a massive trend. He said that he doesn’t want to overreact, but he thinks this is a trend worth keeping an eye on in a big way.

Not Just for Kids

These websites are not just attracting children.

A press release from Wattpad in 2021 claimed that the platform boasted 90 million readers and 5 million writers. Eighty percent of their users are Gen Z (born after 1997). These works are not all amateur, either. Almost 1,500 Wattpad stories have been either published as books or adapted for TV or film. You can see insights into the trending topics here.

Pete said that Archive of Our Own is reporting 400 million monthly visits with an average time on site of 17 minutes.

Digital reading is up much more than the 6% that shows in the official statistics. Pete showed that consumer engagement with online media is also up, and this includes engaging with stories in different media formats: audio, gaming, and streaming content being up, while time spent watching TV was down.

People are engaging with stories online in non-traditional formats, not just with paper books, e-books, or audiobooks.

Types of Content People Spend Time With on the Internet

This chart only shows the top 20 types of online content, and books are #19. He sees this as very positive.

I’ve added my own highlight to entertainment and games because my research shows that these are also ways in which people are engaging with stories.

In my research of WebToons, Wattpad, Archive of our Own, and other similar trends, I’ve noticed a movement among the younger generations towards a passion for transmedia content: stories that transcend the format they are presented in, stories that can be experienced in many different types of media. I suspect that a lot of what is classified as entertainment content is interacting with stories in the form of games, online short-form reading, fan fiction, movie adaptations, and animations.

What is Transmedia?

To understand transmedia, think of Star Trek, Star Wars, Marvel, or DC Comics.

There are movies, games, books, animated shows, graphic novels, comic books, fan fiction, and many more ways that fans are interacting with these elaborate story worlds. Fans get together for conventions. They talk in forums. Want a non-science fiction example? How about Sherlock Holmes?

This page at Archive of Our Own lists all fandoms they currently explore.

Increasingly, fans want to interact with the stories they consume. Fans still enjoy the printed word. They just want to have more interaction with the worlds their favorite authors are creating.

This trend isn’t new. Any reader who has ever become immersed in a book has had that moment when they close the book and wish they could stay with it, stay in that world.

With modern technology and modern transmedia storytelling, readers can. Readers become a part of the story.

I loved one quote that Pete put on the bottom of a slide:

“Opportunity is everywhere — stay agile, adapt, try new things.”

What are you doing to engage with this hidden demographic of readers?


Top Image by maximiliano estevez from Pixabay

*Slides Reprinted with permission of Ingram Content Group

Originally published at Writers in the Storm, March 21, 2022, The Invisible Reader You Don’t Want to Ignore (

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