Episode 191 – Insights from the Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey

Mark interviews Dr. Rachel Noorda and Dr. Kathi Inman Berens about the Immersive Media & Books 2020 Consumer Survey conducted by the Panorama Project and Portland State University.

Prior to the interview, Mark shares a word from this episode’s sponsor (which includes a sample from the first narrator that Mark ever used through Findaway Voices).

You can learn more about how you can get your work distributed to retailers and library systems around the world at

Mark then shares comments from recent episodes and also a personal update.

Immersive Media: Discovery Overview

In his discussion with Dr. Noorda and Dr. Berens, the three discuss:

  • Dr. Rachel Noorda’s background at Portland State University directing the Masters book publishing program there and her route into the academic world
  • The student-run press that publishes several trade books every year, giving the students a hands-on experience in publishing
  • Dr. Kathi Inman Berens’ undergrad work within publishing and her later long-term academic experience within open access publishing, digital pedagogy and related projects
  • How there isn’t a lot of book publishing research out there that’s not proprietary in nature
  • The origin and evolution of The Panorama Project
  • Behaviors related to “engagement” with books that don’t necessarily include buying or reading them
  • How the survey was made up of people who “engaged with a book” at least once in the past 12 months
  • An OverDrive study and a 2019 PEW research study and that both estimate between 75% and 85% of people have engaged with a book in the previous year
  • How books are a very durable 500-year success story, according to Dr. Berens, that people have incredibly powerful feelings and emotions about
  • Some of the research that revealed surprising results
  • How the stats show that the suspected “show-rooming” of bricks and mortar stores that result in online (ie, Amazon) purchases is actually more of a 50/50 split. Sometimes people find books in bookstores and buy those same books online. Other times, people find the books online then buy them in bookstores. It’s a two-way street
  • How, while the biggest single realm of book discoverability (20%) is from friends, that 80% of the time people are finding books from a multitude of other means
  • The difficulty of measuring or finding the typical 6 touch points a person needs to have with a book before they decide to purchase/read it
  • All of the things that happen in purchasing behavior that we (as authors and publishers, and even as consumers) are not aware of
  • How the Immersive Media report does have a specific section for authors
  • The high relevance of “genre” and “favorite author” when it comes to deciding to buy a book
  • How readers are often expecting some kind of “online access” to authors
  • The “literary citizenship” that Jane Friedman talks about in her book THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER
  • And more…
Video of the Interview Portion of the Podcast

After the interview Mark shares a couple of reflections about the conversation and then thanks Patrons.

Links of Interest:

Dr. Rachel Noorda is Director of Publishing and Assistant Professor of English at Portland State University. Dr. Noorda holds a PhD degree in Publishing Studies from the University of Stirling and has published peer-reviewed research on various book publishing projects including book subscription boxes, independent publisher mission statements, the Portland Book Festival, and online book blurbs. She is currently writing a book (contracted with Cambridge University Press) about entrepreneurship in twenty-first century US book publishing. She has been very involved with the industry, including analyzing data and writing industry reports for PubWest, the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Book Industry Study Group, Literary Arts, and Publishing Scotland.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens, Associate Professor of English at Portland State University, has published peer-reviewed research about digital humanities, book publishing, and digital literature. A Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, Dr. Berens conducted grant-supported research for IBM when she was faculty and a Fellow of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. Dr. Berens studies immersive environments and transmedia experiences, consulting with Portland companies on VR medical therapies, immersive storytelling, and mobile web interface design. In her book publishing consulting and scholarship, two years of survey work provide foundational data for insights about consumer behavior at the Portland Book Festival. She is advisory council for arts non-profits Literary Arts, NW Film Center, and Oregon Storyboard.

The introductory, end, and bumper music for this podcast (“Laser Groove”) was composed and produced by Kevin MacLeod of and is Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

This transcript of the interview portion of the episode was auto-generated and has not been human-verified

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Dr. Noorda, Dr. Berens. Welcome to the Stark Reflections podcast.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: We’re so happy to be here with you, Mark.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: Thank you Mark.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: So I want, I’m so excited to share the research that you have been doing, but let’s start off with giving my listeners a bit of a background before we jump into the Panorama project.

A bit of a background on the two of you and your involvement in all things bookish.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: Sure I can jump in first if that’s okay. Cathy. So I have been at Portland state university directing the book publishing program for the last four years. And Portland state is very unique in that way.

There aren’t that many book publishing programs, master’s programs, especially in the U S but even worldwide. And so we’re really lucky to be working at one of the few. And one of the unique things about the program too, is that there’s a student run press that all of the students work in it’s called hooligan press and publishes for Trade books a year and fiction and nonfiction across various genres.

So it really gives that experiential learning hands-on experience. So that’s where I ended up. But I am originally from Utah and from Western us, but more from the desert rather than the rain. And did my masters and PhD work at the university of Sterling in Scotland. That’s where I.

Started into the academic world of publishing studies.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Oh, wow. Cool. Thank you. And Dr. Barrons, how about

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: you? Yeah, I came to Portland state in 2015. I was coming out of a Fulbright. I was the U S Fulbright scholar of digital culture in Norway. And prior to that, I taught at the university of Southern California.

I was part of the. Annenberg innovation lab. And so I’ve been thinking about the places where digital platforms and books meet for quite a long time. I’ve been working in some open access publishing in the digital humanities and I’ve been involved with the first publication of the modern languages association called.

Digital pedagogy in the humanities and it’s, it was a 10 year process of getting this mammoth work. Off the ground. There are four editors of that project and I was a contributor to it. So for me, part of my passion about books started when I was an undergraduate at Tufts and I was an intern at the Atlantic monthly with the fiction editor C Michael Curtis.

And then I got my PhD in English. Berkeley. So I’ve ambled around many different parts of literature and little forays into interactive games and things like that. That’s my background.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Okay. So this is fascinating, cause I’m going to, I’m going to potentially draw some parallels or some connectivity.

 Press. Which was the press, the university press I was doing trade publications or academic trade

Dr. Rachel Noorda: publications. Yeah. So it’s based in the university, but not a university press in the same sense that others are.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Okay. So it was actually a approachable texted. Didn’t have to be a scholarly leader.

And then I know I’m curious about the open access publications. Cause it almost sounds like there was this natural convergence of these two. Experiences that may have may have helped funnel you into the Panorama project. Am I on the right track here?

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: They’re discreet. But I would say that the experience of hooligan being a lab where students are getting hands-on experience, working with digital tools is actually a feminist experience.

We have a lot of women and female identifying people who work at our press and. Digital humanities is typically associated with are ones that have a lot of external funding to support that research. And this is a place where people can roll up their sleeves and get lots of not just digital experience, but critique and interesting academic advantage on those things.

So that’s, I’m not sure that there’s a point of convergence so much as parallel play.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: Oh yeah. I would say that one of the ways that. Our work in our research with hooligan and teaching funnels, then into the project with Panorama. Has been that we are always equipping graduate students to write and think about research in book publishing.

And obviously we do book publishing research ourselves, but there isn’t a lot of book publishing research out there, especially data that isn’t proprietary that isn’t behind some sort of paywall, including BookScan and some of the big ones book net in Canada, it’s, that was one of the things that kind of had are the wheels in our heads turning and had us thinking about this type of project is that we have the skills and the interest to gather and analyze this data and think about, publishing and what’s happening pre and during COVID.

But. This sort of data, isn’t usually the thing that’s available to the industry and that causes all sorts of problems. That means that we’re never, we’re rarely talking from the same place, authors, publishers because everyone has maybe their own pieces of data that they’re using, but it’s caused huge tensions between publishers and libraries, for examples and authors and publishers and all sorts of things.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Wow. So then, so what the Panorama project addresses quite a bit of that. How, and when did that start?

Dr. Rachel Noorda: Yeah Panorama has undergone some leadership changes at the time when we first started the project, he let Charles Gonzalez who is now with library pass, which Is a subscription service for libraries for digital comics.

And, but at the time he was the lead of Panorama project and he is the one who first began having conversations with us. We were able to meet him at the pub West conference, which was in Portland that year. Make some great connections and just start talking to him. Panorama very much is focused on research and on supporting research, particularly research that has some sort of touch point that.

That touches upon libraries in some way. So although libraries weren’t going to be the sole focus of our study, we wanted to make sure that they were included. And yeah, the great thing about Panorama is that they really helped to get the team together to assemble the committee that could help us really in doing peer review of the research questions and to offer that cross industry view because they came from all sorts of perspectives, from author perspectives, from publisher perspectives, distributor Supply chain.

Yeah, definitely. Some kind of hybrid publisher, author spaces, and all of their feedback was really useful to help create a balanced thing in the end.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: You talked about earlier, you had mentioned a lot of the data was proprietary. And so a couple of things I really liked about this project when I first was lucky enough to watch the presentation you did was that it was open.

It was available for everyone. It was free. So for consumption. But the other thing that I thought was really valuable was the perspective that you took was from the experience of the reader, interacting with the media, as opposed to it. Wasn’t about the logistics of publishing and all of that stuff.

It was about what is this really? Why is this whole industry? The

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: key term that we implemented is engagement with books because we realized that if we focused. Only on sales or only on reading or checking books out then we were missing a lot of behaviors that people engage with books, including giving them as gifts or consulting them in a very partial way.

Like looking at one recipe in a book or one entry in a travel guide. So we wanted to be able to capture how people use books at work and at school as well. So not only for entertainment and leisure. So we were really casting a wide net. And when we had a screener question on our survey, which was how have you engaged with one book?

In the last 12 months and people who answered yes to that then went on to answer all the rest of our questions are the ones that were relevant to them. But people who said, no, didn’t enter, didn’t respond to our service.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: So I have to follow up with that because I’m always curious about how few people actually engage with books.

So do you have stats on how many people. Was it a one in four, but actually that actually did engage in a book in the last year, which is some of the stats I remember seeing previously.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: According to we, we looked at two pieces of data. One was a Pew research study from 2019. And another one was data that overdrive has about readers.

And so from OverDrive’s estimate, it’s about 80% of the U S that have read a book in the last year. And according to you. Have yes. And Pew study 75%.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah. Okay. So it’s a lot higher than I expected. I thought it would be closer to fewer people reading actual or engaging with books. Wow. So the future is more optimistic than sorry.

At this book

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: I spend 500 year success story. This is a media form that endures that always operates. You don’t need to update the operating system. If you’re leasing it, you don’t suddenly lose access if the rights change or, it’s an incredibly durable format that people have lots of powerful feelings about.

And I think that, for example people. In the gift giving segment it’s about 61% of female who are buying books as gifts for others. And it’s a very transferable it’s it’s it’s. It’s not like a screwdriver or a plate. It’s a thing that’s vested with all kinds of emotion and even hope or aspiration for kids.

There’s just so many different feelings people have around books, which is one reason why people buy books and multiple formats that if they really love a book, they sometimes get that hard back to, and then maybe they want to listen to it on audio while they’re doing their chores. So people can get very passionate about books.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: And then if you take a wider approach to engagement that doesn’t just include reading from cover to cover. But that opens it wide up because surely there are even more people in the U S who have say consulted a cookbook, which is a book. And. Engagement with a book. So you know, it, it’s a very wide sort of net that engagement that we were throwing

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: there.

Oh, I love that. So I am, I’m curious to dig into some of the engagements that you discovered and I’d love to start with. Were there any particular engagements that you uncovered in your research that were a little bit surprising?

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: Yes. Yes. I think one of the big headlines is that black and Latin X millennials are avid book consumers.

They are proportionally. Much less. There’s a much larger portion of non-weight people in the millennial age, demographic then is in the gen X or baby boomer demographic. So for example, in the general, our general survey population was around. Was it like 69% or 64% white, but only 39% of millennials are white.

And then for black, Latin, X and Asian-American the proportions of those millennials was double the general survey population. So that was a big finding that not only are there many black and Latin X book consumers in particular, but that they are keenly avid book readers and book engagers.

And people would do well to address those markets directly.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: Yeah. We. Also saw that people are not necessarily discovering a book in the same place that they’re buying a book. We asked questions about if you have. Ever bought a book on, or if you have in the last 12 months, but a book online that you first found in a bookstore or vice versa bought a book in a bookstore that you first found online and same thing with discovering books in libraries, and then that leading to purchasing either online or in a bookstore.

And so what’s interesting is for online to physical bookstore and bookstore to online, they’re actually about equivalent percentages about 44% for both. Yeah. So we all, we all talk about how independent bookstores are showrooms for Amazon and how this problem of people using the bookstore experience and going in, but then.

Going and finding it cheaper online and just buying it there after they’ve had that whole browsing thing, but there’s also discovery happening in the other direction. So that’s just an interesting thing, for authors, for publishers, for everyone really, to keep in mind is that discovery and purchasing aren’t necessarily happening in the same place.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I love that having been an independent bookseller and being panicked about. So I love that idea because, so the idea then is that the discoverability and the purchase may be disconnected, that they’re not happy in the same place. So it’s okay to be discovered in as many places as possible because that will open up sales in as many places as possible,

Dr. Rachel Noorda: probably.

We’d love to have more research and more data about that in-between space of okay. In between the discovery and the buying, that network of stuff that is happening, that is going on, w what is that? But there’s obviously still more work to do, but yes you’ve characterized that just right.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: And 20% of the time. The largest category for discovery is recommendations from friends, but that’s only 20%. So that is to say 80% of the time people find are finding books. Not from their friends, but in other means, and I mean that, the challenge is that consumers, people are generally not aware of how many touch points they’ve engaged.

Like how many times? I know in marketing generally, the theory is a person needs six touch points in order to then complete a transaction. But. We can’t really capture data about that because people are largely unaware of their own. Discovery process. For example, only 3% of our population.

The general survey population indicated that algorithms were their preferred way of finding books, but we know that algorithms are much more involved in how we find books and how we engage online. In other words, Algorithms are far more agentic than people are aware of.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: That is both the beauty and the difficulty about a consumer behavior survey.

You had mentioned earlier, Mark, that it’s so great to hear it from the reader’s perspective and that’s what a consumer behaviors. Study offers is to be able to look at it from their perspective and to get more of the why behind the data, beyond just sales data. But the downside to that is that there is a lot that happens with purchasing behavior that we, as consumers are not aware of, that kind of goes on behind the scenes.

That’s still important like Kathy was talking about with algorithms, but that We are not as aware of is important as consumers. Yeah.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Yeah. That’s always a tricky thing. I know. So when authors are doing marketing, for example they go back to that six or seven touch points, but you don’t, you can’t measure, you can’t measure that, Oh, this is the fifth time someone saw something because how do you measure and how do I know there were studies when I worked at Kobo where you could see where people’s eyeballs were going on that screen, but how do you know.

That they actually saw the ad or saw the book cover. It’s usually like the book cover. Is your, the billboard for your books kind of

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: thing? And that’s where certain genre have advantages such as . So if my fantasy romance those genre all have. Active fan communities online where some of those touch points are just more visible because they’re published.

They’re published on TOK, they’re published in Twitter, Instagram, and those communities create enthusiasm. And. That enthusiasm can lead to, to purchase and further advocacy, even beyond point of purchase. So David Edelman is a well-known marketer who taught at Harvard for a while, and he’s the CEO of Aetna.

And he Conceived of how online marketing and social environments is different from old school broadcast, that wonderful marketing funnel where something’s in the consideration set. And finally it comes down to point of sale. Edelman was the one who invented the concept of the loyalty loop which is when.

A point of sale happens a really passionate advocate. We’ll go right back into that online community and talk about their use of that product, or talk about why they love that author or talk about what a cool event they attended. And that’s where publishers have advantages. That’s where self pub authors can really find traction by fishing, where the fish are, go jump in and find those readers who like what you like.

And as Mark has, you’ve done some cool work on this, getting folks to just find you and open your files and pay attention to your work. That’s the challenge for any offer.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Wow. And this is so fascinating because so does the studies you have and that you’ve done are available for free for anyone to access, which is phenomenal.

Where would you recommend if an author was looking to try to understand. How do I get engagement? Where would they start with the summary report? Or how would they, because there’s a lot to digest

Dr. Rachel Noorda: the, the executive summary is a great place to start, but we actually did break the, because it is a longer report, 75 pages.

We did break it down by stakeholder. So there’s a section for publishers section for libraries. There is a section for authors. The place that we would suggest that people jump to because it has suggestions and data that are most relevant to authors, as you’re thinking about these things.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: And that kind of leads to a question that I had about author brand, because I think that was one of the important things that you uncovered in your research was just how critical that author brand was.


Dr. Rachel Noorda: Yeah. We saw that. When we were looking at some of the data points, such as the top. Choices, for example, for how people prefer to discover new books. The number two choice was favorite author. So after recommendations from friends, favorite author is the next one. We also asked a question about.

The most important factor in their purchasing decisions. So not just in discovering a book, but what makes you actually buy it? And genres was the first at almost 40%, but author was the second at about 23%. We just kept seeing these reoccurring themes similarly In person, author events was one of the top categories for where to find books, which was a very interesting piece given this was all happening and being collected during COVID.

But we did ask people for some of these questions about their general preferences. And one of the things we’re really excited to look at is longitudinal data. We’re anticipating doing this collecting data on an annual basis. So having an annual report, and that means annual data to compare, which means we’ll be able to sort out which of this is COVID specific and which of this is just.

You know how things are. So that’ll be really good to look at to see how much was maybe people being the Celtic for the in-person events that weren’t happening or that sort of thing. But but that was one of the top categories there too. So clearly in the how and the, where of discovery and also the important factors in book purchase.

Like. People are thinking about authors. That is what they are considering. So that’s what we mean by really think about your author brand is that’s what consumers are thinking about.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: And I think we’re at a completely fascinating inflection point because for the last 15 months people have attended virtual author events and.

On the one hand, I think people miss that physical proximity, they miss having their book actually signed right in front of them and handed to them, all of the kind of synergies that happen when we are co-present however, Like we’d are also excited about being able to attend a book event, thousands of miles from where you live, or even I’m not feeling great tonight.

I’m just going to attend this book event from home. So maybe if I were an author, I’d be thinking on the go forward. Any live event. I do. I want to see if I can have a pal live stream it through any of the social media services, because at this point I think people are expecting some kind of online access.

And I mean that, isn’t a super hard thing. That’s an easy technique that any author could incorporate into their practice.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: So glad you mentioned that when I was at the bookstore at McMaster university and we had done events through 2007, through 2009, and we were live streaming because we had limited space, there were only 30 seats, and we knew that some of the authors we brought in had fans around the world.

And again, we maybe only had 30, 50 people watching it online. Online and we have, the author would like, okay, if you order it, we’ll get them to sign it and they’ll ship it to you. But yeah, I’m so glad you mentioned that because it almost felt like it was ahead of its time. I think now the world’s ready because I got Michael Connolly.

I’ve seen him in person numerous events. Cause I’ve been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. But. I just got to watch him and Titus Welliver who plays Bosch in, in, in the Amazon prime TV. It’s just a series in conversation at a UK based conference. Which I wouldn’t not be able to go to cause it was too far away, but I got to watch them live just between a meeting and lunch.

All I had to do was come sit here, maybe eat my sandwich and watch this beautiful event that I would not have had a chance to get to. So that’s interesting how it opens that up too.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: Absolutely. And what you need to think too, is that as millennials and gen Z age, these are people who are mobile first, they are going to expect that they can have access digitally and there, and they are, we know that they’re very avid book engagers.

So there’s an appetite. Like I think the more that the authorial practice can meet people where they live. Which is online and on their mobile phones. The more success they’re going to have both in terms of sales, but in terms of brand growth and recognition.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: It’s funny. When you were talking about author brand and genre, I kept thinking back to I like cozy mysteries.

Therefore, if you like cozy mysteries and we’re talking about cozy mysteries, I’m going to tell you my favorite author. You’re going to tell me your favorite author. And then all of a sudden, a swap is going to happen and we’re going to both discover new. So it’s this comment. It seems like a combination of author, brand and genre.

That really is powerful because as you said, those were the two highest reasons why people decided to get a book. I think, yes. Wow. So much for authors to unpack and make sure that, and that’s a newsletter swap thing. I think where, if I have an urban fantasy series and I know that people like, werewolf stories and I’m not my next, book’s not coming out until December, therefore.

Yeah. I’m going to recommend other ones that I think you might like in the meantime, and that community can probably be really help because my readers will then be sated because I can’t write enough to keep up with them

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: a hundred percent, Jane Friedman in her book, the business of being a writer talks about literary citizenship.

And what you’re talking about is. Being a good citizen because it takes a while to write books, even for some of the incredibly prolific genre authors who pound out thousands of words a day still it takes time. And so when you have your pals shouting out, Yeah. When you shout out your pals books, when it comes your turn, you receive the shout out.

And so in a way it’s like you’re all collaborating in sustaining and feeding a fan community.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: Similarly, in being part of a community with authors, that it’s also a chance to one of the things that that our data shows is just how many ways and how Book engagers are connecting the Libraries fan fiction, free little libraries.

There’s just a multitude of kind of spaces online and offline that they’re doing things in bookstores, and so all of those would also be good to be thinking about in this literary citizenship to be as an author, Having relationships with going back to the, if you do have an in-person event and you’re also streaming it, then you’re partnering with a bookstore or a library to do that.

And that’s connecting you within that community. All of that is very good.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Oh my God. Oh, thank you both so much for such insightful. I’m just, I’m walking away from this even more excited to, to keep digging in the data and create calls to action where where can my listeners find out more about about, what you guys are doing and the Panorama project.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: It’s a very easy URL, Panorama, and you will find a link to the immersive media report members versus media, medium books, 2020 report. And, you can go in and slice and dice that data. Let’s say you want to think about reaching local readers. We even have regional data. About how people prefer to learn about books.

Do they prefer librarian recommendations or bookseller recommendations? Like those things are very regionally inflected. So for example, the Northeast is the highest rank for bookseller recommendation. And the Midwest is the highest rank for librarian recommendation, yeah. And then, so like some regions are more inclined to being able to bring family to their events.

Like being friends and family in the Southwest, like that’s a bigger finding. Thinking about where you are and who your readers are locally you can find some data that will help you. Strategize

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: is amazing.

Dr. Rachel Noorda: There is also a short report. There’s so much great granular data in the big report.

So we most prefer that you go and dig into that, but if you want just a quick overview of some of the main points, there is a short version of the report. That’s only five pages and has a cool infographic and things like that. And has some of the points that, we’ve talked about. So regardless of how much time you have to spend on the report, there’s going to be something for

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: you.

Oh, awesome. And I trust that because you plan on doing like perennial, like updates that somebody could go and sign up to be notified when your next reports become official.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: Yeah. I believe that when you go to the Panorama website, you have the option to leave your email address so you can receive notifications.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Awesome. Thank you again so much. This was such a fascinating conversation.

Dr. Kathi Inman Berens: Mark. Thank you for having us. What a pleasure to talk with you and think with you. Dr. Rachel Noorda: It was great to be here. Thanks Mark.

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