I’m not always in agreement with received opinion that what happens in publishing in the USA happens here eighteen months to two years later. However, properly-gathered statistics are always fascinating and it would be foolhardy for a book market watcher such as myself to ignore the results of the latest US consumer survey that’s been carried out by Nielsen BookData. Called the ‘US Entertainment Report’, it publishes information about games, films and music as well as books, but I shall confine myself here to the findings on books. If you’re interested in the other categories, you can find a summary here.
The survey finds that e-book buyers are 21% more likely to be female. The age-groups buying the most e-books are those aged 35-44 and those aged 55-64. (I’m not sure why there’s a dip in the 45 – 54 age group: perhaps they’re so broke paying for their children to go to university that they can’t afford to buy an e-reader!) What’s amazing is that the 18-24 age group buys least e-books, even fewer than the 65+ group. Perhaps the reasons for this are also financial. Or, since the academic e-book market is now well-developed in the USA, it may be that young Americans associate e-books with study and print with relaxation. An amusing thought, but of course based purely on speculation on my part!
What is undoubtedly of significance is that print book buyers are more likely to be female, too: 18% more likely, in fact (highest sales are again to the 55-64 age group, followed by the 65+ group). This is not a surprise, because print book consumer surveys have consistently shown women to be heavier book buyers than men for at least the last thirty years. Received wisdom has always been that women buy more books because they’re buying for the whole family. However, unless e-book sales models change, we may have to revise our opinion about who is actually reading the books, as well as who’s buying them, since at present it is not possible to share an e-book unless you also share your e-reader with someone else (not a very practical arrangement). There is considerable pressure among consumer groups, especially in the USA, to introduce models that allow sharing of the same e-book among a limited group of people, on the principle that print books have always been shared among family members. In the meantime, as writers, we have a golden opportunity to consider what these female-biased statistics mean.
All my life, I’ve disapproved of the so-called ‘woman’s read’; as a bookseller, I’d give publishers short shrift if they tried to promote a book by saying that it appealed to the ‘women’s market’. How piquant it would be to discover that they were barking up the wrong tree and that the real niche market belonged to men! And how well it pinpoints the absurdity of gender-based promotion: clearly women have been reading war stories, thrillers and science fiction all along and I wouldn’t mind betting that, at the same time, more than a few men have been reading romances and bodice rippers. In fact, one of the earliest e-book surveys undertaken, way back in 2001, suggested that there was a big market for romances among long distance truckers!
As a writer, therefore, whom should you regard as your ‘key’ customer? I’d say everyone! In the last analysis, it’s the quality of the writing that counts. But you might like to think a little more about formats: the more flexibility there, the more copies you are likely to sell.