Some Highlights from the RWA 2011 Romance Book Consumer Survey

I mentioned in my entry about social media and discovery that the RWA had done a survey of romance readers and posted a PDF of the results online for members. I asked if I could share some of the data, and RWA granted permission. Thank you!

The following data is from RWA and Bowker's PubTrack Consumer, and all of the information is used with permission. I'm barely scratching the surface of the report, but I wanted to share the parts that really caught my attention.

I must start by saying that I have a horrible time with numbers. I remember phone numbers by the song and position on a touch pad, not the actual numbers. Navigating New York City means landmarks or writing numbers on my hand so I can keep looking at them because I can't hold numbers in my head easily  at all. So looking at data for me means STARING at it and then translating it into words (oh, words, sexy sexy words) like “a third” or “half” or “a whole whopping crapton.”

So if you're an RWA member, please do look at the data yourself because it's really amazing. And if you're not an RWA member, I apologize that the mental lens through which I am viewing the data is faulty. If I'm inconsistent or don't make any sense here, please ask me to clarify. Likely I'm trying to hold onto a number while it dissolves in my brain.

First: survey data! This sample was based on a sampling of 1371 readers, and another fielding will be done in the spring, with MORE DATA (NOMNOMNOM) in the summer of 2012.  78% of those sampled reported themselves as “frequent” or “avid” readers (as opposed to “occasional”) and were split nearly evenly among age groups from “under 30″ all the way to “65+”. In other words, no one age group was better represented than another, and these are mostly readers who are avidly/frequently reading romance.

On to the results that I found so fascinating:

For every four print books purchased, there is one ebook being purchased in the romance genre. Also, 31% of romance readers in the survey reported that they currently read ebooks (which means 69% said they weren't) (See how I did math there?) (No, I didn't; I read a pie chart). This data made me wonder where the ultimate balance between print and E will be for romance readers.


When survey respondents were asked about where they learned about new romance authors, the top answers were:

  • Friends
  • Recommendations
  • Bookstore shelf
  • Bestseller Lists
  • Family
  • Other, online sources

The top three offline factors that influenced purchase decisions were enjoying the author's previous books, whether the book was part of a series that person was already reading, and the description of the book on the back cover or flap.

But the top three online factors that influenced purchasing decisions: Online bookseller websites (i.e., reading or seeing mention of a book online, and seeing a book on a bestseller list. Author websites and author enewsletters were 4th and 5th most influential according to the survey results.

I thought initially that “reading or seeing mention of a book online” would include online forums, blogs, and social media – but those were separate line items. While 60% of respondents said online bookstores like may have had some influence or were major influences in purchasing a book, “reviews in blogs and online forums” accounted for only 34% of those who said that source “may have had some influence” or was a “major influence.” 

This question and the data results caught my attention because while “reading about it/seeing it online” (“it” being a book) was #2, “romance-oriented websites with reviews” was 7th, and “reviews in blogs/online forums” was 8th. I thought those three could be the same thing, depending on how the question was asked, and I couldn't tell the difference between a “romance-oriented website with reviews” and “reading about a book/seeing a book online.”

As for social media, as the RWR reported, only 30% of respondents said they would follow an author on Facebook, but in the survey results, over 64% named Facebook as the site they most visited. 

Thank you again for RWA for giving permission to share this portion of the data (the full report is 32 pages long, and contains pie charts, graphs, and a lot of numbers, all of which were fascinating). If you're an RWA member, I hope you'll download and look at the report. I am most curious about the summer 2012 reporting, and am looking forward to seeing if any of the percentages move or change substantially. Given the proximity of the fieldings, I'm presuming not a lot of movement, but I am still so curious about the different surveys that discover how readers discover books. 


Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Christina Auret says:

    This is very interesting, but I have to wonder: Where does the friend who tells you about the book, hear about it?

    Say you buy a book due to an online source, you read it and you love it. You will probably tell your friends and like minded family members about it. Then they might read it and love it and tell their friends and family. etc. etc.

    The first step in that chain is still the online source. Which is why I think finding out where people find out about books, is a lot more complex than simply asking individuals where they find out about books.

    Ok, maybe all of that is covered in the rest of the report and I need to join RWA so I can go read it.

  2. 2
    moviemavengal says:

    Seeing a book online could simply mean seeing it listed on the author’s website or on a list of the author’s works on Goodreads, not necessarily a review/blog.

  3. 3

    I’ve been thinking about your social media and discovery post, and as much as I would love to dismiss all Facebook and Twitter (I loathe fragmented information myself), I think Christina Auret has the right point.  I also think the Goodreads data is being presented in a very misleading way (not by you, in their slides).  Maybe I have misread something, I’m not trained in statistics, but if 14% of dedicated Goodreads-user initial discovery of books comes from Facebook, and 6% from Twitter, those are huge numbers.  At the end of the post on the Goodreads blog, they recommend that authors pay less attention to Facebook/Twitter but instead focus on things like giveaways, which they’ve noted in previous data as accounting for only 2% of reader discovery of books.  (Wait—why is 2% better than 14% again?)

    I’m not knocking giveaways by any means; I feel a little bit like Santa Claus when I do giveaways and am always looking for an excuse.  And I am very reticent about Facebook, although I finally as of a few weeks ago have a page.  But if a population that loves Goodreads enough to answer survey questions about it still acknowledges 14% of initial discovery as coming from Facebook, that shouldn’t be discounted. 

  4. 4
    Brooklyn Ann says:

    Yeah, it would have been better if “seeing it online” could be more specific, but I kinda understand. When I “see a book online” and buy it, the averages are usually spread out between reading friend’s FB/Twitter updates raving about a book, to reading author interviews on blogs or following an author on a social media site: i.e. “I love her tweets, so I’m gonna totally buy her book (If it’s in my preferred genre)”

    I rarely buy based on review sites….although I totally want to get that redneck romance set in a junkyard that was discussed on one of your awesome HABO posts.

  5. 5
    MissB2U says:

    It sounds like RWA needs to do a survey focusing on how readers find books on the interwebs, eh?

  6. 6
    Cialina says:

    That’s a pretty interesting survey! It does seem like more research needs to be done on the online end.

  7. 7
    Unimaginative says:

    “I remember phone numbers by the song and position on a touch pad, not the actual numbers.”

    Me too!  I even sing it as I punch in the numbers.  La la la la la la la :)

  8. 8
    Deerhart23 says:

    Interesting and completely the opposite of me.

    I do wonder how they classify what an avid or frequent reader is?  I think you may find different answers from someone who reads 40-50 books a year versus someone who reads 200 books a year.  I also think that you will see differences in break downs by age between ebooks/print books and the use of the internet.

    I can say that in general I find books the offline mention (even when I find them online).  It’s because I have gone to an author’s site because I have read that author before.  I also generally browse print books (though buy mostly ebooks) at a bookstore or library and choose books by the blurbs.

    THe other way I find a lot of new books are the ebook sales.

  9. 9
    Jorja Tabu says:

    That is fascinating, thank you for making it digestible (32 pages is a lot, alotalot).  I’m trying to think of other online sources as well—what about book trailers?  Trolling youtube for book recs seems highly unlikely though…

  10. 10
    Danielle Monsch says:

    I believe they defined avid reader as someone who reads 10 books or more a year.


    I find that they chose that number to be both appalling and fascinating.

  11. 11
    Peggy O'Kane says:

    Were libraries/librarians mentioned as a source?

  12. 12
    Flo_over says:

    So… if I read more than 10 and less than 100 does that make me obsessive compulsive?  Do I need to seek a therapy group or just let go of my credit card/library card?

    I won a SBTB giveaway once.  I still have it.  It’s in a special place on my shelf.  I also got a freebee from an author once.  It was all very exciting.  Still not going to follow them on Twitter or Facebook.  Will still take all reviews with a grain or a pound of salt… including this site. ;D

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