TV and movies may be aimed mostly at young men these days, but if publishers and booksellers are wise, they’ll go after the older female audience. A comprehensive survey of book-buying habits that was released at Book Expo in late May leaves little doubt that the book business as a whole would be sunk without the patronage of middle-aged and older women.
The survey, which you can see in slide-show format on the Verso Advertising website, involved 9,300 book-buyers 18 or older, 48.2% of them male (the U.S. population is 48.4% male) and 51.8% female (U.S. population: 51.6% female). The margin of error is given as 1.5% and the “probability threshold” as 95%.
The most encouraging statistic the survey turned up is that 28% of the country’s population 18 or older – that’s 62.4 million adults – reads more than five hours a week. Half of those read 10 or more hours per week. Of these avid readers, 63% (39 million) are female and 37% (23 million) are male.
When the study breaks readership down by age, it gets even more interesting. The majority of avid readers are over 45, and the largest group is over 55.
It’s not surprising that the amount of time “avid readers” spend reading rises sharply as they enter their mid-forties and jumps again as they move into their fifties and sixties. Kids grow up and leave home, people retire, and they simply have more time for leisure reading. The 25-34-year-old group reads least of all, perhaps because those are the years when many people are establishing themselves professionally, getting married, and having children.
But what explains why women, at any age, consistently read more than men do?
In the mystery community, people always point to the willingness of women to read books by men as well as those by women, and the resistance of many men to reading books written by female authors. Maybe this holds up across all genres, but it doesn’t really explain why women spend more time reading. It’s not as if men run out of books by male authors to read. A man could read every minute of his life and never exhaust the supply of books written by other men. Something else must explain the difference between the reading habits of the sexes, but I have no idea what that something is.
A major section of the survey has to do with e-book purchases – the market share is growing, and is expected to reach 12-15% within two years, but only 7.5% of readers are willing to pay hardcover prices for electronic downloads. Of the rest, 28% want prices kept at $10 or less and another 28% won’t pay more than $20 for an e-book.
When asked about the primary factors in book-purchasing decisions, 52% of survey respondents cited author reputation, 49% said personal recommendations, 45% said price, 37% said reviews, 22% said cover artwork and blurbs, and 14% said advertising (including online advertising).
The survey (which is being conducted in several “waves” over the course of a year) is designed to help independent booksellers understand who the avid book-buyers are and how the stores can gain more of their business, but a couple of its conclusions should be noted by all booksellers – and publishers. Older Americans make up two-thirds of the country’s avid readers. And 63% of that sought-after group is female. A lot of older women say they feel “invisible” in society, but wise booksellers and publishers will recognize the value of this group of readers and be sure to provide them with the books they want to read.