Monday, October 11, 2010

A New Harris Poll is Out

Thursday's Publishers Weekly drew attention here to a new Harris Poll:
... among its findings are that mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels beat out chick-lit and romance novels by a large margin; and that more women than men read mysteries, thrillers, and crime novels.
The Harris Poll was done online during August 9th to 16th of this year inside the U.S. with 2,775 adults. The participants were weighted so that their race, ethnicity, age, sex, education, region and income were matched to the population as a whole.

Of the respondents who say that they read at least one book a year, the numbers were almost evenly divided between those who read fiction (79%) and those who read non-fiction (78%).

What was really interesting according to the Harris Interactive site here was the way the fiction numbers broke down. The poll flaunted conventional wisdom, which suggests that the romance genre outsells all others by a wide margin:
Among those who read fiction, almost half (48%) read mystery, thriller and crime books, while one-quarter read science fiction (26%) and literature (24%). One in five say they read romance novels (21%) and one in ten have read graphic novels (11%) in the past year. Less than one in ten read chick-lit (8%) and western (5%) books, with 36% saying they read other types of fiction.

Mystery, thriller and crime (MTC) did well across age groups, too. The MTC genre was picked as the favorite in all age groups except the 18 to 33 year-olds. The so-called Echo Boomers picked Literature as their favorite category (42%) and MTC as their second favorite category (41%). However, the 34 to 45 age group (Gen X) listed MTC as their favorite (50%) by a wide margin. Baby Boomers selected MTC as their favorite (47%) by a slightly smaller percentage. And the Mature group (over 65 years old) were the most enthusiastic about MTC (61%).

More than once, I've seen sales numbers for fiction in which the genre breakdown had the following order: (1) romance; (2) sci-fi/fantasy; (3) literary fiction and (4) mystery/thriller/crime.

So, how do we explain the disconnect? As in most cases where the numbers don't seem to make sense, I suspect the answer rests in what is actually being measured. The first explanation that occurred to me is that the Harris Poll addressed reader response, not actual dollar sales. As an example, I have two good friends (Jackie and Rosemary) who are big MTC readers who don't purchase the books they read. Both rely on their local public library to support their habit.

Another likely explanation is that, when sales are reported, the numbers only include the first sale of a book. If that book is resold on the secondary market as a used book, that exchange is not usually recorded. A few years back, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) did a survey on used book sales and estimated that, in 2004, about one out of every twelve books (8.3%) sold was a used book. They projected that, within five years, that number would become one out of every eleven books sold (9%). That's a significant number of books.

Also, remember that the Harris Poll indicated that "Women are more likely than men to read mystery, thrillers and crime novels (57% versus 39%)..." I suspect there's some wiggle room in that number, too. I have a number of friends who love to read romantic suspense. I suspect that if they were asked which category they're reading when they read books by Allison Brennan, Lisa Gardner, J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts' pseudonym) or Linda Howard, they would all respond mystery/thriller/crime, not romance.

Finally, this Harris Poll was an online poll. That might not make a difference, but it might also very well have something to do with the results. I don't know. I throw it out as a possibility.

One last item that I found interesting. The group of 2,775 adults were asked to list their favorite authors. Here's the list:

1) Stephen King
2) James Patterson
3) John Grisham
4) Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
5) Tom Clancy
6) Dean Koontz
7) Danielle Steel
8) Dan Brown
9) J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien (tied)

The only author of the ten above who would make my current list of favorites is J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts' "In Death" series). There was a time when both Stephen King and Dean Koontz would have made my list, but that was a very long time ago.

Would any of this list of ten make your list?