Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Are you an “average” mystery reader?

How do you feel about e-books?

The average mystery reader is a woman in her 50s or 60s.  She generally buys mass market paperbacks, but e-book mysteries are becoming attractive for some readers.

That’s the short version of many conclusions to be drawn from a collection of recent reader surveys conducted by Bowker, the book information systems company and the official ISBN agency in the U.S.

According to an Aug. 6 Bowker news release, the company’s 2013 U.S. Book Consumer Demographics and Buying Behaviors Annual Review showed that e-books account for 20 percent of spending on mystery titles.  Spending on e-books in all fiction and nonfiction categories, however, amounted to only 11 percent, compared to seven percent in 2011.

The Bowker release says women increased their lead over men in overall book buying, accounting for 58 percent of book spending in 2012, up from 55 percent in 2011.

Women buy a much bigger percentage of mystery books.  According to a presentation by James Howitt, director of publishing services for Bowker, and reported on the website, 70 percent of mystery books are purchased by women.

As to the age of mystery buyers, regardless of gender, about 70 percent, according to the Howitt presentation, are 45 years old or older and more than half are 55 or older.

The Howitt presentation, based on a 2011 Bowker PubTrack survey, also showed where mysteries are purchased:

E-commerce  (2009) 18%  (2010) 26%

Large chains   (2009) 25%   (2010) 21%

Book clubs   (2009) 15%    (2010) 9 %

Independent bookstores (2009) 7%   (2010) 8%

Mass merchandisers (not warehouse stores or clubs)  (2009) 7%         (2010) 5%

Bear in mind these figures report where books are purchased, not the book format.  The above figures account for about 70 percent of books sales.  The balance come from grocery and drug stores, book fairs and other retail outlets.

Howitt’s graphic presentation also showed the popularity of the various formats for mysteries.  Mass market paperbacks are the most popular with about 30 percent of the market, followed by hardcover at about 25 percent, with e-books and trade paperbacks both accounting for approximately 20 percent each.  Audio mystery books make up less than five percent of the market.

Many other details about mystery readers can be found in a December 2010 Bowker readers survey commissioned by Sisters in Crime, an organization of professional women crime writers.

Some of the findings:

77 percent of mysteries are purchased by households with no children at home.

48 percent of mysteries are purchased by readers who live in suburban areas.

Readers over 60 are more loyal to an author or character than younger readers.

Women mystery readers spend an average of 11.3 hours per week in front of a book, men 8.6 hours.

The survey also addressed e-book mysteries and only 13 percent of the respondents had ever read one.  Half of the mystery readers said they were dead-set against e-books, with people in their 30s and 40s somewhat more likely to be open to reading e-books in the future.

Interested in more details?  The Sisters in Crime survey contains a comprehensive picture of mystery readers, their behaviors and demographics.  See the link below.

Commentary   Surprising to me that women make up 70 percent of mystery readers; not surprising that women read mysteries, but that men don’t.  But men don’t buy as many books nor read as much as women either.  I’ve been in a men’s book group for more than six years and every one of us devours books.  I’ll talk more about that in a coming blog installment.

E-books are becoming more popular–gradually–despite the Sisters in Crime results that say many readers are dead-set against them.  The Sisters survey is a few years old; e-books are gaining acceptance.  I think some people who resist e-books have never given them a fair chance.  Ever try to find a favorite or crucial passage you remember but didn’t mark?  Good luck in a paper book.  Traveling?  Pay the airlines for your stack of books, or carry a lightweight reader or tablet.  But I’ve trod this ground before.

Interesting to note that to the vast majority of mystery readers, the gender of an author is not a factor in their decision to buy or read a book.  One wonders if authors such as J.A. Jance or P.D. James initially picked initials to overcome gender prejudices.

Finally, the Bowker news release noted that despite the growth of ebooks, traditional print book output grew three percent in 2012, from 292,037 titles in 2011 to 301,642 in 2012.   With so many new titles each year, how does an author without a household name get recognized?


Bowker Aug. 6 news release

Howitt presentation

Sisters in Crime survey 

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