Nostalgia City Mysteries

Mark S. Bacon

Category Archives: paper books

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 

E-Book update

Best-seller lists expand to encompass electronic titles; romance popular

One thinks big name authors live and die by the best-seller list rankings.  Those of us toiling in the lower levels of the literary landscape admire the sales figures and scour the lists looking for our next book to read.  E-book publishing, once the techy stepchild of the publishing business, is the fastest growing market segment and the subject of dedicated best-seller lists.  E-books also contribute significantly to sales in a new list for self-published books.

Publisher’s Weekly (PW) the trade journal for the book publishing/distributing business, has started a new list, recording the best-selling books self-published through the Smashwords platform.   The top-25 list is dominated by romance titles with three authors appearing three times each.  Each of those authors, Katie Ashely, Abbi Glines, and Shayne Parkinson, publish in e-book and paperback formats, as do many if not all in the top 25.

A list of the most popular e-books in 2012 was also published by PW and it’s comprehensive.  The list includes hundreds of e-books in graduated categories from 15 million in sales to 50,000.  Makes interesting reading.  There’s no indication as to which publishers PW queried, but it probably omitted very small houses and self publishers.   The first comment the online PW article generated was by someone suggesting they publish a list of the top selling self-published e-books.  A good suggestion, though the list might be quite similar to the above-mentioned self-publishing list.  With Amazon’s Create Space program, it’s simple for an author to create a paper book and e-book simultaneously; often the e-book is priced lower.

Other e-book best-seller lists are, if not plentiful, easily accessible.  In the latest Digital Book World list, for the week ending Aug. 18, an e-book from a small publisher beat out the big New York names.   As noted in the listing, the top selling e-book, The Boy in the Suitcase,  was priced significantly below the e-books from larger publishers.  Price has an effect on e-book sales, as discussed in this blog before, and the best-seller lists are good places for book buyers, authors and others to keep up with market trends.

The venerable New York Times also has e-book best seller lists for fiction and nonfiction and Amazon lists the top-selling Kindle books this year to date.

Also worth reading is Jeremy Greenfield’s article on top selling e-books from Forbes last month.  Hachette, one of the Big Five US publishers,  has recorded 153 e-book best-sellers this year, Greenfield reports.


Publishers Weekly: Self-published best sellers

Publishers Weekly: Best-selling e-books of 2012

Digital Book World: Best-selling e-books

NYT: Best-selling e-book nonfiction

NYT: Best-selling e-book fiction

Best-selling Kindle e-books in 2013

Forbes: Who is getting the big piece of the e-book pie

Few dollars faded

E-books: for a few dollars more

For many readers, electronic books are convenient but not a substitute for the printed variety.  E-books are handy for reading on planes, trains and in bed, but you can’t line a bookshelf with them, you can’t scrawl notes on them with a pen and you can’t read them without electricity.

Some people, myself included, like both.  Too bad we have to choose.  But why should we?

Publishers should offer an electronic version of a book–for a few dollars more, say $3–to those who buy a hardback or trade (larger format) paperback.

When you buy software online you’re often given the option to pay a little more and receive the program on a disk, in addition to your download.   Some books, notably how-tos and computer books, come with disks.  Some nonfiction books direct you to a website to obtain additional information.   An electronic option for printed books sounds like a winner.

It’s difficult to see disadvantages in this for either publisher, bookseller or reader.  It probably would not affect separate e-book sales–except for e-book-only publishers and sellers–and it could be a boost for hardbacks and paperbacks.   Yes, it would cut down revenue for books for which individuals typically buy the printed and electronic versions.  But how often does that happen?

I’ve done it once.  I bought the 944-page Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s masterpiece about Lincoln and his cabinet, in paperback.  Then before I read it, I bought the Kindle version.  The e-book was easier to tote around and although annotating on a Kindle is not speedy, I made lots of notes.  Later I transferred many of my notes and highlighting to the print version.  (This is a book not just to read but to study and I’ve loaned it to a friend.)   I treasure my paperback version.  The pictures of Lincoln and his cabinet are easy to find and it has a prominent place on my bookshelf next to other books about that historical period.

Together, the books cost about $30.  (Prices have come down slightly since.)  This expensive double purchase three years ago demonstrates the many values in getting an electronic version and a printed book.  Not many people buy both versions of a book, but they would–if it was possible for just a few dollars more.

I did not, alas, come up with this concept.  It was one of a variety of otherwise impractical or unnecessary ideas scattered throughout an article by Kane Hsieh on  But what an idea.

You heard it here, second.


Team of Rivals

Gizmodo article on e-books

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