Treat yourself to the AAR bookbag!
February 1, 2005 – Issue #195
From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:
Last year I had an interesting discussion with Mary Novak, who used to write wonderful reviews for us at AAR. While she was no longer able to review at the site, she wanted to continue to be a contributor. Since she was one of three staff integral to the AAR Style Poll conducted in the summer of 2002, my thought was to ask that she do another survey for us, one that was comprehensive and “important.” Mary thought this sounded good and suggested a demographic survey. Given that one of my goals since beginning to write online has been to focus not only on reading and books, but on readers ourselves, I agreed immediately.
Mary developed a lengthy survey encompassing a whole range of demographic arenas from physical location to education to economic status to a variety of reading preferences – nearly 40 questions were asked and an astonishing 697 of you took part in the survey. Lets discover ourselves together and continue on to the results.
All About AAR’s Readers (Mary Novak)
I’d like to thank everyone who participated in our demographic survey and trusted us with so much personal information. I hope you find the results as interesting as I do. In all, we received almost seven hundred responses, although not every respondent answered every question. We are a reasonably eclectic group of individuals, but to see precisely who we are, read on!Who We Are – by Gender Women: 693 (99.4%) Men: 4 (.5%) Under 21: 3%
71 and up: <1%
Who We Are – by Age
The majority of our respondents were between 21 and 50 years old. Considering the number of college students on the Internet, I’m a little surprised that we had only twenty responses from people under 21. I wonder if these numbers would have been the same a decade ago, or if this is a sign that romance is losing touch with the youth market?
Average age: 39 Youngest respondent: 15 Oldest respondent: 86
Where We Live – in the World
As I watched the surveys come in, one of the things I found the most striking was how many different countries were represented. We got replies back from 31 different countries. Unsurprisingly, the USA led the pack at 82%, but several other countries were strongly represented, including Canada (5%), Australia (3%), and the United Kingdom (3%).
The first four nations listed provide 93% of the total:
USA: 568 (82%)
Canada: 38 (5%)
Australia: 23 (3%)
United Kingdom: 23 (3%)
There are two or more respondents from these countries:
New Zealand: 2
The Netherlands: 2
There is a single respondent from each of the following nations:
Hong Kong: 1
South Africa: 1
Where We Live – in the U.S.
Our US responses were geographically diverse, as well – we got surveys back from 45 states and the District of Columbia. The results were not evenly spread by region, however – 33% of our responses came from the South, 25% from the West and 23% from the Midwest, but only 18% from the Northeast.
More than a third of all our U.S. respondents reside in just five states. which include a power-house on each coast, as well as two large Mid-Western states, and the largest state in the Southwest:
California: 71 (13%)
Texas: 49 (9%)
Illinois: 29 (5%)
New York: 27 (5%)
Ohio 28: (5%)
While the preceding five states house 37% of our respondents, these grouping of 11 states houses a similar percentage:
New Jersey: 20 (4%)
Massachusetts: 20 (4%)
Virginia 23: (4%)
Washington: 20 (4%)
Connecticut: 16 (3%)
Florida: 16 (3%)
Georgia: 18 (3%)
Missouri: 17 (3%)
Maryland: 17 (3%)
Oregon: 15 (3%)
Pennsylvania: 16 (3%)
The sixteen states in the column to the left house the vast majority of our U.S. respondents – 74%. Most of the rest live in these 11 states:
Colorado: 10 (2%)
Michigan: 14 (2%)
Minnesota: 10 (2%)
North Carolina: 11 (2%)
Tennessee: 10 (2%)
Alabama: 8 (1%)
Arizona: 8 (1%)
Kansas: 6 (1%)
Kentucky: 6 (1%)
Oklahoma: 7 (1%)
Wisconsin: 8 (1%)
The remaining U.S. respondents live here:
Wash., D.C.: 5
Vermont : 5
New Mexico: 4
South Carolina: 4
New Hampshire: 3
North Dakota: 2
Rhode Island: 1
5,000 to 50,000: 24%
50,000 to 250,000: 23%
250,000 to 1 million: 20%
Over 1 milion: 25%
The Size of Our Cities
Of all the places I’ve lived, I had the hardest time finding used romance novels in New York City, so I was a little surprised that the largest number of respondents live in communities of a million people or more, although the distribution is pretty evenly spread between small, medium, and large cities. Considering the number of romances that use very small towns as a setting, I’m not sure what to make of the fact that so few of our respondents (only 7%) come from communities of 5,000 people or less. Does this reflect the total number of people who live in such small communities, the availability of romance novels there, or perhaps the ideal of the small town to authors and/or publishers?
Single, never married: 31%
Single, divorced: 6%
Single, widowed: 1%
Our Marital Status
Does reading romance make us more likely to get married or to be involved in long-term relationships? Or are those who are married or involved in long-term relationships more likely to read romance? According to 2000 census figures, 58% of the general U.S. population is either married or cohabitate (52% married – 6% live together). Our results are somewhat higher: 62% of our respondents are married or live together. 6% of our respondents are currently divorced, compared to almost 10% of the general population.
About Our Children 340 (49%) have them 355 (51%) don’tWhite: 84%
I left the question of “ethnicity” open to interpretation, and we received a rich variety of responses. Unfortunately – I’d been warned this might happen – with no boundaries the variety was a little too rich to interpret fully. I channeled the data into a rough approximation of a race table.
Our Religious Affiliations and Level of Spirituality
The majority of our respondents are Christian. The next largest set of respondents claim no religious affiliation, followed by those who failed to answer the question. Members of other religions formed the smallest group of all.
The remaining percentage is broken out into a variety of religions, none of which equaled at least one percentage point:
We did not provide a check-list for respondents, which means that the results are not quite as wrapped up in a bow as they could have been. On the other hand, how people deem themselves is instructive on its own:
Protestant = 39%
Catholic = 28%
“Christian” = 28%
(also includes Non-Demoninational Christians and those calling themselves Lapsed Catholics)
LDS/Mormon = 4%
Greek Orthodox = 1%
23% of Protestants did not specify their branch of Christianity. The remainder did:
- Lutheran = 17%
- Presbyterian = 6%
- Methodist = 16%
- Unitarian = 3%
- Anglican = 3%
- Episcopalian = 7%
- Baptist = 21%
- Evangelical = 4%
In terms of how spirituality or religious we think we are, picture “bell curve.”
Level of Spirituality
Not at all = 26%
Somewhat = 52%
Very = 23%
Our Sexual Orientation
It may be a sign of the times that this was not treated as one of the most personal questions asked – virtually everyone answered it, while many people avoided the “religion” and “income” questions. I was a little surprised that we didn’t turn out to be more diverse. While the rate of bi-sexuals tracks accepted percentages, the rate of lesbian or gay percentages does not. In a sense, though, this is logical as most romances feature romantic relationships between the two sexes.
With so many respondents, naturally there was a very wide range of careers named, including many unique ones. Some interesting trends did come to light, however. Unsurprisingly, many book-adjacent occupations such as writer, editor, teacher, student, and librarian were strongly represented, as were computer jobs. I was surprised by the number of romance fans who work in accounting and finance, however, and also surprised that doctors were quite under-represented, although other medical positions such as nurse-practitioner and researcher made a better showing.
1 – 10
11 – 20
21 – 30
21 – 39
41 – 49
50 on up
Our Work Week
The number of hours our respondents work per week is pretty widespread, with less than a third working the traditional (at least in the U.S.) 40 hour week (. There were a number of votes for 24/7, mostly from homemakers and stay-at-home moms.
Less than $20,000: 14%
$20,000 to $39,000: 23%
$40,000 to $59,000: 23%
$60,000 to $79,000: 14%
$80,000 to $99,000: 10%
$100,000 to $120,000: 7%
$120,000 and up: 8%
Our Annual Income
Considering our range of careers, it’s no surprise that the range of incomes is widely spread, too. These figures may be a little off because the survey question did not specify whether the income was household income or individual income. While most respondents assumed that household income was intended (which it was), some respondents did not.
We asked the following three questions about the educational level/achievements of our respondents:
- What is the highest level of education you received?
- If you attended college, what was your major?
- If you attended graduate school, what was your field?
Overall, we’re quite the educated bunch: almost 90% of us have been to college, and more than one-third have been to graduate school.
Less than high school: <1%
Graduated high school: 5%
Some college credits: 14%
Tech/Vocational school: 5%
Graduated 2-year college: 6%
Graduated 4-year college: 33%
Post-graduate training: 36%
Our fields of study varied widely as well, although Liberal Arts degrees were favored. English led the pack with 19% of all responses, while various disciplines of history made up another 13%.
Political Science: 4%
Computer Science: 2%
Art History: 1%
Home Economics: 1%
International Relations: 1%
Of the third of us who attended graduate school, Library Science was the highest represented field of study, followed closely behind by Education, which may seem odd when you consider there were far fewer, percentage wise, who did undergraduate work in Education. And while Political Science is the usual track into Law, that doesn’t quite compute here either.
Our Issue Orientation
At the time I prepared these survey questions, two areas I wanted to devle into were where our readers stand on economic and social issues, particularly as they are oft-discussed on the Potpourri Message Board. Definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” mean completely different things in different parts of the world, let alone to those of us living in the U.S. We did our best to provide the modern, commonly accepted U.S. definitions of the terms in asking how we placed ourselves if 1 = very liberal and 5 = very conservative.
While we are fairly evenly spread over economic issues, with a slight leftward title, the slant is considerably more pronounced on social issues, in which the greatest number of respondents identify themselves as “very liberal.” That’s rather interesting given that romance novels and their readers are considered conservative and traditional, don’t you think?
Bookstore chains: 33%
Used bookstore/swap shop: 15%
Non-book-specific retail outlets: 14%
Borrow from library: 7%
Independent bookstores: 2%
Our Books: Buying & Reading
You can buy books just about anywhere – CVS and Walgreens. Costco and Sam’s, Target and KMart, your local grocery store, the airport, and both brick and morter independent bookstores, bookstore chains, and used book stores.
We asked respondents where they buy their books, and if they buy them new or used. Your answers reflect many trends: the continuing popularity of chain bookstores; the small number of independent bookstores that can keep large stocks of romance novels; as well as the strength of online bookselling.
I was surprised that so many of our respondents buy most of their romances new. AAR’s – and other online – readers are savvy about what’s being released (and when). This increased awareness, combined with an inveterate reader’s zeal to read certain books the moment they are released, may be responsible for our not waiting until books to filter down to UBS. I know that for me, many of the new romances I buy are inspired by word of mouth at AAR.New: 61%
I was surprised that so many of our respondents buy most of their romances new. AAR’s – and other online – readers are savvy about what’s being released (and when). This increased awareness, combined with an inveterate reader’s zeal to read certain books the moment they are released, may be responsible for our not waiting until books to filter down to UBS. I know that for me, many of the new romances I buy are inspired by word of mouth at AAR.
<1 year: 1%
1 – 3 years: 8%
3 – 10 years: 25%
>10 years: 66%
In addition to asking readers where they buy their books and whether or not they buy them new, we also asked respondents how long they have read romance, the amount of time they spend reading romance, and how much money they spend in a year buying romance.
Reading Time Spent Reading Romance
Less than 25%: 8%
25 – 50%: 20%
50 – 75%: 35%
More than 75%: 38%
Fully two-thirds of all respondents have been reading romance for more than ten years? Gosh! Laurie, btw, just “celebrated” her tenth year of romance reading a few months ago, and I’ve been reading romance even longer than that. As for the amount of time spent reading romance, well, considering that an AAR survey is somewhat self-selecting, it’s not a shock that few of us spend less than 25% of our reading time on romance. But I’m a little surprised, though, that the more-than-75% group is so large – in fact there are more of us in this group than in any other.
I was surprised that so many of our respondents were in the $250-and-over categories, until I learned that the average price of a mass-market paperback is $7.99. If a reader bought just three single title historicals or contemporaries a month, they would spend more than $250 a year. Those of us buying one single title romance per week are spending more than $415 in a year. Does this mean we have marketing clout? What’s the best way to use our powers for the betterment of romance readers everywhere?
Money Spent Buying Romance
Less than $50: 8%
$50 – $100: 14%
$100 – $250: 24%
$250 – $500: 30%
More than $500: 23%
Number of Romances Read per Year
Less than 10: 2%
10 – 50: 22%
50 – 100: 26%
100 – 150: 20%
150 – 200: 13%
200 – 250: 7%
250 – 500: 10%
More than 500: 1%
My own personal Statistics Goddess – my sister Sarah – helped me compose this survey, and this question was the only one that took her aback. “More than five hundred? That’s more books than there are days in the year!” But I knew there’d be a few of y’all out there. Overall, though, it seems as if this is a hobby that we each spend time with as we can, all the way from one or two books a month on up to one or two a day.
Our Favorite Romances & Who Writes Them
Respondents in our survey were asked to name their three favorite romance authors. What’s most striking about the most popular among them is their longevity. Only a scant handful have been published for less than ten years. Perhaps it speaks to an ancillary of LLB’s First As Favorites theory, that our all-time favorites are often those who first brought us to the genre (even if their first books weren’t their best – and in some instances were their worst). Perhaps it shows how long it takes, and how many books, before an author really becomes a favorite.
Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
Suzanne Brockmann 1st Pub
Of the four authors who appear to be the first among our favorites – Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, Mary Balogh, and Suzanne Brockmann – each has been published for at least ten years. The “newbie” author of this elite group was first published in 1993. Each of the other three has been published for at least 20 years. All four authors received more than one hundred “votes” by respondents in our survey, and in AAR’s recent Top 100 Romances poll, these four authors accounted for just under 1/4 of titles in the poll.
Howard – 6 titles Roberts/Robb – 5 titles Balogh – 6 titles Brockmann – 7 titles
Howard and Roberts have maintained their popularity for a number of years with our readers; both Balogh and Brockmann have seen their stars rise. Additional analysis of our recent Top 100 Romances poll reveals that Nora Roberts received the greatest number of votes both in 2004 and 2000. Linda Howard was in third place both in 2004 and 2000. Mary Balogh moved up from 6th position in 2000 to the number two spot in 2004. Suzanne Brockmann jumped a similar number of spots – from tenth to sixth.
A number of authors received at least fifty mentions by our respondents – an even larger group received at least 25. And (nearly) all did well in our most recent Top 100 Romances poll as well:
Top 100 Titles
Top 100 Votes
JAK (and aka’s)
Mary Jo Putney
A whole slew of additional authors received at least five mentions in our survey. They are listed in descending order, beginning with Madeline Hunter, who received 23 mentions:
- Madeline Hunter (23)
- Loretta Chase (22)
- Rachel Gibson (20)
- Stephanie Laurens (19)
- Sandra Brown (12)
- Marsha Canham, Emma Holly (11)
- Susan Andersen, Jude Deveraux, Christine Feehan, Gaelen Foley, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Lowell, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Anne Stuart (10)
- La Vyrle Spencer (9)
- Johanna Lindsey (8)
- Catherine Coulter, MaryJanice Davidson, Diana Palmer, Penelope Williamson (7)
- Catherine Anderson, Adele Ashworth, Lorraine Heath, Iris Johansen, Maggie Osborne, Robin Schone, Kathleen Woodiwiss (6)
- Jane Austen, Elizabeth Chadwick, Christina Dodd, Roberta Gellis, Lora Leigh, Deborah Smith (5)
Our Favorite Types of Romance
It’s interesting to watch the rise and fall of sub-genres over time. Since I started to read romance in 1993, the single title Contemporary and Romantic Suspense novel have both taken off, and, more recently, Chick Lit and Romantica come into being. There are fewer and fewer Medievals and American Historicals to be found today than when I got into romance, and while it may seem that there’s less diversity among European Historicals (and we’re mostly talking about Regency-set Historicals, although it seems that more and more Victorian-set Historicals are being published, doesn’t it?), it remains the number one draw for readers. Although, if you combine the Contemporary and Romantic Suspense results (and the latter is truly a sub-set of the former), it’s just about a tie. But now that so many former historical authors have jumped ship to Romantic Suspense, are that any left who still want to take the leap?
European Historical: 35%
Romantic Suspense: 15%
Trad. Regency Romance: 9%
Series/Category: 5% Paranormal: 4%
American Historical: 3%
Women’s Fiction: <1%
Chick Lit: <1%
Also notable about this ranking of sub-genres is how much, relatively speaking, our readers like traditional Regencies even though its deathknoll is tolled every few months – are Zebra and Signet listening? Series Romances account for more than half the print titles published each month, and we may be reading them, but a whole lot of us don’t really seem to like them. And I suspect Paranormals will continue to grow in popularity, particularly now that there are so many “hybrid” authors bringing new blood into the romance fold. And Laurie surmises that Paranormals and Romantica are definitely the “next big thing”. She thinks they’ll hit like Chick Lit did a few years ago, and in that in some ways the market is being driven by the success of small publishers and e-publishing…do the names MaryJanice Davidson and Angela Knight ring a bell?
Our Favorite Genres other than Romance
Science Fiction: 158 (10%)
Mystery: 315 (21%)
History – Non-Fiction: 91 (6%)
Historical Fiction: 90 (6%)
General Fiction: 94 (6%)
Fantasy: 115 (8%)
Biography: 91 (6%)
15 votes = 1%
YA WF one percent
True Crime =
The “User-Friendly” Quotient
Because romance has long been considered the “ugly step-sister” in the publishing world, and as it’s still so darn easy for those who don’t read them to make fun of them, determining how “user-friendly” romances are to buy and read by the market, the public, and our family and friends, is critical. And so, we asked what the availability of romance was in local communities, how supportive family and friends are of romance reading, and whether or not we read romances in public.
How available is romance in your local community? Three options were given to respondents, ranging from “Strong – there are shops with knowledgeable employees that carry a wide range of titles and host events like author signings” to “Weak – the selection is limited to bestsellers and clerks are disinterested or downright hostile.” We can be thankful that more readers live in “strong” romance communities than “weak” ones, but the majority of respondents actually live in “moderate” communities, where “there are acceptable shops with helpful clerks and a midsized selection, but it’s hard to find more obscure titles.”
“How supportive of your romance reading are your family and friends?” wins the prize for the most questioned question. I suppose 2% of respondents replying by asking why we should ask, or declaring the issue irrelevant, isn’t all that earth-shattering. Still, considering that none of the really cheeky questions garnered that kind of response, I was a little surprised.
Not at all supportive: 11%
A little supportive: 23%
Somewhat supportive: 29%
Quite supportive: 27%
Extremely supportive: 9%
Why do you ask? 2%
Most respondents are somewhere in the middle, but it’s interesting that 10% get either a strongly positive or strongly negative response to their reading. I’d love to know more about what people at both extremes had in mind when they answered; what constitutes lack of support, or total support?Yes: 57%
Yes, but I hide covers: 27%
As to the question – Do you read romance novels in public? – it turns out that more of us read romances in public than don’t, but almost half who do only do so after hiding the covers. Several people specified that they mainly hide the tackier clinch covers, which leads me to wonder: are most people who hide the covers hiding the books themselves, or strictly the cover? Is it the romance inside, or the clinch outside, that’s being hidden? And are the majority who don’t hide covers as likely to wave around a clinch cover as they are a cover sporting some pearls and seashells, or a really nice castle?
Our Views on Spoilers
There are readers out there who are passionate about avoiding spoilers. Interestingly enough, there are just about an equal number of readers who are passionate about seeking spoilers. Most of us, though, are somewhere in the middle.
- I frequently seek out spoilers: 18%
- I don’t mind reading spoliers but don’t seek them out: 63%
- I avoid them at all times: 19%
I learned a lot from this survey, and not just about AAR’s readers. I also learned how to better frame questions for further surveys. Some of you may have noticed that a few questions we asked on the survey are not answered here today. I am continuing to work on these questions and hope to add their answers shortly:
- Other than Romance, what is your favorite literary genre?
- Other than reading, what are your other hobbies or activities?
- Which Romance genres do you enjoy?
Dabble with reservations: 13%
Our Secret Gardens (or do you read Erotica?)
Ever since answered questionnaires began to arrive via email, my fantasy title for this article has been “We read a lot more erotica than I’dve thought.” I’m not sure how blue we’re collectively talking about here, but I’m tickled that more than half of us (two-thirds if those who expressed reservations are counted as “yes” votes) are out there reading the hard stuff. It feels rather liberating.
What is Fanfiction?: 7%
Our Thoughts on FanFiction
Are AAR’s respondents fans of fanfiction? It’s…erotica oui, fanfiction non. For the 7% of you who don’t know what fanfiction is, it’s stories written by fans using characters from an existing fictional universe: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, and Harry Potter all have untold thousands of stories written about them. A lot of it is just as bad as you’d imagine, some of it is an interesting or disquieting look at raw fiction with all the filters turned off, and some of it is remarkably good.
For anyone who’s interested in a sample, here’s a link to an unusually selective archive that, as serendipity would have it, features our collectively favorite TV show: Better Buffy Fiction. I know it’s our collectively favorite TV show because of how you answered the next question.
Our Favorite TV Show
Respondents split about evenly between naming current favorites and all-time favorites. The current top shows all made the list, including a real powerhouse showing by the various CSI incarnations. Of all-time favorites, Buffy broke far ahead of the pack. Another popular choice was “Don’t watch TV at all – more time for reading” (listed by as many readers who chose Desperate Housewives). The chart below provides percentages based on all shows receiving at least five votes apiece.
CSI (combined): 17%
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (syndicated only): 9%
Desperate Housewives: 8%
Lost : 8%
Law & Order (combined): 7%
The West Wing : 6%
The Amazing Race: 4%
Friends (syndicated only): 4%
The Daily Show (cable only): 3%
The Gilmore Girls: 3% Sex and the City : 3%
The Simpsons : 2%
The X-Files (syndicated only): 2%
Stargate SG1 (cable only): 2%
Arrested Development: 1%
Farscape (cable only): 1%
Seinfeld (syndicated only): 1%
Six Feet Under (cable only): 1%
Our Favorite Movie
The most popular choices tended towards the romantic, including recent hits and old-time classics, but some interesting things got included and left off. The number one choice were the Lord of the Rings movies, romantic but not conventionally so. Second on the list was the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (I’m not sure how everyone independently labeled that one a “movie” rather than “TV”, but it was virtually unanimous). Two surprising near-omissions were Titanic and Sleepless in Seattle, which only received three votes apiece. As with our TV chart, the movie chart below provides percentages based on all shows receiving at least five votes apiece.
The Lord of the Rings movies: 16%
Pride and Prejudice: 10%
The Princess Bride: 9%
Gone With The Wind: 7%
Star Wars: 6%
The Shawshank Redemption: 4%
Love Actually: 3%
The Philadelphia Story: 3%
Last of the Mohicans: 3%
Sense and Sensibility: 3%
The Sound of Music: 3%
When Harry Met Sally: 3% While You Were Sleeping: 3%
Pretty Woman: 2%
Dirty Dancing: 2%
It’s a Wonderful Life: 2%
Notting Hill: 2%
Raiders of the Lost Ark: 2%
Bringing Up Baby: 2%
Ever After: 2%
Moulin Rouge: 2%
Singin’ in the Rain: 2%
Strictly Ballroom: 2%
Question: What is your occupation?
Administrative Assistant/Clerical: 44
Finance and Accounting: 32+28
College Professor: 15
Small Business Owner: 10
Doctor or Dentist: 7
Retired or Disabled: 20
Time to Post to the Message Board
This column kicks off our annual reader poll, and as such is a look back at 2004 both in general terms and as regards buried treasures. We began to discuss the 2004 reading year in the previous issue of ATBF; feel feel to continue that discussion now, and to also talk about your 2004 buried treasures. While AAR staff mainly focused on buried treasures published in 2004, not all did, and neither should you be limited in your discussion. Because we’d like to “save” discussion of your favorite 2004 romances for a future column, let’s frame this discussion around buried treasures. Obviously there will be some cross-over, but by framing it around buried treasures, we’re less likely to duplicate discussion. Let’s also take this opportunity to talk about how it feels to discover a buried treasure author or book. Finally, if any of the titles listed in this column were buried treasures for you, now’s the time to share that; other readers may pick up on your enthusiasm, coupled with ours, and read those books in time to vote on them.
Open our ballot form in a new window so you can use it after posting to the message board
Robin Uncapher, and Blythe Barnhill,
With terrific feedback from AAR staff and readers
(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)
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