Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

2008 Romance Reader Stats

RWA has posted the results of its 2008 survey of readers along with industry busting numbers on the romance readership.  In 2008, 74.8 million people read at least one romance. (I wonder if they are counting readers of Danielle Steele and Nicholas Sparks and Emily Giffen and the like since those books are denoted as “romance” at least on Bookscan).  The largest portion of romance readers are in the south at 37.1%.

The median age is 44.9 years and readers between the ages of 31 and 49 compriise 44 percent of the readership.

Books are most often purchased at a mass merchandiser: Target, Sams, Costco, or Wal-Mart. Second are online sales at 37% (26.4% at an online book merchant and 9.6% “other online”).

More than half of romance readers who read in electronic format do so on a computer or cell phone (not a dedicated device). For romance readers, 5.4% of them are buying/reading e-books, but 90.6% of readers buy a mass market with just under 47.2% buying hardcover.

Readers are more likley to try a new author based upon recommendations, seeing the book at the store or library and advertisements in books that they are currently reading.  The most popular online resource for romance readers is the retailer website. (I’m guessing that is Amazon).

More stats here.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. ReacherFan
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 13:33:52

    I was always told I would become a statistic! :-)

    I wonder how many more people and books would enter that count if they included stats from places like PaperbackSwap? The single most active forum is Romance followed by Paranormal, which is overwhelming romance as well, and the Mystery and Thrillers. There is no separate Romantic Suspense, but you can tell by the books listed, it’s popular. Of all the mysteries, cozies, including ‘paranormal’ cozies are by far and away the most popular. So if ‘romance’ and ‘chick lit’ of various types were added together, I’d say they make better than 50% of the fiction side of the site. The only thing that exceeds romance/chick-lit are books like ‘Eat This, Not That’ and various cookbooks and self-help. Authors on the ‘Top 50 Wish Listed Books’ in fiction?

    Stephanie Meyer (many books in the top 50)
    Sherrilyn Kenyon
    Jody Picoult
    Patricia Briggs
    J. R. Ward
    Charlaine Harris
    Mary Janice Davidson

    Sound familiar? What surprised me most? The complete and total absence of espionage/action thriller genre that has several major releases this year in May, June and July – all of which are on the NYT’s ‘bestseller’ list.

    Does this mean that the preponderance of PBS members are women? Or are the preponderance of leisure readers women period? Intuitively, I’d say PBS attracts a higher percentage of women, but I also believe women are a much higher percentage of leisure readers. How that demographic is influenced by full-time employment is hard to say, but I suspect it is. In a family of readers, I read more than the rest combined! I always did and employment had little impact, even now as a self-employed small business owner.

    Someday, I would like to see research on readers based on the number of books read each year, regardless of how acquired – e books, lending library, bought from a store or website, used books, swapped books – etc. based on age and sex. Now those are some statistics I really like to see.

  2. joanne
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 16:44:35

    I suppose the $$$ amounts and ### amounts must be right but the rest is just well, statistics. Who answers these questions?

    Impulse purchases outnumber planned romance novel purchases
    hmmm. My only impulse buying would be ebooks. If I trek to the bookstore it’s with certain books in mind.

    About 12 percent of romance novels are either purchased as gifts or received as gifts
    I wonder if this means gift certificates? Except for the Roberts/Robb hardcover new releases no one I know would have a clue what romance book I have or haven’t read yet.

    60 percent of romance readers bought at least one new romance novel in 2008
    Who? What romance reader buys only one new book a year? That just doesn’t make sense to me no matter how often a reader uses the UBS or a swap site.

    45.1 percent were not aware that authors receive no royalty payment for the purchase of used books
    Really? Come on, does that seem plausible to anyone?

    Anyway thank you Jane, it’s interesting to see where people are shopping for their books (even if they do lie about their ages) *grin*

  3. Zoe Winters
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 17:51:55


    You’d be surprised at the lack of understanding the average reader has about anything regarding royalties and such. I am not at all shocked by the 45.1 percent were not aware that authors receive no royalty payment for the purchase of used books.

    I’m sure if they sat and thought about it, they would realize it would be impossible to compensate original authors that way, but most people don’t sit and think about it.

    You have to remember a lot of readers (and I know this because I was in email with one the other day) think Scrib’d is like a big library and if it’s free on Scrib’d it’s not piracy, even if it’s an ebook by a NY Times bestselling author, somehow they think the unlimited downloading of these books is like borrowing a book from the library.

    Most readers have no clue how publishing works. While some readers are really savvy and reading sites like DA and Smart Bitches, I’d say that’s not really your average reader of any genre.

  4. Jessica
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 18:36:10

    More than half of romance readers who read in electronic format do so on a computer or cell phone (not a dedicated device).

    Wow. I wonder if netbooks and kindle apps for iphone, etc., have done as much or more to drive ebook sales as dedicated devices?

    I think I need to separate the question about who buys an ereader from the question of who buys ebooks once and for all in my mind.

  5. Jane
    Jun 17, 2009 @ 23:45:32

    @Jessica: Clearly I will have to do a poll on this. I see time and again, though, that dedicated readers are simply price prohibitive right now.

  6. Heidi
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 14:26:46

    I certainly bought e-books and read them on my dh’s laptop or ACK! printed them out, but it wasn’t nearly as convenient as when I got my Kindle. Now I would say I buy 4 or 5 times as many e-books as before. Beforehand I was getting my fix buying mainly used or new books or borrowing them from someone.

    And I DO prefer the hardcover to read, when I’m reading an actual book. So that is why I do (blushing) still frequent the used bookstores, because I can find the hardcovers cheaper. Also, sometimes you can’t find an e-book on the older books (ex: Linda Howards “Open Season”) and so I bought the used copy to give to a friend to read.

  7. joanne
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 19:05:20

    I would like to clarify what I was saying because sometimes I sound like such an ass when, in fact, I’m only an ass sometimes.

    @Heidi: I don’t think you should be blushing over using a UBS. It’s a business I think most of us have used for years to get back issues of fav authors and to try new authors. My collections wouldn’t be complete without the used books I find and buy at UBS. (Publishers are you listening?)

    If a reader starts a series in the middle or discovers an author after they’ve stopped writing then finding the earlier books new or in e-form is often either impossible or impossibly expensive. My surprise was that a reader wouldn’t ‘know’ that the author doesn’t get compensated for a used book purchased.

    @Zoe Winters: I just think maybe comparing buying a used book and downloading a copy that you don’t pay for is like comparing apples & oranges. It’s been discussed until most of us are tired to death of the topic because if people don’t know — or want to know — the difference then they just don’t.

    But pirated ecopy or used book most readers have to know the publisher & author are no longer getting paid (or paid again as the case may be) —unless they’re as dumb as a brick.

  8. Evangeline
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 19:45:36

    The Wal-Mart/Target/Sam’s thing is pretty unreliable for me. For the past year W-M has been horrible at stocking new single titles each month as the romance section shrinks in comparison to the YA and SF/F sections, and Target has never been any good at a robust romance section (more mainstream fic and chick-lit). Sam’s & Costco only carry popular HC.

    I also find it interesting that now there is no preeminent subgenre. I remember seeing romantic suspense dominate reader choices for so long, with historicals and contemporaries trailing not far behind–also, no more breakdown of favorite historical settings. But all in all, this latest survey seems rather generic and general when compared to those undertaken in the past.

  9. Zoe Winters
    Jun 19, 2009 @ 15:48:28

    hahahahaha Joanne, I’m only an ass sometimes too! :D

    I agree that used books and piracy are apples and oranges. I was merely stating that a lot of information we take for granted because we’re more in the loop, many other people don’t realize. i.e. like the woman I talked to (who wasn’t a moron), who thought Scrib’d was like a library and if a book was there for free it must be a legal copy.

    She didn’t know or understand that a lot of illegal copies of things get uploaded to Scrib’d. She also didn’t know or understand that it can’t be a library if there are unlimited downloads. That doesn’t make her stupid, it just means she doesn’t know a lot about publishing, how it works, and the difference between legal and illegal copies. (Her daughter wants to be a writer and was discouraged to find out publishers want a finished manuscript. These aren’t stupid people, just people who aren’t savvy about publishing.)

    On the used book issue and authors not getting a royalty from it… I “think” that anytime anyone produces a play they have to pay a royalty for it’s use if it’s still in copyright, even if it’s just a small community theatre production.

    People may be misinformed and believe that a used bookstore has to pay some sort of royalty in order to resell an author’s work. Such a thing wouldn’t work very well logistically at all especially on that scale, but most people don’t take the time to pick issues apart enough to realize that.

    People naturally care more about the things in life that directly affect them and often do not bother to become well-informed about anything that doesn’t. To an outside observer it might seem such people aren’t very intelligent, but it’s only because we take certain things for granted that other people just haven’t thought much on.

    To be fair I know next to nothing about how the music or film industries work. There are many things a musician or filmmaker would know and might even “expect” everyone to know, but I’m not a moron for not knowing it. That’s not my world.

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