2011 ROMStat Report
Romance Sales Increased to $1.368 billion in 2011
A struggling U.S. economy, the bankruptcy and liquidation of Borders Group, competition from other forms of entertainment, and a number of other challenges plagued the publishing industry in 2011.
These difficulties resulted in a decrease in the U.S. consumer book publishing industry’s net revenue from $10.11 billion in 2010 to $9.583 billion in 2011, according to Simba Information estimates.1 And when one looks at consumer books by book type, information from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) shows most book types—adult hardcover, adult paperback, adult mass market, children’s/YA hardcover, children’s/YA paperback, and audio books—experienced a decrease in domestic net sales from 2010 to 2011. The only growth categories were downloaded audio books, electronic books, and religious books. Though the sales of e-books increased by 117.3 percent, e-book sales did not offset losses on the print side of the market.2
Romance’s Continued Popularity
Romance fiction revenue actually increased from $1.355 billion in 2010 to $1.368 billion in 2011, and it remains the largest share of the consumer market at 14.3 percent.3
Romance was the fourth best-performing category on the best-seller lists in 2011 based on consolidated ranking across the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly lists (as compiled by Simba Information and Stuart Johnson & Associates). Romance was ranked as the second best-performing category on the lists for the consolidated 2007–2011 period. In 2011, an astounding 627 editions of 474 titles by 236 authors under 80 imprints appeared on the lists, with 51 new authors hitting best-seller status.4
The top 10 romance imprints on the best-seller lists in 2011 (in order of rank) were: Mira, Algonquin, HQN, Ballantine Books, St. Martin’s Press, Avon Books, Grand Central, Berkley, Jove, and Zebra. Top-performing romance subgenres/subcategories included historical, suspense, paranormal, Christmas, and vampires.
Avid, Long-term Romance Readers
According to the results of RWA’s 2012 romance book buyer survey (conducted by Bowker® Market Research), 91 percent of romance buyers are women; approximately half of romance buyers are between the ages of 30–54 years.
There’s good news on the reader front: 31 percent of the romance book buyers surveyed consider themselves avid readers (almost always reading a romance novel), and 44 percent are frequent readers (read quite a few romance novels). Only 25 percent are an occasional reader—someone who reads romance on and off, like when on vacation.
A remarkable 57 percent of avid readers and 43 percent of frequent readers have been reading romance for 20 years or more. Even 41 percent of occasional readers have been reading romance for 20 years or more.
What do readers most enjoy about romance novels? The happy ending, of course! Other words and terms associated with the enjoyment of reading romance were: relaxation, hope, escapism, uplifting/inspirational, feel-good, and light/easy reads.
Romance Readers and the Digital Age
Bowker’s Monthly Tracker shows that e-book sales of romances have proportionally doubled in one year, up from 22 percent in the first quarter of 2011 to 44 percent in the first quarter of 2012. This is in comparison to the total market, where only 26 percent of books are purchased in e-book format.
Mass-market paperbacks make up 29 percent of romance purchases, while trade paperbacks and hardcovers lag behind at 17 and 8 percent, respectively. Other formats came in at 1 percent each.
According to the results of RWA’s romance buyer survey, a whopping 94 percent of romance buyers read romance e-books (includes purchased and free titles). Romance e-books are being read mostly on a Kindle (41 percent), distantly followed by the Nook (16 percent), Kindle Fire (13 percent), iPad (10 percent), and other devices.
Where are readers buying romances? Romance is most often purchased from Amazon.com (25 percent), other e-commerce sites (19 percent), Walmart (13 percent), book clubs (11 percent), Barnes & Noble (11 percent), and e-book/audio book download sites (10 percent). A relatively small percentage of romances are bought from BN.com (4 percent), other online retailers (4 percent), supermarket and grocery stores (3 percent), and warehouse clubs (3 percent).5
According to the Bowker Monthly Tracker (New Books Purchased, Q1 2012), the top overall reason a romance buyer purchases a romance is because she likes the author (45 percent). Other top factors include liking to read the books in the series; liking the topic/subject; and the price.
When broken down into online and “offline” activities that influence the purchase of a romance novel, RWA’s romance buyer survey results show the top “very influential” offline activities as:
• Enjoying the author’s previous books
• The book being part of a series
• The description on the back cover or flaps, and
• The recommendation of a friend, relative or other trusted source.
Offline activities ranked “not influential” are postcards/trading cards, notepads, pens, calendars, bookmarks, and other promotional items/advertisements.
Major online activities influential to the purchase of a romance novel are online bookseller websites; reading about it/seeing it online; seeing it on a best-seller list; the author website; and seeing it discussed on Amazon.com. Lower down the list of influential online activities are seeing the book discussed on Goodreads; following the author on Twitter; and banner ads.
RWA’s romance buyer survey asked how likely it is that a romance reader would purchase a romance title based on certain incentives, and the incentives that received the most “very likely” responses included lower prices on books; a “buy one, get one free” offer; a discount coupon; and lower-priced paperback versions that come out sooner.
But before they can buy these books, readers first have to learn about them. According to Bowker Monthly Tracker (New Books Purchased, Q1 2012), buyers become aware of romances through the following ways:
• In-store display/on shelf/spinning rack
• Read an excerpt from the book online
• Received recommendation from a friend/relative
• Author’s website
• Read a teaser chapter from forthcoming book in a book they were reading (print)
• Online retailer recommendation on a retailer website
Less influential awareness factors included online customer reviews, best-seller lists, e-mail from retailer, a teaser in a book read online, a book review, and direct mail/catalog.
What’s in Store for 2012?
The overall U.S. consumer book market is projected to decrease 3.7 percent in 2012 to $9.227 billion amid due to a trend of consumers not buying or reading as many books, as well as piracy and concerns about a developing “culture of free” in regards to digital entertainment.6
The romance market doesn’t escape unscathed in 2012, as Simba Information estimates that the romance market will level off with $1.338 billion in sales, though it will maintain its dominance of the consumer market at 14.5 percent. This dominance is a true testament to the romance writers and readers who help keep the industry afloat.
1. Norris, Michael, ed. Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2012. (Stamford: Simba Information, 2012), 11.
2. Norris and AAP, Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2012, 13.
3. Ibid, 81 and 156.
4. Ibid, 157.
5. Bowker Monthly Tracker, New Books Purchased, Q1 2012.
6. Norris and AAP, Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2012, 11.