Saturday, January 08, 2005

Mystery in our libraries, romance in our bookstores

From the Books section at USA

Librarians can now verify something they have long
suspected: The fiction most sought-after by patrons
is mysteries.

"We've done book-buying surveys over the years, and
it always comes out that mysteries are the first and
romance is a close second," says Francine Fialkoff,
editor of Library Journal. "I do think this (list) just
confirms that libraries are huge lenders of mysteries.
Almost every one of the popular fiction (titles) is a

Don't be misled by that quote. Mystery doesn't even come close to outselling romance novels, so the "book-buying surveys" Ms. Fialkoff mentions must refer only to those books purchased by libraries for their patrons.

According to a recent Romance Writers of America survey, romance fiction generated $1.41 billion in sales in 2003, accounting for a whopping 48.8% of all paperback fiction sold. If we toss in the hardbacks and count all books sold, the numbers are a still-impressive 33.8% for romance, with mystery a very slow second, crossing the finish line at 25.6%, just edging out general fiction at 24.9%.

Clearly, mystery isn't breathing down the neck of the romance genre. The librarians, bless 'em, may look at their own statistics and assume mystery is the hottest thing out there, but we romance readers know that isn't the case.

What interests me is that readers appear to be getting the bulk of their romance in stores (woo-hoo, doesn't that sound exciting?) and then going to the library for their mysteries. Why is that, I wonder? Because mass-market romance books are small (easy to carry in a purse) and cheap, not to mention available at grocery stores? Or could it be that we think of a mystery as something we're likely to read only once, while a good romance novel is worth buying because we might want to read it again?

Why do we borrow mystery but buy romance? Would anyone care to venture an opinion?


Anonymous said...

Unless the writing style is knock-your-socks-off, once a mystery's solved the magic leaves the story. Why return when you know who done it? Romance (perhaps) resembles a comfortable sea cottage populated by people the reader either wishes s(he) knew or wants to emulate; a regular holiday escape with friendly faces. Hence the borrow/buy dichotomy. Just a thought.


Brenda Coulter said...

Exactly what I was thinking, JH.

Susan Kaye said...

It might also have something to do with the demographics of who uses the library. I believe the average patron of libraries is getting older and may have more interest in mysteries than romances.

And this is not a veiled attempt to make people of age into neuter, asexual drudges. But, publishers generally want romances involving twentysomethings. I lived through my 20s, and my 30s and ragbagged the tee shirts long ago. I am greatly heartened to see that there are small steps being made to include those of us who are more "mature."

Give me men and women who are wrestling with remembering to take their gingko biloba and struggling with annuities or straight pension plans.

Vive la hip replacement!!

By the bye, Brenda, Finding Hope was by far the best LI I've ever read.

Take care--Sue

Brenda Coulter said...

Sue, I hate to argue with you after that lovely compliment. ;-) But according to Romance Writers of America, it's not the twentysomethings who are buying the bulk of romance novels. Only 16% of romance readers are younger than 25; 21% of them are between the ages of 25 and 34. That only adds up to 37%, which means it's the oldsters (you and me, babe) who are reading the books.

Do older women place a higher value on reading novels, or do they simply have more time to read? Beats me. All I know is that when my boys hit high school, I suddenly found the time to begin reading--and writing--romance. And as much as I'd love to think of myself as special, I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm just an average 48-year-old woman.

Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Brenda! No way! you aren't 48!
And I agree that older women read the romances. My grandmother was the whole reason I first started reading romances. I was 10 years old. and she had a subscription to every line that harlequin put out. she was in her 60s.