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The first Australian Romance Readers Survey

1 January 2010

The first ever survey for Australian romance readers was held in September 2009. Full results from this survey are available in the ARRA Inc newsletter (issue 3), or are available on request. But here are some thoughts on the results from Kat Mayo, from Book Thingo

I spend a lot of time online, and most of my romance-reading friendships were made through blogs, Twitter and forums. Over the years, I’ve got the impression that the average romance bookworm reads around 10 books a month and pre-orders the newest releases, collecting hundreds and hundreds of books in their vast libraries or ebook readers. So when I read the results of the Australian Romance Readers Survey that ARRA conducted in September, I was glad to know that I’m closer to average than I thought.

The demographics of the 334 respondents are skewed, although this wasn’t unexpected. Only 6 men took the survey—which was 6 more than I’d have predicted—and over 40% overall were from NSW. Only 2 people under 20 were included, which surprised me—I read heaps of romances during high school. Given that the survey was targeted to romance readers, it’s not surprising that, for most, romance makes up the majority of their reading list for the year.

While a large number of us read fewer than 5 books a month, almost a third read 10 or more—that’s at least 1 book every 3 days. Given that most of us are between 21 to 55 years old—when most women are raising families and building careers—I can only conclude that there are many readers out there like me who sacrifice sleep and housework to sneak in a few hours of reading a day. Almost half of us take up to 2 days to finish a romance novel. Around 10% take 6 or more days to finish. I envy their self-control. Probably so does my husband.

One of my favourite questions in the survey was: Do you always carry a romance novel with you? I was shocked that more than half said no. I wonder if this will change if and when ebook reading devices become fashionable (and cheap). Most ebook readers read their ebooks on the computer; less than 10% use an ebook reader (if you’re one of those people, please see the side note at the end of this article—I’d love to know what you think of your ebook reader). Then again, more than 60% of us have never bought ebooks, although just under 40% buy them at least occasionally. I have a feeling that’s much higher than the average Australian reader, and probably speaks to the strength of the romance market for ebooks. Most ebook readers downloaded ebooks only from a legitimate site. It’ll be interesting to see how this number changes over the years.

Still, ebooks don’t even come close to being our format of choice. Paperbacks, including trade, were preferred by over 85% of readers—not surprising, since they’re cheaper and more easily found in second-hand shops. Most readers love historical or paranormal romances best. Ah, well, who can resist brooding rakes and immortals … Romantic suspense inches in at just over 10%, which makes sense given that Australian readers in general seem to favour mystery and crime fiction. Lots of people used the ‘other’ option to nominate multiple subgenres, and I admit I had a hard time choosing just one.

Almost 90% of us read at home. That surprised me, even though I’m one of those people. I would’ve thought more people read while commuting, but maybe it’s because the question didn’t allow for multiple selection. To the 3 people who read during spare time at work: I hope you’re either booksellers or librarians; otherwise, you’re just boasting. But my favourite is the reader who wrote ‘bathroom’. Indeed.

As a blogger, one of the things I most wanted to know was what influences us to buy books. The two most popular means are online (whether it be review sites, author sites, bookshops or blogs) or via some kind of newsletter. Word of mouth is more popular than blogs. Less than 9% of us find new releases at an actual bookshop, which was disappointing until I realised that most Australian romance bookshops send out newsletters, too. A lot of people chose ‘other’ and aside from variations of online or newsletter sources, the other significant source seems to be the library. Less than a third of us read reviews frequently, and more than a third have never read a romance blog. Even then, most of us prefer a friend’s review over an online review, with the lowly romance blog preferred by less than 20% of readers. What shocking numbers! Okay, not really, but it’ll be interesting to see if they change over the years as blogs become more mainstream. A lot of review sites are blogs, too, so it’s unclear how different respondents distinguished them.

It seems we’re a fairly adventurous lot, because over 80% said they’re very likely to or will definitely try a new author in the next year, and just under half said the same for trying a new subgenre. I wonder if that’s because most of us have tried pretty much all the subgenres out there and are quite comfy with our favourites. Most of us also can’t resist an impulse buy, with less than 10% able to stick strictly to a buying plan. The author is the critical factor when we’re deciding what to buy, followed by the blurb. Some readers go through an elaborate process that takes into account the author, the blurb, and publisher and recommendations from other sources. For most of us, planned purchases equal or outnumber impulse purchases. Sadly, I’m not part of the majority. Willpower—I have none.

Publishers, take note: we pay attention to covers. Only around 30% said covers are unimportant when deciding to buy a book. What?! Am I the only one who’s tempted to buy the most lascivious covers so I can wave them around the bus and see who has a bit of a perv?

Because most non-category romance books are published overseas, it’s interesting to see where we tend to buy our book. Most of us buy from independent romance bookshops, followed closely by discount stores and online shops. I love that the independent romance shops are the most patronised. I think we’re so lucky to have them, and I remember the day I learned there was actually a specialist romance shop in Australia. It became my ambition to open my own shop one day. (Now I realise I could never make it work because I’d be reading books all day instead of working.)

The great news for romance bookshops is that most of us buy up to 5 new romance books a month, with over 20% buying between 5 to 10 and 14% buying more than 10 new books a month. Some ‘other’ respondents pointed out that where they live limits their choices, and sometimes the discount stores are their only local choices. Quite a few said they don’t buy new books.

While 44% of us never buy used romance books, the other 44% buy up to 5 per month. Furthermore, 47% of us often or always borrow from the library. The majority said that new romance releases are usually available from the local library or can be ordered. Almost a third said they didn’t know, and I think that’s probably related to almost the same number of people who said that they never use the library for romance reading. If you’re one of those readers, I’d encourage you to check out your library and, if their romance section is languishing, ask how to request new books. It’s a great way to try new authors when you’re not sure you want to fork out the money to buy the book. Even if you don’t end up loving it, someone else might. (Think of high school girls seeking vicarious literary thrills!)

Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey. There has been a frustrating lack of information on the romance book market in Australia, and it’s wonderful that we finally have a picture of what readers like, what we buy, and how we make decisions. I’m looking forward to seeing how the numbers change next year. In the meantime I hope some of you will try a blog, buy a new author, and check out your local library!

  1. 12 April 2011 7:25 pm

    I think BeBook is already taking preorders and beta testers even though the product hasn’t officially shipped yet.

  2. 15 February 2010 4:58 pm

    Hi, Sonya, the BeBook is one of the ebook readers I’ve been considering. I’d love to know what you think of the Neo. I think BeBook is already taking preorders and beta testers even though the product hasn’t officially shipped yet.

  3. Sonya permalink
    15 February 2010 2:48 pm

    Hi all,
    About ebook readers.
    Try taking a look at the BeBook Neo at
    It will be out in March 2010. This is the one that I have been waiting for the last year and am going to get. I have looked at different ones kindle, sony etc and I personally think this is the one, but that is just my opinion. Good luck with what ever you choose.

  4. bookthingo permalink
    15 January 2010 1:13 pm

    Hi, Amber Sand. I don’t actually own a Kindle, so I can’t give you an answer. I’ve read people complaining about not having enough battery life for a long-haul flight, so I guess it depends how often you use it over a certain period.

    My understanding is that Kindle ebooks use a proprietary format. You’ll need to find out if there’s software available to your .pdb files to a format that the Kindle can read. The MobileRead Wiki has more info on Kindle specs and is a good starting point if you’re thinking of buying a Kindle.

    I hope this helps!

  5. Amber Sand permalink
    8 January 2010 9:02 pm

    Hi everyone.
    Great blog.
    I went to the Melbourne convention, but this is my first venture here. Great to see we’re all active.
    My question is battery life with the Kindle. How long between charges?
    Also format. I now have 200 ebooks (blush) which I read on my laptop. They’re a .pdb format. What format does Kindle have?
    Alison (aka Amber Sand)

  6. bookthingo permalink
    2 January 2010 1:04 am

    Thanks, graywave! The side note was a request for people to contact me about their ebook readers so I can have their input into my next newsletter article (which came out in December). If we ask Debbie nicely, she might post that article here, too. *ahem* That article was a brief summary of ebook reader options for Australian readers.

    I’m glad you’ve had a good experience with Kindle. I’ve heard mixed reviews. On the positive side, readers have told me that the reading experience has been much better than anticipated, even for die-hard paper book fans. On the downside, I think Kindle is still grappling with geographic restrictions (although this is a problem for ebooks across the board). Plus a lot of romance readers I’ve chatted with have expressed concern about the proprietary format of the Kindle.

    I do think the wireless capability is a huge bonus and, for me, probably the most attractive feature of the Kindle.

  7. graywave permalink
    1 January 2010 6:38 am

    Hi, I couldn’t find “the side note at the end of this article” but I’ll tell you about my Kindle anyway. I got it a couple of weeks after the Kindle was launched in Australia, having waited two years since it was launched in the States. (I’d say this could be one of the big reasons why ebooks and ebook readers didn’t show up well in your survey – Australians just haven’t had access to them until very recently.)

    I loved it from the beginning. It’s light, easy to use, easy to read and incredibly convenient. Buying books from Amazon is so easy, I’ve doubled the rate I buy them! Of course, I’m a bit of a technophile, so it’s my wife’s reactions that are far more interesting.

    She has always loved books. She’s one of those people who are sensually involved with the smell and touch and sight of them. She didn’t like the idea of an ebook reader and has always said they are a bad idea, that books can never be replaced, and so on.

    She was pleasantly surprised, when she tried the Kindle, that the experience didn’t suck the way she had imagined it would. Then she read a whole book on it. Since then, I have been unable to pry it from her grasp. She just won’t let me have it back. She insisted that the books I got her for Christmas were all ebooks (which saved me a *lot* of money by the way) and now says she will never buy a paper book again. To say she is a convert is something of an understatement!

    I now need to buy another ebook reader so that I can use one too(probably another Kindle, since the choice in Australia is severely limited and this is the only one with wireless shopping – which is great.)

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