Only recently was I able to take a closer look at the results of M.K. Tod’s Historical Fiction Reader’s Survey, assisted by Richard Lee of the Historical Novel Society. The survey was conducted in 2013 and the high-level data were published in January 2014 (follow first link above). Now that she’s had more time to crunch the numbers, the author has posted more in depth analyses of those numbers, which she publishes on her blog. With over 2,000 participants, some of the results were surprising.
1) Since most everyone now has smartphones, tablets, laptops, and more, I was amazed to see that although most people are purchasing their books online, 44% of respondents still primarily read print books. Even more amazing? The younger generation still loves their print books, with 50% of the “under 30” crowd preferring print books over electronic. Who would have thought that?!
2) The author and subject mean more to prospective buyers than price, length, or publisher. “Trusted recommendation” comes in third after author and subject. Price is still very important to the “under 30” group, however.
3) Most, like myself, don’t actively look to see whether a book is indie or traditionally published before reading, but the numbers were close.
4) As die-hard as we historical fiction fans are, most of the respondents surveyed said historical fiction comprised only 25-50% of their reading for the year. And women make up the majority of those that read primarily historical fiction.
5) Readers prefer following fictional characters within real frameworks as opposed to more biographical, fantasy, or romance-driven offerings.
What does all this mean? I think the e-book revolution, while still going strong, has not spelled doom for print books, despite what some have suggested. Also, everyone has heard about the price wars between book sellers and book publishers. These data suggest that readers may be willing to pay more for authors and subjects they enjoy. (Now how much more is still an open question.) But author loyalty is real. Though most still don’t look to see whether a book is indie or traditionally published, that may change over the upcoming years as indie offerings grow. Women continue to be a major sector of historical fiction readers and the public enjoys books with fictional characters in historical circumstances.
If you are a reader, this may not mean much to you. If you are a writer, perhaps these numbers will affect the books you are or will be writing. I strongly urge you to examine the entire survey for a fuller picture by using the links above as I’ve only cherry picked here. But taken as a whole, I think these numbers strongly suggest that historical fiction is not as passé as some have implied; that the pricing wars in the news have more to do with businesses squabbling than the future of the publishing industry in general; that readers care much more about the story than how and by whom it is published; and that strong stories conquer nearly everything else. All in all, good news for writers and readers alike as we prepare to welcome a New Year!