Harris Poll Surprises Authors

Today the Harris Poll released the results of a survey of America’s Reading Habits. Every writer should read the article and think about the big picture.

The Harris Poll Article

I normally eschew poll results. The sampling is always so small to proclaim far reaching pronouncements about whatever topic is at hand. In this case there were only 2,775 participants.

Regardless, I found it fascinating that the Mystery/Thriller genre was named the number one choice for reading. The general rule of thumb is that Romance is the #1 genre. We could argue that one all day long.

But more instructive is the fact that the #5 favorite author is Tom Clancy who has not had a new novel in half a decade! (His new novel Dead or Alive is coming out in December.) Thus the respondents were not necessarily naming the authors they are currently reading. For me, this shed some doubt on how knowledgeable the consumer is. This mean readers tend, like we all do, to focus on the “brand name.”

Another intriguing piece of the survey is that 57% of women read Mystery/Thriller versus only 39% of the men. Try telling that to most publishers…

Men choose Science Fiction (32%) more than women (20%). At least this stat tracks most marketing assumptions.

And concerning Non-Fiction it is interesting that Religion (26% of all respondents) is a more popular as a topic than Politics (17%). That isn’t necessarily reflected in the bestsellers lists! The number one non-fiction category was History followed by Biography and then Religion.

I am very curious to hear what your observations are when you view this poll. Does it reflect your reading patterns? What about the habits of your friends, neighbors, or church members?

Are there any implications for the publishing industry? or is this simply something to be ignored?

16 Responses to Harris Poll Surprises Authors

  1. Avatar
    Sarah Forgrave October 7, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    I’m most surprised by the stat that women read more mystery/thriller/crime than romance. In the small sampling of my bookworm-filled family, I’d say about 70% read romance and 30% prefer mystery/thriller/crime. I’d be curious to see if the poll’s numbers hold true for the average female CBA reader.

  2. Avatar
    Douglas Perry October 7, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    I would say that the poll definitely reflects my reading tastes, though I don’t know if that means that I am normal. I would say not.

    Tom Clancy has been one of my favorites for a long time, along with Crichton, and Connelly.

    For me though, I read what I like to write.

  3. Avatar
    Susan Richardson October 7, 2010 at 7:09 pm #

    I wonder if these results would translate into the Christian industry? Though the markets do seem to be coming closer together in many ways, the Christian market is often “off trend” compared to general trade. Take biographies, for example. Those still show up in the top in general trade, but in CBA only the most prominent ones sell strongly.

  4. Avatar
    Ronie October 7, 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    For me, and most of my close friends, we all read suspense/thriller more than we read romance. I am also not surprised by the Science fiction statistic–I think that’s right on target.

    BTW: My husband is stoked to find out about Clancy’s new book. Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. Avatar
    Melinda Evaul October 7, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    It reflects my reading habits. I write romance but read action thrillers. Yes, I fit in the middle-aged women category. I’d say that many of the women read romance but won’t pass up a good thriller I offer them. I also agree that in our church most men would read books on religion but also political books. Many of the men also read thrillers or political intrigue. I know a few who exclusively read non-fiction biography or history.

  6. Avatar
    Ginny October 7, 2010 at 10:35 pm #

    I wonder if the unexpected findings have anything to do with the advancing age of women readers. The baby boomers are older, and might be outgrowing romances.

    I also wonder if trends in TV shows might account for the greater interest in mystery/thrillers. CSI and such might have an impact.

  7. Avatar
    Loree Lough October 8, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    As a former beat reporter, I witnessed dozens of occasions when [articles’] facts were changed and/or poll numbers skewed to appease advertisers, and the experiences turned me into a “data collections skeptic.” This poll, as a whole, doesn’t reflect my reading tastes–or those of anyone I know well–which begs the question: Where did Harris find the 2,775 participants who responded to these questions?

  8. Avatar
    Elizabeth Bohan October 8, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    I’m thinking about these curious numbers. First, I think women like to read more suspense because we like the thrill of figuring things out, and most often there are still relationship issues that women like, without being “just romance.” I think it may also be due to the rise in shows like “NCI,” “Criminal Minds,” and other televison suspense/thrillers which many women I know watch and then develop a desire to read things like this as well. And, if the ending is successful and the “bad guy” is caught and gets his/her due it’s all the more appealing. It’s kind of like, “Well there is still some justice in the world, or at least in this book.”

    I’m not surprised about religion as I think “religion” in the general public encompasses more that what it used to, including “spirituality” and things like religious cults, one which is WICA, or religion of the witches covens which is rapidly growning. So, it really depends on what is meant by “religion.” Also, people will always be searching for God, calling themselves gods, or hopefully serving and loving the one true God.

    History, as number one,I’m not surprised especially since there are a lot of history buffs like the re-enactment folks, and those like my brother who design models and miniature battlefieds based on their studies of various wars. Then you have your pioneer and western lovers who can’t get enough of reading about the old west and all the lore. I believe joining this lot, are those who are into geneologies, who may read historical books to better understand their heritage.

    Men reading sci-fi more than women? I’m not surprised at all, and I’m guessing it will always be like that.

    I’m a nurse of 30 years, and I have been used to looking for causes of symptoms so this is very similar. I may not be right, but I feel like these are very strong possibilities for the numbers.

  9. Avatar
    Maurine Howell October 8, 2010 at 8:55 pm #

    Polls are like statistics–you can manipulate them to prove anything you want them to. The last two years when other publishers were having trouble keeping their heads above the waters of no sales, Harlequin which publishes romance almost exclusively was up in sales. I question the accuracy of the Harris Poll. Also those who named Tom Clancy as their favorite author probably haven’t read a book since his last one was published. Or maybe they hadn’t read any books and his name was the first to come to mind.

  10. Avatar
    Jennifer Slattery October 9, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    I would wonder how the poll was taken. Most polls are largely inaccurate because only a select number, and perhaps even type, of responders will even bother to take the test. I would wonder what the overall personality of poll takers is. I either hang up or throw the poll away. Perhaps political readers are also poll takers, or whatever.

    I would also want to know how many of them get their books at the library and how many actually purchase them. I would also be curious to see if this tendency was also connected to a basic personality type.

  11. Avatar
    Lynnda Ell October 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm #

    Steve, I couldn’t get past the beginning of the second paragraph: “Among those who say they read at least one book in an average year…” Who would call a person who reads “at least one book in an average year” part of the “reading public?” Now if they would poll those who said they read at least one book in an average month, I might pay more attention. (My hunch is that they probably had trouble identifying the former, much less finding the enough of the latter for a statistical sample.) In my opinion, with the basis so skewed, the data is meaningless for writers.

  12. Avatar
    Nona Mills December 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    It reflects my reading habits. I write romance but read action thrillers. Yes, I fit in the middle-aged women category. I’d say that many of the women read romance but won’t pass up a good thriller I offer them. I also agree that in our church most men would read books on religion but also political books. Many of the men also read thrillers or political intrigue. I know a few who exclusively read non-fiction biography or history.

  13. Avatar
    Ken K. Chartrand October 31, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    I love watching romantic comedies and musicals on TV,yet I tend to write thriller style books.

  14. Avatar
    Carol Ann Hoel May 10, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    I read mystery/suspense. I also read many non-fiction books by Christian authors.I am an author of a Christian novel, classified as Young Adult, but it has been enjoyed by all ages of readers.


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