By: Marie Force
New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author
I’ve recently concluded the first of what I hope will be a regular reader survey. Putting a finger on the pulse of the customer is always a good idea in business, and our business is no exception. I drafted the questions with the help and input of numerous other authors who took advantage of the opportunity to ask some of their most burning questions.
The survey was conducted from June 1-30, 2013, via Survey Monkey, and as many as 2,951 people replied to most of the 44 questions formulated by myself and more than a dozen other authors.
To summarize the most interesting results…
- Readers prefer e-books to paperbacks (77 to 52 percent). However, the question allowed readers to choose all formats that apply, and there appears to be crossover between the two most popular formats, indicating some readers buy books in multiple formats when the paperback is available. I think it’s extremely interesting to note that more than half are still looking for their books in paperback. That will be a number to watch in future surveys. Will it go down or remain steady at about half?
- Nearly 80 percent buy their books from Amazon, with Barnes & Noble scoring a distant second at 23 percent and iBookstore/Apple coming in third at nearly 13 percent. I’ll be interested to see how this result changes or shifts over the next year. I believe first place will remain around the same percentage while the distance between second and third place will continue to narrow.
- Nearly 58 percent of those surveyed have not visited a brick and mortar bookstore in the last year or have done so twice in the last year. Twenty-five percent visit a bookstore once a month and twenty percent are there twice a month or more.
- A whopping 81 percent of those surveyed listed romance as their favorite genre with mystery coming in a very distant second at almost 5 percent. According to the Romance Writers of America, romance was the top-performing category on the major bestseller lists in 2012 and accounted for $1.438 billion in sales in 2012, so it’s not surprising that most of those surveyed chose romance as their primary genre of interest.
- For those who chose romance as their favorite genre, nearly 28 percent chose contemporary romance as their favorite subgenre with historical scoring second place with 23 percent. I found it interesting that only 2.6 percent chose New Adult as their favorite romance genre. That leads me to wonder if readers are aware of the “New Adult” name the industry has given to romances about women in college/early 20s, or if the genre isn’t really as popular as it seems, or yet again if New Adult was lumped in with contemporary by some respondents.
- Sixty-four percent of those surveyed say they pay “no attention” to who publishes a book and/or “it doesn’t matter” to them. Thirty three percent pay “some attention” to who the publisher is whereas 4 percent say the publisher’s seal of approval “matters” to them.
- Ninety-five percent of readers are “more likely” to buy a self-published book from an author who is known to them versus 68 percent who are “less likely” to buy a self-published book from an author who is unknown to them.
- The results for the primary source of information about books were all over the place with the top vote getter being Facebook at 18 percent, followed by retail sites at 17 percent, Goodreads at 13 percent and author websites at 10 percent. Lots of interesting data in the “Other” field for this question.
- Facebook (62 percent) and Author Websites (63 percent) were virtually tied for first when readers were asked where they get their information about their favorite authors. (This was a “choose all that apply” question.) Author newsletters were a distant second at 36 percent. Goodreads scored 27 percent and Twitter 19 percent. Retail sites were next at 18 percent. It’s probably safe to conclude from these results that if you have limited time, it’s best spent on Facebook and keeping up your website.
- Fifty-three percent of readers are “somewhat” swayed by reviews. Twenty-nine percent fall into the “not very much” or “not at all” categories and 18 percent say they are “very much” influenced by reviews.
- When asked which reviews are most important to them, 50 percent chose the reviews posted to retail sites. Goodreads was a distant second at 16 percent, followed by blog reviews at 13 percent and publication reviews (RT Book Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, etc.) at 10 percent. An additional 10 percent of the respondents listed “Other” sources than those provided by the survey.
- We asked readers to tell us which review publications they subscribe to and offered the following choices: RT Book Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, NYT Sunday Edition, USA Today, None and Other. Eighty-one percent chose “None” with RT Book Reviews at a distant second at 12 percent.
- With the same list of publications, we asked readers to indicate which of the publications had influenced their decision to buy a book or try a new author. Seventy-six percent replied “Not applicable,” with RT Book Reviews coming in a distant second at 13 percent.
- We asked how important “star ratings” are to their purchasing decisions, and discovered that 43 percent will wait to purchase a book if they see “low” star ratings. Thirty-eight percent say they will still try a book if they like the cover and sample, even if it has “low” star reviews. Eleven percent responded that star reviews are not at all important to them and 9 percent rely heavily on star reviews and will only purchase a book that meets their star-rating criteria.
- Thirty-five percent have been introduced to new authors via free books more than 20 times. Twenty-one percent have found new authors through free books more than 10 times. If they liked what they read in the free book, 85 percent were extremely likely to buy another book from that author.
- We discovered that readers are interested in stories with outstanding characters, setting, storytelling and writing, with 75 percent choosing “all of the above” to encompass each of those elements.
- Thirty-three percent said typos don’t bother them at all while only 8 percent said bad editing will cost an author a reader for life. Twenty-seven percent said they’d give an author another chance if the editing in the first book isn’t good whereas 24 percent said “typos drive me mad.”
- We asked if seeing the words “New York Times Bestselling Author” on the cover of a book is more likely to spur a reader to try a new author. Seventy-two percent said no, and 28 percent said yes. In addition, 60 percent of those surveyed “never” peruse the New York Times bestseller list looking for new authors. Four percent of those surveyed review the list every week in search of new authors.
- Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed never review the USA Today bestseller list to find new authors and 2 percent do so weekly.
- Seventy-five percent of those surveyed never review the Publishers Weekly bestseller list to find new authors and 2 percent do so weekly.
- Eight-four percent of those surveyed subscribe to the newsletters of their favorite authors, and 55 percent subscribe to the blogs of their favorite authors.
- Just about half of those surveyed subscribe to BookBub to find out about free and reduced-price books and 31 percent subscribe to Kindle Fire Department. A wide variety of other outlets were listed in the open-ended replies for this question.
- In one of the more interesting results, 60 percent of those surveyed do not follow their favorite authors on Twitter whereas 87 percent of those surveyed do follow their favorite authors on Facebook. Find more than 2,000 replies to the open-ended question about what readers are looking for from authors on Facebook in the link to the full results at the end of this post. In another interesting finding, 85 percent of those surveyed do not follow their favorite authors on Pinterest, and 86 percent do not look for authors on any other social media platform besides those already listed in the survey. Goodreads was one of the most frequently mentioned sites in the open-ended portion of the question.
- Fifty-two percent said that if they want a book badly enough, they don’t care what it costs. Twenty-two percent said they will not pay more than $4.99 for a book.
- Sixty-eight percent are looking for novellas (in the 25,000-word) range to fall in the $0.99 to $1.99 price range. But 21 percent said they would pay $2.99 for a novella of this length.
- When asked what they expect to pay for a full-length (80,000 words or more) novel, 26 percent said $4.99, 19 percent said $5.99, 14 percent said $3.99, 13 percent said $7.99 and 12 percent said $6.99. I found it interesting that only 6.5 percent said $2.99, which has been considered somewhat of a “sweet spot” in indie pricing.
- Twenty-six percent would be willing to pay for “bonus” material, such as a short story unrelated to the current novel, but 34 percent were unwilling to pay for any kind of bonus material.
- We had a true 60-40 split on whether an endorsement from a well-known author is more or less likely to make you buy a book, with 60 percent saying author blurbs or endorsements do not influence purchasing decisions.
- When asked where they buy audio books, 70 percent replied that they have never bought one. A distant second was Audible at 15 percent, then Amazon at 11 percent and iTunes at 7 percent. When asked how many audio books readers purchased in the last year, 74 percent said they don’t purchase them. Among those who do, 18 percent bought between one and 10 audio books. Only 4 percent bought more than 20 audio books in the last year.
- Fifty-four percent of those surveyed have never watched a book trailer, and 8 percent have bought a book because of a trailer.
- Fifty-three percent are most concerned with a professional presentation when it comes to book covers, and 32 percent are rarely influenced by covers.
- Fifty percent don’t care whose point of view is presented in the book, but 45 percent enjoy multiple points of view whereas only 3 percent prefer first-person point of view.
We’ve felt the ground shifting beneath us in recent years, but some of these results confirm things we already suspected, including:
- Most of the readers surveyed don’t care who publishes a book or pay very little attention to who the publisher is. Judging by these results, it’s probably safe to assume the author name is selling more books these days than the publisher name.
- Retail reviews, such as those found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other retail sites, are the most important reviews in today’s environment.
- If an author only has time for one social media platform, choose Facebook. It’s where the readers are and it’s where they’re looking for their favorite authors. They are not looking for their favorite authors on Twitter, which didn’t surprise me all that much. I’ve long suspected that Twitter was more about “preaching to the choir” whereas Facebook is about connecting with actual readers. That doesn’t mean there are NO readers on Twitter. To the contrary. However, there are more of them looking for authors on Facebook.
- Author endorsements don’t matter as much as industry insiders think they do. Most readers don’t care about them.
- Most e-book readers are buying from Amazon, which of course we knew, but now we have data to confirm it.
- More than half don’t care how much a book costs if they want it badly enough. Most expect to pay $4.99 for a full-length novel (80,000 words or more) and between $0.99 and $1.99 for a 25,000-word novella.
- Readers are still somewhat leery about buying self-published books from unknown authors, whereas they are more than willing to buy books from self-published authors who are known to them.
- More than half the readers are still looking for their books in paperback format. Hear that? More than half. That’s a lot of readers… To those who think traditional publishing is dead, remember this: More than half the readers are looking for a format that traditional publishing is still best equipped to provide. If you want to reach that half, you may have to remain in business with traditional publishers. I am. That’s why.
- Audio books are not very popular—yet. Give them time. I believe we will see this number increase over the next few years.
- Readers pay very little attention to book trailers.
- Readers are not big fans of first-person points of view.
- New Adult romance isn’t as popular as we thought it was. Or… It could be readers aren’t aware that the books they love to read about young women in college or right after college are considered “New Adult” romance. I believe it’s possible this result is misleading. Judging from the books on the bestseller lists, New Adult is as popular as we think it is.
I’m going to give you the straight results and then link to the PDF so you can read the open-ended questions in more detail.
Q1 I prefer to read (choose as many as apply)
Paperback books: 51.24%
Hard cover books: 22.30%
Audio books: 7.56%
All of the above: 9.73%
Q2 What platform do you use for purchasing e-books (choose as many as apply)
Google Books: 1.93%
Author’s website: 11.72%
All of the above: 0.64%
I don’t buy e-books: 5.76%
See 261 open-ended replies in the PDF.
All Romance eBooks and publisher sites
Q3 How often do you visit brick and mortar bookstores such as Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookseller?
Twice a month: 19.42%
Once a month: 24.40%
Twice a year: 33.21%
Not once in the last year: 22.98%
Q4 What is your favorite genre of fiction?
Science Fiction: 1.52%
See 315 open-ended responses in the PDF.
Western historicals/time travel
Young adult/new adult
Doesn’t matter as long as it is well written
Q5 If you chose romance in the previous question, please state your favorite subgenre:
New Adult: 2.63%
Young Adult: 0.79%
Q6 How much attention do you pay to who publishes a book that interests you?
Some attention: 32.53%
No attention: 26.06%
Doesn’t matter to me: 37.55%
A publisher’s seal of approval matters to me: 3.66%
Q7 Are you more or less likely to buy a self-published book from a known-to-you author:
More likely: 95.12%
Less likely: 4.88%
Q8 Are you more or less likely to buy a self-published book from an unknown-to-you author:
More likely: 32.26%
Less likely: 67.64%
Q9 What is your primary source of information about books? (Choose one)
Author websites: 10.44%
Author newsletters: 5.46%
Retail sites: 16.71%
Review sites: 10.71%
Reader blogs: 5.66%
See 457 open-ended responses in the PDF.
Kindle review sites
Twitter & Goodreads
**Interesting that “friends” and “word of mouth” was frequently mentioned in the open-ended replies.
Q10 Where do you get the most information about your favorite authors? (Choose all that apply)
Author websites: 62.56%
Author newsletters: 35.85%
Retail sites: 18.20%
Reader blogs: 19.59%
See 265 open-ended replies in the PDF.
Word of mouth from friends
Amazon discussion groups
Q11 How much do reviews in general factor in to you purchasing a book?
Very much: 17.70%
Not very much: 21.92%
Not at all: 7.19%
Q12 Which reviews are most important to your decision to purchase a book? (Choose one)
Blog reviews: 13.07%
Publication reviews (RT Book Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, etc.): 10.06
Reader reviews posted to retail sites: 49.72%
Goodreads reviews: 16.32%
See 313 open-ended replies in the PDF.
I don’t worry about reviews
Only reviews from friends matter
None. I pick a book from the blurb, reviews don’t matter
I try not to be swayed by bad reviews and give the book a chance
Q13 Do you subscribe to any of the following publications (Click all that apply)
RT Book Reviews: 11.65%
Publishers Weekly: 2.87%
New York Times Sunday Edition: 3.11%
USA Today: 2.77%
See 110 open-ended replies in the PDF.
RSS feeds from NYT, USA Today
Heroes and Heartbreakers
Q14 Please click on each of the following publications if it has recently (in the last month or two) influenced your decision to purchase a book or try a new author:
RT Book Reviews: 12.55%
Publishers Weekly: 2.73%
New York Times Book Review: 5.22%
Not applicable: 76.28%
See 200 open-ended replies in the PDF.
USA Today HEA Blog
Q15 How important are "star ratings" on retail sites in your decisions to purchase books?
Very important - I only buy books that meet my star-ratings criteria: 8.54%
Somewhat Important - Seeing low star-ratings will make me wait to buy a book: 42.57%
Not That Important - I will try a book with low star-ratings if I like the cover/teaser/sample: 38.21%
Not At All Important - I don't trust star-ratings: 10.68%
Q16 How often has a free book introduced you to a new author you wouldn't have tried without the free offering?
More than 20 times: 35.17%
More than 15 times: 12.83%
More than 10 times: 20.68%
More than 5 times: 22.68%
Q17 How likely were you to buy a second book from an author if you enjoyed his or her free book?
Extremely likely: 84.85%
Somewhat likely: 13.66%
Somewhat unlikely: 0.83%
Have never bought a second book because I only read free books: 0.66%
Q18 When thinking about your favorite authors, what is the most important aspect of their books that keeps you coming back for more?
All of the above: 74.79%
See 49 open-ended replies in the PDF.
All of the above except setting
Unique storytelling and writing
Plot and characters
Q19 How important is editing to your enjoyment of a book? (Choose one that
best describes your habits)
Typos don’t bother me all that much: 32.92%
Typos drive me mad: 23.76%
If the editing isn’t good in the first book I try, I’m done with that author forever: 8.13%
If the editing isn’t good in the first book I try, I might give the author another chance with a second book: 27.28%
See 229 open-ended replies in the PDF.
Typos bother me, but I will overlook them if I love the author
Typos drive me crazy, but I won’t stop reading because of them
I can excuse a few typos, but not on every page
Bad grammar drives me crazy
Typos happen, but I appreciate the books. No one is perfect.
Q20 Does seeing “New York Times Bestseller” or “USA Today Bestseller” with an author's name make you more likely to purchase a book from an author you may not already know?
Q21 How often do you peruse the New York Times bestseller list looking for new authors to try?
Q22 How often do you peruse the USA Today bestseller list, looking for new authors to try?
Q23 How often do you peruse the Publisher's Weekly bestseller list, looking for new authors to try?
Q24 Do you subscribe to the newsletter of your favorite author(s)?
1,468 open-ended replies to why or why not in the PDF.
I already get too much email
Just doesn’t seem important
I like to see what they are up to
New releases, contests, excerpts
Make sure I don’t miss a new release
Q25 What kind of news do you prefer from authors via their newsletter? (Check all that apply)
New releases: 80.69%
Upcoming releases: 80.58%
Exciting news, such as awards or bestseller lists: 46.15%
News about other authors’ books: 51.39%
Info about what your favorite author is reading: 46.08%
Don’t read newsletters, so this question doesn’t apply to me: 10.24%
Q26 Do you subscribe to the blog of your favorite author?
1,245 open-ended replies to why or why not in PDF.
No time to consistently read blogs
I can read without subscribing. Too much email.
Stay in touch with where they are at with writing
She is fun to read
Get to know author better
Q27 Do you subscribe to any of the following services for information about free or reduced-price books? (Check all that apply)
Pixels of Ink: 24.00%
Kindle Fire Department: 31.39%
531 open-ended replies included in the PDF.
Books on the Knob
B&N Daily Find emails
One Hundred Free Ebooks
Q28 Do you follow your favorite author(s) on Twitter?
Q29 What kind of information do you look for from your favorite authors on Twitter?
1205 open-ended replies included in the PDF
Love samples from their real life
Actual interaction. If it’s just promo, I will unfollow
New and upcoming books
What they are reading
Don’t like when they constantly push their books and their friends’ books
Q30 Do you follow your favorite author(s) on Facebook?
Q31 What kind of information do you look for from your favorite authors on
2,027 open-ended responses in PDF
Sampling of comments:
What they are reading, watching, etc.
Info from workday life
Q32 Do you follow your favorite author(s) on Pinterest?
Q33 What kind of information do you look for from your favorite authors on Pinterest?
691 open-ended responses in PDF
Pictures of their inspiration and ideas
Stuff that is relevant to their books
What they are interested in
Pictures of settings, character inspiration
I have not figured out Pinterest
Q34 Do you look for authors on other social media platforms?
If yes, which ones? See 290 replies in PDF. Sample:
Q35 How price sensitive are you? Check all that apply:
I will not pay more than $.99 for an ebook: 2.22%
I will not pay more than $2.99 for an ebook: 6.56%
I will not pay more than $4.99 for an ebook: 21.82%
If I want the book, I don't care what the price is: 51.85%
I do not pay for ebooks. I wait until they are available for free and download them then: 4.12%
I am willing to pay more for an ebook published by a major publisher than for an ebook that is self-published: 7.58%
Other (open ended) 868 responses included in the PDF
I wouldn’t pay any price for an ebook if a print version was available
7.99 is the max I will pay, but I don’t like it
I won’t pay for an ebook priced higher than the paperback
I will pay for favorites, but I am price-sensitive to new self-pub writers
7.99 is my break point for an ebook
7.99 is my break point for an ebook
Q36 If you are reading a digital novella (for this question, say it has a maximum word count of 25,000), what is the most you would expect to pay for that work?
99 cents: 34.68%
See 337 open-ended replies in the PDF
$5 if fave author, more likely $3
If it’s an author I like, any price
Just started paying attention to word count
I never thought about it
Depends on author and content
Q37 What is the average price that you would expect to pay for a digital full-length novel (80,000 words and up)?
See 311 open-ended replies in the PDF
I would rather wait for the paperback than pay a lot for an ebook
If it’s an author I like, any price
Don’t buy, get the freebies
I don’t like/buy/read ebooks
Depends on the author
Q38 What kind of bonus material would you be willing to pay extra for? (Assume that the novel with bonus content would cost a dollar more than the basic novel. Check all answers that apply.)
Author interview: 16.39%
Scene by scene commentary by author: 12.44%
Bonus short story, related to novel: 58.48%
Bonus short story, unrelated to novel: 26.12%
Deleted scenes: 32.71%
None of the above: 34.40%
Other (specify): 4.05%
See 115 open-ended replies in the PDF.
Background on historical data used
Behind-the-scenes stuff, inspiration
Love related extras!
Forget the gimmicks and give me a story I can’t put down
Extended sneak peek of upcoming book
Q39 Does an endorsement (cover blurb) from a well-known author influence your decision to buy an unknown author's book?
Q40 If you buy audio books, where do you purchase them:
I have never purchased an audiobook: 68.59v
Other (specify): 8.28%
See 235 open-ended responses in the PDF
Borrow from the library
Tantor Audio or directly from Downpour
B&N, Target, WalMart, BJs
I rarely listen to audio books. I get too distracted.
Q41 If you buy audio books, how many have you purchased in the past year:
More than 20: 4.02%
I don't buy audio books: 74.34%
Q42 Do video book trailers influence your decision to buy a book? (Check all that apply)
I always watch a book trailer if there is one: 6.07%
I have bought books after watching a book trailer: 8.21%
I watch book trailers but am just as likely not to buy the book: 8.78%
Book trailers don't influence me one way or the other: 33.10%
I've never watched book trailers as part of my purchase decision: 53.61%
Q43 Which elements of a cover design most impact your decision to purchase a book? (select all that apply)
Professionalism of the design: 52.41%
Appearance of the hero: 33.42v
Appearance of the heroine: 26.33%
I prefer designs without people: 6.56%
Fonts used: 16.78%
I prefer illustrated covers: 12.80%
Covers rarely influence me: 32.04%
Other (specify): 10.47%
See 297 open-ended responses in the PDF.
Landscape, imagery, avoidance of clichés
I like tasteful covers, though they are hard to find in romance
Nothing too cheesy
Characters that look like the story says they do
Must evoke an emotion for me to purchase
Q44 I prefer to read stories that include (select one)
The hero's point of view only: 0.32%%
The heroine's point of view only: 1.66%
Multiple points of view: 45.47%
I prefer first-person points of view: 3.07%
Doesn't matter: 49.49%
SOOO, what do you think? Are the results what you expected? Any surprises? Any revelations?
Thanks to all who helped to formulate the survey, who promoted it to their readers and to everyone who took the survey. I hope to do this again next June to see what changes over the next year.