Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Men don't buy books?

by Stacey

I found this recent blog post by thriller writer and former book editor Jason Pinter thought provoking. He brings up a lot of points we hear often in the book biz about men not reading books, and not being the target market publishers are looking to reach. And it is in many ways out of date and completely short sighted, not to mention the fact that it's just not true. Look at the bestseller lists for fiction and nonfiction, and there will always be a fine collection of books squarely aimed at male (and female) readers. Books about politics or history or science or technology on the nonfiction side, or what about big runaway bestsellers like Freakonomics? I don't think the target audience there was women. On the fiction side there are the big thriller writers like Michael Connelly and David Baldacci, currently number 1 on the New York Times list, and what about Stephen King? These are just a few examples of big time authors whose audience is made up of a large percentage of men. The story Pinter uses to illustrate his pitch for the Chris Jericho book is pretty funny, but also a little ridiculous. It's the kind of thing that can drive forward-thinking agents and editors a little crazy when there's a good idea or project outside the box--it takes a serious load of convincing and ultimately a leap of faith to get it through. And then when one of these "risky" projects does work, a whole slew follow until the market is saturated and you're back at square one. I don't think there's an obvious answer here, but it does beg a further discussion and perhaps a shift in our collective perception about readers and how we find them.

I understand publishers have limited resources, but the goal, especially in this day and age when there are so many opportunities to draw in new readers, needs to be to stop using old excuses and start implementing new tactics to find the audience, whichever gender they might be.

12 comments:

  1. I'm a male reader and I find I'm reading more than I used to, but I do have problems finding the type of books I enjoy. Good P.I. novels are a little scarce. I've become tired of graphic serial killer novels, and so many of the thrillers out there seem the same. Even the writers I used to enjoy are trying to write something different, something bigger.

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  2. I have to admit that although i don't doubt there are plenty of male readers out there, i don't know a single one. i find that a lot of the men i know were either never turned onto reading when they were young or gave it up when they hit puberty.

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  3. Obviously "men don't buy books" is an exaggeration, but presumably is intended to underline a point. It seems numerically more fiction books are directed at women, written by women, agented and edited by women, and although "macho" books persist, how many stories of ordinary lives are now written by men?

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  4. This subject has been getting a lot of attention on literary blogs lately. From my perspective, there are many reasons for this:

    1) The world has become too fast-paced and devoted to money. Reading is a pursuit that must be savored to be enjoyed, and most men (and women too for that matter) do not have the time to savor anything, either because they are too busy multi-tasking, or they are too busy worrying about whether they are going to lose their jobs and their homes in this sour economy of ours.

    2) Many of today's adults were raised in the electronic age. They are used to getting their entertainment in the form of movies and video games, and their news in sound bytes from the television networks. The increase in children's and YA book popularity is encouraging, but authors must be writing books these same kids can enjoy when they become adults if they are going to continue reading.

    3) Much of what I see on the bookshelves is junk. It is simply not well written. I find I do not read for pleasure nearly as much as I used to, and I have the time to do it. Somewhere along the line, fiction was split arbitrarily between "literary" and "genre". I used to read books that were not only very well written but also very entertaining and exciting. Now the well-written ones seem boring and the ones that are supposed to entertain are not really entertaining anymore, being predictable and cliche-ridden, with MCs that are not really believable. We all know these authors -- they churn out one book after another, often with the "collaboration" of others, and if you've read one of their books, you've read 'em all. Maybe that's what the public wants right now, but I hope the pendulum swings the other way soon. And don't get me started on celebrity books...

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  5. I'm proud to say my love of books came from my Dad, who still reads a book or two a week. That being said, my husband is not a reader (except what I force upon him) and I know few others that read on a regular basis.

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  6. The men who are close to me--father, brother husband, son, brothers-in-law--read ALL the time. I think the idea that men don't read is total poppycock.

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  7. BINGO!!! I'm totally with you on stoping use of the old excuses! Creative thinking to reach new readers must be the mantra of the day!

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  8. As a military servicemember, my work habitat is densely populated with men, and I'd say over 80% of them read regularly and not just "junk" reading, but great literature and non-fiction. The majority of our library is pretty much directed at the male readers. One of the most requested items for care packages are books. I believe the men are being marketed to, but perhaps not in the most efficient ways.

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  9. Fiction for men is lacking. I can find a lot of great nonfiction titles, but for a guy over thirty, I don't find a lot of appealing fiction. As a guy, I'd like to read more than just thrillers. Thrillers seem to be the mainstream genre that booksellers expect guys to read, so a lot of guys at my work have gone back to the classics or old pulp. We don't always want to read Jane Austen like prose.

    Unless I'm reading a fantasy novel, I don't need a huge book to read. I love short story collections since I can read a short story over lunch at work, and I love novellas, so I'm finding myself picking up old books that were shorter. I just don't have the time to read long stories due to work.

    I think publishers need to do more research about what guys read, so the over thirty crowd that works 60+ hours a week has stuff to read.

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  10. "Men don't buy books." Why, then, do I see men buying books at Powell's? Why do I see men buying books at truck stops? Why are as many men as women in check-out lines at Borders and B&N?

    I'm a man. I buy books. The men I know buy books.

    How does an industry that conducts little or no market research know that men don't buy books?

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  11. Interesting article. I find it hard to believe as my husband is an avid reader and is always buying new books. He just came home with a copy of a book called "To Pee Or Not To Pee..." by James R. Norris. He's laughing his way through it and at the same time learning all he needs to know about his plumbing. It's pretty blunt and to the point. I agree with Fatcaster above, lets see some market research!

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  12. My dad doesn't buy many books. He doesn't need to. With 8 kids, between his birthday, Christmas and Father's Day, he has a steady supply of gift books. (and I always make sure it's something I'll like too so I can 'borrow' it a few months later. ;-))

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