Feature article

Is Romantic fiction popular?

by Catherine Jones

Saturday 30 January 2010 ~ First published in Romance Matters Spring 2009

Are you kidding?  Yes, hugely, and we now have proof positive.

The RNA commissioned some research to be carried out by Book Marketing Limited (BML) in late summer 2008.  The research itself was relatively easy; the bigger problem was identifying and defining ‘romantic fiction’. 

We solved this by taking a huge list of books and authors and picking out the ones a panel of long-term RNA members felt delivered romance and which were then termed ‘romantic content’ books by BML. This list was in addition to the lists of category romance and sagas already on the BML database. That done, these books and authors were then used to extrapolate data from two separate sources. The first was from a research panel of 5,965 volunteers who were surveyed on ‘Book-lovers and Romance’ and the other source was from the BML database of about 13,000 (nationally representative) individuals whose book buying habits are regularly monitored by BML.

So what did we discover?

  • In 2007 British consumers bought 24m romantic content (RC) books worth £118m.
  • 5.6m people bought an RC book as against 4.7m who bought crime/mystery or 4.5m who bought adventure/thriller.
  • The 24m RC books represented 22% of all adult fiction purchased with crime getting 20% of the share followed by adventure/thriller with 14.5%.  General popular fiction accounted for 26%.
  • Unsurprisingly 93% of RC books bought in 2007 were destined for female readers.
  • Readers of RC books are also heavier buyers of books than adult fiction buyers in general, they read more and borrow more from libraries.
  • And what about book-lovers and their attitudes to romance?
  • A hero or heroine the reader could identify with or a struggle against adversity is what struck a chord with most readers.
  • Women find Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy the most romantic couple in fiction but men think it is Romeo and Juliet. However a majority of women under 35 prefer Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy.
  • Women prefer to do it in bed and men prefer to do it in a chair – read that is.
  • Women prefer reading above all other activities. A significant proportion of men preferred sex or football ahead of other pastimes. And the point is….
  • The book-lover’s preferred method to woo a prospective partner is to cook a romantic meal but sending letters or giving books came a close second and third.
  • And the thing our panel of book-lovers loved most about their partners was their sense of humour and their kindness.


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It's a fact

Romance readers are predominantly female, but not entirely so – 19% are men.