Showing posts with label SinC Mystery Buyer Study. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SinC Mystery Buyer Study. Show all posts

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Readers & Mystery Reading at the Popular Culture Association

By Barbara Fister

As I was saying, my panel at the Popular Culture Association Meeting in San Antonio focused on mystery readers.

First up, Mary Bendel-Simso and LeRoy Panek of McDaniel College in Maryland talked about an amazing project that anyone interested in the history of the mystery will want to check out: the Westminster Detective Library. They are documenting 19th century detective fiction published in the popular press, with the goal of making available online all short fiction dealing with detection published in the United States before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1891 publication of “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Crime stories were enormously popular and had a huge audience in newspapers and magazines. The trick is to find the old newspapers and comb through them for stories and poems. Their research shows that the mystery was a beloved genre long before most histories indicate, and includes some surprises such as the use of fingerprints in a story in 1861 and women detectives featuring in stories from the 1860s onward.

The second speaker was a dynamo named Katherine Clark, whose topic was “Who is the American Mystery Reader and Why Does it Matter?” For her dissertation research she surveyed more than 700 mystery readers, who she found tend to be avid readers, loyal fans of the genre, and devoted to it throughout their lives, starting in childhood. Unlike the readership for the romance genre, which tends to fall off in middle age, mystery readers are fans for life. She had fascinating things to say about readers and their tastes, as well as insights into the publishing industry. I was entrusted with keeping time for the panel, so was crushed when I had to give her the “five minute warning.” I could have listened to her for hours!

Finally, I spoke about Sisters in Crime, taking a look at its origins, reporting some of the findings of the Sisters in Crime/Bowker study of the mystery consumer, and sharing results from a member survey. I was fortunate beforehand to have the help of archivists at both Rutgers University, which houses the organization’s papers, and the Newberry Library in Chicago, which has a collection of Sara Paretsky’s papers, some of which deal with the formation of the organization. (It’s pretty exciting to get an e-mail with .pdfs of early memos and meeting minutes from our founding! Okay, I admit it, I’m a nerd.)

Looking back, I found that our mission remains remarkably consistent and that, in spite of progress, the issues that led to the founding of the group remain relevant. If you’re curious, you can read the paper here. The fact that Sara Paretsky was just about to be recognized as a Grand Master at the Edgar awards was a happy note on which to end my brief history.

At this conference, I was delighted to find a thriving and close-knit community of mystery fans who happen to be academics. Like most mystery fans, the members of the Mystery and Detective Fiction area of the association are welcoming and enthusiastic about the genre. I’ve already been unofficially declared a Sisters in Crime liaison to the group and will try to attend next year’s conference in Boston.

There will be opportunities for writers to participate, and plans are afoot for Frankie Bailey, our next president and a member of the Popular Culture Association, to be on the program. That reminds me: I suppose I should warn her.

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Barbara Fister is the author of the Anni Koskinen mysteries. The most recent title in the series is Through the Cracks. She is an academic librarian and serves on the SinC board as Secretary.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Scoop: The Listserv Q & A on the Mystery Buyer Study

Yesterday afternoon, the Sisters in Crime listserv hosted an “Ask the Experts” question-and-answer session on the SinC mystery buyer survey conducted by Bowker’s PubTrack division.

The featured guests for this online event were James Howitt, Director of Publisher Solutions at Bowker, Carl Kulo, Bowker’s head of research, and SinC member Triss Stein, the SinC coordinator for the study.

The far-ranging discussion touched on the two major mystery-reading audience segments (matures/Boomers and Gen X/Gen Y), whether it’s possible to predict the future of the mystery genre, the reading selections of varying age groups, the digital market and its effect on book purchases, and the possibility of drilling for information on subgenres. Also discussed were the makeup of the pool of survey respondents, the definition of the geographic regions identified in the study, and efforts to test book cover images.

The ebook debate continued with a consideration of the demographics of ebook readers, some preliminary statistics on holiday ebook reader sales and their corresponding effect on future ebook purchases, the book cover and the ebook, and the audience most likely to be comfortable with ebooks and ebook readers.

The Jan. 18 “Ask the Experts” session on “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age” can be found on the SinC listserv in messages #22152 through #22191. As with the Mentor Monday sessions, the event will be archived on the listserv for future access.

Sisters in Crime members not currently registered to participate in the members-only email listserv may sign up to do so by following the directions on the SinC website at this link.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ask the Experts: Get More Info on the SinC Mystery Buyer Study

Sisters in Crime will hold a special “Ask the Experts” online question-and-answer session on the SinC mystery book buyer study on Tuesday, Jan. 18, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. on the SinC members-only email listserv.

Among the participants in the q&a session will be the representatives from Bowker’s Pubtrack division who worked on the “The Mystery Book Consumer in the Digital Age” study and report, and members of SinC’s mystery buyer survey committee. Sandra Parshall, the Mentor Monday coordinator, will be the session moderator.

Sisters in Crime members not currently registered to participate in the members-only email listserv may sign up to do so by following the directions on the SinC website at this link.

To participate in the “Ask the Experts” online session, SinC members can post questions to the listserv on Tuesday, Jan. 18, beginning at 10 a.m.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The SinC Mystery Buyer Survey: A Reaction

When SinC Board Member Barbara Fister was asked for her reaction to the SinC Mystery Buyer survey, she offered the following in reply:

Some things that are interesting but not necessarily a surprise:

... That people still depend to a large extent on the physical -- rather than the virtual -- world when it comes to discovering and purchasing mysteries. It's no surprise that personal recommendations are the major driver of reading choices; what is interesting is how little online media seem to play into that decision-making.

... The importance of brick-and-mortar stores is also interesting and one wonders, with the decline of the massive chains, how that will play out. (More market share for indies? Or more migration elsewhere?)

... I'm also intrigued that covers still play a major role. I know they do for me, but in a world where ebooks get such a share of publishing buzz, I wonder how that physical and visual information provided by covers will develop.

... Finally, I am not surprised by -- but am interested in -- the fact that the under-30 group has the most experience with reading ebooks, and yet is nearly as resistant to them as the over-60 cohort. That's what I hear when working with traditional-age college students. They tend to prefer "real" books. But I suspect that is a finding that may surprise others.

The things that surprised me:

... Are that many books still sold through retail book clubs? Really? That seems such a relic of the past.

... That book reviews in traditional media remain so influential, given that review space has so severely contracted in the past five years. (As an aside, I never could understand why media that depend upon readers assume those readers are not interested in books.)

... I am not really that surprised that blogs and reviews on other social media are equally influential but, since on page 10 the report says only 34% of mystery buyers read blogs, I am wondering what social media they are paying attention to -- Facebook? GoodReads and LibraryThing? Or do people encounter blog-based reviews when searching online without identifying them as blogs?

... That people are more likely to take the recommendation of a bookseller than a librarian when choosing books; as a librarian that's fascinating. (I mean, it's not as if we're trying to sell them anything!) But then again, the report suggests that people in this survey are more likely to buy a book than borrow one from a library, so I suppose that lower profile then makes sense. (Given that I buy a lot of books but borrow far more from the library to feed my addiction, I can't imagine not depending on a library -- but each to their own. I can't resist pointing out that under-30s are among the heaviest users of libraries.)


Barbara Fister, the author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series, is an academic librarian at a liberal arts college in Minnesota. Her most recent mystery is titled Through the Cracks.