Christian Retailing

Study: Christian fiction readers buy, read more books Print Email
Written by Christine D. Johnson   
Thursday, 02 July 2015 03:17 PM America/New_York

FictionProductTrends-ICRS15-AuthorPanel-PamHillmanChristian fiction readers read more than the national average and are more frequent book buyers, which creates a core customer opportunity for Christian stores.

Nearly 50 percent of Christian-fiction readers read more than 10 books annually. By comparison, only 36 percent of American adults read more than 10 books per year, according to a 2014 Pew Research study.

Christian Fiction Readers: Worthy Pursuing, Worth Keeping, a reader survey conducted through a cooperative effort of CBA, The Parable Group, Baker Publishing Group and American Christian Fiction Writers, supports that finding and adds that half of responding Christian fiction readers are purchasing more titles today than five years ago, but buying and reading behaviors have changed.

Trade paperback is still the most popular format for readers (41 percent) despite what some may presume is the age of digital dominance, with 28 percent of Christian fiction readers responding that they read ebooks or digital formats. Readers also choose mass-market paperbacks (16 percent) and hardcover (12 percent). The audiobook preference was noted by 2 percent of respondents.

The survey showed that top sales drivers for Christian fiction are the story itself (94 percent), the desire to keep reading a story in a series (69 percent), recommendations about a book (68 percent), and author familiarity (89 percent). Those findings can inform retailers, publishers, authors, marketers and all levels of the industry.

The top Christian fiction genres reported by surveyed readers were historical fiction (66 percent), romance (52 percent), contemporary (51 percent), romantic suspense (50 percent), suspense/thriller/legal thriller (47 percent) and mystery/espionage (45 percent), which also reveals that many Christian fiction readers read more than one genre.

The majority of Christian fiction readers responding (69 percent) also read general-market fiction. Of Christian fiction readers who read both types, about half said annual general-market purchases haven't changed in the last five years, but 36 percent said annual purchases have increased.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents shop at a local Christian store because they like the concept of a Christian store, appreciate its atmosphere and enjoy the selection. Respondents said they would purchase more books at a Christian store if prices were lower, book selection was better, or the store were more conveniently located.

Baker Publishing Group Executive Vice President Sales and Marketing David Lewis said Christian-fiction readers are the most frequent book buyers and are heavily engaged in Christian stories.

"Christian stores should not give these customers up,” Lewis said. “They are worth fighting for."

Cynthia Ruchti, an award-winning fiction author and American Christian Fiction Writers professional liaison, said fiction readers are real fans, but their interests range beyond just the most popular genres.

"What matters to readers is the story itself," Ruchti said. "That suggests a broader selection of genres help create a destination in the store for fiction readers. It's important to understand the opportunity to present a broader appeal to fiction readers who are often going elsewhere to purchase books."

Randy Ross, The Parable Group marketing specialist involved in conducting the study, said helping readers discover new authors and series is a key consideration in the age of e-books. 

"Selection and knowledgeable staff are important issues to consider when building a fiction statement in the store," Ross said.

CBA President Curtis Riskey said the fact that Christian fiction is read for entertainment doesn't lessen the value of Christian product.

"Readers are looking for clean, faith-driven content that makes a difference in their lives. Christian retailers can help make that connection to great stories," Riskey said.

The online survey received nearly 1,500 responses with a confidence level in the responses at +/- 2.6 percent. The complete survey with more points of interest to the retail and publishing industries may be downloaded at Jet Marketing of Grand Rapids, Michigan, conducted the co-sponsored research.

In a vote for fiction and nonfiction readers, CBA’s International Christian Retail Show, held this week in Orlando, Florida, had significant opportunities for aspiring and published authors, including a Sunday morning Author Boot Camp and a Tuesday afternoon Fiction Product Trends Workshop featuring an author panel hosted by Ruchti. In addition, Carol Johnson, editorial vice president at Bethany House Publishers for 30 years to 2008, was honored with the CBA Lifetime Achievement Award for her role in developing Christian fiction starting with the acquisition of novelist Janette Oke.