At a writers conference this past week we learned that 80 percent of book buyers are women. My guess is that more than 80 percent of food buyers are also women. Men still eat. But, do they read books? Sure, some do. Most in the publishing business lament the lack of male readers, though.
Another statistic is that after high school, only about half the population ever picks up a book. Then, it’s only to dust around it. Wait, no. About half do read for pleasure. So, using statistics loosely, which is the most common way they are used, that means there are about 150 million readers in the US. Discounting the existence of libraries and the fact that men may receive gift books (I said this was loose), only about 30 million men in the United States reads.
From a publishing standpoint, 30 million men is a pretty big market. So, quit whining, publishers. From a literacy and a we’re-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket standpoint, it’s pathetic.
Why don’t men read? They like stories. They go to movies and watch TV. Do books simply weigh too much? Okay, that was snotty. I prefer to read on my Kindle for exactly that reason. Big, clunky books are hard for my delicate self to deal with when I’m relaxing on the couch. I could fall asleep and break a rib.
Women out-watch men when it comes to movies, though not by much. According to a Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) study 52 percent of those watching movies are women. Women make up 50.8 percent of the population, so that’s not a startling statistic. What is startling, according to the MPAA study, 85 percent of the movies are about men. Does this mean women are going to movies because they just can’t get enough of the hunky-hunks on screen? For some women it probably means exactly that. Most, though, just enjoy movies. And guess who makes movies? Mostly men.
But this is about books. Why aren’t men reading books? They’re writing them. A recent study found that 83 percent of the books reviewed by the New York Times were by men.
So, the men are telling most of the stories and the women are listening. And reading. The entertainment industry, like so many industries, is still dominated by men. It takes generations to turn something like that around, though women are making great strides. I applaud and admire them for doing so.
The question, which concerns me as a writer and citizen, still remains. Why aren’t more men reading for pleasure?
To me, reading is the best thing in life. I have to wonder if there is something about our educational system that discourages other men from reading. Are we making it chore rather than a joy?
I don’t have the answers. I may even be part of the problem. Of the five young adult novels I’ve written (one is not yet published), four of them feature girls as the lead characters. Boys don’t even exist in one of them. Hummm. I hesitate to take the blame, though. I’m writing for the larger market, yes, but I’m also writing simply because I find girls and women more complex, particularly as young adults.
I expect a few boys read Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and The Hunger Games, so it’s not as though they boycott a good story about a girl. Do we need more fiction about boys? The Harry Potter series had a few male readers, so it’s not as if there’s nothing out there. My friend C.J. Box writes adult novels that also attract a lot of male young adult readers.
Explosions. We need more explosions in books. Okay, that might be creeping up to the edge of simplistic. But, do you have a better answer? I’m stumped.