There has always been the assumption that the stereotypical reader of science fiction is a fairly well to do, middle-aged, white man. While this might be true to some extent (stereotypes are often rooted in some historical “truth,” real or perceived), assumptions are dangerous things to make. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of American (SFWA) website recently published the results of a marketing survey conducted by author Mark Niemann-Ross. His results present an interesting look at the demographics of science fiction readers.
In Mr. Niemann-Ross’, survey, about 20% of respondents self-identified themselves as science fiction readers. This percentage was consistent across all age groups except the 45-65 age group, in which only 15% of respondents were science fiction readers. Of his respondents who were science fiction readers, 57% were male, and had an average income greater than US$80,000 (wow!). Race was not identified.
So what does all this mean? It’s a little hard to draw concrete conclusions without seeing the raw data or the groups used in the analysis (e.g., what are the age groups and their sample sizes?), but we can draw some insights, I think. The genre appears to have readers in all age groups, but this could be misleading because the values are presented as percentages. I would be interested in the absolute numbers if I wanted to project what this might mean for the future market. The genre readership is male-slanted (57%), especially when considering the sample population has a male:female ratio of 48:52. Mr. Niemann-Ross raises an interesting caveat for the gender distribution, however, noting that women on average spend more on books than men, and so while the readership may be more male, book sales may be a more even split between the genders.
Mr. Niemann-Ross’ data don’t entirely dispel the stereotype of the typical science fiction reader. While it suggest that well-to-do and male might be accurate, middle-aged might not (and says nothing about race). If nothing, it’s encouraging to see younger genre readers, which are important to the long-term viability of the genre.
Interesting look at the stats. I know a fair amount of women who are into science fiction, but they tend to gravitate toward television rather than books (to my limited knowledge).
Interesting observation, Eric. I know only a few women who read science fiction, but many more men, so that 57:43 ratio feels about right to me. I know a lot more woman who are into fantasy than science fiction, however, so I imagine if you were look at the speculative fiction genre as a whole, the split would be closer to even. Of course I have no data to support that :-).
As a 76 year old woman who’s always been an SF fan (as reader and, more recently, writer), I probably don’t fit any of the demographics. And I’ve usually found television’s attempts at SF fairly unsatisfying. Even series that I enjoyed initially seldom wear well when I go back to them. Books let you imagine what the story *looks* like rather than limiting you to someone else’s vision. And they don’t show their age as quickly when it comes to changes in fashion and technology.
I know what you mean about TV series. They tend to date quickly in their look and generally lack the strength of story to carry them. The ones that have a decent story become classics, although a TV show seldom rises the level of a novel, IMO. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you’ll come back again for a visit.