Where Did All The Male Readers Go?
In the last few years, the book-reading and publishing demographic has radically changed.
In the press this week, Elisabeth Strout warned against the dangers of women writers dominating fiction as both authors and publishers. ‘We need to mix it up. I also wish there were more male readers of fiction.’
Overall, males are still ahead in the bestseller lists but there are fewer of them, and far fewer male authors read specifically by male readers. There remain a handful of traditional popular writers like Ken Follet, Bernard Cornwell, Wilbur Smith (still writing at 88) and Robert Harris, but this market segment has largely disappeared. The latest research is fairly clear; men between 20 and 50 no longer buy or borrow books in the UK. Does this mean that women’s lives are so leisurely they can kick back and read whenever they want?
Perhaps it’s the fault of the new burgeoning middle classes. The common man is no longer catered for. The paperback is no longer stuffed in the back pocket. The placing of the tongue between the teeth is all it takes to differentiate the classes.
The trouble is, no-one can fully make sense of the new data. I have yet to read a cogent argument that explains why men have stopped reading. Certainly there are more exclusively female books. Jojo Moyes and Sally Rooney are hardly drawing in males, and menÂ stopped reading as working life became more intense and business social media took deeper bites from male leisure time.
It seems to me that the TV presenter Richard Osman hit a sweet spot by appealing to women with some crossover to men by virtue of his celebrity, but there are deeper changes. Males no longer care to read tales of ludicrous adventure in far-off places, but they’re not getting much that’s fresh and more relevant. Their mantra is; ‘Why should I read when I can watch?’ I’m currently reading David Sedaris because there’s no-one else quite like him.
Women readers are being offered a wider, more inclusive and appealing range of fiction. Plus, it helps that they form better emotional attachment to books. Whenever I do a signing, women will explain why they connect with a certain book of mine. On balance I have more female readers. To my husband the idea of reading about emotions is vomit-inducing. He doesn’t want to talk about emotions. He wants a book where spacemen fight an alien race. He’s university educated, one of the smartest people I know and formerly a voracious reader, but now he regards books as the equivalent of websites.
Is there any climb-back from this position? Yes, if publishers produce books with more male appeal, as they have done so brilliantly with women.