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romance novel stats

Link: 40+ Romance Novel Sales Statistics [2023]

romance reader stats

Romance Novel Readers and Sales Stats

What is the average romance reader like? Just who, exactly, reads romance? What is the total number of romance novels sold each year? And what are the most popular best-selling “romance novels” of all time? All these questions have been answered, and now we have even more questions about the romance genre.

We’re posting this fascinating article from the Wordsrated website written by Dimitrije Curcic. It has over forty statistics on the current state of the genre. There’s a lot of food for thought here, and certain issues that we’ll address in upcoming articles.

Some things to note are that romance readers consume books voraciously, with over 78% completing at least one book a month (I’d say most romance fans read greater than just 12 books annually).

The vast majority read on their Kindles, e-readers, and phones, as opposed to “dead-tree” books.

Romance readers are getting overwhelmingly getting younger each decade. 65% of them have read the genre for fewer than twenty years. That certainly explains why old-school romance isn’t held in high regard by most genre aficionados. When blogs and book reviewers publish their lists of “The Best Romance Books…” invariably, most romances are recent, having been published no more than 15 years ago. Although a rare Lisa Kleypas, Julie Garwood, or Judith McNaught will pop up every now and then. Not to mention Pride and Prejudice!


40+ Romance Novel Sales Statistics [2023]

October 9, 2022 by Dimitrije Curcic

  • Romance novels generate over $1.44 billion in revenue, making romance the highest-earning genre of fiction.
  • Romance reached 19 million printed units sold over the last 12 months as of August 2022.
  • Sales of printed romance novels have increased by 36% compared to 2021.
  • Over 33% of books sold in mass-market paperback format were romance novels.
  • Romance was the fastest-growing genre of fiction over this period, contributing to 66% of adult fiction growth in 2022.
  • However, e-book romance novel sales declined by 16% over the same period.
  • Ebook sales account for 60% of total romance unit sales.
  • Since July 2020, the rolling 12-month growth of romance novel sales was never under 0, reaching a 2-year high of 4.7% in July 2022.
  • According to Penguin Random House, romance book sales had increased by more than 50% in 2021.
  • Total unit sales for romance novels reached 47 million in 2021, including print and digital formats.
  • This is a 24% increase compared to 2020, which recorded 37.9 million sold units.
  • During 2021, romance sales accounted for 18% of total adult fiction sales, making romance the second highest-selling fiction category.
  • Romance novel sales grew by 49% in 2021 compared to 2020 in the UK.

What are the best-selling romance novels of all time?

  • Fifty Shades of Gray (2011-2021) by E. L. James is the best-selling romance novel series of all time, reaching over 150 million copies sold.
  • Pride And Prejudice (1813) By Jane Austen came in second with over 120 million copies sold. This is also America’s favorite book, according to WordsRated’s survey of over 78,000 Americans.
PosTitle (Year)AuthorCopies sold
1Fifty Shades of Grey, Series (2011-2021)E. L. James150 million
2Pride and Prejudice (1813)Jane Austen120 million
3The Notebook (1996)Nicholas Sparks105 million
4Gone With The Wind (1936)Margaret Mitchell30 million
5Outlander (1991)Diana Gabaldon25 million
6Love Story (1970)Erich Segal20 million
7The Time Traveler’s Wife (2003)Audrey Niffenegger2.5 million
8Jane Eyre (1847)Charlotte Brontë2 million
9Romeo And Juliet (1564)William Shakespeare500,000
10Anna Karenina (1877)Leo Tolstoy300,000

Diversity in romance novels

  • Authors’ diversity in romance novels is very unbalanced:
    • 92.2% of romance novels published in 2021 were written by white authors.
    • 7.8% of romance novels published in 2021 were written by BIPOC authors.
  • Romance novel readership is also dominantly white:
    • 73% of romance readers are white/caucasian
    • 12% are African-American
    • 7% are Latino/Hispanic
    • 4% are Asian/Asian American

Who reads romance novels?

  • 82% of romance readers are women, and 18% are men.
  • 45% of romance readers have a college degree.
  • The average romance reader is 42 years old.
  • Romance readers are getting younger
    • 10 years ago, the main romance-reading group was women ages 35 to 54.
    • Today, the main romance-reading group is women ages 18 to 54.
    • 44% of readers purchasing a romance book are ages 18 to 44.
  • 70% of romance readers discover the genre between ages 11 and 18.
  • 35% of romance readers have been fans of the genre for more than 20 years.
  • 59% of romance readers are married or living with their partner.

Reading habits of romance novels readers

  • 29% of romance readers carry a romance novel with them most of the time.
  • Romance readers usually finish a novel within seven days.
  • 46.4% of romance readers read at least one novel per week.
  • 78.3% of romance readers read more than one novel per month.

SOURCE:

romance novel sales statistics/
old school romance on youtube

Link: Old School Romance on Youtube

Old Romance Commercials on Youtube

I discovered these clips on YouTube. They are a great throwback to yesteryear.

The following six commercials advertise the wonder of category romance novels. The first one from 1976 is older than I am!

They look so tasteful, like old Summer’s Eve or Massengill feminine douche commercials. I got a kick out of watching them. Hope you enjoy them, too.

1976 Harlequin Ad

1980 Harlequin Ad

1981 Harlequin Romance Novels of Love Commercial

1982 Mills & Boon Ad

1982 Harlequin Super Romance Ad

1982 Silhouette Special Edition Ad

What do think? Do they put you in the mood for romance? I think they needed someone like Fabio, but he was from a different era.

As usual, we’ll be archiving this post to our LINKS page, which you can access from the top MENU. Check it out, if you haven’t. There are listings of great sites, blogs, and fun facts about romance.

anatomy of the clinch

Link: Art of the Clinch by Virginia Moench

The History and Anatomy of Clinch Covers

We were super-hyped when our Twitter friend, @GinnyMoench, created this interactive presentation on the history and anatomy of the clinch cover. We adore romance cover art, and this graphic amazed us.

Visit: PUBLIC TABLEAU: Art of the Clinch to view and interact with this presentation.

Moench sampled 153 romance novel covers and 60 covers with stepbacks from her personal library and the Twitter feed of  @Artoftheclinch–another must-follow Twitter account–and recorded their cover/ stepback characteristics.

You have to go to the link above to do this great display at work. Moench went through the decades of romance and explained how the covers changed as times and readers changed. The two greatest aspects of this presentation are the Colors of Clinch and Art of Clinch sections.

Colors of Clinch

In the Colors of Clinch portion, she breaks down what colors were popular for covers during each decade. As you can guess, there weren’t many vivid colors in the early days. That all changed in the 1980s when the clinch came into its prime.

Then in the 1990s, with the prevalent use of stepback covers, a rainbow of hues exploded as artists were free to do whatever they wanted.

In the new millennium, color use isn’t as expansive as in the past, especially in the more recent years.

Art of the Clinch

In the Art of the Clinch section, Moench analyzes covers by authors, with great attention to specific details. Such details include: who is represented on the cover (male or female), how much skin is exposed, and whether the cover is collectible (I’m glad to say I own a few of those!). There are other topics as well.

I highly recommend you go to the above link to view and interact with the presentation.

This is a fantastic display, and if you love romance cover art, you should have a blast with this chart.

art of the clinch
night song

Link: The History of the Clinch Covers

At Dr. Maria DeBlassie’s blog Enchantment Learning she hosted a presentation by our Twitter pal Daily Clinch @Artof the Clinch. We recommend watching this informative video on the history of romance novel clinch covers. They touch upon the genre’s past as well as discussing pivotal cover artists, models, authors, and more.

It’s a little over an hour long, so make some time, settle back and enjoy listening to this enlightening video!

The History of the Clinch Cover With Art of the Clinch

I’ll be adding this to our LINKS PAGE to make it more accessible in the future!

Link: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert McGinnis and Art Scott

Review by Introvert Reader

The Art of Robert McGinnis, Robert McGinnis & Art Scott, Titan Books, 2014

For lovers of throwback historical and gothic romances, vintage pulpy reads and spy thrillers, or old movies and magazines, the name Robert McGinnis might be familiar. If it isn’t, then his works of art surely are.

The Art of Robert E. McGinnis by Robert McGinnis and Art Scott — Introvert Reader

A Master Artist

For lovers of throwback historical and gothic romances, vintage pulpy reads and spy thrillers, or old movies and magazines, the name Robert McGinnis might be familiar. But if it isn’t, then his works of art are. I consider McGinnis, along with H. Tom Hall and Elaine Duillo, the holy triumvirate of old-school pulp-gothic-romance cover illustrators, although who is the best can be debated.

The Art of Robert McGinnis is a glorious book depicting hundreds of beautiful McGinnis images.

Born in 1926, McGinnis has spent over 70 years creating book covers for almost every genre, magazine illustrations, portraits, and movie posters, such as the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” featuring Audrey Hepburn. He has worked almost exclusively in tempera paints.

robert mcginnis
Breakfast At Tiffany’s Movie Poster

After the paperback was introduced into the US by Pocket Books in 1939, the business model was for tasteful illustrations, and chic graphic design, almost like mini hardcovers.

When other publishers like Dell and Fawcett began producing their paperbacks, they appealed to a more pulp/comic-book-oriented market. McGinnis’s art was tailor-made for these kinds of books, especially the hardboiled mysteries.

Romance Book Covers and More

He started with covers for characters Mike Shane, Perry Mason, and Carter Brown, grew into spy thrillers like James Bond, and eventually entered the romance genre.

It was a logical choice, as McGinnis had a talent for depicting the feminine form most erotically (as well as males). He started in Gothics and then soon became the first Bodice ripper illustrator for works by Kathleen E. Woodiwss, like The Flame and the Flower:

Cover of The Flame and the Flower

And later, The Wolf and the Dove:

Artwork for The Wolf and the Dove

But he became super notorious for his Johanna Lindsey covers, starting with Fires of Winter (Haardrad Viking Family, #1) by Johanna Lindsey, which began a rage of naked men covers, where the hero would wear less clothing than the heroine. I loved that cover and remember sketching it over and over as a young teen. Supposedly, he painted this one where both hero and heroine were nude and had to cover up the heroine as an afterthought. No matter, I always thought the sight of those pale, naked men’s thighs was one of the most arousing things I’d ever seen. I eternally prefer them to jacked-up bare chests that inundate so many modern covers.

Fires of Winter Artwork

McGinnis’s cover for Lindsey’s Tender Is the Storm by Johanna Lindsey was hugely controversial, with many stores refusing to sell the book. Stickers had to be sent to booksellers to cover up the hero’s naked butt. (It does look like the hero is giving the heroine a gold ole titty bang, doesn’t it?

mcginnis

Besides Gothics and Bodice Rippers, other famous books McGinnis illustrated were epics like The Clan of the Cave BearMandalay, and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, which required extravagant wraparound covers in intimate detail.

Lover of the Female Form

Whatever modern art enthusiasts may have to say about McGinnis, there is no denying that he adored the female form. “The McGinnis woman” was plastered on hundreds of covers. Lawrence Block of the NY Times notes on the back of The Art of Robert McGinnis, “[He] can paint anything– a movie poster, a western landscape–and draw you in. But when he paints a woman, he makes you fall in love.”

“The McGinnis Woman is a mix of a Greek goddess and man-eating Ursula Andress. While today she might be interpreted as a sex object or adornment, she was conceived, in her day, to represent the empowered woman. The McGinnis Woman possesses a whirling narrative force all her own, a perfumed cyclone of sexuality, savvy, mystery, and danger. She also sells books—lots and lots of books.”

(Source: Vanity Fair)

More Than a Book Illustrator

Besides his hundreds of book covers, McGinnis is responsible for famous movie posters such as the aforementioned “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” “Barbarella,” several Blaxploitation films, and most famously, the James Bond films.

I’m a Roger Moore fan (of course I would be), and I like this one from “Live and Let Die,” although McGinnis’s representation of Jane Seymour as Solitaire is slightly off.

“Live and Let Die” artwork for movie poster

Some of my favorites:

The Girl Who Cried Wolf:

Judith:

Cotton Comes to Harlem:

As Old as Cain: (The woman is depicted after Goldie Hawn, the man after James Coburn. Can you tell?)

And this is McGinnis’s own favorite picture:

A Cat with No Name:

Opinion on The Art of Robert McGinnis

Don’t be fooled by the raunchy pictures and book covers. McGinnis has a fine eye for land and seascapes and personal portraits, as he painted Princess Diana.

I enjoy art, but I’m certainly no expert on it. I see what I like and know I like it. For me, Robert McGinnis is a genius of the 20th century, and hopefully, his legacy will live on for ages to come.

art artistic blank page book

Link-O-Rama #2: Blogs, Sites, Podcasts & More

All these links will be added to the Links menu above.

Sites:

Podcast:

This outrageous podcast, The Bodice Tipplers, reviews romances from all eras and genres:

Tumblr:

Look for beautiful Harlequin covers at Vintage Harlequin Romance Cover Art

Twitter:

Every day @ArtOfTheClinch tweets out a gorgeous clinch cover.

the feathered shaft

Link: The Evolution of Romance at Harlequin

Harlequin Romances are Becoming More Sexy

An article from February 11, 2021, by journalist Chris Lambie at saltwire.com addresses How Harlequin Romances Got Spicier. A study of 500 books found the covers got sexier as time has passed, just as the stories have. This phenomenon is not limited to Harlequin, but Harleys are the biggest players in the romance market, and they’re the oldest ones around.

From the article:

“All this begs the question, why study Harlequin romance covers over the decades? ‘If you want to understand what straight women want over time, I think this is a really telling way of looking at it,”’ Fisher said. ‘There’s only a certain segment of women that would be interested in these books. But I think it’s really useful in terms of understanding women’s idealized fantasies about mating.‘”

I’m afraid I have to disagree with this sentiment. I know straight women, lesbians, gay men, and straight men who read romance. It is evident that it’s mostly straight women read heterosexual romances. However, we shouldn’t ignore almost 1/5 of male readers or the other out-lying groups. Approximately 50% of romance readers are between the ages of 18-45, so of course, there are those looking for something different from their mothers or grandmothers. However, there is still a considerable number of readers who appreciate older perspectives on romance.

Younger Readers Want a Change From the Past

The problem really is I think there’s a stigma associated with Harlequin romance novels in particular. Younger women don’t want to be caught reading grandmothers’ romance novels. They want chick lit. They want something fresh and new and I think that’s a challenge for a company that has such a long history.” 

That statement is full of irony because the books that younger readers are eschewing are now primarily catered to their own interests. Those who’ve been reading Harlequins for decades are losing interest in modern books. While this article talks specifically about Harlequin Romances, I will tangentially touch upon that line to springboard to other ones.

I am 43 and a longtime fan of Harlequin Presents. I have no interest in them as they exist today. That line has devolved into chick-lit: chock-full of one-nightstands, brunches with the girls, and psychological angst. The vintage romances had more character development, slow-burn romance, and distinctly unique plots. The heroes were men of their times, although they were not all made from the same mold.

I’ve spoken to women around my age who read HPs and feel similarly. Perhaps there’s a favorite author of theirs that they follow. Still, for the most part, the newer romances fade compared to those penned by Anne Mather, Roberta Leigh, Penny Jordan, Carole Mortimer, Robyn Donald, Charlotte Lamb, Michelle Reid, Lynne Graham (who still writes), Miranda Lee, and many others.

cheap thrills
Cheap Thrills, Tiffany White, Harlequin, 1990, cover artist TBD

The Romance Future is Now

Younger readers shouldn’t shy away from Harlequins as the imprint is more diverse than it’s ever been before. And the belief that Harlequins have always been stodgy, old books is just silly. I grew up reading the Temptation line, starting at around 11 or 12. It was fairly erotic for its day. Condoms, all forms of birth control, one-night stands, sex flings, oral sex, masturbation, multiple partners… I remember reading about all these things in Temptations.

The Blaze line tried to be even more erotic. That line failed, in my opinion, because the books attempted to fuse Romantic Suspense with outre sex scenes, but the stories just came off redundant. Sex toys, dildos, massage oils, and handcuffs, combined with plots about fleeing from stalkers or abusive boyfriends, did not mesh well. The Temptations were so good because they focused on sex and the relationship. I know the Dare line is pretty racy, but I am an “older” reader and have no interest in that line. Explicit sex isn’t what I’m looking for in romance; it’s the story.

Something New in Romance Novels

I find among youthful readers that they look at “vintage” romance in either one of two ways. 1) They feel the books are boring due to fade-to-black sex scenes and mild kisses, with heroes as too enigmatic and stoic. 2) They dislike the dynamic between the battle of the sexes in older romances, The heroes are seen as too cruel, or the books too “rapey.”

To me, there seems a bit of cognitive dissonance going on here. BDSM is embraced, and so, too, damaged heroes in New Adult romances or the-villain-as-the-hero tropes. The more Alpha, the better.

What does Alpha mean to this generation? A large, muscular, jealous, protective man who also sleeps around a lot. This hero has been incredibly popular for ages, especially over the past decade or so. As for BDSM, many female readers are perfectly accepting of a heroine who is “trained” by a dominant Alpha to be his sex slave, even perhaps chained, whipped, spanked, etc., because they see the heroine as having given consent.

Something Old in Romance Novels

What these readers fail to acknowledge about the older so-called “rapey” books was that the reader was giving consent to the story. It was pure fantasy, experiencing a tale about a beautiful woman who an animalistic, attractive male so desired that he would be reduced to coercing her with some amount of force if she were not willing. However, the heroine was often willing; it was a struggle between her inner desires and the outside society she often felt. The allure was about being sexually active and fully enjoying it without any hangups.

Despite “forced seduction/ dubious consent” tropes having faded away to almost obscurity, young readers are quick to give up on a hero if they feel he even gets close to being verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive. Let me dispel the notion that the reader wants to be abused.

Some readers enjoy the thrill of the hunt, whether it’s the hero doing the hunting or even the heroine. A wild man of a hero tamed by his passionate, yet redeeming love for one woman is a fantasy. Or perhaps, folks enjoy these crazy stories for the thrill of seeing something shocking and out of the ordinary. A hero in a novel who asks for consent before every sexual touch may appeal to many women; for others, it may hinder escapism.

The Romance Genre is Big Enough to Include All Readers

While the outside covers and inside content of Harlequins have gotten sexier over time, that’s a separate matter from using these books to gauge what heterosexual women want in their love lives. Marketing whizzes know sex sells romance, not just cars! 🙂

The romance market is bigger than ever, with over a billion dollars in annual sales. There is something out there for every reader of romance to enjoy, young or old, of whatever color or social standing, and we should be accepting of that great variety. Plus, if Harlequin were really savvy, they’d focus on pleasing their older readers and creating new lines for the next generation. Win-win for everyone.

LINKS:

flame and flower

Link: The Washington Post Reports How the Romance Genre Found Its Happily Ever After

romance genre THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER
The Flame and the Flower, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Avon, 1972, Robert McGinnis cover art

How Has the Romance Genre Changed Over the Years?

We love discussing the history of the genre of romance. For that reason, an article we discovered regarding the state of the industry was especially intriguing to us.

Journalist Angela Haupt from The Washington Post spoke with a dozen major players in the romance industry. She then wrote this engaging article about the evolution of the romance novel.

The Post published it on April 15, 2021. The link follows below:

How the Romance Genre Found Its Happily Ever After

Haupt’s article on romance novels highlights the significant points of the genre’s history. It covers the roots in bodice rippers, like Kathleen E. WoodiwissFlame and the Flower, to the softer, sweeter writings of LaVyrle Spencer. She also discusses Harlequin, Ltd.’s dominance in publishing, the mania over Fabio, and the state of the romance industry today,

There are two constants in this ever-changing field. One is the requirement for a happy, satisfactory ending for the protagonists. The other is the universal nature of those who read and write romance.

I think Beverly Jenkins did an excellent job summing it all up.

There’s so many different women writing romance. You’ve got marine scientists, you’ve got biologists, you’ve got physicists, you’ve got waitresses. You’ve got stay-at-home moms. So, you know, everybody writes romance, and everybody reads romance, and all of that together generates billions of dollars a year. We’re the people that keep the lights on in publishing.

BEVERLY JENKINS

My Thoughts About The Washington Post’s Article

After reading the article, I found points I both agreed with and disagreed with about the romance genre. I made the following comment at Historical-Romances.Com: Romance Novels are Big Business:

That’s a fascinating article that brings up a lot of interesting points. However, I have to disagree with the assessment the early clinch covers were directed solely at the male gaze. Certainly there were covers that had women practically bursting out of their dresses, but how can they forget the Robert McGinnis naked man phase that began in 1980 with Johanna Lindsey’s Fires of Winter? Each Lindsey cover was more graphic than the next. The original A Gentle Feuding cover had the hero’s backside completely nude (that version was never published in America). Tender is the Storm was so controversial that bookstores were supplied with stickers to cover the hero’s behind and groin area.

Let’s face it, romance covers have always been a bit salacious, from the very beginning to the naked men’s torso phase of today. Covers have always been controversial. That’s why some readers prefer step-covers or the privacy of their e-readers. Personally, I love the variety of it all: from painted to digital, step-backs or clinch, with a couple or with the hero or the heroine alone. The only ones I’m not fond of in the historical genre are the newer illustrated types, which, in my estimation, are better suited for contemporaries or light hearted rom-coms.

JACQUELINE DIAZ

Your Opinion

Have you read The Washington Post’s story? If so, what do you think of what they wrote? What are your feelings on the history of genre romance novels?

Please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.

Link: Voluptuous Images by Ed Tadiello

Found the name of an artist whose romance covers I’ve admired, Ed Tadiello, at this great blog:

ArtBlogMarkovArt

links

Link-O-Rama #1: Blogs and Sites That Are Bodice Ripper or Old-School Historical Romance Friendly

I will add these sites to the LINK option on the menu. It’s helpful to know some places on the internet to read about and discuss retro historical romance from the 1970s to the 1990s.