History and Historicals: At 75, HarperCollins' Avon Books Romances the Readers

Image - iStockphoto: Petrograd 99 Avon Books
Image – iStockphoto: Petrograd 99

By Rachel Aydt | @Rachelrooo with
Editor-in-Chief Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson

See our related story about historical romance and modern sensibilities

This year marks the diamond anniversary of Avon Books’ operation in the market. For 44 of its 75 years, it has been come-hithering Valentine’s Day enthusiasts with tales of romance.

Avon Romance logo Avon BooksFounded in 1941, the brand Avon Books originally featured a wide range of genres and comics. Its purchase by Hearst in 1959 led to its entry into romance in 1972 with Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Flame and the FlowerAfter Newscorp’s buy of Hearst’s book publishing interests in 1999, Avon became focused on romance. And since 2010, the brand has been an imprint of HarperCollins, which also, of course, owns Harlequin.

In addition to marking Avon Books’ 75 years, Harper is also seeing Avon Impulse, a digital-first imprint, reach its fifth anniversary, focusing on what the company refers to as “future stars of the genre.”

In terms of the United States market, the Romance Writers of America’s (RWA) Romance Industry Statistics page cites the romance-book business as a whole reporting a total annual sales value in 2013 of $1.08 billion. That number comes from BookStats, and it’s important to remember that we don’t have adequate sales figures on ebooks from most of the major online realtors, most significantly Amazon. Particularly because romance tends to be the most popular genre for self-publishing writers—and because self-publishers work primarily in digital formats—it’s impossible to get a good count of how many titles actually are on the market, nor how much revenue the entire category generates.

Avon trio top Avon BooksLast August, Nielsen released some of the statistics in its most recent Romance Book Buyer Report. That report summarizes data from the sources that BookStats comprises, “but mostly,” according to Nielsen, “from the Nielsen Romance Buyer Survey for the RWA that was conducted in the spring and early summer of 2014.

One of the key elements of the romance sector profile is its leadership in digital. As Nielsen reports, “The ebook share of romance (39 percent in Q1 2014) has consistently been above that of adult fiction (31 percent in Q1 2014) as a whole.”

Here are some of the results cited by Nielsen late last summer:

Age of Readership

Survey results show an average age of 42, down from 44 in 2013. “This makes the genre’s average age similar to the age for fiction overall,” according to Nielsen. “In addition, 44 percent of these readers are aged 18-44, which includes the coveted Millennial demographic.”


“Romance book buyers are still more likely to be female than buyers of fiction overall,” Nielsen reports, “but with more attention than ever directed to the genre—especially given all the media coverage of Fifty Shades of Grey—more men are coming into the fold. In first-quarter 2014, men accounted for 15 percent of romance books purchased, compared with 12 percent in 2013.”

Who Are They?

“Nielsen data shows that romance book buyers are more likely to be from the South and Mid-West regions,” Nielsen report, and they tend to be retired. What’s more, for all the titillation often associated with the genre, romance readers, Nielsen tells us, “tend to identify as Christian.” It’s interesting that Nielsen sees younger romance readers tending to favor romantic suspense and more erotic reads than their elders, with “younger” being those surveyed under age 30.

Digital Retail

“Amazon is the top digital retailer for romance,” Nielsen writes, “with 60 percent of romance ebook readers saying they buy titles via Amazon….The company’s Kindle app [is] used by 61 percent of romance ebook readers.”

Review Influences

Friends and family recommendations and other tips account for choices reported by some 40 percent of those surveyed by Nielsen. In addition, however, the reviews on Amazon are seen as a leading factor in choice-making, an especially strong trend among younger readers.

“Three-quarters of buyers say they chat about romance novels with friends and relatives, a habit slightly more common among those under 30,” Nielsen reports.

From 'Literary Liaisons: Who's Reading Romance Books?" of August 10, 2015: Nielsen Avon Books
From ‘Literary Liaisons: Who’s Reading Romance Books?” of August 10, 2015: Nielsen

Special Focus: Historical Romance

As long as we’re talking 75 years of life for the Avon brand, historical romance is an interesting one to consider. As in many specializations—think of jazz and sports enthusiasts—fans of romance can be a demanding audience, particularly in historical romance. Many of those readers know their stuff. Authors find they can’t jump aboard this carriage ride and pump out a book unless it’s in their blood.

Carrie Feron is Avon’s Vice President and Editorial Director. She says that creating the stories the readership likes takes a kind of commitment to the form. “People can’t write these books without believing in them.”

Read more

There’s more: Read the full story at Publishing Perspectives

By Porter Ander­son

Publishing Perspectives: History and Historicals: At 75, Avon Romances the Readers

Originally published at www.PublishingPerspectives.com


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