"What is the profile of the average poetry book buyer?"

(I'm reposting a question I origially posted on the Wompo list serv.)

A coworker asked me that question and I honestly didn't know the answer. Who is the typical poetry book buyer? We can all guess, but what are the demographics? Male vs female? Young vs old? Poet vs nonpoet? Large booksellers don't share this information, so I'm hoping to get something more than opinion. Maybe a few of our indie publishers/booksellers can shed some light. What do we really know about our readership?


Catherine said…
More women than men at several poetry launches I have been to recently. But quite a few men anyway. Way more university educated people than average. As for age, at the 26 year old poet's book launch there were mostly young people, and at the 60 year old poet's book launch the average age was a good deal older (who'd have thought it?)!

Due to the small size of our population, I think the attendees at the book launch are probably a large enough fraction of the total buyers to be fairly representative
January said…
I think it's all relative. No matter where we are, the sample will be small because there just aren't enough poetry readers nationally (or globally) to get accurate numbers.

I don't know if, in the U.S., women attend more readings. It depends on the poet who's reading and the type of reading. I think more men try performance poetry, but that's only a guess.
This is a complicated statistical research problem. I would be very interested to know the answer to this question. I would also like to know if, how and why that profile might be different if the purchaser usually buys from an indie?

Also (as per Catherine's comment) the level of education has always been a factor in poetry that appears in print. How far below the university degree level does the poetry market extend and has that group of consumers (below a university degree) been growing smaller in the last few decades? If so, of course the question is why are fewer of them reading poetry now?

There are lots of things within this question that many of us need to know more about! Thanks for asking about it.
January said…
I really feel that if the poetry community had better market research, poets and publisher could market their books with more confidence and certainty.

I think I'm going to expand this into another blog post.
Anonymous said…
The NEA provides some information on poetry here—http://arts.endow.gov/research/ReadingonRise.pdf—but the focus is mainly on literary reading in general. The stats are disturbing, though: from 2002 to 2008 poetry reading has declined 3.8% "due in part to a steep decline in the number of women who read poetry." That surprises me....
January said…
Thanks. I just printed the report; I'll read it later today.
jim said…
A couple of complications here, too, in how many books of poetry get boosts in sales by university poets ordering them for their classes--in fact, this is how I generally support my peer poets, both established and emerging (yes, Jan, I have your book on cue for the Spring!).

Now, most of my undergraduate students will sell those books back at the end of the year, but I also know that some become poetry book buyers/readers, as they'll email me with their suggestions or newest finds.

What's intriguing is that I do get marketing materials from a handful of small presses about their newest releases--Copper Canyon does an especially good job. I think this aspect of the poetry book market is something that more small publishers could easily exploit. I imagine most presses rely on the poets to make these overtures or take advantage of their connections, but the presses that can afford to undertake this way of advertising their books surely get some immediate, impactful sales, with 20-50 books with one good hook.

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