The study is based on “hundreds of volunteer readers over the last few months” who break down as about 20% male and 80% female—which Jellybooks founder Andrew Rhomberg attributes to women buying more books and reading more in general. By and large, the study suggests, men and women are equally likely to finish a given book—but men are quicker to decide whether they like the book enough to want to continue reading it.
“The initial decline during which most readers are lost is much sharper and earlier for men than it is for women, and this is a behaviour that we observe for the majority of books,” writes Rhomberg. “So put another way, men give up on a book much sooner than women do. Given the identical completion rates, we take this to mean that men either have more foresight in this regard or that women continue reading even if they already know that the book is not to their liking. We suspect the latter, but cannot prove it at this point.”
There is one interesting exception to the rule of men and women being equally likely to finish books, and that has to do with books that deal with feelings, emotions, and romance. It’s a broad cliché (and often untrue) that men don’t like to read romance novels, but like many clichés it seems to be founded in fact. Rhomberg writes:
Books that predominantly deal with these categories show noticeable differences in completion rates, which can vary from relatively small differences (5-10 percent fewer men finish the book) to very large difference, in which the completion rate for men is half the value or less than that for women. Not only do fewer men start reading these books, but those who do start reading them are more likely to give up on them than women are, irrespective of the quality of the content or the narrative.
This holds true whether the author is male or female, Rhomberg reports.
Rhomberg closes by teasing a future article in which he will discuss the effect age has on book completion rates. Though he doesn’t go into specifics, he notes that age has a much stronger impact than gender in that regard.
This study could well be helpful to writers and publishers in deciding who to target their books toward. Of course, some of it was pretty clear already—most romance publishers already know to target women, after all—but it’s interesting to see it confirmed, even if I’m a little skeptical of the methodology. It’s also an interesting example of a way e-books can provide publishers with statistics in a way that paper books simply can’t. Who knows how much of this study is already old news to Amazon?