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Horror Demographics 101

Posted on 2006.04.04 at 02:27
Horror Demographics 101
Meat, Metal and Mayhem

I've learned a lot about horror fans while working in the book business, and browsing hundreds of websites, fansites, and Myspace pages (not to mention living in the vein as a horror writer). The following applies primarily to the post-baby boomer audience, which is the driving force in the rebirth of the horror genre:

Approximately 60 percent of horror fans (this applies more obviously to fans of horror films than horror novels) are not only white males between the ages of 16 and 35 (surprise, surprise) but white males who strongly identify not with the Goth scene but Metal. About 20 percent of horror fans are part of the Goth/Industrial scene, with some significant cross-over into Metal (I fit into this category), and the other 20 percent break down into all sorts of miscellaneous groups, with little in common. Horror is the most phallocentric genre of film and literature, with the exception of pornography. (Yes, it too has its place in the arts, and like horror sometimes rises above the conventions of spurting body fluids.) The female audience only makes up about 30 percent of horror fans, overlapping the latter two categories, and most of them gravitate toward the more Anne Rice type of baroque horror or more recently the Laurell K. Hamilton sexy-hip, tough-chick romance-horror.  Much of this can be directly attributed to the enduring impact of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." This is not a sexist statement, but reflects the past five years of sales trends I have observed first hand in the book industry. Few women are into hardcore horror, and like their male counterparts, a large number of them are fans of Goth or Metal.

Based on movie attendance and rentals, the small percentage of African-Americans that are really into horror, have a predominant interest in the stalker/slasher sub-genre of "horror" and significantly drive ticket sales. Pay close attention to the trailers that run with horror movies, and their target audience. The current trend of casting at least one handsome, African-American male, and one sexy urban female in large studio horror films is pervasive. It's become a modern cliche--as much as the falsely "progressive" rule in horror films of the past decade, that an African-American character can be a victim, but they can't die first lest the director of a horror movie be declared a racist. It's now an unspoken rule of horror political correctness that at least one white, buxom female must be murdered by the serial killer before a sexy black victim dies. This trend was so obvious, it was mocked in the "horror rules" of "Scream 2," prefacing Jada Pinkett Smith's notorious movie house death scene.

The "gorehounds," fans who gravitate towards "Splatter," or extreme gore horror are predominantly young, white males--the same group most likely to buy comics. They're less interested in being terrified, as cheering at the spectacle of so many blood-fireworks. They high-five the blood-gags (the make-up effects term for the arterial sprays of fake blood and exploding, prosthetic heads). Fans of more "literate" horror, tend to be college educated and have a strong affinity for other types of fantastical fiction--the fans of Clive Barker, Lovecraft, Peter Straub, David Cronenbeg and Chuck Palahniuk fall into this category, and you're as likely to see on their "favorite" lists the works of Poe, William S. Burroughs, Garcia-Marquez, George R.R. Martin, and Phillip K. Dick as Edward Lee or Brian Keene. These fans are more interested in the subversion of reality, and profoundly dissatisfied with the banality and self-made slavery of everyday life.

Stephen King transcends all categories, because he has achieved the rare position of being the Mark Twain of Horror, appealing to the fears of the common man, as opposed to the experience of (and fascination with) the outsider perspective. In his books the outsider is always the enemy, and even when his books have political or social commentary, his novels usually reinforce the status quot of society, and see normality as a positive standard. The scale from black to white has very few gradients, often reduced to dualism. Good is supposed to triumph over Evil,, and if it doesn't you have a "tragedy" and a "warning." So different from that Anne Rice line of existential horror, the line that shook me more than any other line in the balls-out, vicious nihilism of "Interview with a Vampire"--"God Kills indiscriminately, and so do we." Strange that the novel is at once profoundly romantic and misanthropic, but Byron was a champion of that dichotomy two hundred years ago. In "Interview" Anne Rice screamed at God in outrage, but now she kneels at the altar, contrite and facing the short end of her own mortality.

Regarding the musical tastes of young horror fans, the more a Metal/Hardcore fan (Metalcore for short) gravitates toward extreme music, the more the cultural significators in wardrobe and appearance become indistinguishable from Goth/Industrial trappings, sans gender ambiguity, which is a defining omission from the rigidly masculine Metalcore fan base. The exceptions that prove the rule are Marilyn Manson (embraced widely by both the Goth and Metal fans, as well as horror afficionados, and his watered-down bastard, "HIM." It's that whole nihilistic, dancing in the dark, counter-culture archetype, the "We have stared into the Abyss and love what we see" mentality. Of course it goes back to that question I posed in an earlier blog about fans of torture-horror. How many of them could kill and dress a deer without wretching on the floor? Much less bag a body, witness the ragged bodies of a car wreck up close and personal, or deal with a real homicide scene? The Horror/Metal/Goth triad is more about death and nihilism as a fashion statement, the morbid as a subculture identity, about being an animal in a safe way, and an "anarchist" who stills pay the light bills and buy his records and books at the local mega-mall.

We like our horror rough and raw, but read it with the lights on, and watch the celluloid nightmares unfold in air-conditioned rooms. We want our Metal/Industrial music pounding like a black heart of Hell, but our car stereos are sandwiched between air bags. Sex and death, getting in touch with the animal, we crave it like wild beasts with the scent of raw meat in our nostrils, but won't forsake our leashes. Our safe, warm, kennels. Horror is a way out, but at its best is also a way in. We can feed our demons with phantom food, offer them upturned hands, or go mad with their baying until they burst from their cells. All these men with tattoos and shaved heads, leather, vinyl and ink black clothes, the snarl and testosterone--I can smell them just thinking about them. These ball-sweat thugs are so Menschenfleisch!  They are men who live gun out and cock raised, snarling and moaning, so tough, yet vulnerable and afraid underneath, and trying so hard to deny it. I love digging beneath their skins; fantasize about doing it. Same with the women in black corsets with swirls of black bones inked along their spines, breasts pushed up, legs stripped, confounding feminist admonitions that deny the power of a woman's sex as weapon and source of power. Their celebration of the taboo, is a "Fuck you, I am an animal--hear me roar!" These fetishistic proclamations do the same thing as horror–they help us shrug off the skins of civilization, and are a modern, shamanistic bacchanal. Clive Barker said that the ultimate power trip is scaring his readers and giving them a hard-on at the same time. Mean horror titillates, good horror flays us to the bone.

Trying to cash in on the horror market, to "target" a novel to this audience? If you don't live it, you're only wearing face paint. Start by feeding some meat to your inner demons.


rjcrowtherjr at 2006-04-10 11:14 (UTC) (Link)

An Explanation [part 1]

An explanation [part 1]

First off, I want to thank those of you who took the time to read the Horror 101 blog post, and for your feedback. I sincerely apologize for not backing it up with statistics or how I came up with the generalizations, and my intention was never to "be the voice of authority" but only state some observations I've made--and I do not claim they are authorative. Forgive me if my generalizations came across as too adamant. They are, however, backed up by sales figures from the national book chain that I work for, and the feedback I have received through my professional relations with a number of publishing houses and music industry reps. I was very surprised and honored when Brian wrote me and mentioned he had posted a link to my blog. Immediately realized I might see some fireworks, and never expected it to reach a broad audience. To my knowledge only about ten people regularly check my blog (including my editor and agent). I consider Brian one of the greatest, most literate horror writers of our time.

As for the comment about what part of that 30% of women who abhor the Hamilton type fiction make you, it makes you the enlightened part with excellent taste, who haven't caved into the huge marketing campaigns launched by larger publising houses. I in no way intended to suggest that you as an individual, or the groups I mentioned, only follow exact buying trends. These are only generalizations based on sales figures and observed market trends. An excellent article on horror trends was written up by my agent Lori Perkins, in Writer's Digest Magazine last year. Here's a bit on how I drew my observations:

I work as a bookseller/manager in one of the top 6 bookstores in sales in the nation, grossing over 14 million in sales a year. We also have the largest horror sales of any chain store in the country, and the largest horror section. I am responsible for that section, and do all the ordering for it. I regularly feature endcaps of Brian's work, and the well of other writers I admire such as Doug Clegg, Clive Barker, and P.D. Cacek and Tom Piccirrilli. Because I am seen as the (God-forbid) horror expert in our store, I field the vast majority of horror requests in our store, and hand-sell the titles. When a title begins to move, and is that of a writer I respect, I order large quantities of their titles to help push sales so they can keep writing the stuff I love. Our store does enough volume that the sales in our location can make a difference in national sales and corporate pre-orders, which is how things are done in the business, and which effects the size of future print runs.

I've developed close relationships with several publicists, editors and marketing reps at a number of major publishing houses and their imprints, and a couple of them have been kind enough to share marketing and sales information with me, buying trends, national sales figures, and the results of their own demographic studies. This information is generally not made public. I also correspond regularly with a number of horror writers, and have asked for their feeback on their audience. I was very pleasently surprised to hear from Brian Keene that close to half of his readers are women, which shows what an extraordinary draw he has. The big four publishing houses have consciously and with intent been trying to target female readers of Romance and get them to read "cross-over" titles which sell 10-1 over most horror novels--I'm talking about Hamilton, Kim Harrison, and the like. And it has been extrememly effective in making this type of fiction lucrative. I directly handle the horror section, receive the product, and merchandise it, so I see what co-ops are being purchased and the innitial product shipments, as well as track sales for a number of national marketing reps. So no, I didn't simply pull these numbers out of my ass.

[continued pt. 2]
rjcrowtherjr at 2006-04-10 11:20 (UTC) (Link)


An explanation [continued from part one, cross-posted to Brian Keene forum]

As for the music/horror commentary, again I work with national music reps and poll them on their sales, and more importantly watch what customers buy very carefully, and what type of books are bought with what types of multimedia--as cross selling is a big part of the business. I know this is all ugly and corporate, but you can learn tons about the market trends by observation on the floor. Regarding the film figures, it's a mix of direct observation, and feedback I've received from a Sony film rep and a Columbia film rep that I had drinks with a year ago.

I never intended to suggest in any way that all types of a certain music subculture dress the same way, the way that I personally find provocative, just that a significant number do, and I see significant purchasing trends among those who come in as customers. I do not claim to be the voice of all metalcore fans, rivet heads, goths, or horror readers. That said, the correlation between rivet heads and metalcore fans and horror purchases is profound in my market, which as I mentioned is the sixth largest in the nation. I am a huge fan of Metal and Industrial music, and frequent clubs and concerts in San Diego and LA. As the gentleman from New Orleans wrote, not all of them dress alike or have the same tastes. I will go from full black vinyl and motorcycle boots to black jeans and a t-shirt, and my own music collection ranges from Wumpscut and Pantera to Billie Holiday and the collected Cantatas of J.S. Bach. All I've done is posted some significant common buying trends I've observed, but trends are always in broad strokes and never reveal individual nuances of taste. The larger the sample, the more accurate the broad generalization, and these broad trends are what publishing houses focus on, as they care about large numbers not individual variations. Also, as mentioned in the blog, I perused literally hundreds of blogs and myspace pages, and took note of the interest sidebars and what the blogger/myspace user posted as books/music interests, as well as their user pics (I did this to learn more about the potential readers I humbly hope will one day take an interest in my horror fiction. As I wrote at the conclusion of the blog entry, horror is about feeding meat to your inner demons, not using sales trends to put out drivel. Horror is and has always been my first love.

Hope this helps explain a bit. And thank you again to Brian Keene for setting a writing standard to which I aspire.
Justine Musk
moschus at 2006-04-14 06:19 (UTC) (Link)
Just to say, I love this blog entry, find it fascinating, have reread it a couple of times and keep meaning to link to it on my own blog. Tomorrow!
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