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October 2015
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In July 2015, I put up a link to a survey about diversity—with a focus on race and ethnicity—in romance. Summary posts appear on Scandalicious Book Reviews and All About Romance, but here, I go into more detail about respondent demographics and methods used in analyzing the results.

Congratulations again to Rhonda, the winner of the $50 Amazon gift card giveaway!

INTRODUCTION
If you’re reading this version of the report, you’ve probably been referred here because you want more details on approach and methodology. So, a little background to start with: This survey was conducted informally—there was no IRB and/or association with an organization/institution. I relied heavily on friends to help spread the word, so there is likely an inherent bias in the results because of this snowball sampling approach. Additionally, because of how informal this study is, in lieu of a literature review in this report, I want to acknowledge some people from whom I received influence, education, and support:

Reading tweets from Rebekah Weatherspoon, Suleikha Snyder, Jill Sorenson, and a multitude of others helped to inform the questions I chose to ask. I recommend following them if you aren’t already.

Cecilia Tan, who writes and publishes a lot of diverse romance, and Jenny Holiday, who also writes diverse romances, spent time reviewing the questions in the survey to ensure there were no textual or logical errors (and caught several before it went public, so thank you both).

Finally, thank you again to Jenny, and to my agent Courtney Miller-Callihan, for reading over this report and offering really thoughtful edits.

And thank you to the many others who are advocating for more diversity, not just in romance works, but in literature, in all media, in the world.

A lot of people said that knowing about diverse romance releases was one of the obstacles they faced in reading more diversely. So I’ve started a monthly newsletter that focuses on recent or upcoming diverse romance releases. Those who chose in the survey to be added to a diverse romance mailing list, have already been added to the newsletter database. You can sign up for it here: http://eepurl.com/buUFrX

For those who are looking specifically for upcoming African-American romances, Romance in Color provides a very helpful list here: http://romanceincolor.com/Upcoming_Releases.html

One final note/disclaimer before getting into the results: no matter how unbiased I tried to keep the analysis, I am sure that the information I’m choosing to present has been informed by bias—what I perceived to be significant, or the content keywords I chose to use in the standardization process, etc. There was plenty of opportunity for bias to be introduced. As with any qualitative survey, too, the weight that we put on each of the individual items can change the way we perceive the results once those items are combined for analysis. Despite all of this, much of the demographic and buying habit data gathered in this survey was consistent with the findings on RWA’s public site that came from a larger-scope survey.

DEMOGRAPHICS
Now on to the results of the survey. First, I’ll lay out the demographic data.

There were 507 respondents in total.

Race/Ethnicity
Respondents were asked in the first question to self-identify their race(s) and/or ethnicity(ies). I did standardize the responses for ease of reporting—meaning, I corrected misspellings and changed entries such as “British caucasian” to “British, Caucasian.” I did not, however, change any entries such as “Chinese” to “Asian.” The standardized top results are listed below. (In this post, I have taken out single-item entries)

White 199
Caucasian 125
Black 26
African-American 17
White, Caucasian 11
Asian 8
Hispanic 6
Latina 6
Black, African-American 4
Caucasian, British 4
White, Jewish 4
Anglo 3
Biracial 3
White, European 3
Caucasian, Jewish 2
Chinese 2
Hispanic, White 2
multi-racial 2
Puerto Rican 2
Thai 2

If we combine the instances of “White” and/or “Caucasian” (those associated with a nationality, even if no other race was specified, were included in this sum), 378 of the 507 respondents, or 74.56%, identified this way.

Using the same approach, 52 or 10.26%, identified as Black and/or African-American; 22, or 4.34%, as Asian, which in this report includes both South and East Asian; and 19, or 3.75%, as more than one race.

I did not find percentages for the racial and ethnic demographics of the entirety of the romance-reading community, or even a significantly larger sample of readers in the romance genre, so I can’t comment on how closely this matches up with the larger set of {all romance readers}; however, respondents to this particular survey are obviously majority Caucasian/White, so I would recommend that any inferences drawn from comparisons between race/ethnicity and other data should be explored and verified on a larger scale.

Gender
When asked to note the gender with which they identified, 97% of respondents chose “Female,” 1.6% “Male,” and 1.4% “Other.”

Age
Distribution of respondents was as follows for the following age ranges:
age

<21    1.19%
21-25  6.13%
26-29  18.18%
30-39  21.74%
40-49  28.26%
50-59  15.42%
60-64  5.34%
65+    3.95%

Respondents were also asked about the highest level of schooling they attained:
education
their annual income:
income
their marital status:
marital
The number of romances, on average, read per month:
romances-read
and how much they spent on romances per month:
spending
Seventy-six percent (76%) of respondents were readers only (meaning, not published authors).

These questions were primarily put in to ensure that the data gathered was close to or consistent with the data gleaned from the larger-scale study conducted by RWA. Some answers, such as income or age group, were similar. The respondents in this survey read a higher number of romances per month on average than respondents in the RWA survey, and there was a higher percentage of women who answered this survey than the percentage in the RWA survey.

Habits and Preferences
Most respondents (67%) said that single-title was the length of romance they most preferred to read, with category length at 29%. Respondents were overwhelmingly contemporary (85%) romance readers, with historical (67%) and paranormal (66%) coming in next (respondents could select multiple options).

NOTABLE CORRELATIONS
In this section, we look at the trends that came from comparing the data gleaned from different answers to determine if there were any correlations that could be used to increase the visibility and success of diverse romance.

Discoverability and Obstacles
Here’s how respondents answered the question, “If you would like to read romance works featuring non-white characters, what is your obstacle to doing so (check all that apply)?”

obstacles
You can see in this chart that knowing about content, as well as the sheer quantity of good content, were the most-commonly chosen obstacles to reading. I’ll be focusing primarily on those options in the next section. However, I want to note here—a brief sentence, but still important—out of the 15 people who indicated in another question that they actively seek out romance featuring POC characters, 11 of those likewise selected knowing about existing or upcoming content as an obstacle.

Social influence and leveraging peer networks
Looking first at the way that respondents found new reads (general new releases—the question didn’t specify that the story needed to have POC characters), the top methods were:

1. Friend recommends it (236/46.55%)
2. Author newsletter (173/34.12%)
3. Goodreads (171/33.73%)
4. Going to a bookstore (119/23.47%)

There’s a big difference between answers (1) and (2), and again a big gap between answers (3) and (4). But I’m including that fourth option because, in the larger-scale study that RWA conducted, the most-frequently cited method for those respondents for discovering new reads was Going to a bookstore.

But if we go back to that question about the obstacles that respondents faced when it came to finding new reads featuring POC characters, if we look at the 210 respondents who said that “knowing about existing or upcoming content” was an obstacle, the order of things changed a bit. It became:

1. Friend recommends it (119/56.67%)
2. Goodreads (72/34.29%)
3. Author newsletter (62/29.52%)
4. Going to a bookstore (53/25.24%)

More of the people who were facing this obstacle were getting information about their next read from Goodreads than from author newsletters. When finding information about general releases, those two options were switched. And in this case, a higher percentage of respondents relied on friend recommendations than in the general responses.

One interpretation of these results is that respondents who want to read more romances featuring POC characters, but who are having problems finding those books, are more likely to rely on friends and Goodreads than those who aren’t seeking or aren’t having a problem finding romances feature POC characters. This points to a stronger reliance on social media and social networks—peer recommendations—than on reliance on authors and booksellers—what I’m calling source recommendations.

It is promising that those who indicated that Going to a bookstore was one of the methods by which they found new books to read seemed to have fewer obstacles to knowing about content featuring POC characters, as this was the top option in the RWA study. Making sure these romances get physical visibility and shelf space in vendor venues is critical. Source recommendations appear to have power, but only on an opt-in basis. A reader must choose to view an author or publisher’s website or newsletter, or drive to the bookstore and browse the shelves. Given that a lot of the online interaction includes fly-by information, such as on Twitter or on Goodreads, exploring how to amplify the visibility of romances featuring diverse characters in fly-by information and peer recommendations seems to be a priority.

But on top of this, there seems to be a need for better metadata for electronic vendors, as well as a need for talking up diverse romance and actively recommending these books to friends. But at the heart of all of this, I believe the problem stems from needing high-quality, diverse content in the genre, to begin with.

How to influence spending on diverse romance
For those who said “knowing about existing or upcoming content” was an obstacle?

18.1% spent <$5
35.24% spent $5-$15
33.33% spent $15-$30
13.33% spent >$30

per month on romance works.

In other words, most of those respondents are spending on romance works. This group represents over 40% of the overall respondents. Though the question was not asked as to whether that amount spent would be diverted or increased to accommodate the purchase of romances featuring POC or diverse characters, I think it’s significant enough to say that authors and publishers are leaving money on the table when it comes to diverse romance. I know that solving the issues of correct categorization and metadata is a problem that a lot of us face, but the argument I’m making here is that it’s not impossible. As a result, I believe that saying “diverse romance doesn’t sell” actually means, “we are not marketing diverse romance correctly,” and—like countless folks have said before—we need to reevaluate our marketing approach when it comes to diverse romance.

What motivates readers to read more diverse romance?
One of the questions asked for an open-ended answer: “If you already read romances featuring non-white characters, why do you do so? Are there any examples of romances you really enjoyed? What would you like to see more of when you are looking for romances featuring non-white main characters?”

Some respondents named specific authors, including: Rhys Ford, Courtney Milan, Farrah Rochon, Beverly Jenkins, Alisha Rai, Jeannie Lin, and Sherry Thomas. There were a handful of other names, but these were the ones that came up fairly frequently.

I do want to note that it is cheering to see that many were citing books and authors they loved that feature POC characters, as well as a range of backgrounds represented both by the characters in the books and the authors who wrote them. However, I also want to be clear that, in saying this, I am absolutely not trying to send the message that our work here is done.

The analysis of these responses took a little more time, as I first had to read through and determine what the common themes were, then develop a set of keywords and standardized themes that could be used to indicate what the respondent was saying—for the sake of being able to arrive at something quantitative enough to compare to the other data.

These were the themes (here, in order of frequency of occurrence) that came out of that analysis:

1. Race is not a factor in choice of read
2. Writing and compelling story is most important
3. Read favorite authors
4. Diversity in story should reflect diversity in real life
5. Increase content in the mainstream
6. Make decisions based on book metadata (cover, blurb)
7. Want to learn something new about a different group
8. No caricatures or stereotypes
9. Have a specific preference in reading about non-white races
10. Want to be able to identify with MCs
11. Make decisions based on recommendations
12. Do not want to read books where race is used as a lesson or is the major source of conflict
13. Actively seeking diverse reads and POC authors
14. Increase visibility of existing content in the mainstream
15. Remove race from descriptions entirely

I only added these keywords/themes into the respondent’s answer grid if they specifically made a statement that supported the theme. For example, if a respondent said, “I want my books to look like the world around me,” I would mark it as theme #4, but would not mark it as theme #1, because race not being a factor in making a choice of which book to read was not specifically stated.

Along the same lines, if respondent said only, “I choose what to read based on whether the storyline looks interesting,” that does not automatically mean they felt race was not important. That respondent simply did not make any statements about race being important.

Here is how the responses broke down:
motivation
For the sake of space, I do not show all text options on the side, but each bar corresponds, in order, to the list above.

Looking at the frequency of that response and how it matched up to the larger racial/ethnic demography of survey respondents as well as age (I chose these two demographic areas to see if there would be significance in the variation in both, one, or neither), there was one number in particular that stood out.

Of the 147 respondents who indicated that race was not a factor when making a decision on whether to read a book,

5.44% identified as mixed race
1.36% identified as Hispanic or Latino/a
2.72% identified as Asian
1.36% identified as Black or African-American
87.07% identified as White or Caucasian

 

Compared to the race/ethnicity percentages of all 507 survey respondents,

 

3.75% identified as mixed race
2.37% identified as Hispanic or Latino/a
4.34% identified as Asian
10.26% identified as Black or African-American
74.56% identified as White or Caucasian

 

It turns out that:

42.11% of respondents who identified as mixed race
16.67% of respondents who identified as Hispanic or Latino/a
18.18% of respondents who identified as Asian
3.85% of respondents who identified as Black or African-American
33.86% of respondents who identified as White or Caucasian

indicated that race was not a factor when making a decision on whether to read a book.

Above, I highlighted what I found to be interesting—compared to the other race/ethnic groups, the self-identified Black or African-American respondents were significantly less likely to that race is not a factor when choosing a book to read.

I cannot say for certain why this is. But I am still going to offer one possible interpretation to it (and I’d love to hear more):

Especially given the marked (and inexplicable, from my POV) divide between “general romance” and “African-American romance” in the categorization/shelving of romance works, race/ethnicity is and should be important to African-American romance readers. Whether that is because they rely on the specific categorization to help discover their next read or because they feel they have had to resort to browsing in a category that isn’t acknowledged as part of a larger group (though I personally say it should be), is not clear. I also think this points back to the issue of incorrect or suboptimal metadata being attached to romances featuring POC characters.

As to the 33.86% of respondents who identified as White or Caucasian: based on the tone of the responses, my interpretation is that these respondents would like to and/or are willing to read romances featuring POC characters.

I have a hard time drawing any significant conclusions from the percentages associated with race/ethnic groups outside of “Black or African-American” and “White or Caucasian” because those samples were so small. Even for the “Black or African-American” group, the sample size isn’t something I’d consider significant enough to make any definitive statements or action plans, which is why I’d recommend following up in more depth on this correlation. I also think it is something that deserves priority when exploring further because there was not significant variation across the entire sample when broken down by age group.

Content is King
Here, I look at the relationship between race/ethnicity of the respondent and the theme of “Increase quantity of content available.” That was the fifth most frequent response in the open-ended question, but I think it’s important because the obstacles cited by people seemed to be stemming from both a metadata/marketing problem and a supply issue. But I will readily admit that my own bias is playing a role, and I think adding more content is critical to improving the discoverability of diverse romance.

And again we end up with an interesting breakdown by race/ethnicity:

15.78% mixed race
24.97% Hispanic or Latino/a
18.18% Asian
36.53% Black or African-American
11.11% White or Caucasian

For this particular question, I felt that the significant variation in percentages is interesting because the correlation between: a. race not being a factor in making a decision about what to read, and b. knowing about content seemed to support what many have said already—that existing POC romances are not being correctly marketed. Focusing particularly on the 38.45% above, an issue that was brought up many times previously—including in this report—that romance featuring an African-American romance is often classified as “African-American romance” instead of simply “romance.”

This, of course, assumes that many readers in the entire romance community are browsing general romance and likely prioritizing information they find in that category over race-specific subcategories. I want to be clear that I am making this assumption, but I also want to say that this interpretation, like every other I’ve offered in this post, is strictly my opinion and could be dead wrong.

Lack of content as well as mistargeted marketing are two suggestions for why discovery is so difficult. Multicultural romances are often subject to specialized categories or descriptions, which places a net-non-beneficial tax on great romance stories. But are there other ways that we can make a change in the way we understand and market diverse romance?

Identification with Characters
The question, “When reading romance works, do you enjoy…?” was included on the survey in order to determine how readers are identifying with stories and with characters. There’s been some discussion on social media and in workshops at conferences about how, exactly, readers read. The short answer? Everyone is different. But though this answers makes sense on an intuitive, human level, sometimes it helps to put numbers to a concept.

The question listed a set of preferences from which respondents could choose one or more answers, including “None of these preferences describes mine.” Here is how the responses broke down:

preferences

Interestingly, readers were more likely (68%) to indicate “stories where the one of the main characters has physical characteristics that are attractive to you, personally,” as a preference than they were to indicate “stories where you can physically identify with one of the main characters or put yourself in her/his place” (59%).

Why do I think this is interesting? Although the question and the responses do not indicate race or ethnicity as being a factor at all, the way that these questions relate to the other responses: “stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to you own” and “stories where one or more of the main characters has a similar or very similar cultural background to your own” is important when making a case for increased diversity in romance. I’ll get to those relationships in just a second.

But first, I want to make the point that having a majority of respondents indicate this preference wasn’t specific to one race/ethnicity. Here are the percentages for “stories where the one of the main characters has physical characteristics that are attractive to you, personally”:

68.38% mixed race
83.22% Hispanic or Latino/a
77.26% Asian
71.13% Black or African-American
65.34% White or Caucasian

Here, it is interesting that the self-identified White or Caucasian respondents was the only percentage that ended up lower than the overall percentage of 68%, given how high a percentage of mainstream romances feature two White or Caucasian main characters. It’s difficult to tell whether this is because the sample size of White or Caucasian respondents is much larger compared to the other race/ethnicity groups. Either way, I would repeat the caution here against assuming that a character’s particular race/ethnicity plays into the attraction, as this question was not specifically about the race of characters. Again, it shows only the percentage of respondents, broken down by ethnicity, who prefer stories where they are attracted to physical characteristics of one main character, regardless of that character’s race/ethnicity.

Regardless, it is not surprising that the majority in every group indicated a preference for finding a main character attractive (I interpret this as, it’s not enjoyable to read about a love interest whose characteristics are repulsive to the reader).

I also think it is important to acknowledge that these trends deal with romance readers as a whole, and not just “Caucasian romance readers” or “African-American romance readers.” I think this is especially relevant when we’re having this discussion with anyone who publishes romance—to demonstrate that categorization of romance based on race/ethnicity is not adhering to expectations that the industry seems to have of readers, based on the way diverse romances are categorized and marketed.

So back to the discussion of the responses. We know that respondents in this particular survey are more likely to want stories where they find one of the main characters attractive than stories where they can physically identify with one of the main characters. Respondents were also more likely to choose “stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to your own” (54%) over “stories where one or more of the main characters has a similar or very similar cultural background to your own” (50%). Although the difference is not as significant here, there is a preference, nonetheless.

Okay, so why is this important? If I’m trying to make the case to publishers (author/self-publishers as well as traditional publishers), that diverse romance has a market, then I’m going to point to these numbers and show that a higher majority of readers prefer stories about people in cultures that are different over those that are similar. “Culture” and “background” to a reader could mean race/ethnicity, or it could mean religion, or be based on socioeconomic class—we would need a more detailed survey to understand how respondents interpreted this question; however, differences are a big part of diversity, and in this survey, “different” was preferable.

For reference and comparison, here is the breakdown by race/ethnicity for the response, “stories where you can physically identify with one of the main characters or put yourself in her/his place”:

68.38% mixed race
58.26% Hispanic or Latino/a
59.08% Asian
59.59% Black or African-American
57.14% White or Caucasian

Here, there is a much tighter distribution across all groups except for those who self-identified as “mixed race” or the equivalent. Does this mean that mixed-race respondents have more choice when it comes to physically identifying with one of the main characters? Less choice of POC characters, but most mixed-race respondents are part Caucasian? Does race not factor into the respondents’ answers at all?

Ultimately, it’s hard to say if this is even a question worth exploring based on the results of this particular survey, as the sample size of mixed-race respondents is simply too small to make any reasonable assumption.

Cultural Background as an Anchor
The final relationship I’ll present is that between age group and responses to the same question, “When reading romance works, do you enjoy…?” Since the responses I am looking at were not focused on race, but rather on cultural background, I have broken down the responses by age group instead of race/ethnicity.

Looking now at the response, “stories where one or more of the main characters has a similar or very similar cultural background to your own,” which was indicated by 254 respondents, here is the breakdown:

50% <21
42% 21-25
50% 26-39
57% 30-39
53% 40-49
40% 50-59
41% 60-64
55% 65+

Compared to the percentages across age groups of the 272 people who indicated “stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to your own”:

50% <21
51% 21-25
60% 26-39
55% 30-39
60% 40-49
45% 50-59
33% 60-64
35% 65+

And again, for reference, the distribution of age ranges across the entire survey:

<21 1.19%
21-25 6.13%
26-29 18.18%
30-39 21.74%
40-49 28.26%
50-59 15.42%
60-64 5.34%
65+ 3.95%

It’s interesting to see that the percentage of overall respondents who chose “similar” was slightly lower than the percentage who chose “different” (50% and 54%, respectively). Of those who made up the bulk of respondents (ages 40-49, 30-39, 26-29, and 50-59) three groups were more likely to indicate the they preferred reading stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to their own. Only one of those groups were slightly less likely to indicate this: the 30-39 age group. Again, here, I see this increase in frequency as supporting the argument that romance needs and can sustain more diverse content.

Here is a good place to say that I am very much trying to make the case that diverse romance has a market, that it is important, and that we should be creating more of it and changing the way we market it. So I will call out and admit to bias in how I’m interpreting these results. But I don’t feel they’re off base, despite that bias. And, in fact, if we take a slightly different approach and look at those two responses broken down by amount spent per month, spending among those who chose “similar” came out to:

$15-$30 80 31.50%
$2-$5 1 0.39%
$30+ 44 17.32%
$5-$15 94 37.01%
<$5 35 13.78%

While spending among those who chose “different” came out to:

$15-$30 92 33.82%
$2-$5 1 0.37%
$30+ 48 17.65%
$5-$15 98 36.03%
<$5 33 12.13%

The percentage of those who indicated that they enjoyed reading romance where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to their own was higher for the top two spending groups ($30+ and $15-$30) than those who indicated a preference for main characters with a similar cultural background. For the third highest spending group, the percentage difference was less than a point. The way I interpret this data is that, again, there is a market—and not a small one—for diverse romance.

All of my conclusions might seem obvious to some people, but I’ve pulled this data together both to show these there are trends in place that back up what so many already know and believe, as well as to demonstrate to those who don’t understand that diversity in romance is important or relevant that this is not the case. There is a need for more diverse romance content, there is a reader preference for diverse romance, and there are substantial potential dollars at play in the market for diverse romance.

Now, to try to be more fair and present information that would not support the case for diverse romance as strongly, I’ve tied together the responses:

“stories where the one of the main characters has physical characteristics that are attractive to you, personally,” and “stories where you can physically identify with one of the main characters or put yourself in her/his place”

with

“stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to your own” and “stories where one or more of the main characters has a similar or very similar cultural background to your own”

You can see in the following results that, in doing this, the relationship between those who prefer stories with characters of similar cultural backgrounds and those who prefer stories with characters of different cultural background changes:

  • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they were attracted to one of the main characters and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a similar cultural background: 44%
  • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they were attracted to one of the main characters and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a different cultural background: 46%
  • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they could physically identify with a main character and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a similar cultural background: 41%
  • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they could physically identify with a main character and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a different cultural background: 39%

In this comparison, the percentage of respondents who indicate that they prefer reading stories in which they can physically identify with a main character goes down from those who also chose “similar” to those chose “different” cultural background.

Although the percentage of those respondents—those who chose “physically identify” and “different cultural background” option is still significant, this particular set of responses does not necessarily support diversity in romance. The difference makes sense, though. If a reader prefers stories in which they can physically identify with a character, then characters of different cultural backgrounds will probably be less likely to meet that criterion.

However, this is not race-specific. Again, this is a survey of the general romance-reading population, wherein the responses broken down by race varied, but were not significantly variable as to merit discussion in this post. Understanding, then, how and why readers read, and what makes a good story, might be of interest in improving the way that diverse romance is marketed to the general romance-reading population.

CONCLUSION
I’ll repeat here that, given the sample size, and in particular for respondents who did not identify with the Caucasian/White race/ethnicity, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions. Deeper exploration of these questions are needed, and on a larger scale.

There was a range of comments in the answer to the final question, which welcomed anything else that the respondent wanted to share. Most were encouraging or thoughtful, such as “Yay for more!!!” (referring to more diversity in romance novels). There were multiple requests for POC alpha heroes, as well as for POC characters who were “everyday” people—neither extremely rich nor dirt-poor and struggling. Several respondents asked that the expansion of diversity in romance, and the discussions around diversity, include other areas in addition to race/ethnicity, such as characters with disabilities, characters with non-majority religious affiliations, characters with tattoos and piercings who aren’t bad boys and are successful in their careers, and more.

A handful were very clearly not in support of the study or the discussion, but these were truly few and far between.

Several respondents indicated that they had not considered their browsing tendencies until taking this survey, but that they were now more consciously aware of how they searched for and thought about romance. I consider that a success.