Tag Archive for: 80/20 rule

The 80/20 Rule for Readers

By Kay Kendall

afternoon my husband asked me an upsetting question. “Are fewer people reading
books these days?”

I gulped. “Yes,”
I replied, “but I try not to think about it.”

On the one
hand, I see statistical reports monthly and year-to-date and this year versus
last year. The trend is down, slowly but steadily down. This depresses me. 

On the other
hand, I hang out with writers and readers—both in real and in virtual life—leading to a false sense of euphoria. Why, everybody reads and buys books and complains about no space in their homes for ever
more books. Heated debates appear online about the virtues of e-books and paper
books, which is better and why. In truth, my world is replete with readers.
Everyone cares, and cares enough to argue heatedly, but usually civilly, which
is nice in this fraught climate of ours these days.

Twenty years
ago I learned how important it is to “compartmentalize” one’s mind. President
Bill Clinton was said to have mastered this skill as he went through his
impeachment crisis. Perhaps I learned how to compartmentalize my views on today’s
declining book sales from reading about his ability. Who knows?

So today,
after I gave my husband my anguished answer, he scuttled off to his French
class and I was left to ruminate on the conditions of publishing today. That is
when I remembered the 80/20 rule.

Have you
heard of it? I first learned about it in a marketing class in the 1980s. The
concept seemed unreal to me at first. The professor said that 80 percent of a
product was bought by just 20 percent of customers. Therefore, the marketers
had to define their target market and sell to them. That way led to high sales
and success.

Since that
time I’ve seen the 80/20 rule applied to all types of situations. I have also
learned that this rule was first promulgated in 1906 by an Italian economist
named Vilfredo Pareto. His research showed that 80 percent of land in Italy was
owned at that time by 20 percent of the country’s inhabitants. From there the
80/20 rule was applied to many other areas of human endeavor. Also known as the
Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule is now used to describe almost any type of
output in the real world. The rule is commonly used to analyze sales and
marketing. Companies must dissect their revenues to understand who makes up
their core 20 percent of customers…or readers as the case may be.

At this
point you probably are wondering what this has to do with my concerns for declining
book sales. The answer is simple. The 80/20 rule relates to the two parts of my
brain. There is the joyful part of my brain that focuses on my
friends who love reading and buy many, many books every year—every month and
even every week. That joy lives because of my acquaintanceship with people who
make up that blessed 20 percent who buy 80 percent of all books.
That happy
part of my brain hums along, plotting my current work in progress and planning
future books to write. It willfully ignores the other piece of my brain in
which knowledge resides that book sales are declining.  
When I unlock
that gloom, I allow myself to think of my neighbors’ house, where I have never
seen one book, and not even a magazine. While I know the whole family can read,
that is not the problem. They simply do not choose to read books. Since they
have lived next door for at least 15 years, I know that even before the
explosion of online media, they read no books, magazines, or newspapers. The
two children read, but it is only on iPads and cell phones, and usually just for
This leads
me to share an anecdote that happened a few years ago. Two of my friends were
discussing what to give a third pal for his birthday. The first friend said, “How
about a book for John?” The second friend replied, “No, he already has one.”
Although I
thought that was hilarious—and apt in John’s case—I also wonder if that could
be said of more and more people today.
I cannot
change a societal trend. What I can do is focus on the 20 percent of people
who still read and love books. These are my
. I shall write for them. Should I be so lucky as to have one of my books connect by some
miracle with a non-reader, I shall hope to ensnare her or him into the grand
world of the imagination, found in books. Be they real or virtual, books
contain multitudes of wondrous imaginings. What a pity if someone misses out on
all that magic.


Read the first 20
pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, 
won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference
in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book. 
first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing,
ROW, was a finalist for best mystery
Killer Nashville in 2014.