So, a couple of weeks ago I made a big mistake. I published the following image on my social media pages without checking it out first.
This was a big mea culpa. I always fact check things that I post. Always! Except this time. This was probably the only time I have ever skipped that vital step, and it’s a shame, because most of those statistics are just flat out wrong.*** Some of my readers, God bless them, were kind enough to point out the error. I thought it might be interesting, in this post, to dig into each claim made and find out what the truth really is.
Claim #1: 33% of high school graduates never read another book the rest of their lives. This statistic was generated by asking people with a high school education how many books they had read in the past year. News flash: not reading a book in the past year is totally different than not reading a book for the rest of your life! An updated statistic says that 37% of people with a high school diploma or less report not reading a book in the past year. But does that mean that 63% of high school graduates did read a book in that year? Sadly, there’s not enough information to know.
Claim #2: 42% of college grads never read another book after college. I have no idea where this statistic comes from, but perhaps a little informal research can help test its accuracy. Think of three or four people in your life who have a college degree. Now ask yourself (or them) if they read a book in the past twelve months. While your experience may be different, the people in my life (my non-JAFF life, that is) who graduated from college have all read at least one book in the past year. Most have read more than one, and a couple are in book clubs. So I suspect this claim may also be totally wrong.
Claim #3: 57% of new books are not read to completion. I think this one may actually be true! As authors know, a book has to be really good to get readers’ attention and entice them through to the end. Not reading a book to completion is more likely the fault of the writer than a reflection of poor reading habits.
Claim #4: 70% of American adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years. That may be true, but with online shopping made so easy, many might be simply buying books online. I certainly do. It does not mean that people are losing interest in books.
Claim #5: 80% of American families did not buy or read a book last year. This one is very easy to dispel. According to Pew Research, 75% of American surveyed in 2018 said they had read a book within the past year. This included ebooks, printed books, and audiobooks.
Not everything is rosy. Some studies have found that the amount of time Americans spend in leisure reading has declined over the past decade. But let’s hope that is a trend that will be reversed!
Here are some other interesting facts about reading in America. I’m including a list of sources that I used to compile this list.
- Ebook sales are far higher than sales of print books, but the ratio seems to have plateaued. In other words, the trend towards ebooks over print books has stabilized. Ebooks will not be taking more market share than they already have.
- Audiobooks are the new thing. Their sales continue to climb year after year.
- More education = more reading. College grads read more than high school grads, and high school grads read more than those without a high school diploma. This is true no matter what book format.
- Income plays a role. The more money a household has, the more likely it is to buy books. Also, people in higher-income households are more likely to visit a library.
- Income plays a role in unlikely ways. A low income household may not be able to afford a smartphone, tablet, or even a reliable computer, therefore cutting off access to some of the main ways people read books today.
- Women tend to read more than men. Younger people tend to read more than older people.
- Young people today are more literate than ever before. They have to be, because so much is done on computers! They are also much more likely than older adults to join an online discussion group regarding a book that interests them.
All of this is to say, the future is not bleak for reading! Whatever the format, people are still reading for leisure. They have not abandoned books in favor of videos, and there are still many people, including young people, who enjoy being whisked away to another world by the power of the written word. In my next post I will talk about the reasons why I think stories are more fun to read than to watch, and why reading as a leisure time activity will never die out. In the meantime I would like to hear your reaction to these facts about reading in America today. Did any of them surprise you?
*How do I know that the statements made here are wrong? Because the group who came up with them said so. You can read all about it here. And the man who compiled those statistics into this infographic now refutes his work. He actually asked everybody to stop posting the image. Unfortunately, the internet lives forever.