The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game

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. › 2018/04/20 › how-many-americans-still-read-b…

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.

10 Responses to The Numbers Game

  1. So glad the statistics are not accurate as that would be very discouraging. I’m surprised that ebooks popularity plateaued as I would think it would continue to rise eventually making print books obsolete but I’m glad that isn’t the case as it would be very sad to see the printed book gone. I wasn’t surprised about audiobooks gaining popularity. I was hesitant at first to try them but now that I have, I can’t imagine not listening to some of my favorite books on my daily commute.

  2. What an interesting post. I love book stores and was crushed when our book store closed in the town where I live. When the used book store closed… I went into serious withdrawal. The nearest book store [B&N] is nearly 40 miles away. I love cruising the stacks looking at what’s new. I discovered JAFF that way when I picked up a variation by Regina Jeffers. I know… isn’t that wild? I didn’t even know what JAFF was and now hardly read anything else. I love it. Thanks to that one day just looking around.

    I bought a reading device [as a retirement gift for myself] and quickly discovered ebooks. I enjoy buying them and I watch for sales and discounts since my book fund is reduced.

    This post really made me think. I have always been surrounded by voracious readers [my mother, my aunt, grandmother, and my brother]. My father never read anything but his Bible, which he read every day. Now that I am retired, I discovered the online sites and discussion groups. I love being in company with people who don’t ask… JAFF.? You read.. what??? LOL!

    • Discovering JAFF was a life changer for me, too. I discovered it by running across one of Sharon Lathan’s books in our local B&N, and after that I sought out fan fiction online. I have made so many good friends through this medium and am thankful for the opportunities to communicate with other JA fans, opportunities which did not exist when you and I were teenagers.

  3. Renata adds some good points regarding the numbers …

    All I know is, I have been buying books since 1st grade (which was a long time ago), and reading books even before that (when Mom didn’t have time to read to me) — and I think I still have almost every book I bought (in boxes). I do have to say, I read close to 300 ebooks a year (plus or minus) and wouldn’t be able to afford them if I didn’t get them either free, on sale, or as ARCs. eBooks are definitely easier to store than hard copies, no matter how much I love to hold a book in my hands and smell the paper. And, I will always find time to read, even it is just 15 minutes at bedtime. (Luckily, Kindles have their own lighting when my power goes out!)

    • Wow, you still have your childhood books! I’m impressed! The first set of books I remember reading for myself was the Little House on the Prairie set. My grandmother bought them for me and I devoured them all, to the point where I could quote certain passages by memory. Sadly, those books did not survive my childhood. But they were certainly well loved!

      • Yep, lots of books, including my Little House set in the yellow box. I remember my first and/or second grade teacher letting me collect the money and orders from the other students, then open and unpack the box and hand out the books when they arrived. I shoulda owned a bookstore…

  4. I love to read! Books in hand I think are better than ebooks but everyone reads in their own way. I love being in someone else’s. world for a while!

  5. Interesting post.

    There are other reasons why the survey might be wrong or misleading. Subscribers to magazines that publish short stories or even serialized novels (whether online or on paper) might truthfully answer they never read a book, even if they read the entire magazine every month. In the other direction, people might be embarrassed that they don’t read books and lie, claiming they have.

    In addition, people who don’t read books may be avid readers. There is plenty material online of both fiction and non fiction.

    As to not buying books, that is irrelevant to library users as well as those who find free books online or use kindle unlimited.

    As to the ratio of ebooks to print books, those who are uncomfortable with technology will become a smaller percentage of the population as time goes by.

    One more comment about income and book buying. My library science major college roommate told me that shelf space is more expensive than books. A lower income family may not have room for physical books, but may still spend money to buy ebooks.

    • All excellent points, Renata, especially the part about people who read magazines. If somebody has a love for decorating and reads Better Homes and Gardens cover to cover each month, shouldn’t that count as reading? What about teenagers who read the specs on new cars coming out in the fall? They might not think of that as reading for leisure, but I would argue that it counts just as much as me reading Austen. (OK, almost as much. 🙂 ) The point is, it’s impossible to use the stats in that infographic to argue that reading is a dying art.

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