Print or Digital, It’s Reading That Matters

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New surveys raise questions about Americans’ book-reading habits

You’ve probably noticed the headlines in recent weeks: “No, the Internet Has Not Killed the Printed Book. Most People Still Prefer Them,” declared the New York Times. “Nope, Printed Books Aren’t Going Out of Style,” proclaimed the Verge. And my favorite, “Luddites Rejoice! Americans Still Prefer Printed Books,” noted the PBS NewsHour.

Such was the takeaway from the Pew Research Center’s most recent survey on American book readership, released earlier this month: not only are print books hanging on, they remain significantly more popular then e-books.

“I think if you looked back a decade ago, certainly five or six years ago when e-books were taking off, there were folks who thought the days of the printed book were numbered,” Pew’s Lee Rainie told the Times, “and it’s just not so in our data.”

But even for hardcore book lovers, the persistence of print isn’t exactly the feel-good story of the year. Beyond the stories about format preference that it spurred, Pew’s research, along with a recent update from the National Endowment for the Arts, suggests that reading is in decline.

Overall, Pew found that the share of Americans who have read a book in any format in the last year held steady at 73%, largely unchanged since 2012. But that’s down from 79% in 2011, the first year Pew began researching people’s reading habits. Pew also found that the average number of books read per year has also remained steady since 2012, at 12. But again, that number is also down, from 14 in 2011.

Meanwhile, in another survey released last month, the National Endowment for the Arts reported that just 43% of adults read at least one “work of literature” for pleasure in the previous year—the lowest share since the NEA started tracking reading habits in the early 1980s. The recent figure is down from a high of 57% in 1982. Trade publishers will be most concerned by the NEA stat, because the NEA survey specifically covers novels, plays, short stories, and poetry, excluding nonfiction and reading for school or work.

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SOURCE: Publishers Weekly
Andrew Richard Albanese