Reading On the Decline in America

Reading in the United States has been declining over the past decade. This does not bode well for authors and book publishers. Authors and books need readers.

The Pew Research Center has conducted annual surveys on reading rates among Americans. This year’s survey indicates that only 72% of American adults read a book within the past year in any format. This is down from 79% who had read a book in 2011.

In a somewhat surprising twist, the survey also showed that young adults 18 to 29 were more likely to have a read a book over the past year than their older counterparts. According to the survey, over the past year 72% of American adults read a book, either in whole or in part, compared to 80% of young adults.

As more adults begin to read ebooks, reading print books also declines. This year’s survey showed that only 63% of people reported reading at least one book in print in the past year, down from 69% in 2014 and 71% in 2011.

The Pew Research Study indicates that the reading habits of Americans, balanced between print, ebooks, and audiobooks, have remained fairly stable since the first report in 2011. This year’s survey shows that 27% of Americans read an ebook over the past year, up from 17% in 2011, and about 12% of Americans listened to an audiobook.

The survey also noted that women are most likely to be the book readers in the household, followed by young adults aged 18 to 29. In addition, book readers tend to have higher levels of education, and tend to be white. The average woman is reported to have read 14 books over the past year, compared with nine books by the average man. That works out to an average of 12 books read last year by most Americans—one per month.

Every author and publisher should be concerned about reading rates. The more people read, the more books can be sold. The less people read, the fewer books will be sold.

What are you doing to encourage people in your community to read? Are you involved in your local church with a reading campaign effort? If not, consider starting one at your church. Most churches sport a library or a bookstore. A reading campaign (with rewards for books read) helps grow stronger Christians in your church, and it benefits you and all Christian authors and publishers.

Related Posts:
Who is Reading?
Develop a Global Strategy
The State of Christian Fiction

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Collecting Reading Data

Data provides information that can be analyzed to help businesses improve. Hence, many businesses seek various types of data to use in evaluation purposes.

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Authors and publishers like data also. One piece of data that was difficult to secure in the days of print-only was information on how people read books. With book publishing, information often only flows one-way—from content creators to consumers.

Digital books may be changing this information flow. With the advent of digital books, data on how people read books can be collected. Reading apps and e-reading device software can record virtually every user interaction with a book from when a book is opened, to when a page is turned, to what time of day the book is read, to when the book is abandoned, and more.

Currently, the biggest seller of ebooks, Amazon, does not share any of this data with authors or publishers. Others, like Kobo, have begun to make some of the data available—for a fee. To protect consumer privacy, user data is aggregated and anonymized. An author or publisher cannot see what any particular individual did. So, correlations cannot be made on things such as writing a review on Goodreads and tweeting about the book. Hence, a lot of valuable marketing information remains hidden.

Is it possible for an author or publisher to put a piece of software inside an ebook so they could see how customers are actually reading the book? Is there a way authors and publishers could have direct, unfettered data from their ebooks?

Interestingly, there appears to be a way to do this. One company, Jellybooks, has developed a working prototype of such an application. Jellybooks has found a way to combine HTML5, CSS3, and JS to create an application that can be attached to an EPUB file. This application records how the book is read.

Due to concerns about privacy, Jellybooks is currently only using the software with some free ebooks that are part of a focus group. The reader gets a free ebook, and in return, the publisher gets data that shows them how each individual reader is interacting with the ebook. In essence, this software is being used in advanced-reader copies that are issued not to collect reviews, but user data.

Jellybooks believes that the kind of reading data that their new software is tracking is really most valuable before a book is published. Knowing how individual users are interacting with a book can better position the publisher to make changes in the final copy to better engage readers, as well as better position the publisher for marketing and promoting the book.

What do you think of this idea?

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Are eBook Sales Stagnating?

eBooks lost a little bit of sales ground in the third quarter of 2014, according to data from the latest survey of book-buying behavior from Nielsen Books & Consumers. Here is what this survey found for sales of books from January through September 2014:

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  • eBooks accounted for 21% of book unit sales
  • Paperback Books made up 43% of book unit sales
  • Hardcover Books were 25% of book unit sales

In 2013, statistics showed that ebook sales increases were slowing. In other words, ebook sales were not growing at the same rate in 2013 that they had been in 2012. It appears that ebook sales continued to slow in 2014, creating a bit of an uptick in sales of print books.

Nielson’s recent book-buying behavior survey also showed where print books are being purchased:

  • 39% of books are purchased through e-commerce outlets (led by Amazon)
  • 21% of books are purchased through bookstore chains

For ebook sales, Amazon continues to be the leader with 57% of readers reporting buying ebooks through this retailer in 2014. Amazon’s closest competitor is Barnes & Noble, where 14% of reader purchased ebooks via the Nook store in 2014. Interestingly, only 6% of readers reported buying ebooks through the Apple store.

While it does appear that sales growth for ebooks is stagnating, keep in mind that digital books command one-fifth of all book sales. That means that about one out of every five books sold is an ebook. So, if you sell only ebooks, the growth of sales may not be where you hope they are. On the other hand, if you sell both print and digital copies of your books, you have your basis covered for maximizing book sales.

Another thing to keep in mind is that while the growth of ebook sales is stagnating in the United States, it is growing in other parts of the world. This growth will especially be seen in developing countries where the use of smart phones is growing, allowing readers easy access to digital books. Making sure that your ebooks are available for sale worldwide is one way to tap into this growing ebook market.

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Placing Ads in eBooks

Some experts predict that ebooks will someday be free to consumers because ads will be placed within the content to support publication. The ads will generate the revenue, while readers reap the benefit of free books.

Interestingly, most modern publishing contracts state that publishers may not sell advertising with their books. This restriction appeared in the early 1970s, when cigarette companies started buying insert ads in paperbacks. Authors objected. In time, advertising restrictions became standard clauses in publishing contracts.

Advertising in ebooks may indeed be a new way for publishers to increase their profits from ebooks, if authors begin to agree to ad placement. If you are interested in placing ads in your ebooks, watch this video showing seven ways you can feature ads in an ebook.

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Ad Supported eBooks

Everyone would rather have a free ebook than pay for one. But, would you rather have a free ebook that comes with ads over paying for an ebook that has no ads?

eBookPlus recently conducted a study among 5,000 people in the United States and the United Kingdom. It looked at this question. Here is what the survey showed for U.S. readers:

  • 45.7% of readers would prefer free ebooks with advertising (in the form of a 15-second pre-roll at the beginning of chapters)
  • 20.8% prefer to pay $0.99 for an e-book without advertising
  • 9.1% would pay up to $2.99 for a version without advertising
  • 10.3% would pay up to $19.90 for a version without advertising
  • 14.1% prefer to download a pirate version

Interestingly, the company that conducted the survey is in the business of providing free ebooks to readers. However, to make the ebooks free, these ebooks contain advertisements. The CEO, Leo Mark, of eBookPlus believes that people are used to free content on the Internet, much of which is accompanied by ads. In addition, people don’t want to pay for something that does not belong to them. Since ebooks cannot be resold or given away, the reader is only paying for the right to read them, not own them.

What do you think? Would you offer your ebooks with advertisements so that readers could download them for free?

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