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.

data

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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