“American Adults Reading More Literature” is the heading of a recent article in Book Business (a web site dedicated to the business of, well, books…) about a report produced by the National Endowment for the Arts that shows readership among American adults grew significantly since 2002. The time frame (6 years) seems to be rather broad – and ‘literary reading’ as defined by the NEA is “the reading of any novels, short stories, poems, or plays in print or online.”
In the past, the publishing industry has been very counter-cyclical… when times got tough, Americans got reading (and not spending money on other pursuits). I don’t know if we can see that same trend these days – and I wonder what self-publishing might have to do with the increase in readership (if anything?) It’s hard to imagine that someone interested in publishing a book wouldn’t be a reader. Surprisingly it was ‘younger readers’ (18 to 24) that showed the greatest growth in reading – just what are these kids reading?
The stats and report (called Reading On The Rise) are available for no charge as a download from the NEA site.
Here’s a brief outline from the Book Business site of the most salient points, with my commentary:
• The absolute number of literary readers has grown significantly. There were 16.6 million more adult readers of literature in 2008. The growth in new readers reflects higher adult reading rates combined with overall population growth.
– this growth puts the total number of ‘reading adults’ now at nearly 113 million – an amazing number if you think about it…
• Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18- to 24-year-olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20-percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.
– stunning considering the incredible prevalence of ‘digital’ media that is in no way ‘literary’ – things like blogs, news, and other items were excluded from the survey.
• For the first time in the survey’s history, literary reading has increased among both men and women. Literary reading rates have grown or held steady for adults of all education levels.
– women still made up the bulk of readers (58% to 42%)
• Fiction (novels and short stories) accounts for the new growth in adult literary readers; reading poetry and drama continues to decline, especially poetry-reading among women.
– poetry and plays saw a 31% and 28% decline respectively. Poetry has always been a tough market…
• Online readers also report reading books. Eighty-four percent of adults who read literature (fiction, poetry or drama) on or downloaded from the Internet also read books, whether print or online.
– this is the good news for those of us who utilize the more ‘traditional’ method of print to deliver our content. It should also encourage authors who are NOT utilizing e-book / Kindle / Mobi / whatever to deliver content to jump in and experiment.
• Nearly 15 percent of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008.
– see comment above – the report doesn’t identify what sort of literature – but that number represents almost 34 MILLION adults…
Check out the report – it’s some much-needed good news for all of us interested in all forms of book publishing.