Another survey of book reading habits in the US has book publishers wringing their hands. The poll, condected by Associated Press-Ipsos points to a continuing decline in book reading in the US. It found that one in four Americans hasn’t read a book during the past year. And overall, the typical reader had read only four books in the last year. Women and older individuals tended to be the most avid book readers. Similar trends are showing up for newspapers, which are struggling to survive because of a simultaneous decline in both circulation and advertising revenues.
The decline in book reading is not just in the US. A survey quoted in China Daily about a year ago, found a similar result among Chinese. A nationwide survey there found that 51.8 per cent of Chinese people who can read do not read any books at all. And this percentage has been increasing for the past five years. For those who do read, the focus is on books as a pragmatic tool for getting ahead in school or career. This is in contrast with the US where fiction and religious works were the most popular reads.
Pressed for time – We are all busy. There is less time to devote to reading than in decades past. Evidence of this is the many executive reading services that have sprung up to give busy managers quick summaries of “must read” books so they can get the gist of the work without the effort requied to read the entire thing.
Competition from other media – Many studies have highlighted the greater proportion of time individuals spend on the Web versus other kinds of media. As Internet use has become mainstream, other media get a smaller portion of our attention span.
Conditioning – We are getting used to reading in the short form. Shorter news items, shorter magazine articles, web pages with a minimalist approach to text. A study conducted 10 years ago which examined effective writing practices for the Web focused on how people read web pages. They typically scan for items of interest rather than serially reading words and paragraphs. As the web has consumed more our reading time, we may be translating the same experience to the book.
Does all of this spell gloom and doom for book publishers? I think not. True, books sales have been relatively flat the last few years. However, books have always adapted to the changing tastes and habits of the reading population. And they are in transition again. We are seeing lots of small experiments: for example, shorter books and graphic novels. In the coming years, we will see more significant experiments (for example, see “Turning e-books into Books with e-paeper“, “In Search of the Next Gutenberg” and “The Conversation in the Book“).
In the meantime, if you want to avoid becoming one of those slackers who never reads a book, check out these tips from Kevin Eikenberry for strengthening your reading habit.