Does Anybody Read Books Anymore?

This past Thursday the Barna Group released the results of their survey called “The State of Books and Reading in a Digital World.” Feel free to click through to read the report yourself. Meanwhile there are a few observations of my own.

Confirms What We Already Know About Gender

For the entire 34 years I’ve been in the book industry we’ve concluded that women buy more books than men. The survey reported that 40% of women read five or more books a year versus only 28% of men.

When it comes to Christian books the results stay consistent. 11% of women read Christian fiction versus 5% of men. And 17% of women read Christian non-fiction versus 9% of men.

Back when I managed a Christian bookstore Bob Hawkins Sr., the head of Harvest House Publishers, would call me and ask, “Steve, how many women customers are there in your store right now? And how many men?” The ratio was always predominately female. And that was nearly 30 years ago.

Thus this aspect of the survey comes as no surprise. It has always been that way and will likely remain.

Why We Read

Knowing the motivation of your reader (meaning “why they buy”) is a key part to understanding your audience and whether your book has the potential for commercial success.

The survey found that readers overwhelmingly read for pleasure (64%). This suggests that fiction is an “easier” sell because of its entertainment value.

But that does not universally hold true because another part of the survey asked “Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction.” Only 53% said they preferred fiction. That suggests that non-fiction can still provide “pleasure” in the reading experience. A look at the recent non-fiction bestseller list on the NY Times bears that out with titles like Humans of New York Stories by Brandon Stanton; Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling; The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. Photos, comedy, and history.

So while people buy books for Entertainment, Inspiration, or Education they still want their reading experience to be enjoyable. In other words, “Don’t be boring.”

People are Still Reading Books

While the survey jumped on the statistic that 25% of adults do not read books at all, I’d rather focus on the statistic that 75% of adults are reading books!

And 14% of all adults read 15 or more books per year! I only wish they had asked “How many read 40 or more books per year?” I think they would have been shocked to find that there are a lot of voracious readers out there.

The bottom line is that books are still being read. Despite the competition of 1,000 TV channels, feature films, streaming movies, YouTube channels, Video games, and more.

The power of a good story, whether fiction or non-fiction will still captivate an audience of one. And that one will likely tell another, who will tell another. But it all starts with a good book.

And that is your pleasure to write.

18 Responses to Does Anybody Read Books Anymore?

  1. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 26, 2015 at 5:37 am #

    Interesting and encouraging. Thanks, Steve!

    Here’s another ratio – I read about 100 books per year, and write one (that’s ‘write to the point where I think it could be submitted’, though I will no longer sending unrequested queries or proposals…don’t see the point).

    This held true when I was holding down a full-time-plus job.

    I wonder what the read/write ratio is for others?

  2. Avatar
    Lisa Evola October 26, 2015 at 6:09 am #

    Good to know that people are still reading! I definitely do my part in the statistics. As far as the 1000+ channels on television, I have to say, it is 1000+ channels of nothing! I can’t remember the last time I surfed through the channels and found something worth seeing that I hadn’t already watched a thousand times. Honestly I’m sick of paying for television….If I could get my husband to read more, I think I would get rid of it altogether…in the mean time, I will continue to put a book in hand and do my part.

  3. Avatar
    Jan Cline October 26, 2015 at 6:33 am #

    So fun to check in on the statistics once in a while. Not surprised by the gender thing. I’ve always been curious about why men don’t read more. Thanks for sharing a great article.

  4. Avatar
    Diana Harkness October 26, 2015 at 6:48 am #

    I read many books of various genres each year. My husband reads none but the Bible. Until recently, that is. He wanted a book about his favorite hockey team, I purchased it, and he has now read an entire chapter. Perhaps he will even finish. Not bad for someone who hasn’t read a book in 30 years!

  5. Avatar
    Janet Ann Collins October 26, 2015 at 7:21 am #

    Are you kidding? I read at least five or six books a week! Of course most of those are Middle Grade or YA and I only read about two dozen books for grown-ups a year. (Can you tell I’m still a kid on the inside?) Are most people dyslexic?

    Of course a lot of them spend what could be reading time watching TV and videos instead. Were the statistics different before we had those things?

  6. Avatar
    Jackie Layton October 26, 2015 at 7:38 am #

    Hi Steve,

    I am super blessed to have raised two sons who both love to read. They read inspirational stories, biographies, and fiction. They even recommend books to each other and share. My sons are twelve years apart in age and reading is one thing they have in common.

    My oldest son is passing the love of reading on to his daughters.

    Both of my kids would rather read a real book than an ebook.

    We may not fit the statistics, but we love to read.

  7. Avatar
    Teresa Pesce October 26, 2015 at 10:05 am #

    A book is a place I go. And going there is a necessary part of my life for enjoyment, for escape, distraction, stress relief. For pleasant day-dreaming, for a world other than mine, for adventuresome intrigues I’d never have on my own, for dangers preferably experienced in an armchair, for impossibly perfect romances. To be someone I think it would be amazing to be… for a while.

    This is not an ad for men: Calgon, take me away.

    Men don’t generally solve a problem by talking it over with their friends. They carry on a conversation with another man while they both focus on something else – a football game, maybe. They are so different from women in so many ways, I honestly don’t know most men don’t read. But I’d love to hear why they don’t. When I ask my husband why he doesn’t read, he says, “It makes me fall asleep.” End of blinding insight.

  8. Avatar
    Dawn October 26, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    I am a “voracious reader!” For 2015 I’m on book #74. In 2014 I read 94 books. I love to read and don’t look forward to losing my eyesight, and I probably will. Audiobooks don’t thrill me as much, especially ones with curse words. I can skim over them in a book but I can’t block out the spoken word.

    • Avatar
      Jacquelyn C. Moore August 1, 2017 at 3:32 pm #

      You are a girl after my own heart. I have had a Harlequin Subscription since its inception. I also do not know how to throw away books. I have books of all genres. History, bios, Patterson, Griffin, Nora Roberts, Clancy and anything that strikes my fancy, doctors, lawyers, whatever. I was able to send more than 30 boxes of books to the library over the past ten years. Now I put them outside and no one picks them up. So I am trying desperately to find people who still want to hold a book, not look at a phone. I get a minimum of eight books in the mail every month and I am always ordering other series. I have books going up the walls. I just don’t know what to do with them. And like you, I worry about my sight.

  9. Avatar
    Sarah Bennett October 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm #

    The statistics used to bowl me over until God gave me my second kiddo. My oldest, like her mother before her, will lose track of time, skip meals and cry over fictional characters. My youngest, though, just doesn’t like to read as much. She will read for school assignments, rarely for pleasure (no, I don’t need suggestions on how to get her to read more, but thanks!). I’m grateful my oldest consumes books in a timely fashion but see a majority of her friends would rather “wait for the movie to come out.” It breaks my heart. But in a technologically driven world where watches are computers and instantaneous posts are hovered for “likes,” it doesn’t shock me.

    As for me, I’ll go home tonight and finish the book I bought yesterday. 🙂

  10. Avatar
    Iola October 26, 2015 at 6:00 pm #

    40 books a year is chicken feed. I read 150+; one of my online friends reads 500. Why don’t the surveys ever ask that?

    • Avatar
      Larry_d July 25, 2016 at 9:16 am #

      How can anyone actually read 500 books a year? I simply don’t believe it !

  11. Avatar
    MaryAnn Diorio November 7, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    Dear Mr. Laube,

    Thank you from a fellow optimist. 🙂

    Blessings,

    MaryAnn

  12. Avatar
    Jason E. Royle August 9, 2016 at 11:47 am #

    Glad I read this article. People are still reading, but differently.

    At some point in the future, however, I do believe our American culture will need to see a surge in avenues which purposely promote reading. What those avenues will be? Time will tell.

  13. Avatar
    Kingdom Publishers January 24, 2018 at 1:00 pm #

    All forms of Christian Literature, especially fiction books are really having a hard time selling to the public. These are the major factors affecting Christian publishing and they should be addressed. There is a need for a concerted effort to get Christian publishing back on the map once more. People who love owning a book, will not hesitate to buy one from the store, but others who prefer digital editions will still be a challenge for these publishers. Read more : http://kingdompublishers.co.uk/2017/11/22/the-future-of-christian-publishing/

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