Print Book Readership Continues to Decline; E-Books Increase in Popularity

December 28, 2012

This article is included in these additional categories:

Boomers & Older | Household Income | Men | Mobile Phone | Women | Youth & Gen X

Screen Shot 2012-12-28 at 9.57.54 AMThe proportion of Americans aged 16 or older who claim to have read a printed book in the past 12 months has dropped to 67% from 72% a year earlier, finds the [pdf] Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. At the same time, 23% of survey respondents said they had read an e-book in the past 12 months, up from 16% the prior year. Overall, three-quarters of the 16 and over population said they had read a book in any form in the past 12 months.

The increasing popularity of e-book reading comes amidst a boom in e-reading device ownership. In November 2012, according to the Pew report, one-third of the 16-and-over population owned either a tablet or an e-book reader (or both). That’s almost double the 18% who owned at least one of those devices in December 2011.

Book Reading Drops With Age, Increases With Education Level

Breaking down the profile of book readers (including those who read printed books and e-books and those who listen to audio books), Pew reveals that women are 16% more likely than men to be book readers (81% vs. 70%). There’s also a clear age trend: whereas 90% of 16-17-year-olds and 80% of 18-29-year-olds have read a book in the past year, that drops to 67% of the 65+ group. (TV viewing, meanwhile, shows the opposite trend, with older groups likely to watch more TV.)

The Pew survey results also show education and income levels play a role. For example, two-thirds of respondents with an annual household income of less than $30,000 reported having read a book in the previous 12 months. That rose to 84% of respondents from households with more than $75,000 in annual income. Similarly, those with a college degree or higher were 64% more likely than those with no high school diploma to have read a book (90% vs. 55%). The income and education trends applied to the subset of e-book readers, also.

Fifty Shades of Grey Tops Adult Fiction Best-Seller List

So what were these adults reading this year? According to Nielsen, the popular Fifty Shades of Grey topped the list of adult fiction print book sales this year, followed by Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed, and the Fifty Shades Trilogy boxed set.

In the adult non-fiction category, No Easy Day, published on September 1st, topped the list, while The Hunger Games was the top-seller in the children and young adults category.

About the Data: The Library Services Survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, obtained telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 2,252 people ages 16 and older living in the United States. Interviews were conducted via landline (n=1,127) and cell phone (n=1,125, including 543 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The interviews were administered in English and Spanish by Princeton Data Source from October 15 to November 10, 2012.

The Nielsen data covers sales from January 2 to December 2, 2012. Nielsen BookScan’s US Consumer Market Panel currently covers about three-quarters of the print book market, but does not track sales from Walmart.

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