The Lit Maven

Archive for June 2011

Back in 2003, a newspaper editor, author and blogger named Robyn Jackson came up with some scary factoids about American reading habits.  She used statistics from a website, www.parapub.com and painted a very dour picture.  In a nutshell, self-publisher Dan Poynter of Para Publishing noted that:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42% of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
  • 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
  • 57% of new books are not read to completion.
  • 70% of books published do not earn back their advance.
  • 70% percent of the books published do not make a profit.

Dan wrote a blog in 2008, however, that book industry profits were much higher than first thought.  Hmmm…

In 2007, a CBS News article, “Americans Reading a Lot Less” based on a 99-page study by the National Endowment of the Arts, noted that, while 54% of all 9 year olds read every day for fun, 72% of high school students are deficient in reading.  Watching television has taken reading to war and has won:  Of Americans aged 15-24, 2 hours a day is spent on television vs. 7 minutes on reading. Reading scores, even for the higher educated (college and above) have declined.  The article rambles on about how dire things are and how dumb Americans are compared to people of other countries.  Even a slight rise in book sales in 2006 did not make book industry pessimists happy.  It was blamed on the Harry Potter phenomenon – oh, there was another little bump earlier in 2005. I think that was the Twilight series.  Or, vice versa.  Doesn’t matter: there was a bump!

I am sure that the good people at Turn Off Your TV are saying that this is all due to television watching.  And, some of it is.  We watch too much television in our civilization and sometimes it drives me crazy.  But, there are other factors as well.

Very simply, life is too chaotic.  There is too much to do and we are bombarded day and night by information.  Those little fiber optic things are whizzing by us at amazing speed and we are grabbing them by the handful.  That said, I did some more digging for other answers. People are still reading – Amazon and Barnes & Noble are doing extremely well, thank you, but how are people reading if the Book Industry is standing at the door of the poorhouse?

Ebooks!  Alison Flood in The Guardian, (article entitled “eBooks pass another milestone”), notes that “America’s ebooks enjoyed a 202.3% growth in sales in February [2011] compared with the same month the previous year…Print books fared much worse by contrast, with the combined category of adult hardback and paperback books falling 34.4% to $156.8m in February. The children and young adult category of print books fell 16.1% to $58.5m.” Amazon announced in January 2011 that Kindle Books outsold traditional paperback books for the first time in history this past year. As PC World noted, is this due in part to holiday sales in December?  Who knows?   Industry gurus predict that by 2015, digital books will comprise 50% of the entire book market and will plateau. (Does this mean that no more ebook readers will be sold or that those of us who have electronic book readers will stop buying books for them?)

I am finding comfort in numbers these days.  When I got my Kindle three years ago now, I was alone – the only one in my family, the only one in my department at work, the only one in my book club, the only one on the beach, in a train, on a plane to have one.  Now, they’re everywhere along with Nooks, Sony Whatever-They-Are-Called and others Who Shall Not Be Named.

We are a digital family.  We cancelled our Philadelphia Inquirer print subscription more than five years ago and read news online.  We also still look at the news on television, but wading through fires, robberies, murders and political upheaval gets a bit depressing.  Anything I want to know I a) go online and read about it; b) order and receive a book on my Kindle in seconds; c) ask a friend and/or 4) listen to the radio or look at television.  I don’t, sorry Print Publishing Industry, buy a newspaper.  The Philadelphia Inquirer was kind enough, for the past two Sundays, to leave a hugely obese newspaper at the end of the driveway.  Attached to the protective plastic bag was a little note that read, “Courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer. You can have this paper delivered to your door every week, just subscribe.”  I thought, “Why should I pay for a print newspaper when I can get news for free on my computer (well, not exactly, I still have to pay for a provider!)?”  Print newspapers are great, though, for lining the floor underneath kitty litter boxes and throwing into the recycle bins for RecycleBank points.  Face it, Publishing Industry, you are going obsolete like typewriters.

Does it really matter how we read, though, if we are reading?  There are lots of forums dedicated to the battle between ebook readers and traditional book readers.  What’s great about living in 2011 is that we have a choice.  We can read anyway we want – we can even store audio books on our MP3 players and listen during our commutes or to drown out spousal ravings.

Let’s go back to kids not reading.  Here’s my reason for that:  Teachers still require students to read Dickens and Shakespeare.  All well and good, but has it ever occurred to anyone in the National Education Association to suggest that students read fun, contemporary stuff?  I am a Dickens fan and have read A Tale of Two Cities and Our Mutual Friend this past year.  I enjoyed every word – and there are a lot of them!  But, to expect a 16 year old to enthusiastically chomp through Great Expectations and spew out all kinds of interesting factoids about 19th century life in London is nonsense.  Has anyone in the educational system had the idea that the Disney Channel, MTV and ridiculous Jack Black movies are more appealing to teenagers than 19th century writers? And, don’t get me started on  Beowulf  Ugghhh!

What‘s the bottom line?  Get teachers to require interesting, contemporary reading.  Be an example to your kids: If they see you reading (with or without a cat on your lap), they will read.  Buy a Kindle and take 12 books with you on vacation in your handbag or backpack without the weight. Read to your little ones so they may form good reading habits – make a scheduled appointment if you have to, just do it!  Enroll your kids in your local township’s summer reading program.  Create a book club with 12 of your favorite buddies (even “non-readers” will enjoy the camaraderie and food).  If you insist upon reading print books, at least buy them at a discount by looking at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Albris seller websites – like mine!  Go the public library and discover books by browsing through the shelves.  The beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter whether you read a book via paperback or Kindle, just read!