Too Many Books, Not Enough Readers

Or at least, 50 million Americans aren’t readers. Of books, in any form. In a phone survey funded by The Gates Mega Couple, Bill and Melinda, 21% read an e-book. And those with e-readers, read 8 books more a year than those who prefer to open a physical thing . We who are the latter, read around 17 a year. That’s more than one a month, wow, I can sort of do math. Apparently e-reading is easier or more exciting, or those who use them lie to surveyors. Surveys are suspicious data, to me. I’ve taken them, and given them, and I know from experience that as a taker, you don’t want to embarrass yourself by responding in any way that would make you seem “less than”. Less wealthy–I never give my real income; less intelligent–how many people will admit to a limited education; less sexy–does *anyone* believe the surveys that claim humans have sex at least 3 times a week–all year long? If one owns a new fangled sophisticated machine that delivers books on demand with the stroke of a key and a credit card, will they claim they only read a fraction of the books available to them? I think not. I can hear a response “oh, I use my nook alllllll the time! I read day and night. It’s so easy. Not like going to a bookstore and having to wander around to find something to read, and then lug it home! That’s why I can read so much more–no hassle.”

Just because one CAN read more, easier, doesn’t mean one does. There are all sorts of innovations out there that scant use is made by a large segment of the population. But even if true–e-reading people consume 8 more books a year-the number is hardly earth shattering.  A statistic that is quite interesting–the percentage of individuals who swear on their stack of Perry Mason mysteries, that they will never buy an e-reader. A gobsmacking 85%!  Sure, the number of people owning e-readers has increased–with women between 30 and 49 the highest consumers. Not being between those ages anymore, I’ve no idea why that group is more likely to own one. A snarky assumption would be they’re unmarried and download romances by the pound load. LOL. I’m only thinking like so many have before me–with complete contempt for women readers. More likely they are working mothers who find a reader an easier thing to carry and deal with while coping with toddlers, teens, and/or difficult careers. I have a few very intelligent women friends who own e-readers. One friend uses it for traveling–when she vacations she’s been known to carry 7 or 8 books–lots of trouble and baggage costs are eliminated, and within this criteria, I can see owning one. Another just downsized and now lives in a comfortable but space deprived environment. Plus, she’s a bit well organized, with a no tolerance of clutter of any kind  rule, so piles of books are not charming in her eyes. Enter e-reader, and she’s happily devouring title after title, with a no mess cleanup.

The best statistic says that even with an e-reader, respondents still have physical books they read. 58% of  e-reader owners admit they had been reading a real book just the other day. Or–back to my suspicious mind–is the taint of an e-reader still prevalent enough to cause a respondent to the survey to lie about reading real tomes? Or am I the only one who sees the e-reader as having a bad rep?

How many books do I read a year? Hm. I’ve no concrete idea. Sometimes I can go through a few books in a week, some not for over a month or more. Right now I’ve begun 5 different titles–and grab which ever is closest to continue reading when inspirations strikes. How many I will finish is anyone’s guess. I know fellow mystery lovers who go through a dozen books a week. That is not an exaggeration. They read fast, or all the time. Or both. I feel inferior next to them.  And, reluctantly, I admit many of those prolific readers own machines. But they also have their libraries. I get the impression it’s the best of both worlds for them. No need to ship a load of books home from a mystery conference anymore. But if at home, by a fire, wanting to begin their favorite author, picking the book off the mantle is still a preference.

As I am trying to downsize my book collection, part of me longs for the clean, empty-of-clutter world an e-reader promises. But the greater part remains entranced by paper perfume.

So what does this new data mean to publishers and booksellers? Not a hell of a lot, it seems. Unless that 86% change their minds, e-readers will remain on the sidelines of most readers and non readers lives.

4 thoughts on “Too Many Books, Not Enough Readers”

  1. For the last few years, I’ve kept a running list for myself and posted it on my blog (“Books in Northport”), as well. My rule is that I have to read the whole book, or it doesn’t go on the list. I’ve read 36 books so far in 2012. Keeping the list also shows me when the fiction/nonfiction proportion is skewed and needs to be brought back in balance, but books on the list range from young people’s books to potboilers to recent literary fiction to classics, with nothing too “high” or too “low” to read. My radio listening is limited, no TV at all (but movies, yes), time online with friends but certainly not constant. My mother spent a lot of time on the telephone with friends when I was young, and my father golfed, but they both read books. 

    Your suspicion of surveys makes me smile. You’re right–we don’t want to look bad to friends or strangers. Maybe part of my reason for keeping the list is that so many people in my bookstore ask, “Have you read this? Have you read that?” and after I say “No” three times in a row I think they’ll think I don’t read anything. Not true! But nobody has read everything, and we all make different choices.

    • I understand. When I was working in a general indie, I could only read a fraction of what was new. The mystery bookstore narrowed it down somewhat–but only a bit–there are so many people published, it’s impossible to keep up. So I settled for reading as many newbies as possible, and all the nominees for awards, because it was necessary in terms of selling books in this medium.

      36 book is darn good. I guess I should keep a list–but I’m darned if I can remember the title of the last book I finished. They begin to blend after awhile–even if wildly different in content, lol. Thanks for responding!

  2. Honestly, it’s daunting for me to look at a book more than 20 pages haha. I guess that my attention span is short like most others and I prefer take little bites. So I think we need to start incorporating that into the content we want to sell.

    • Attention span shortage is a challenge–Sesame Street is being blamed–considering I was too old for that program, I wonder what my excuse can be? 

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