We have a reading problem in the United States. It’s not that people aren’t reading: in fact the Pew Research Center reports that 76% of adults have read a book in the past year. Even kids are reading – and some studies suggest that millennials are more likely to read literature than previous generations. The problem is choice. Readers are drowning in books.
Too Many Books, Not Enough Time
11,022 books were published in 1950. That number may sound quaint today, but it’s still a large number. Read one book a week for sixty years, and you’ll still leave two-thirds of those titles untouched. Consider then, the jaw-dropping 978,701 titles Bowker told me were published or self-published in 2012. There’s some double counting in that number (print and eBook copies of the same title have separate ISBNs) but it is terrifying, nonetheless.
The influence of bookstores has changed appreciably since Borders bankruptcy: just 20% of frequent readers say they found their last book from a bookstore in 2012, down dramatically from 32% in 2010 according to Peter Hildick-Smith at the Codex Group. (Contrary to popular belief, bookstores are not disappearing en masse. Publisher’s Weekly reports 12,703 bookstores in 2013 versus census data counting 12,751 bookstores and news dealers in 2002. )
Online retailers like Amazon have not filled this gap. Just 7% of readers found their last book at an online retailer: a number that has barely budged in the last three years.
Meanwhile, At The Library
Libraries managed tightening budgets successfully through the last decade. Americans made 5.3 visits per person to public libraries in 2010 according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services. This continued a ten-year trend that saw library visits increase by over twenty percent. Libraries also lent 2.46 billion materials in the same year: more than 8 lends for every American. Finally, libraries increased in relevance as centers for book discovery. Last year, 2.9% of frequent readers said they’d discovered their last book at a library, a big jump from 1.8% in 2010 (data also from the Codex Group).