A couple of weeks ago, I had a grand idea: I should ask people about their reading habits, namely, if they read at all, and what they do read. The reason I had this grand idea was because I was having one of those 1 a.m. thought sessions, which are usually about really deep and important things, like where I left my keys, if I want to get up and get a glass of water, or why I can’t get that godawful Mariah Carey song out of my head. But this particular thought session was about how I kept reading that nobody reads anymore, and if they do read, they certainly don’t read fiction or short stories or poetry. And if they are among the rare who read any of those things, they don’t buy these types of books. So I wanted to see if it was true or not. And I figured the only way I could see if it was true or not was by conducting a study, so that’s what I did. The results are interesting, if I do say so myself, even if tabulating the results was decidedly not interesting and I often mentioned how irritated I was with myself for having the idea in the first place while I spent warm sunny afternoons entering data into a spreadsheet. But now that I’m done entering data into a spreadsheet, I’m happier about the whole thing.
I am not a scientist nor a statistician and complex math makes my brain curl up in the fetal position and cry, but I do like data and asking people for their opinions. I even (in theory) like making spreadsheets, and I definitely like charts and graphs. So even though this is in no way scientific, and I’m certain the results won’t end up being quoted on the evening news, I did the best I could.
First, I needed some people to complete a survey. So I asked people on my blog and in a Flickr group I am active in, and I had some friends ask their friends to participate as well. I was shooting for 100 participants, but when all was said and done, I ended up with 90 who agreed to let me e-mail them a survey. I sent out an 18-question survey to people, asking for them to be returned by May 30. Of the 90 surveys I sent out, I received 67. I was a little annoyed about that, mainly because I like nice, round numbers and 67 is pretty much the antithesis of nice and round, but even so, 67 responses were way more than I had been expecting so I was generally pleased. Anyway, the 67 responses came to my e-mail and I hand-entered them into a spreadsheet I created specifically for entering survey data. This was very boring. Once I was done entering the data, I had to decide what to do with it. I’d already promised Levi that I was going to make graphs, and I decided that although it’s nerdy enough to make graphs from data about people’s reading habits, it would be even nerdier (and at least 10 times more awesome) if I made the graphs by hand. Since I am all about awesome nerdiness (why am I still single? It’s a mystery), I went and bought some graph paper. (One of the joys, or pains-in-the-ass, rather, of small-town living: I had to go to another town to buy the graph paper. May the environment forgive me.)
And without further ado, let’s get it on. I mean, let’s learn about reading. I mean, here, have some charts and graphs. (You can click on any of the graphs to make them bigger.
That’s what she said.)
Of the 67 respondents, 56 were from the United States, and 11 were from other countries: Canada (4), Italy (2), Germany (1), the Czech Republic (1), the United Kingdom (1), the Philippines (1), New Zealand (1). I know it’s lame that the graph is broken up into “United States” and “Other” but a) the arcs for each individual country would’ve been pretty small, and b) I’m kinda lazy.
There were 29 men and 38 women.
The majority of respondents (25) were in the 18-30 age group; 18 were 31-40, 11 were 41-50, and 13 were 50+.
The Things We Read
Since it’s possible to be a reader without reading books, I next asked what types of things people read on a regular basis: books (94%), print newspapers (42%), print magazines/journals (75%), online newspapers (67%), online magazines/journals (58%), and other websites/blogs (97%). As you can see, the front runners are books and websites/blogs, with websites/blogs edging out books by 3%.
When asked which one type of publication people read the most (on a monthly basis), the battle still remained between books (36%) and websites/blogs (37%), with websites/blogs just barely coming out on top by 1 point. Coming in third was online newspapers (12%), fourth was print magazines/journals (7%), and web magazines/journals and print newspapers tied for last place with 4% each.
I was interested in seeing if reading habits had anything to do with the age of the respondents, so I made a couple of extra graphs to illustrate this. Or at least I think it illustrates this. The first graph shows each type of publication read, broken down into different age categories. Don’t freak out about the fact that the percentages here add up to more than 100. People were allowed to choose any or all of the listed choices, so each line on the graph is its own percentage of 100. I hope that makes sense. My point is that if you tell me that these add up to more than 100, I will say “I KNOW. That’s the point.”
As we can see, books average highly across age groups: 92% of 18-30 year olds read books regularly, 94% of 31-40 year olds do, 100% of 41-50 year olds do, and 85% of those in the 50+ age group do. The only other type of publication faring more highly was Other Websites/Blogs, with 96% (18-30), 100% (31-40), 100% (41-50) and 92% (50+). The type of publication type with the lowest regular readership was print newspapers, with 16% of 18-30 age group, 44% of 31-40 age group, and 46% of the 50+ age group. The only group that scored print newspapers over 50% was the 41-50 age group, coming in at 82% stating that they read them regularly.
The second graph again illustrates the various types of publications people read, though in this case, respondents were asked to select one that they read the most:
The only age group with a higher percentage of website/blog readers than book readers was the 18-30 year old group, with 44% answering that they read websites/blogs the most compared to 32% who read books the most. Otherwise, books edge out websites/blogs, by 5 points in the 31-40 group (44% for books, 39% for websites/blogs), by 10 points in the 41-50 group (37% for books, 27% for websites/blogs), and by 12 points in the 50+ group (35% for books, 23% for websites/blogs). Among 18-30 year olds, 0 answered that they read print newspapers the most, compared to 5% in the 31-40 group, and 9% each in the 41-50 and 50+ groups.
In the battle between fiction and nonfiction, fiction comes out victorious by a landslide, with 72% of respondents stating that they read it more, compared to the 28% who chose nonfiction.
As for independent literature (which I defined as small press or self-published work), 39% say they read it, and 61% say they don’t. Had I thought about it at the time I was writing up the survey, I would’ve asked the reason why people don’t read indie lit (if they don’t). Despite my not asking, some people said it was because they didn’t know it was out there or where to find it, but for the ones who didn’t, I’m wondering if this was the case, or if in any way, it has anything to do with a stigma that is often attached to indie lit, in that if it was really worth reading, it would be published by a big publishing house. I should’ve asked the question and I didn’t, so if any of you would care to shed some light on this, that would be swell. And here is a graph:
I got really sick of drawing graphs by hand at this point (I guess there are limits to my awesome nerdiness), so I’m just going to give you numbers for readers of short stories and poetry, and that’s totally okay, isn’t it? I know. Right.
So, of those surveyed, 64% say they read short stories, whereas 36% say they don’t. Of those who read short stories, the majority of them (70%) read those stories in collections (either by the same author or various authors), 13% read stories online, and 17% read them in magazines or journals. As for purchasing short stories, 58% buy them occasionally, 35% seldom buy them, 2% often buy stories, and 5% never buy them.
When it comes to reading poetry, 63% of people say they do and 37% say they don’t. 23% read poetry online, 19% read it in magazines/journals, and 57% read it in books (collections either by the same author or various authors). As for purchasing poetry, the numbers are entirely unsurprising: 2% say they purchase it often, 24% purchase it occasionally, 55% purchase it seldom, and 19% never purchase poetry. (I actually thought the “never” percentage would be higher, because I’m like that.)
How Much We Read
In terms of how many books people read per month, most people (22%) average 2 books a month. The rest, from highest percentage to lowest:
– 4: 21%
– 3: 18%
– 1: 15%
– Less than 1: 7%
– 6: 6%
– 7: 4%
– 10 or more: 3%
– 5: 2%
– 8: 2%
– 9: 0%
Why We Read
The majority of people (73%) read for entertainment. 20% read for education, 6% read for something to do while traveling/commuting, and 1% read for another reason, that other reason being, and I quote, “Enjoyment. Watching two ducks fight over a hunk of bread is entertaining,
but not particularly enjoyable. Know what I mean, Verne?” (To which I reply, fair enough. And way to quote Ernest!)
Purchasing and Borrowing
Other than occasionally or seldom or never buying short stories and poetry, I asked people what type of thing they would purchase from a bookstore or borrow from a library. By far, the most popular thing to get was contemporary (non-genre) fiction, with 34% choosing it. The rest, in order of popularity:
– Genre fiction (mystery, horror, science fiction, romance, etc.): 21%
– Other (most frequent choices were science, history, sociology): 12%
– Classic literature: 10%
– A how-to book (cooking, gardening, photography, etc.): 10%
– Short stories: 4%
– Biography of a famous person: 4%
– Poetry: 3%
– A magazine: 2%
I asked people, if they were reading something, what it was that they were reading. I was mostly curious to see if there was going to be any overlap in people’s choices, but there overwhelmingly wasn’t. Not a bit. So, instead of providing you with a hideously long list of titles and authors, I’ll just tell you I found out that almost every person who responded was reading (or had just finished) something, and out of those people, more than half were reading more than one book. Though I didn’t look up individual books listed on Amazon or someplace like it to see if each title was indeed fiction or nonfiction, it looked like the split between the two was a bit more equitable.
I think there is one major flaw in the application of this survey, in that it doesn’t deal with a random sample, and instead I got people to participate by asking if they’d like to take a survey about reading. While I made it clear that the survey was equally open to readers and non-readers alike, I think the nature of the question led to the sample being heavily skewed toward readers. This is fine, and I learned a lot, though I did include a section of the survey for people who didn’t read in their spare time, and only one person completed this section (citing lack of interest as a reason for not reading books for pleasure). I know that there must be more people out there who don’t read for pleasure, and while I was interested in finding out their opinions as well, it pretty much didn’t work out that way.
All in all, I think it was interesting to learn more about other people’s reading habits (and I was especially fascinated by the people who say they read 10 or more books a month — where do you find time? I’m a little envious). I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog post with a calculator and a spreadsheet in my lap before, but there’s always a first time for everything. And I’m pretty sure I am never going to draw graphs by hand again as long as I live, or at least not for another year or so, whatever comes first.
My thanks go out to everyone who participated, and to my friends for letting me complain about how long it takes to draw graphs, and for explaining effective graphing methods to me when I got stuck trying to figure out how to present multiple data sets in one place. Cheers. The end.