The Awesome and Important LitKicks Reading Survey

graphs! it's true!

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:

what do you 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.

fiction vs. nonfiction in a steel cage

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:

indie lit

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%

books per month

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!)

why do you read?

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.

31 Responses

  1. Nice, Jams. You know you
    Nice, Jams. You know you don’t need to use graph paper for pie charts. I’m just sayin’ You do color well between the lines, which is nice. Fascinating study.

  2. kudos on the most excellent
    kudos on the most excellent and kickass graphs. 🙂 this was really interesting; i’m glad i participated. and also, the person who reads for enjoyment? hilarious. 🙂 props, mah girl!

  3. A+

    Jamelah works well with

    Jamelah works well with others and demonstrates a high level of coordination between left-brain/right-brain skills.

    Extreme foxiness tends to distract other pupils.

  4. I am impressed with your age
    I am impressed with your age balance. Even though there are more people in your age category than any other, you still seemed to attract people from a wide range of ages into your survey. Although, you also had a 12-year age range, two 9-year age ranges, and about a 70-year age range, so I guess that might explain some stuff too.

    Poor print newspapers! The 18-30s are not fans. (I say this as an 18-30 year old who doesn’t read print newspapers).

    I do not know exactly what indie lit is or where one finds it. I am not against it as a concept, although the problem I see with self-published literature is that there probably isn’t much of an editing process. I like editing. Sometimes people need to be reined in.

    I don’t remember answering this average number of books a month question! I wonder if I’m getting senile or if I didn’t read it carefully and answered something else.

    I don’t remember the purchasing/borrowing question, either. Did I even do this survey at all?!

  5. Thanks for letting us
    Thanks for letting us participate Jamelah!! The graphs are fantastic, the writing wonderful. So much fun.

  6. Great survey. Interesting
    Great survey. Interesting results. Sell all your stock in newspapers since only the old people read them and when they’re dead. . . .

  7. Cool graphs! I like that you
    Cool graphs! I like that you made the females blue. You’re awesome!

    I should also point out one more non-random aspect to the survey, and that is that you got many of your survey subjects via your blog, which means almost everyone was going to say they read blogs. I suspect there’s a huge percentage of book-readers (particularly older ones) who never read blogs.

  8. Wouldn’t these graphs be much
    Wouldn’t these graphs be much more revealing if the various questions were broken down by age groups?

    Example: reading for entertainment (73%) vs education (20%) does not reflect any particular age group (or did I miss that?). My guess would be more 18-30 yr olds would be reading for entertainment, while the older the age group (progressively), the more non-fictional reading there’d be.

    Also, I am quite surprised by the magazine readership and how low your group rates the periodical. Every trip to the newsstand I see more and more magazines coming out covering every interest, every passion, every collectors, enthusiasts and interested person’s taste. Surely there wouldn’t be this variety if there wasn’t an interested reading public. Again, perhaps it’s an age thing..?

    Very interesting thing you’ve done here, Jam. Congratulations! Maybe, just maybe, you’ve uncovered your calling. 🙂

  9. jota — Well, you know. Me +
    jota — Well, you know. Me + Excel = Magic.

    Brett — I did realize that, about the graph paper. I also thought I was going to make more bar graphs (which technically don’t have to be done on graph paper either). But now I have lots of graph paper, so… yay!

    Bill — I’m ambi-brain-ous.

    srah — When I started, I had the age categories broken down into 5-year increments for everybody, but it just made the list look too long, so I combined groups together. But I do know that you did complete the survey.

    Jami — Glad you found it entertaining.

    recbiker — Then all newspapers will turn into blogs.

    Andy — Good point. (About me being awesome, I mean. Ahem. Kidding. Sorta.) But actually, yes, I agree with you… The results would’ve been more accurate all the way around if it had been a random sample, since anyone who’s going to find out about a survey on a website and subsequently reply to it via email is naturally going to be on the technology-using end of the spectrum.

    allthewine — I know, right?

    mtmynd — Hi, you. I broke down my spreadsheet by age. I also did a separate one by gender… I didn’t break one out into countries since it was already so heavily skewed toward the U.S. But I found that gender really had no bearing whatsoever on answers, and age didn’t have much of one, outside of what types of publications people read. For instance, people across age groups average reading 2 books a month, and people who are older or younger don’t seem to read any more or less. So I looked at the data that way, but age didn’t actually seem to be a mitigating factor in any of the categories except the one I presented in the post. As for my calling… heh. Have Protractor. Will Graph.

    Jolene — Pie is the best. Thanks!

  10. So much for the future of
    So much for the future of classical literature and indie lit. However, I think a survey done in various bookstores would yield very different results. Actually, you don’t have to. They already glean these results from our purchase histories. Ever wonder why, just because you bought that one piece of furniture online or from that magazine, that you suddenly start receiving a multitude of catalogues from other furniture stores?

    This reminds me of that notorious survey that said only one out of every four Americans read atleast one book in the past year. But since the survey was performed via the telephone, the ‘population’ was not representative of America as a whole. Their ‘population’ was based upon the percentage of Americans who answer telephone inquiries.

  11. @jennifer cuddy

    And those
    @jennifer cuddy

    And those Americans who have landline telephones. I don’t, and it’s apparently an increasing trend among young people, which throws off pre-election polls among other things.

  12. Being an 18-30 year old who
    Being an 18-30 year old who works for a newspaper, I was shocked and saddened to see how few members of my demographic read print newspapers.

    Then it occurred to me — I don’t read print newspapers either.

  13. Do you want more feedback,
    Do you want more feedback, ie, do you want the people that read litkicks to tell you what they are reading?
    If so, I read The Eonomist and the New Yorker and usally buy, if possible, the anthologies Best American Short Stories and New Yorker. None of these I was reading 20 years ago.
    I try to read anything that’s relevant and that will help me to write better and think.

  14. It’s all good. Would you
    It’s all good. Would you believe that you are now a budding literary statistician?

  15. jennifer – I don’t think
    jennifer – I don’t think either classic lit or indie lit is doomed. Classic lit will continue to survive, if only because students will have to keep reading it in school. Indie lit is naturally going to have a lower readership by virtue of not being mainstream. I’m sure people will still keep printing and stapling their chapbooks together at Kinko’s.

    Milton — I pretty much never read print newspapers even though I used to work for one. Actually, I’ve worked for three at different times in my life. But now I read the local paper once a week, mainly because I have to read the obituaries for my job.

    Warren — Sure, I think it adds to the discussion.

    kmo — First of all, I’m not a he. Second of all, did I screw up somewhere? I wouldn’t put it past myself.

    Steve — Thanks. In the future, I’ll probably leave the statistics to the real statisticians. But this was an interesting experiment.

  16. “Classic lit will continue to
    “Classic lit will continue to survive, if only because students will have to keep reading it in school”

    sounds a bit pejorative to me..

  17. Here’s a question.
    As time

    Here’s a question.
    As time goes by, will some of the classics taught in schools be replaced by newer classics?
    I suppose colleges could add more required hours for a degree in literature, but there are only so many hours of grades 1 thru 12. How will they decide what to replace? Will some classics fall by the wayside? Will money be involved? Will Grape Wrath become a flavor in the school soda machine?

  18. My intent was not to be
    My intent was not to be negative. I was actually joking a bit. That’ll teach me not to be serious about the decline and fall of classic literature. Which I don’t see happening, by the way. I am one of those people who reads classic lit far more often than I read contemporary lit, but I know that’s not the case for everyone, which is fine. I wouldn’t have discovered that I enjoy old, often ridiculously difficult books had I not been introduced to them in school. Other people were introduced to the same things and decided they didn’t like them. I’m perfectly okay with that and I don’t see that classic lit will sink into obscurity… it’ll just keep growing and changing as more classic works are added to the canon as time goes on. And some people will be into them and some people won’t depending on their tastes, but school reading lists will keep certain things going forever, I’m sure.

    Just my personal opinion, but outside of the world of school assignments, there are no rules about books people should be reading. If they want to read classics, that’s cool, and if they don’t, that’s cool too. There’s enough room for everyone in that giant world of literature, room for everyone who wants to be there, that is. Just as John Grisham will keep selling books even if I don’t read them, so will people keep reading things by the Brontes and Jane Austen or Shakespeare and they’ll keep reading Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales and Gilgamesh, because inevitably, some people’s interests will lead them in those directions.

  19. Read the obituaries for your
    Read the obituaries for your job?

    Don’t tell me you work for them shady medical blokes what teaches anatomy at the university! Why, it gives me the shivers to think of it.

  20. This was a fun survey! And
    This was a fun survey! And these are some absolutely beautiful charts and graphs. I mean, they’re also very informative and interesting and whatnot, but they’re still lovely.

  21. hmm..I think my definition of
    hmm..I think my definition of classic literature is alot broader than yours, mainly because your genre question did not include literary fiction. It sounded more like popular genre fiction.

  22. Jennifer, I’m constantly at
    Jennifer, I’m constantly at odds (in a friendly way) with those who try to separate books into these three categories: literary fiction, classics, genre fiction. In fact, when I answered Jamelah’s survey, I felt compelled to append a snippy caveat to her “What kind of book are you reading now” question. I said, “By your definition, I’m reading genre fiction” or something along those lines (just trying to poke the bear, more than anything. She chose to overlook it, and with no graph paper at my disposal, I backed off).

    I suppose that “genre fiction” means a book with no high-minded theme. Basically a bunch of action heroes shooting at each other and making love. Or a bunch of people trying to unravel an ancient mummy’s curse and making love. Or maybe they’re on a submarine (co-ed).
    Whereas, a literary spy novel might use the cold war as a metaphor for alienation in a relationship, or a literay science fiction novel might use body snatching pods as a metaphor for the fear of losing one’s identity in a society that stresses conformity.

    Does some literary fiction become classic after so many years by standing the test of time?

    What is Dracula? A classic? A classic of the horror genre? Bram Stoker called it “A Romance.”

    When Shakespeare wrote his plays, weren’t they considered “popular” even though the term “pop” wasn’t coined yet?

    You know what? I’m rambling a lot more than I intended. I’ll stop now.

  23. The survey takers who didn’t
    The survey takers who didn’t know independant literature existed or where to find it might be interested in the Microcosm Publishing website,
    an outlet for ZINES, which are a great low tech version of blogs, more or less. Zine makers typically enjoy making the physical object on paper in small quantities (which has the nice consequence of encouraging editing and brevity) and they often have strongly held DIY values. There are WONDERFUL zines out there, in fact for a while I wondered why it was so much harder to find good blogs to read than to find good zines, & concluded maybe because blogs are too easy to make and zines require physical effort. Would be glad to recommend some good zines to anybody interested. They are usually cheap. (I do not work for Microcosm Publishing, I promise.) Loved your graphs.

  24. Jamelah, I LOVE this! I think
    Jamelah, I LOVE this! I think you did a great job here and no matter the “flaws”(I did not notice, you pointed them out) i enjoyed it. It was great. I think your readers are lucky; to have someone who would go through all this trouble. I got your blog address from a GOOGLE search, i’ll keep returning.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!