October 19, 2015

Slightly fewer Americans are reading print books, new survey finds

The number of book readers has dipped a bit from the previous year and the number of e-book readers has remained flat, according to new survey findings from Pew Research Center.

The Number of Book Readers DipsSeven-in-ten American adults (72%) have read a book within the past year, whether in whole or in part and in any format, according to a survey conducted in March and April. That figure has fallen from 79% who said in 2011 they had read a book in the previous year, but is statistically in line with survey findings starting in 2012.

Many book publishers, researchers and retailers have wondered whether the introduction of e-books would impact book reading overall or lead to a decline in the number of books read in print. This year’s data show a slight decline in the number of American adults who read print books: 63% of American adults say they read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 69% who said the same the year before and 71% in 2011.

The survey data – which measure who has read at least one book in whole or in part in the previous year, how many they read and what formats they use – come as industry data out last month indicate that Americans remain hybrid consumers. Digital sales, which comprise about 20% of the market, have slowed sharply, while print sales have stayed relatively strong, according to the Association of American Publishers.

Women, Young Adults, Those With Higher Education and Income More Likely to Have Read a BookSeveral years of Pew Research Center survey data indicate there has been little change in the share of adults consuming e-books or audio books. The new survey shows that 27% of Americans read an e-book in the past 12 months – up from 17% in 2011. But that figure is statistically similar to the size of the e-book reader population captured in a Pew Research survey in 2014. Audio book consumption has remained stable, with 12% of Americans saying they listened to a book that way.

The data reveal a somewhat surprising generational pattern in book reading. Young adults – those ages 18 to 29 – are more likely than their elders to have read a book in the past 12 months. Fully 80% of young adults read a book, compared with 71% of those ages 30 to 49, 68% of those 50 to 64 and 69% of those 65 and older.

The Average (Mean) American Read 12 Books in the Past 12 MonthsAmong all Americans, the average (mean) number of books read in the previous year was 12 and the median (midpoint) number of books read was four. Some 27% of adults said they hadn’t read any books over the past year, while 1% said they did not know or refused to answer.

Both the mean and median book-reading figures have fluctuated over the years, and there is no indication that the intensity of book reading over the years has permanently shifted in one direction or another, according to the Pew Research surveys and similar polls by Gallup.

In the most recent survey, those most likely to be book readers included women; young adults (those ages 18-29); those with higher levels of education and higher household income; and whites. These patterns largely hold for overall book reading and for the different reading platforms – printed books and e-books.

The average woman read 14 books in the past 12 months, compared with the nine books read by the average man, a statistically significant difference. The median number of books read by women was five, compared with a median of three for men, which was not statistically significant.

Those with higher levels of education were more likely to have read multiple books than those with high school diplomas or less. The typical college graduate or someone with an advanced degree read an average of 17 books in the previous year, compared with nine for high school grads and three for those who did not graduate from high school.

This report is based on research funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Topics: E-reading

  1. Photo of Lee Rainie

    is director of internet, science and technology research at Pew Research Center.

  2. is a research assistant focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

24 Comments

  1. Kerriene1 year ago

    I couldn’t find how many people over-all were talk too. As a journalist and a PR I find it very important to know the numbers as a whole.

    1. Lee Rainie1 year ago

      As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the methodology of the survey is on this page: pewinternet.org/2015/09/15/libra….

      Overall, we spoke to 2,004 people ages 16+ and 1,907 of them were 18 and older.

  2. Richard1 year ago

    I find this very heartening. I recently saw a Gallup Poll which indicated that in the early 1950s, as little as 17% of the US population said that they were reading a book. We’ve come, along, long way indeed….

  3. Mary alverson1 year ago

    I have one of the first nooks that,came out. A color 2 nook. a7 inch kindle fire, A 6 inch kindle fire. I Bought kindle fires for my daughter, 2 of my 7 grandchildren have nook and kindle on 2 laptops. I Have nook and kindle on my Samsung etablet which I use almose,all of the time. I am a 74 year old retired teacher. My dad taught me to read when I was 4 years old., I read all kind of print: newspapers, magazines, trade papers and watch all kinds of programs on Netflix. I might be reading 5 books during the same period of time. I keep a small bible in my purse, 3 books of different genres on my truck seat. After dropping a book in the bathtub, I no longer read books there. I buy books at second-hand stores, goodwill stores, half price bookstores, local Barnes and noble bookstore and from online sites. I keep a daily. Journal. Several of my children have asked for them for the family history when I die fo

    1. Lee Rainie1 year ago

      Thanks, Mary…. You’d definitely show up at the edge of the spectrum of heavy book readers.

  4. David1 year ago

    I wish this would break out books read for pleasure versus books assigned or required. I wonder how many of the 18-29 age group said they read a book, but this was required for college class? Common Sense Media does this in their 2014 report “Children, Teens and Reading” commonsensemedia.org/research/ch…
    They found a tremendous drop-off among children when they enter their teen years who read for pleasure.

    1. Lee Rainie1 year ago

      We had a lot of other ground to cover in this survey, so we could only cover the basic, broad question of how many books people had read. We didn’t get into people’s reasons for reading or the book genres they enjoy. You might find this research by the National Endowment for the Arts answers some of your questions.

  5. Aaron1 year ago

    E-books are not my cup of tea. For the price of an e-book download, you can go to a used bookstore and get the same book in print. You will have enough left over to pay the gas for the trip and probably a cup of coffee too

    I belong to two book clubs and buy used books from on-line vendors. I am 65 years old, still working, and read about 16 books per month although only a small percentage are fiction. My three children, 38, 24, and 22 years of age share my passion for reading. We all enjoy the search for more knowledge. Personally, I enjoy the anticipation of beginning a new volume, the smell of the paper and the dark spot from thumbs turning the pages, the adventure that takes place in the mind when reading an interesting book.

  6. Thad McIlroy1 year ago

    This sounds like it’s part of a larger report, but there’s no link. Is this all there is?

    1. Lee Rainie1 year ago

      Hi Thad…. Actually, this was data we collected in a survey but didn’t release in another format or report. It’s the one place we published these findings. The other material in our survey was released in this report:

      pewinternet.org/2015/09/15/libra…

      Thanks so much for asking about this.

  7. Jackie Weger1 year ago

    I wish I knew where the numbers came from and how many people were polled for the survey. No survey seems to plug in indie books on Amazon and other venues. Traditional publishers often suggest ebook readers remain flat. What is flat? Flat sales? Who in the heck is gonna pay $16 for an ebook? I own four Kindles for ebooks I enjoy. I also buy and read trade paperbacks from fav authors. I publish ebooks and print editions via Amazon. My ebook sales are up 100% in 2015 over 2014. As for Carolyn’s comment: The Library is free. Yes, it is to the local consumer. But the Library must be funded out of tax dollars and every book purchased. Few libraries buy an indie book, but welcome gifts of indie authored print editions. Indie authors are happy to contribute those. The big 6/5/4 publishers do sell ebooks to libraries in blocks of 12 units. Once that unit has been loaned a dozen times, the library must buy another block. Some libraries with budgets that won’t stretch, stopped buying those digital units. My granddaughters between the ages of 9 and 16 read both print and digital. Four to six year olds are reading and playing games on iPads. They know how to download them off of B&N and Amazon. Young adults may not be reading the classics, but they do read what appeals to them. Just sayin’…

    1. Lee Rainie1 year ago

      Hi Jackie:

      The methodology for this survey is here: pewinternet.org/2015/09/15/libra…

      It’s a representative survey of American adults (ages 18 and older).

    2. alreds1 year ago

      I’m just OK with the books I get from my local library. I do pay my federal and local property and school taxes, so my library should have enough funds to purchase, and they do, books that we request. The only downside about reading books from the library is the waiting time to get a copy of the popular ones that are requested at the same time; however, the wait can be mitigated by reading other books while you wait.

  8. Donna Crane1 year ago

    “You may have tangible wealth untold;
    Caskets of Jewels and coffers of gold.
    Richer than I you can never be–
    I had a mother who read to me”
    ……….Gillilan Strickland, American Poet

  9. Patricia Morris1 year ago

    Did the tally include children’s books? If a parent assumed it did, then books read to child may have inflated the number read during the year.
    In any case, it would be interesting to know about parents reading to children. Do age 20 to 30 do it more than grandparents? Do lower income read more to their children?
    Thanks.

    1. Matt1 year ago

      I wondered this too. I assume most parents read a book per day (at least?) to small children under 3. If you include those, you’re looking at almost 400 books per year. Granted they are picture books, but it still seems significant.

      1. Lee Rainie1 year ago

        Hi Matt:

        We didn’t study parents in this survey, but had interesting things to say about them and reading to their children in this report that I think you’ll enjoy:

        libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/0…

    2. Lee Rainie1 year ago

      We didn’t ask specifically about book genres in these questions. Just book formats — i.e. printed books, e-books, or audio-books.

  10. Saurabh Hooda1 year ago

    We need to start another revolution to encourage book reading. Websites like Lenro (lenro.co) where book readers can borrow/lend/discuss books with their immediate neighbors needs to be encouraged a lot.
    Every neighborhood should have a book club.

    1. Yuying He1 year ago

      Sounds like a great idea!

      1. Saurabh Hooda1 year ago

        Thanks Yuying 🙂

  11. Ann1 year ago

    I read both paper and e-books. I find e-books less expensive. However today visiting B&N I bought a paper book.

    1. Carolyn1 year ago

      The library is free!

      1. Ami1 year ago

        Yes it is! I just checked out three books from the library this week. We went in for science fair books for my eighth grader and I came out with three for myself. Add that to the two I’m currently reading at home. I know I am wayyyy above the statistical average 🙂