Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Overall book readership stable, but e-books becoming more popular

Despite what seems like an ever-growing number of TV (and Netflix) shows, electronic games, smartphone apps and kitten videos jostling for our attention, Americans still find time to read about as many books as ever.

The typical American read five books in 2013, according to the Pew Research Center’s new report on reading and e-readers. That’s the median, rather than the average, meaning half of Americans read more than five books and half read fewer; if you look just at people who read at least one book last year, the figure rises to seven. All those numbers are similar to findings from previous years. (We focused on median rather than average readership because a relatively small number of very avid readers skews the averages higher — to 12 books for all adults and 16 for adult readers.)

“Reading” encompassed printed books and e-books as well as audiobooks. Overall, print remains the dominant way Americans read books: More than two-thirds (69%) of people said they had read at least one printed book in the past year, versus 28% who said they’d read an e-book and 14% who said they had listened to an audiobook. 87% of e-book readers and 84% of audiobook listeners also read a print book in the past 12 months.

Women are more likely than men to have read a book in the previous year; readership also rises with income and education. There were no significant differences by age group for overall reading rates, although younger people (especially 18- to 29-year-olds) were significantly more likely to have read at least one e-book. Among readers in that age group, 47% said they’d read at least one e-book, versus 35% of 50- to 64-year-olds and just 17% of people ages 65 and over.