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Survey confirms my abnormalities

Maybe they’re asking the wrong people or perhaps I’m just highly abnormal. I’m thinking it’s the latter but a new reading habits survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows I’m a real outlier when it comes to reading.

The survey is billed as the first comprehensive examination of American reading habits since e-books came into prominence and is was based on telephone interviews from November 2011 to January 2012 using “a nationally representative sample” of people ages 16 and older living in the United States. It shows the “average” American read 17 books over the last 12 months while owners of e-book readers read an average of 24. For the categories into which I fall the averages are 15 for males, 18 for those age 50-64, 11 for white, non-Hispanics and 19 for college graduates.

So how many books do I read a year? Last year it was 147. The average over the last three years is 128 a year. The survey showed 5% of those 18 and older read more than 50 books. (Interestingly, a 1978 Gallup Poll showed 13% of the adults surveyed read more than 50 books.) So, it appears my addiction falls into the extreme category.

Although looking at reading habits overall, the survey also honed in on the use of electronic devices and differences between those who own them and those who don’t. There’s a number of other interesting tidbits in the survey. Here’s just a few:

  • 80% of Americans age 16 and older say they read at least occasionally for pleasure. Some 36% read for pleasure every day or almost every day. Those numbers are 89 percent and 49 percent for owners of e-book readers.
  • 44% of adults who read books were reading a book on a typical or average day. But 18% of Americans said they had not read a book in the past year.
  • Ownership of tablet computers grew from 5% in November 2010 to 19% in mid-January this year. Ownership of e-book readers like Nooks or Kindles follows a similar track, growing from 6% to 19% over the same period. But 85% of those who don’t own an e-reader are considering buying one eventually and another 8% are planning on doing so in the next six months.
  • 62% of those owning e-readers had Kindles, while 22 percent had Nooks. It didn’t indicate how many people are abnormal enough to have both like I do.
  • 29% of adult book readers read an e-book in the past 12 months, amounting to 21% of all adults.
  • 14% had borrowed the book from the library. Of the 16- and 17-year-olds in the survey, 37% got their most recent book from the library, as did 20% of those age 65 or older.

This report, titled “The rise of e-reading,” is part of the first phase of research being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Subsequent reports will look at how librarians and library users perceive the situation with digital content and how people in different kinds of communities (urban, suburban, and rural) compare in their reading habits.


A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.

George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

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