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Social & Policy Issues
Rumors of the Demise of Books Greatly Exaggerated
Social & Policy Issues

Rumors of the Demise of Books Greatly Exaggerated

by Art Swift and Steve Ander
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 35% say they read more than 11 books in the past year
  • 53% of young adults read between one and 10 books in the past year
  • 73% prefer printed books to e-readers or audio books

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite the abundance of digital diversions vying for their time and attention, most Americans are still reading books. In fact, they are consuming books at nearly the same rate that they were when Gallup last asked this question in 2002 -- before smartphones, Facebook or Twitter became ubiquitous. More than one in three (35%) appear to be heavy readers, reading 11 or more books in the past year, while close to half (48%) read between one and 10 and just 16% read none.

During the past year, about how many books did you read/listen to, either all or part of the way through?

The number of Americans who say they read no books in the past year has doubled since the first time Gallup asked this in 1978, from 8% then to 16% now, but has been fairly steady near the current level since 1990.

The results are based on an open-ended question that asked half of Americans to recall the number of books they read all or part of the way through in the past year -- the trend wording -- and the other half to recall the number of books they read or listened to all or part of the way through. Given that there was no meaningful difference in the answers, the results to the two versions were combined.

Oldest Americans Reading More Than They Used To

Although the survey did not track the types of books that Americans read by age group, book reading in general is fairly similar by age group among U.S. adults. It is a bit more prevalent among the oldest and youngest age groups than among those in the middle years. Roughly nine in 10 adults aged 18 to 29 (91%) report reading at least one book in the past year -- possibly related to the required reading among college students within this age group. The percentage among those aged 65 and older is 85%. Nearly four in 10 respondents in both age groups say they read more than 10 books.

The most meaningful differences in reading behavior since 2002 are evident among Americans aged 65 and older. Collectively, they are reading more books than the same age group did in 2002. The percentage reading one or more books increased from 68% to 85%, including a four-percentage-point increase in those reading 11 or more, from 33% to 37%.

Amount of Books Americans Read, by Age
During the past year, about how many books did you read/listen to, either all or part of the way through?
  None 1 to 5 6 to 10 11 to 50 51 or more
  % % % % %
18 to 29 years old 9 32 21 34 4
30 to 49 years old 19 34 13 26 8
50 to 64 years old 20 39 10 25 6
65+ years old 14 35 13 25 12
18 to 29 years old 13 35 13 32 7
30 to 49 years old 16 34 16 27 6
50 to 64 years old 15 29 21 28 7
65+ years old 29 26 9 22 11

Americans Still Turning the Printed Page

With the advent of e-readers and tablets in the past decade, some futurists predicted the imminent extinction of printed books. It was said that the ability to download, read and store thousands of digital books on these devices would quickly reduce demand for the paper versions. However, this prophecy appears to be far from true -- so far. Among those who say they read at least one book last year, the vast majority say they most often read printed books, at 73%. About one in five most often read electronic books, while only 6% mostly experienced books in audio form.

Americans' Methods of Reading Books
Which do you do most often -- read printed books, read electronic books on a tablet or e-reader, or listen to audio books?
  Printed books Electronic books Audio books
  % % %
2016 Dec 7-11 73 19 6
NOTE: Asked of those who have read at least one book in the last year

Bottom Line

Despite Americans' ability to access more information, social networks, games and media than ever before, as well as the lingering rumors of the book's demise, Americans still say they are reading books.

Additionally, while some have alleged that technology would displace printed books, this shift has not been as swift as expected. In fact, recent industry data show that sales of printed books have been increasing. While it is unclear if Americans are reading books only partially, reading shorter books or reading lower-quality books than they used to, the fact that they are reading just as many books as they were 15 years ago could signify welcome news to aspiring authors and publishers.

This suggests that book reading is a classic tradition that has remained a constant in a faster-paced world, especially in comparison to the slump of other printed media such as newspapers and magazines.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Dec. 7-11, 2016, with a random sample of 1,028 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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