Monday, January 19, 2009

The NEA says there are more readers and many of them read digitally!

CoverReadingonRise This may be the first good news about reading that I have seen in years!

A new National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) study reveals that for the first time in 25 years American adults are reading more.  How about that!

The biggest increase is among young adults (18-24).  A full 21% over the last six years (2002-2008). The NEA is quick to credit reading programs such as their own "Big Read" initiative for this dramatic turn around.

I am somewhat skeptical about this conclusion.  Conspicuously absent is any reference to the publishing phenomena of J K Rowling or Stephanie Meyers.  I remember that Scholastic, the publisher of the Harry Potter series, reported a significant loss in earnings every quarter they did NOT have a new Harry Potter title.

My (admittedly limited) exposure to this particular age group tells me that they are reading J K Rowling and Stephanie Meyers and not a whole lot else.  I think the NEA is perhaps slightly more impressed with themselves than is truly warranted. 

The most curious increase to me is this:  15% for readers in the 75+ age demographic.  I would love an explanation here.  Large print books?  Seems unlikely.  Faulty polling in earlier polls?  Not that they would admit to!

One part of the report that is not necessarily highlighted is the statistics that correlate book reading and online reading.  Of course, I find these worth these worth taking a close look at:

  • 84% of adults who read literature (fiction, poetry, or drama) on or downloaded from the Internet also read books, whether print or online.
  • Nearly 15% of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008.
  • For adults who read online articles, essays or blogs, the reading rate is 77%.

It seems that perhaps the Internet will not be the death of books.  Or at least not yet. 

Which brings me to my final observation about this report.  The NEA carefully defines a book as something between physical covers.  It does not account for eBooks or audio books.  In the case of audio books because (evidently) listening is not really reading.  In the case of eBooks because of their strictly defined poll format.  They are proud to let you know that the questionnaire has "remained fundamentally consistent for 26 years." 

A lot has changed in the last 26 years!  In 1982 the internet as we know it did not exist.  There were no Ipods, MP3 players, or cell phones.  I would like to see the NEA catch up with current technology and include eBooks and even audio books in their computations. 

Probably a small complaint in the scheme of things!  Because in the end, any increase in reading is a good thing!

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