Is Reading All But Dead?
As an author, I worry. About deadlines, about scenes, about characters, about marketing, about making readers happy, and a host of other things.
Lately, I've been focused on the nasty 'D' word—Demographics.
If you're reading this, then you are likely an adult. Probably over 35 and maybe older. Which brings me to the main point, young adults are reading less and less. The people who are buying and reading books are getting older.
I'm not the first author, critic, or publisher to notice this. Here's an article from the Guardian, but first this is the answer to a question posed to Ewan Morrison in 2011 when asked if print will die:
"Yes, absolutely, within 25 years the digital revolution will bring about the end of paper books. But more importantly, ebooks and e-publishing will mean the end of "the writer" as a profession." —Ewan Morrison, Scottish Author and Screenwriter
The link to the article is: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/aug/22/are-books-dead-ewan-morrison
The Guardian ran another story in 2014 on a similar theme. Here's the link: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/02/will-self-novel-dead-literary-fiction
Not long ago, I came across a Time Magazine article with the headline "Stop Saying Books Are Dead. They're More Alive Than Ever" https://time.com/5520570/books-are-not-dead/
Lisa Lucas, Exec. Director of the National Book Foundation wrote the following:
“Reading is a rapidly depleting form of entertainment,” which cited recent findings from Pew Research Center that 24% of Americans didn’t read a book in 2017. Now, what I saw was that 76% of Americans did read a book. Ms. Lucas' response was that the article is actually good news. That 76% of Americans ARE reading part of, or at least, one book a year. Does that qualify as good news?
With this introduction, in light of the fluffy optimism in Time Magazine, I wanted to give some anecdotal observations on my experience, and I won't waste your time with a laundry list of statistics. In my own marketing and analysis, I find that when I target all age groups in a marketing campaign, the under 35 group is extremely unresponsive. I mean to say that I get the demographics on who's getting fired up by my book ads, and the young people are almost non-existent. Why? The distractions that are passive are everywhere. To be specific, reading is an active pastime; you have to engage in the book, and often THINK about what you are reading.
Picture from Time Magazine
But then there are things like Tik-Tok, Video Games, Videos, etc. which I classify as passive because you are more like an observer, even if you have a game controller in your hands. The instant gratification is exactly that, INSTANT. Books, however, require an investment. Time, thought, imagination.
Then I asked myself: "Self, perhaps your genre is just not for kids?" Good question. I write military sci-fi, and on July 30th, I am releasing my first installment of the Mike Casper Thriller series (not sci-fi). Maybe these things just don't appeal to younger readers. Could be. But then I look back at the Time article by Lisa Lucas. She writes that 76% of people read a book in a year study. Who read?
Here's the link to the actual Pew Research and there is something so glaring that it is hard to believe that it wasn't addressed in the polling.
Notably, that age wasn't listed as a criteria. Wow! I am absolutely in shock. Why wouldn't I want to include age as a factor?
In light of that, and this blog is by no means a detailed statistical review, but you can look at the 76% of adults that did read part or a whole book in a year's time and surmise that 76% were likely over 30 or maybe even 40 years old (for the most part). We can't know for sure until there is some real hard data.
But I will know more anecdotally after my thriller Cold Dead Hands is published in late July 2021. You may be able to assign the rate of older folks reading sci-fi because of the genre, but an action, thriller book? We'll see. If the thriller gets the same big response from 40 years and up (mostly), as does the military Sci-fi, then what does that say about the future of reading?
Complaining doesn't help much, so what can we, as readers, do to improve the future of the book?
Get your kids and grandkids to read. The dedication in book two of my Lost Council trilogy says thank you to my mom who used to drag me to the library every week whether I liked it or not. Just like we need to teach math so that kids can maybe consider a technical career, we can also push them to read.
Connect the movies to the books. This means to push younger people to read the books that were the basis of a movie that they like.
Buy books. Real paperback or hardcovers. Give them as gifts. Get the next generation used to the feeling of an actual book in their hands.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. It is pretty darn important IMO.
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