Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
The kind wedged between two covers.
Publishers and booksellers work hard to convince naysayers that print isn’t passé. But popular imagination still eulogizes books above their so-called deathbed—or else shakes a clenched fist, cursing cockamamie kids and their fleeting attention spans, evaporating in the length of a Snapchat.
Consider, then, this new report from the Pew Research Center as a doctor’s note testifying to a clean bill of health.
In April and March 2016, researchers conducted a nationally representative phone survey of 1,520 Americans. Nearly three-quarters of the respondents had read at least one book in the last year, and 65 percent of those folks opted for print titles.
Though e-book readership climbed a bit between 2011 and 2014, it’s held steady since, and only 6 percent of participants said they read exclusively in this format. In contrast, 38 percent of respondents were ride-or-die print readers.
On average, Americans devour about 12 books annually, but readership patterns break down across demographic categories. The most voracious readers tend to be women, college graduates, and people earning $75,000 or more. As CityLab has previously reported, low-income neighborhoods are often strapped for books, and a flurry of interventions, from vending machines to open-air lending libraries, aim to bridge the access gap.
The Pew survey found that young people, ages 18-29, were especially likely to be bookworms: 80 percent of them had read a book in the last year, compared with 67 percent of seniors. And those Millennials aren’t necessarily turning to e-readers, either: 72 percent of them read a print book, in all its dog-eared, deliciously musty glory.
If anything is nipping at print’s heels, it’s tablets and smartphones, the report found. Over the last five years, the share of Americans squinting to read books on cell phones has more than doubled, while the number curling up with a book on tablet has increased almost fourfold, jumping from 4 percent to 15 percent. So if print ever truly does find itself on the brink of extinction, it might be a tablet or phone that delivers the fatal blow.