‘Real’ books or e-books? Alarmed?

The tastes of the reading public are turning digital, says The Huffington Post.

Print book sales rise hailed as a sign of a fightback in a digital world,” says The Guardian.

From HuffPo:

A Pew Internet Research Center survey released Thursday found that the percentage of Americans aged 16 and older who read an e-book grew from 16 percent in 2011 to 23 percent this year. Readers of traditional books dropped from 72 percent to 67 percent.

From The Guardian:

The strongest weekly sale of print books in three years is being hailed as a sign that “real books” are fighting back in a digital age thought to be dominated by e-readers and tablet computers.

From The Bloomsbury Review: What The…?

Is this a cultural thing? Are Americans more likely to be seduced by the newest glittering gadget than our more staid but beloved UK cousins? Or is the fault, Dear Brutus, in the statistics?

HuffPo/Pew goes on to say:

“Those owning an e-book device or tablet jumped from 18 percent to 33 percent, with much of that increase coming from last year’s holiday season, when millions received Kindles, Nooks and other e-readers as gifts. Awareness that libraries offer digital texts grew from 24 percent to 31 percent. The telephone survey of 2,252 people aged 16 and older was conducted from Oct. 15 to Nov. 10.”

There’s no indication in the story, but these “telephone” polls are usually conducted via land-lines, and the associated demographics might suggest that there are more reading e-devices out there than even these statistics declaim, as younger readers are more inclined to dwell their days digitally—mightn’t they?

In The Guardian:

With many authors and publishers fearful about how book-buying habits are being altered by the growing popularity of e-readers and tablets as reading devices, the news was welcomed by writers including William Dalrymple, author of Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, who took to Twitter [Editorial note: Ironic] saying: “Real books fighting back!”

I’m still stumped. The UK publisher, Pearson, “is paying £55.5m [$89.5 million cash for a 5 percent stake] … in the company behind the Nook series of e-readers and tablets, which is part of US book chain Barnes & Noble.” So, in the UK, where “P-books” are on the rise, a UK publisher is investing in e-books. In the US, do we really even know how many are using e-books instead of p-books?

All in all though, the saddest statistic is “those reading books of any kind dropped from 78 percent to 75 percent,” which Pew called “statistically insignificant.” As of this post, there are 315,083,267 people in the US—and now only 236,312,450 are “reading books of any kind.”

I stink at math—an understatement—but according to my crabbed calculations that’s a loss of 7,089,374 readers (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong! [But be nice about it.]). And that’s almost the populations of Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas combined. At any rate, P-(“Real”) or e-book, that’s not “insignificant” in the dictionaries I believe in. Reading books is what makes us a significant nation—so the word I choose is alarming.

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  • Kathleen Cain

    Good question for discussion, but “statistically significant” has its own meaning within the study of statistics, beyond what an ordinary dictionary offers. If my demographic research experience serves, 3 per cent or less = “statistically significant” (margin of error & all that). Trends are/were defined as 7 percentage points of change in one direction or another, over a specified period of time. And as far as the population goes, you’d have to know how many counted were non-readers (e.g. not old enough to read). And there are surely some other factors I’m not thinking of. As a good blog should, your topic provokes additional questions. I’m not going to throw my hands up at a 3 per cent decrease, but am definitely interested in the why? of the decline of not reading books of any kind.

    • http://www.bloomsburyreview.com Webster

      The poll was aimed at people 16 and above–so at least we know that they should have been old enough to read. And, yes, “statistically insignificant” has its own meaning, but the scary part, to me, is that the trend has been, for years now, a steadily declining percentage of the population who read books–and that is alarming.