The average American reads 17 books per year

Americans and Reading

The Pew Research Center has just published their findings on reading in America. It’s called “The Rise of E-reading“. There’s a LOT of fascinating information in the report. Here’s a taste:

  1. Americans 18 and older read on average 17 books each year. 19% say they don’t read any books at all. Only 5% say they read more than 50.
  2. Fewer Americans are reading books now than in 1978.
  3. 64% of respondents said they find the books they read from recommendations from family members, friends, or co-workers.
  4. The average reader of e-books read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months; the average non-e-book consumer read an average of 15.

Building an Audience

I also want to recommend this week’s post by Kris Rusch on Audience. She has a number of interesting things to say about the dream of being a best seller and building an audience. The money quote comes as she refers to a post by Tracy Hickman:

“The point here is that you do not have to feel as though you are in competition with the entire world. You don’t NEED the entire world to be a successful writer. What you need is an audience—just enough of an audience, mind you—who reads your words, is changed by them and wants to come back for more.”

An audience. More importantly, an audience that reads and “is changed by” your words. Not an audience who loves them, not even an audience who likes them. An audience who is changed by them, and because of that experience, “wants to come back for more.”

Simple. Important. Usually forgotten.

She talks about lots more. Read the whole thing.

My thoughts?

First, there’s no need for authors or readers to worry about wading through “crap.”

According to Pew, readers only read 15 or 24 books a year on average.  That’s not a lot of books.

More importantly, it takes about 3 seconds to get a lead for a good book.  You hear something from a friend or family member, you look at the USA Today best sellers list, you browse a few books at a store or online, you read a blog and suddenly you’ve found a book. 

Readers fill up their book reading slots much more quickly than they can ever empty them.  That’s why we all have years of reading in our queues.

It doesn’t matter that there are millions of other books out there, a good majority of which might have been written by monkeys. There’s no need for authors to worry that readers will have to wade through a mountain of crap to find a good book. They don’t need to because they have leads for good books coming out their ears.

Second, people purchase books that friends, family, and co-workers love.

Which means that when you deliver a great experience to one person, it’s going to ripple out. It’s probably not going to be linear. It’s probably going to ripple out like viruses do into different population pockets. Or seeds do into different environments. It will run through one pocket, make a jump to one or more others, or it may not jump at all. Some pockets are big, some are small.

The way to keep a virus going is to release it in a lot of places where it’s likely to thrive or in places that a lot of people travel through. And as Kris points out, writing is all about repeat business–making sure you have a stream of good product (something I hope to rectify with my own writing this year).

Bottom line: the best way to build your writing business is to simply write the best book you can, and keep them coming.

Third, the market is BIG. 

If you read Rusch’s and Hickman’s articles, you’ll see that even the mega sellers only reach a fraction of those who read. This is reinforced by the statement made by Thomas McCormack, former CEO of St. Martin’s that you can read here. So just because 100,000 people read one book doesn’t mean 100,000 others won’t read mine.  

Moreover, e-books and online shopping are broadening distribution. Brick and mortar stores only have so many slots for books. Every 8-12 weeks they rotate the old books out (like 12 weeks is old) and replace them with the new ones, unless, of course, your book is selling very well and gets “modeled” at the store.  The point is: when you only display a few books at a time, those books will get bigger sales numbers. This happens because there isn’t anything else to purchase.

But you don’t have that limitation with e-books and online shopping. Nothing rotates out of the store. Sure, things rotate on and off the best seller lists. But the books are always there. With an ever growing selection, there won’t be as many mega sellers.  Publishers Weekly discusses this trend in their 2011 Facts & Figures articles, which list best-seller numbers (make sure you click through to the Trade Paperback article as well). The same thing has happened with TV station viewership with the explosion of channels, DVDs, and online streaming. Same thing happened with music.

What this means is each author has a better chance of getting his or her books to those who will love them. We’ll still have best-sellers. But we’ll also have a lot more medium sellers as well. And that’s great for authors everywhere.

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