Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Quit Your Hand-Wringing, People Are Still Reading Books

A certain headline comes across my news feed every couple of months. Though the specific formula for it might alter, the gist is always the same. "My god, no one reads books anymore! Our society is crumbling! Whatever shall we do?!"

Sorry, I didn't hear you. I was too busy reading a book.
Why does this particular rallying cry of, "My god, think of the books!" crop up so much? I have no idea, since according to the data, people are reading at about the same rate they have for years... at least in American markets.

Pew Research, Reading, and Trends

Unbeknownst to most people (including me, until fairly recently), the Pew Research Center does a yearly survey in the United States about reading habits. They want to know how many books someone reads, what format those books are in, and to look for trends among recipients.

Well, the 2018 numbers are in. Print books, despite what you may have heard, are still the preferred format for readers in the U.S. Ebooks are seeing some increased use (not surprising given how many of us have smartphones and tablets these days), and even audio books are getting some love with one in five Americans saying they listen to them. I am definitely one of those five, no surprise since libraries offer them for free, and Audible has been a thing for a few years, now. But the big number, the one that will probably surprise a lot of people? Well, it's the fact that about three-quarters of the U.S. population has read at least one book in the past year. And the average number of books people read per year is 12... so about one a month.

You're shocked. I can tell.
That isn't some step back from the edge, either. The percentage of Americans who read is about the same as it's been for years now, and the only time it's been any higher than right now was during the 50 Shades of Grey craze... so that should give you an idea of how much impact that book had, love it or hate it.

So, if you're a writer, don't worry. Your livelihood is not in peril. People still read books, people still want more books, and they aren't being phased out by TV, video games, and YouTube.

Of course, there is one other thing...

If So Many People Are Reading, Why Can't I Sell Books?

While reading is staying fairly steady as far as numbers go (with little changes here and there due to generational habits), the number of books that's available has skyrocketed! Thanks to the ubiquity of self-publishing options, and the sheer number of smaller presses out there, it's now easier than it's been at any point in history to become a published author. If you add in the fact that older titles are still being read, that exacerbates the whole situation.

Now ask yourself, if the number of people reading is staying constant, and they're reading about the same number of books every year while the available books to be read increases dramatically... well, you do the math.

Yeah, those numbers aren't looking too good.
So, rather than lament that no one is reading books anymore, you need to realize that you are competing for eyeballs when it comes to your work. As such, you need to step up your game. Ask what kinds of books people are reading, and find a unique niche for yourself and your work. Build a brand, network with fellow authors, and promote yourself. Host a giveaway, turn up at conventions, and do whatever you need to do to make sure people are seeing your book. Because there are millions of people in America alone who are reading about 4-12 books a year. And if you can get them to pick even one of your books, then you have a chance to hook them for more.

Getting that shot is tough, but it's not because people aren't craving another pile of 100,000 words or so to touch them in their feels, and give them a tour of a place they've never been before. So get to work!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing installment. If you're looking for more work of mine, and you've already dug through my archives here, you could always check out my Vocal articles. Or, if you're in a mood for fantasy, head over to the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out from time to time. To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, to help support me and my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or dropping some change into The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page. Every little bit helps, and I can't do it without you!

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