The book on books

Here’s an incredible list of stats on books from Dan Poynter [via Booklad] Samples (Poynter sources all these; go there for the links and much, much more; I don’t know how fresh this all is):

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. …
58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another book.
80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.
Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.Customers 55 and older account for more than one-third of all books bought.

Number of publishers
1947: 357 publishers
1973: 3,000 publishers
1980: 12,000 Publishers. The New York Times, February 23, 1981.
1994: 52,847 publishers. Books in Print.
2003: About 73,000 (plus those who publish through POD/DotCom publishers; they use the publisher’s ISBN block.)
78% of the titles published come from the small/self-publishers.

Most initial print runs are 5,000 copies.
A larger publisher must sell 10,000 books to break even.
A book must move in the stores in six weeks.
On the average, a book store browser spends eight seconds looking at the front cover and 15 seconds looking at the back cover.
Women buy 68% of all books.

Jerold Jenkins’ stats on writers:
81% of the population feels they have a book inside them.
27% would write fiction.
28% would write on personal development
27% would write history, biography, etc.
20% would do a picture book, cookbook, etc.
6 million have written a manuscript.
6 million manuscripts are making the rounds.
Out of every 10,000 children’s books, 3 get published.

  • Interesting stats, but doesn’t include writers of plays and magazine articles. The figures would be much higher if that were included. As a [produced and award-winning] playwright, I read plays for a theatre in D.C. for several years, the ms. were innumerable. Also wrote for a few magazines, and was involved for a time in publishing – again, innumerable offerings.

  • adslfan

    >80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.

    thats it. should shut down . nobody is buying those books anymore. Jeff Bezos will lose billions.
    its true cause stats make it true.

    • Rachel

      For a second there, I thought you were serious. Scary…

  • The supply of publishers wouldn’t keep increasing (as well as the number of titles published) if there wasn’t some sort of demand.

    It is probably true that there are lots of books with modest print runs that lose money, but today’s overlooked title is tomorrow’s rediscovered masterpiece.

    What’s the alternative?

    I also don’t believe the stat about people never reading another book after school. Walmart sells millions of cheap paperbacks to (mostly women) and their demographic is exactly the high school grad and similar people.

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  • A book is considered a best seller when it hits 1 million in sales. That’s about one third of one percent of the American population. Americans by and large are not a book reading culture.

    Yesterday at Comic-Con I attended a panel on big fantasy books. Anna Groel of Bantam/Dell informed the audience that she was very nearly driven away from reading by a teacher who insisted she read Silas Marner. It was her parents’ approval of comicbooks and science fiction that kept her literary interests alive. I can understand the teacher’s wish to pass on a good book to a new generation, what I have problem with is her insistence that the book had to be read.

    We’ve made certain books too important for their own good. Thus, instead of reading being something you do for pleasure, it’s come to be something you do because you must. The educational establishment does its absolute best at pushing kids away from books, all in the name of promoting literacy.

    Later on in the panel the Lemony Snickets was mentioned as one of the book series for young children – those too old for picture books, but too young for Harry Potter. But what do teachers want kids that age to read? Happy Tree House. Described by one panelist as, “Dick and Jane for the 21st century.”

    It comes down to this, instead of encouraging young people to read books like Silas Marner, they demand they read those books. And that is something your typical child is just not going to tolerate. (Needs rewrite, I’ll post that over at my blog.)

  • amazing stats!

  • Mark

    So tell me again why newspapers waste so many pages (usually advertising-free, incidentally) reviewing books???

  • >But what do teachers want kids that age to read? Happy Tree House.

    It’s “Magic Tree House,” and yes, I agree, it’s not going to win any writing awards. But guess what? Kids like it — a lot.

    My daughter read two of the Lemony Snickets, shrugged, and went back to plowing through her dozen or so Magic Tree House books. “A Series of Unfortunate Events” is much better written and, if I were the dictator of her leisure time, I would much prefer that she be reading Lemony Snicket. But wouldn’t that be doing just what you complain that teachers do, making a book so “important” it becomes work rather than play?

    Some of the stats quoted above sound fishy to me: I don’t think a survey can say that anyone “never ” reads a book after high school, only that one hasn’t read a book since high school. (It’s an important distinction.) It also doesn’t surprise me that 70 percent of adults haven’t been in a bookstore in the past five years: I’m a readaholic, yet I buy about 80 percent of my books online these days. It’s easier, and the book I’m looking for is always in stock.

  • Alan Kellogg:

    You don’t have to sell anywhere near 1 million copies of a book for it to be a bestseller.

    Bestsellerdom is best understood as an elastic term. It can be achieved by as few as 75,000 books (total) sold, or fewer. It is determined by a secret formula known only to the institution/publication that publishes a given bestseller list. It has to do with the rate of sales per X. (The X factor is the secret.)

    Sadly, this means there are even fewer readers than you calculated.

    Philip Roth once said he thought there are only 7,000 serious readers in America.

    Jeff: what a great link!

  • KAte

    These numbers are all bogus. They came from some PR firm for publishing companies. They’re not ever remotely true.

  • I’m not so sure that these stats show the whole picture. Shool children seem very interested in reading books. Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl have done much to stimulate reading in this generation. At least, here in London, you will seem many kids with thier noses in books. My belief is that the book as a future.

  • V

    >>80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.

    >>thats it. should shut down . nobody is buying those books >>anymore. Jeff Bezos will lose billions.
    >>its true cause stats make it true.

    Try taking an informal poll around the office, you may find these numbers hauntingly accurate.

    Interestingly enough, Amazon diversified quite a bit and now offers more than books. You should check them out again sometime.

  • Jim

    Flip it and think about it:

    “80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.” That means 20% did. The US population is approximately 300 million, call it 100 million families. So 20 million US families bought and/or read at least one book last year. And that doesn’t count those of us in more literate cultures around the world.

    Also, how can the following stats both be true?

    “One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. …
    58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.”

    Doesn’t “…never…after high school.” = “…for the rest of their lives.”?

    So how is the number of people who never read a book after high school both 33% AND 58%? Someone’s seriously demonstrating their innumeracy. Call John Allen Paulos – oh wait! He’s a writer. He must have starved to death. And look up the Pareto principle while you’re at it.

    • bob

      One is high school graduates, the other is general population.

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  • Interesting web page is, i\’ll see you later one more time


    Of course word’s don’t die if they are put into print!
    Doe’s music die if it is recorded?
    The only thing that I can think of relating to Jeff Jarvis’s comment: word’s die in print(!!!) is that any audio vibrations active from the spoken voice/music played, once recorded or put into print cease to vibrate…
    might be seen as being dead, but alas & alack words/music resonate when
    re-activated by an appropriate means. Unless the speaker/musician dies
    what is contained within a writer/musician will always resonate!
    Recorded information is something that can facilitated to revive/revise words/sounds prior to…

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  • I believe there may be something to the stats and there are three authors in my family, three PhD’s and two college professors, so we don’t get blindsided too often. We do have books listed with Amazon and we do sell. However, our main objective is not to make money, but it is OK if we do, our objective is to; first write for our own family and secondly leave marks for those of our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren that follow along. It was interesting to find out that none of us knew a thing about our great-grandparents and we decided to do something about it. I have had books on the market back to 1979 (In Search of Paradise) and some crazy guys have the out of print copies, with signature listed for over $100. My latest book second edition, with signature has been posted at over $100 and the out of print version of the same book first edition, sells for around $55 without signature. Target online sells the same book for $14.95 new. It sure is amusing, I never made that kind of money on any of my books. I will have five books finished by the spring of 2009 with two on the market now and two about to jump aboard before Christmas. I don’t suppose I will make any money, but hey, look at all the fun people are having that try to sell them when the books get old. If you want to see for yourself, Google “In Search of Paradise” Don’t worry, I have none for sale. But be careful of the guy who does.

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  • Am I the only one who think these stats are sad and frightening??

  • Julian

    Its propably close to the truth, I know very few serious readers and I bet most people here do too. If out of ten people we know only one reads, that means 90% are not really readers.

  • Caitlin S

    It’s absolutely shocking to me how few college students even read for pleasure anymore. My roommate hasn’t picked up a book since our last required reading for high school last year. I, on the other hand, have read over a dozen real books since school started in August (which is actually a very small number for me). From what I can see, she is absolutely the norm. It doesn’t matter that the students are still reading textbooks, really- if they aren’t reading and enjoying books for their own sake, they will join the group who never read again after graduating.

    My roommate also uses “text speak” and can’t spell “residence.” I wonder if it’s related to the above issue.

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  • Russ


    No wonder why people look at me funny when I tell them that I have a personal library with over 22,000 books in it!

    I find it inconceivable that anyone could finish high school, then spend the rest of their life without ever reading a single book. Unbelievable. Still, it tends to explain why so many people on the Internet are simultaneously so stupid and yet so opinionated at the same time.

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  • Dave


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