The fundamental things apply, says the old song, “As Time Goes By.” And this seems to be true of book reading, too. A book is still a book, regardless of its shape or format. USA Today and various studies used in its articles are tracking book reading by electronic and hard-copy means. They say that owners of e-readers and tablets actually increase their book buying. Other trends are those to be expected: younger people use electronics more, and they tend to discuss their choices more on social media.
What does this mean for the book world at large? Predictions of the death of the book are waaay premature. The packaging of books is certainly changing. Marketing may be a bit harder because mass media like newspapers are devoting almost no space to books. But word of mouth, always the most important method to convey your excitement about a book, continues very strong, actually enhanced by social media.
How much can we believe reports like this? Seems like every study on the positive side has a matching study on the negative, like the one from the National Endowment for the Arts. While 54.5% of adult Americans say they read a book voluntarily in 2012, the percentage who read a work of literature went down from 50.2% in 2008 to 46.9%. As usual, women are far and above bigger readers than men.
My own theory is that the public has much more access to books and reading material nowadays than any time in history. In early centuries, many people were illiterate or close to it. Even as you approach contemporary times, reading wasn’t necessarily an activity for everyone. My maternal grandfather dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help support his family, and I’ll bet many people have ancestors who were in the same boat.
Despite hysterical predictions that reading is going to die out, people use these skills all the type, just electronically. Plus consider this—maybe too many people are reading. Maybe we should be restricting or discouraging access to books, since people seem to be picking up some hair-brained ideas from it. Perhaps we should aim for only 25% reading decent literature, if they’re the right 25%. Of course, those individuals should be only ones who agree with me.