Audio Book Popularity on the Rise… but Print Still Reigns Supreme

The Pew Research Center has published the results of a survey on the reading habits of Americans, revealing some interesting trends. The percentage of Americans who listen to audio books, for example, has nearly doubled since 2011. Print books continue to be more popular than e-books or audiobooks

Given the relative expense of audio books vs. print books, it would be interesting to know if their increased popularity corresponds with increased awareness of their availability through resources like the Overdrive and Libby through the public library system. (Using a new release as an example, Ribbons of Scarlet runs $26.99 for a hardcover copy or $13.42 for a paperback, compared to $29.94 for an Audible copy without a membership.)

Still, print books remain the most popular choice, with 37% of survey respondents saying they read print books exclusively.

37% say they only read print books

Finally, Pew found that those with a college education were the category most likely to read, regardless of the specific format chosen. What’s interesting, however, is that those in the youngest demographic surveyed (18-29) were more likely to have read a book in the past year than any other age group… despite the tendency of some in the older generation to mourn the death of literacy due to the emergence of smart phones. Perhaps such concerns are premature.

College graduates especially likely to read books in a variety of formats

Overall, I think this last graphic is the most important in a lot of ways. When you examine various categories, it becomes clear that accessibility may be a running theme when it comes to how likely any given American is to pick up a book. Higher income means more expendable income to spend on books, and we see higher rates of reading in those with higher income. A college education is correlated with a higher income. Those living in urban or suburban areas will generally have a library closer to home than those in rural areas; we see lower rates of reading in rural areas.

We see a decline in ages 65+, and I think this can also be related to accessibility in some ways; this age group is more likely to experience mobility problems and other health issues, making a trip to a book store or a library low on the list of priorities for a lot of people. Vision and hearing problems are also more common with age, creating difficulty reading standard print size or hearing an audio book.

Read more on these stats from the Pew Research Center here!

What are your thoughts on these figures? What is your favorite way to read? Please feel free to discuss in the comments! 


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6 thoughts on “Audio Book Popularity on the Rise… but Print Still Reigns Supreme”

  1. Wow, really interesting research. It’s especially sad that 65+ people don’t read that much. It’s interesting to see a breakdown of ages, incomes, education, etc. in differentiating if people read or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The stats for 65+ were kind of surprising to me, but it’s easy to see in retrospect why that might be. A lot of older people I know don’t read much or at all because standard print size is challenging for their vision. Large print books are harder to come by. What’ll be interesting to see is if those stats shift for future generations. It’s easy to adjust font size on an e reader so those with poor vision can see better, but the current group of older people didn’t grow up with that kind of tech and aren’t as comfortable with it. I wonder if gen x and millennials will see less of a dip in reading when they hit that age.

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  2. Very interesting! I read (or listen to) all formats, not necessarily by preference, just based on what format is available or easiest or cheapest. It’s a shame that there’s a decline with age and I wish there were audio books that my 94-yr-old mother could listen to easily – many challenges with hearing aids and audio books. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such an interesting post! There was a time when I could never have imagined listening to audiobooks but now they’re a huge part of my life! My commutes wouldn’t be the same without them 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I was one of those people for the longest time! Totally didn’t get the appeal of audio books, and then I had a 40+ minute commute, and I got through soooo many books that way. Now I listen to them all the time. Driving, cleaning, walking dogs, whatever.

      Liked by 1 person

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