Book Reading: Print Books, E-books, and Audiobooks

Americans read an average (mean) of 12 books per year, while the typical (median) American has read four books in the past 12 months. Each of these figures is largely unchanged since 2011 when the Pew Research Center first began conducting the surveys of Americans’ book-reading habits.

Americans are spreading their book consumption across several formats. The use of audiobooks is on the rise with one in five Americans now listen to audiobooks, but print books remain the most-read format.

Print Books

Roughly seven in ten U.S. adults (72%) say they have read a book in the past 12 months in any format, a figure that has remained mostly unchanged since 2012, according to a Center survey conducted in 2019. Print books remain the most popular format for reading, with 65% of adults saying they had read a print book in the year before the survey.

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Digital Books

Despite some growth in individual digital formats, it remains the case that relatively few Americans only consume digital books (which include audiobooks and e-books) to the exclusion of print. Some 37% of Americans say they read only print books, while 28% read in these digital formats and also read print books. Just 7% of Americans say they only read books in digital formats and have not read any print books in the past 12 months. (About a quarter of Americans haven’t read a book in any form in the past year.)

While shares of print and e-book readers are similar to those from a Center survey conducted in 2016, there has been an uptick in the percentage of Americans who report listening to audiobooks, from 14% to 20%.

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Demographic Characteristics

Demographic differences in book reading in 2019 are similar to the patterns seen in past Center surveys. For example, adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree are more likely to be book readers than those who have only attended some college, high school graduates, and those with less than high school education. And adults ages 18 to 29 are more likely to read books than those 65 and older.

At the same time, some groups have become more or less likely to read books in specific formats than was true in 2018. The share of college graduates who have listened to an audiobook in the past 12 months has increased seven percentage points since 2018. About one-third of college graduates (34%) have done this in the past 12 months, compared with 27% in 2018.

Similarly, the share of adults with an annual household income of $75,000 or more who have listened to an audiobook has increased seven percentage points since 2018 (30% vs. 23%). While book reading among other demographic groups has increased since 2018, men are less likely now to report as book readers. 67% of men in the current survey say they have read a book in the past 12 months, compared with 73% in 2018.

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