A new report from the National Endowment for the Arts tracked American reading habits in 2017 revealed that more than half of all U.S. adults, 55% or 132 million people, did some form of book-reading in the year outside of work or school. For the first time, this figure incorporates reading of print and e-books, and listening to audiobooks. The report, called How Do We Read: Let’s Count the Ways, used data from the 2017 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). It concluded that once forms of digital reading are considered "declines in book-reading may not be as severe as previously reported" and levels are reading indicated are similar to earlier SPPA studies, from 2012 and 2008.
Overall, the survey found, adults who read e-books and listen to audiobooks consumed the most books per year: a median of 10 compared to four for print-only readers. Print reading, though, is ceding to e-book reading and audiobook listening. In the survey, 44.5% of adults said they read or listened to books in digital formats (though these digital readers may have read some print books as well) and just 25.1% of adults stating that read print books alone.
Among those who said they read e-books and listen to audiobooks, 50.6% said they read only e-books, while 35.6% said they read e-books and audiobooks, and 13.8% said they just listen to audiobooks. It should be noted, the data being analyzed is from 2017 and audiobooks have seen a significant explosion in popularity since then.
The report also concluded that adult older than 65 years of age have the highest percentage of print-only readers, while readers aged 18-24 are most likely than any other demographic to read some combination of digital and print books.
Unfortunately, younger readers are struggling more than before. The NEA pointed to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading tests that showed the average reading score of 4th and 8th-graders slipped between 2017 and 2019, with the number of “proficient” readers having declined.