Sunday, February 20, 2011

Frequent Liars and Frequent Fliers by Barbara Fister

Barbara Fister is an avid mystery reader, a writer, and a librarian at a small college in Minnesota, not necessarily in that order. She recently joined the board of Sisters in Crime and lives with her husband and three cats in a renovated 19th-century fire station. Her most recent mystery is Through the Cracks, the second in the Anni Koskinen series. 


Frequent Liars and Frequent Fliers
by Barbara Fister

You may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of college students say they actually like to read books. I know this, because we did a survey at my college and, when we wrote up the results for publication, we found a handful of previous surveys that pretty much said the same thing.

They like books, they really like books.

You may also be surprised to learn that people under 30 are not terrifically enthusiastic about e-books. When students in a class I taught took an unscientific poll of their fellow students last month, out of 176 students who responded, most had never purchased or read an e-book, and most said they preferred print books. A total of 7 students said they thought they would prefer e-books to print; 140 said they preferred print. 

This finding astonished the book buyer for our local independent bookstore when I shared it with her, but it didn’t surprise me. I’d already seen something similar in the Sisters in Crime-sponsored study of mystery book buyers. Readers under 30 were nearly as resistant as the over-60 crowd to embracing e-books. 58% of respondents under 30 said they would never read e-books and would buy print books forever. That figure was just a couple of points higher, 60%, for those over 60. It was people in their 30s and 40s were most open to e-books, and even those folks weren’t jumping and down with joy at the prospect. Most said they might read an e-book in the near future, but only a small percentage said that an e-book reading experience was very likely something they’d do soon. (All this fun is in Figure 30 in the study, if you want to check. Or take a look at figure 3, which a friend said looks just like Dr. Who’s scarf. And so it does.)

I can see why e-books are more popular with people heading into middle age.  Older readers often have more disposable income than people under 30, they may be running out of room on their bookshelves, and they might just be at that age when being able to adjust the font size helps. The people I know who love their Kindles and Nooks best are middle-aged avid readers who travel quite a bit, buy lots of books, and are terrified of being caught short without something to read.

I’m not against e-books, though I have some reservations about them. I’m just pointing out that “what everybody knows” about books and reading is often not true. To read the paper, you’d think people who want print books will soon have to haunt antique stores to find them, that young folks find books passé, and if they’re going to read at all, they’ll want their books in digital form, ‘cause you know those youngers, all they want to do is tweet and update their Facebook profiles.

Okay, the college students I work with tend visit Facebook often, but did you know  the average age for Facebook users is 38? That only 17% of those who go online use Twitter – and their average age is 39?

All I’m saying is that you want to check your facts before you make predictions about the future. Don’t be too quick to jump to conclusions. As a writer, I want to know everything I can about the direction that the publishing industry is taking. As an avid reader, I want to be reassured that I will have books in the format I want for the rest of my life. As a librarian—show me the evidence. Just the facts, ma’am. 


jenny milchman said...

Oh, what a joyous (and reassuring) post this was. I left a comment on your "reservations" one, too. I so hope our children and children's children and so on will always know the pleasures of a book--Kaye will tell you how DL came together when we began Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day last year. Today we were planning on having some extra time in the city, and it's too cold to be outside, so instantly I suggested meeting at a bookstore. A world without bookstores is well nigh apocalyptic to my mind.

Thanks for doing the research, and sharing it.

Vickie said...

I've started my soon-to-be 8 year old on the path of book reading and loving. I've loved reading since I was 3 according to my mom and I've not slowed or stopped since.
I may get an e-reader at some point, but it has to be for a good reason. I won't give up my print books, there will always be a way to have them on the shelves and in my hands and on the nightstand and in my purse.

Julie D said...

I love holding a book in my hand. Furthermore, I'm nosy and want to see the book you have in YOUR hand. Having said that, I have compromised and downloaded Kindle for MAC (for free), and I do a bit of both--a bit less of Kindle and a bit more of the real thing. As a writer it's hard not to worry at the state of publishing these days, and as a reader, I worry, too, that my favorite books won't be on shelves other than mine much longer.

I appreciated this post immensely. Thanks, Barbara.


Vicki Lane said...

Such an interesting post, Barbara! It will be interesting to see what the future holds -- both e-books and physical books, I hope.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Welcome, Barbara!

As usual, a thought provoking post.

As Jenny said, Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day got off to a great start and I hope it becomes firmly planted in readers' minds over the years to come.

I've always been a reader and swore I would never have any use for eBooks. Pfft! I'm eating my words (yet again).

I have found that both "tree books" and ebooks have a place in my life and complement one another rather than exclude each other. May they both live long and happy lives. And who knows what the next generation of books might be! I can't wait to see.

Anonymous said...

This was an interesting study and made me smile and laugh! They won't take print books away because too many of us love to touch, smell, and read all the important things in a book (copyright, books author has written--in order, acknowledgements, etc.) before beginning to read the story.
I love having real books around me, it's very comforting. I've downloaded the Kindle to my computer (free) but I am not engaged enough to read for long on the computer.

Coco Ihle said...

What an enlightening and even encouraging survey, Barbara. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

Barbara said...

Thanks, all - I had a lot of fun working on that survey, and we actually started offering a new course as a result - one in which students get a little credit to meet once a week to read and discuss books. Hey, if they can offer fitness courses that involve tennis and aerobics, why not brain fitness?