NEA Survey Shows Steve Jobs Is Right: Nobody Does Read



During Macworld, Steve Jobs told the New York Times that Apple will not make an e-book reader like Amazon’s Kindle because Americans don’t read any longer.He cited a specific number: 40 percent of Americans read a book or less a year, he said.Jobs may have been referring to a November report from the National Endowment of the Arts, To Read or Not To Read, which found that nearly 50 percent of 18-24 year-olds do not read at all for pleasure. Described as the most complete survey of reading trends, the report says Americans aged 15-24 spend two hours a day watching TV, but only 7-10 minutes reading. This includes reading for school or college.”The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming,” wrote Dana Gioia, Chairman of the NEA.The decline of reading has considerable social, economic and civil consequences, says the NEA, and coincides with the rise of TV and the internet.

46 responses to “NEA Survey Shows Steve Jobs Is Right: Nobody Does Read”

  1. Dirk says:

    Is it “people don’t read” or “people don’t read books”? I bet that many who used to read books in the pre-internet age just turned online and now read blogs, news sites, Wikipedia, whatever …

  2. Sheshank says:

    Cap’n Dirk, I agree.

    From the looks of it, Mainstream Fiction might be losing out to The Telly, News, You-tube, Humour-Non-Fiction ( Satire, Parody, Comedy Central ), and the like.

    Apple has it good with their strategy: iPods, AppleTV, iTunes and iPhone… now if only the Film/Television offerings would take-off on iTunes… Maybe Apple should rent digital movies at 99c too ( as Seth Godin says ) to really explode the medium.

    Reference: Seth Godin’s Post “How Much For Digital”:

  3. erik says:

    Nothing alarming at all. Reading is so overrated. German studies some years ago showed that reading is a very passive activity that requires little brain activity. Gaming for example is much better to train your brain.

  4. razmaspaz says:

    “he decline of reading has considerable social, economic and civil consequences,”

    Thats making some big assumptions. I would be willing to bet that in the Renaissance Period in Italy only 1 in 10 people could even read. It wasn’t until WWII that the US had any semblance of a respectable literacy rate. The idea that the unwashed masses need to be reading or we suffer “social, economic and civil consequences”, is at best untested, and more likely a load of crap.

    Not to say that I don’t find it horrific. I read at least 3-4 books a year, and I probably spend more time writing every day than the average American spends reading. Its sad for sure, but I’m not convinced it has considerable consequences.

  5. Sedulous says:

    From the context, Jobs obviously meant “don’t read [books] any longer” because reading of books is what Kindle is all about, right? It’s not a blog reader. Reading books is much different than reading a blog. Reading a book is a project with a much larger scope than, say, reading a blog in 2 minutes. It’s a long term project that requires more concentration, effort and time than reading a bite-sized blog. Blogs have there place, but blogs don’t serve the same place as a book. I think there are negative consequences to not reading books.

  6. C Rolls says:

    Not only do people not read — they don’t particularly enjoying reading from electronic devices. I don’t see how such a large company would neglect to learn from other’s mistakes.

  7. Doug says:

    I’m sorry….. could you please make a video about this article. I just don’t have time to read it.

  8. johncabell says:

    Hmmm … with stats like that I’d stop making Macs. After all, only 3.5% of the all people in the entire world who have a computer bother to own one.

  9. Andrew DK says:

    I’d be willing to bet that all the news related consumption goin on is due mainly to the tense political climate. I mean, ffs, how many “wars” are we waging now? Afghanistan, Iraq, drugs, terror, etc, etc…. The polarizing, partisan policies of the past eight years have really pissed off half of the nation as well. If we lived in a stable, peaceful country, the news would be boring. People would start using their imagination and reading more. Is that better than all the death and intrigue we’ve got now? The majority of American obviously don’t think so. At least they’re happy.

  10. Thomas says:

    Surely If people don’t read enough you’d think that someone like Steve Jobs would recognise the Kindle as a good thing, making it a sort of iPod for books and allowing one to store several books in a small device. That’s portable culture for you, “books” were not just fiction and fantasy the last time I checked.

    I find it alarming that Jobs would dismiss reading just because it’s not popular in the US, or not as seemingly profitable a proposition as music, especially after the cultured image for electronics he fought so much for at Apple.

    An Apple ebook reader, and a book store in iTunes have been a no brainer in my opinion for ages now. But I guess Jobs is happier to push snowboarding podcasts in HD on your laptop rather than being able to easily carry the Divine Comedy or the complete Da Vinci Notebooks with you on the go.

  11. Traunia says:

    Amazing how the strategy decisions are made from the American market perspective. Here we have a massive population that believes in God to a point of rejection of teaching basic scientific premises in schools. Most Americans believe in the need of War to bring their “higher” life stile to other parts of the world. The average American also doesn’t know where these countries are located in the world. I guess I should probably mention that the average American hasn’t a clue of what happens in the rest of the world because information doesn’t reach him and therefore his Internet searches for information will be always restricted by his mindframe. There is only so much blogging, wikis and you tube can do to help broaden your horizons if you have nothing to trigger it.

    Yes, I would definitely say that more reading is required. Nothing like a good book, even if it only fiction, to help you broaden your horizons and feel in your skin what other cultures/people go through. It is the only way to make your brain speak other cultures as it makes you reason as you read.

    Gamming is good for reflexes, imagination, creativity and develloping shooting skills. But your brain does not experience other expression, other words or different reasoning. It is absorbed in an alternative reality with little reflection of the real world. The perspective is too close to you to actual make that much of a difference. That’s why games sell.

    If you don’t have time to read books then listen to them. Audiobooks bring the words inside you and make you brain speak of diversity.

    There is no such thing as too much information. Diversity and broad minded brains speak more intelligently. … after all it’s our voice that represents us and it’s the words that change the world.

  12. Daniel k says:

    I could have enjoyed this posting, if only I read.

  13. Ross Brown says:

    One thought comes to mind… how many people used a “Walkman” or similar before the advent/rise of the iPod?

    Personally speaking, until I bought my iPod, the latest “personal music player” I have was 15 years old and played cassettes.

    In short – just because people don’t do something doesn’t mean they can’t be persuaded to by a new method of delivery or engagement.


  14. Jimmi says:

    Nobody reads. Apparently, nobody writes well, either.

  15. scott says:

    And lets stop making Rolls Royces too. It would seem to me that maybe a few people here should read a bit more so they would get their history straight.

    First off, literacy and book ready do not mean the same thing and literacy has changed its meaning as society has progressed. Were there “literate” societies before books, yes. Look it up however you choose.

    – Fewer people read in the past but one should note that pretty much all tech advances and Enlightenment came from the few who did. Same today. One should take note that there were very literate societies like the Greeks well before anything was happening in Europe. And that in Europe literacy started to grow around 1000 ad especially for commercial needs. Sometimes people don’t realize how large of a role books played before television and radio.

    – To say that the US had low literacy until WW two is not true. The literacy rate was around 94% in 1930.

    – There have never been more books and magazines and book stores in history. Yes it does suggest that the people who do read, read alot. Not everybody has an MBA, not everybody reads. Both are still important.

    – In terms of a German Study, there have been many German studies going back to the 1850’s plus lots and lots of other studies. To condense these studies into one sentence that concludes that passive is bad and active is good is to completely misunderstand the medical terminology used. The conclusion that gaming is better for your brain than reading is the obvious symptom of somebody who doesn’t read in general (or the source material) and therefore lacks the ability to compare and contrast two different things. Many of the people I know who are researching gaming and brain activity today would never draw any such conclusions. “Reading is so overrated”; so is ignorance.

    — Here is one great book reading fact, easily checked and verified, people who read books make more money.

    – The internet is becoming the primary source of information for people. Thats reading. Reading is part of information.

    — Books will probably not disappear for many reasons and rather than try to explain I just say, see you in 50 years. Lets see how many books are around. Let’s see how many are being read.

  16. imajoebob says:

    Reading is not a “passive” activity. Reading can be a very intensive use of brain activity. Along with the actual cognition and recall of the symbols/words and their meaning, there is the visual imagery we all conjure, and the focus and discipline while concentrating on the prose. If you think reading is passive, check your heart rate reading a copy of “Jaws” or “The Shining.”

    The big thing Jobs is missing in his algebra is the market readers represent. They are (generally) better educated, have more money, and are willing to spend it on books. Of course, as was earlier noted, many people find electronic reading tedious and uncomfortable. Also, I can think of no better “user interface” than the book-reader combination. Reading is not just words on a page, it is also a tactile sensation. There is pleasure derived from the feel of a book in your hands, and the instant reward of turning a page.

    So Steve is partly right. Their is little market for Electronic Books. But print on a page is alive and well.

  17. RF says:

    Too bad. A leader like Apple could make reading cool again.

  18. scott says:

    Further to my note and the post above:
    (“Freed From the Page, but a Book Nonetheless”)

    Sales of book have never been higher and continue to grow. The tactile pleasure of reading is described as similar to the love that Mac people have for their computers.

    Possibly some posters were on the wrong site.

  19. Quill2006 says:

    I question the NEA’s results – why are there so many people in Borders (open from 9 am to 11 pm in my area) and in my local library, which just extended its weekend hours? It isn’t for the computer access; the computers are rarely full. I fit (barely) in the 18-24 age bracket, and I read at least 2-3 books a week for pleasure (I know I’m not normal).

    Few other surveys I’ve seen have suggested that school aged teens and adults would spend NO time reading for school; even simple handouts. It just doesn’t seem likely.

    Some surveys do suggest that reading in general is actually on the rise due to increased internet/technology use; reading of books and newspapers is being replaced with online sources.

  20. imajoebob says:

    Quill, the reason Borders is so full is two-fold. !) The coffee shop. Can’t argue that people love to spend $3 on 34¢ of brown water. 2) Readers are reading more. But as Jobs and the NEA point out, fewer people are reading. I used to buy a book and read it. Now I buy two or three. Watch the line to see how many people buy multiple books.

    I draw a parallel to sales of Cola. Cola? Yep. Coca-Cola is the best selling soft drink, beating Pepsi handily. But oddly, more people buy Pepsi than buy Coke at the store. What gives? Well, beside fountain sales, Coke drinkers buy more Coke than Pepsi drinkers buy Pepsi. By a large margin. If I’m any example – and I think I am – I hate Pepsi and love Coke. I probably average about 2 liters of (Diet, thankfully) Coke a day. Yeah, it’s excessive, but I’m as addicted as a any coffee drinker.

    Books are the same way. Someone gave me a copy of W.E.B. Griffin’s “Brotherhood of War” books, and I couldn’t put it down. I’ve bought every succeeding book – all 9 of them, as well as the entire 10-book “The Corps” series, and his 9 OSS books are on my list. I read the historical narrative “Krakatoa” and now I buy them all the time. I recommend “A World Lit Only By Fire” and “How The Irish Saved Civilization.” My point being, much like my Diet Coke, when we find a consumable that’s exceptional, we return to it more and more.

    Good books sell more books. Also while a smaller percent of us are reading, both the absolute number of readers (see post about iPod sales), and their per capita purchases is increasing.

  21. whaaa says:

    If I had to use a Kindle, I’d stop reading out of embarassment! That thing looks like a Franklin Learn-to-Speak Machine from 1983!

    As painful as it is, Jobs is right that FEWER of us read, but the numbers clearly show that over half the population still does! How does “more than half” translate to “no one?”

    also, not to sound like a fanboy, but i love reading on my iphone!

  22. PK says:

    Something tells me that we’re all missing something… I will NOT be surprised if sometime, even sometime soon, Jobs announces an ultrathin smallish tablet (think of an iPhone-like screen, but probably double to triple that size) that among other things supports e-books better than any device has so far. Look at how the iPod and iPhone have redefined their markets. Consider how Jobs badmouthed the need for video in an iPod, and then did precisely that. Mark my words: look for this by summertime 2008. Eventually, we’re converging on the Dynabook.