23 April 2016

Where have all the Readers gone? (in which our Bad Girl gets serious for a change...)

Read interesting stats today from Kobo.
Apparently, 75% of ebook readers are women.

(Back in the days when I first started teaching about writing, the early 90s, the stat was 60%. That is, 60% of readers were women .)

Back to the Kobo study:
Of that 75% of readers who are women, 77% are 45 and older.

The largest single group (30%) are 55-64 years old.  (I now fit in that age group. Curses.)

The reports states that the typical prolific reader (that would be me) buys on average 16 print books a year and 60 ebooks.

For all you math types, that's a total of 76 books.

Back up to my college class two weeks ago.  I ran a quick poll.  "How many books do you read in a year?"  I asked.

The poll was confidential.  I ripped up pieces of paper and had them write down their total.  They dropped the anonymous slips on a table on the way out.

The results were shocking.  Let me state first that this is a college credit continuing education class, so we have students of all ages in it.  Crafting a Novel is at the top end of the Creative Writing Certificate - most people take it last, because it is rigorous.  (You have to write a full synopsis and many chapters of your novel by the end.)  So these aspiring novel writers would be avid readers, right?

Books Read in a Year:

Most number of books read:  26
Average number of books read:  7
Least number of books read:  1

Yes, in a writing class of 20, only one person reads 2 books a month.
And one fellow manages to read one book a year.  But he wants to write a novel.

By now, if you are a writer, you should be hitting your head against your desk.

So who is reading books out there?
Aged 55-64

And what are they reading?
General Fiction (whatever that is)
(But twice the number of romance books as the other two categories.)

I have 20 students in my Crafting a Novel class.
No one is writing romance.
No one is writing mystery.
Almost everyone is writing a Hunger Games clone.  (Not the exact title. You know what I mean.)

Stephen King said it best.  "If you want to be a writer, you have to do two things: read a lot and write a lot."

If you are an established writer, reading is part of your professional development.  Every published novelist I know reads several books a month.  I read an average of two books a week.  That's over 100 books a year.  (One hour a night, people.  That's seven hours a week.  Not unreasonable.)

I weep.  I weep for the waste of time, effort and paper.  Can somebody please tell me why anyone would set out to write a novel when they don't read and read and read as a hobby?

(Bad Girl isn't usually this grumpy.  But it's marking time.  I may just kill someone.  I may kill myself...)



  1. You are absolutely right that one reads in order to write, but only the serious students are serious readers. Alas!

  2. "Can somebody please tell me why anyone would set out to write a novel when they don't read and read and read as a hobby?" Because Bad Girl who's grumpy (and you are not alone), they think that they can become the next Steven King / John Grisham and retire on an island in the Caribbean immediately. Seriously. I know. I had someone ask me, "what's the best kind of novel to write to make a lot of money?" I told him, "you're asking the wrong person - go and do your own research."

  3. Everything you wrote rings true with other stats I recall. All of the writing classes I've taken end with a small percentage of the students from the first session. It's like natural selection.

  4. Eve, in a writing class, one guy chose sci-fi… and then admitted he detested science fiction. His reasoning? He said he figured writing sf would be easier than other genres.

  5. Melodie, I’d done some research for an article back on Criminal Brief, if I remember right, that falls right in with your figures. Women read; men don’t. The horrid news is that males, especially young males, aren’t reading more than sports news and cereal boxes. As book devourers, women outstrip men 3-to-1 and the gap is widening.

    Half of my closest friends are teachers and educators say the trend is getting worse. The current mandate is a focus on girls, which is leaving boys behind. Girls are qualifying for college at astonishing rates… and rates for boys are astonishingly dropping in the other direction. The latest ratio of girls to boys I came across is 57:43. Some of those boys are admitted under a kind of affirmative action, which clearly is not working– at graduation, 32% of girls had earned degrees compared to only 24% of boys. We’re creating a society of dumb boys.

    Like you, Melodie, I’m worried. I wonder about a society that can’t read and I worry about a North America that can’t educate its young.

  6. Leigh, I'm not surprised. Sad, but not surprised.

  7. Janice, I think what astounds me is I start in the very first class by saying that if you don't read as a hobby you won't make it as a writer. And they don't believe me. Or...they believe reading one book every two months makes them a reader.

  8. Eve, I get that question with every new class. I tell them to look at the bestseller lists. Then I have to tell them where to FIND the bestseller lists, sigh.

  9. Richard, I will remember that: "Like natural selection" - perfect! (smile)

  10. Leigh, those are scary stats. Interestingly, half my Crafting a Novel college class is male this year. I am finding they have great ideas (okay, not necessarily original, but at least they have ideas.) What is missing, oddly, is punctuation skills. They don't know how to punctuate dialogue. Commas are sprinkled like confetti. This usually tells me that they don't read fiction as a hobby. Which means their reading skills are going to be substandard by the time they are my age.

  11. I don't know if this will help put things in context, but I was a college professor in the life sciences for many, many years. And I found these general traits were exceedingly common in students even in a major university. What traits? (1) Wanting to make it big with a big book, a big music hit, a big film, a big start-up company, a big position in a major firm; but (2) being incredibly naive about how much work that takes and the necessity of starting at the bottom to amass the experience required; (3) having almost no interest in exploring the difference between the reality of hard work and its wonderful rewards on the one hand, and what were essentially adolescent fantasies on the other; and (4) an inability to realize that they can't simply "beat out" the other millions of kids with the same goals simply because "I'm me and therefore I will win". They don't read books, but also they don't read papers or news articles (more than one paragraph long), or watch meaningful documentaries. They don't analyze or assess information they receive but swallow everything whole regardless of the source -- as long as it's no more than about the length of two tweets. And they somehow think that they will be wildly successful simply by virtue of inhaling oxygen and dressing cool. I don't understand it. But it means it's not just your students, it's not you, and it's not personal. You're wading through a systemic cultural problem of terrifying significance.

  12. Anon, thank you for your thoughtful comment; your last line is particularly profound. I first starting teaching college (day school) in 1992. I stopped teaching in day school in 2006. I simply couldn't tolerate the change in attitudes in both the students and the administration. I've taught night school, the fiction writing courses only, since then.
    The thing that goes beyond our discussion of 'students today': Only four of my class of 20 are under thirty. The vast majority of my novel writing students are in their 30s and 40s. I also have a few seniors. ALL are unrealistic. Every single one of them. The older ones have told me that my class has been such an eye-opener. They had no idea how the publishing world worked. Here they are, taking the last of probably seven courses, and they hadn't done a single bit of research into the publishing world. Stunning.

  13. I always read voraciously during college summer and winter breaks. But during the school year, I never had time to read for pleasure. (I was a Stepford student.) So I had maybe five months of reading time each year. Maybe some of your students reading habits were similar so their numbers are artificially deflated. (I read a lot more now that I have more free time.)

  14. None of my students are full time college students, Barb. It isn't that they are reading other things like textbooks. I got the impression that some of them read a book or two while they were on vacation. But for nightly entertainment, they seem to watch several hours of tv and youtube streaming.

    Here's why I'm bewildered: I can't imagine a musician thinking he could become one without listening to other musicians. To play an instrument professionally and never listen to anyone other than yourself? Madness to even think it.

  15. Regretfully, I suspect Anon's assessment plays into that line of thought, Melodie. Sad.

  16. Anon, I wish I knew who you were, so we could talk personally about your message. If you catch this, I'm at mcampbell50@cogeco.ca I'd also like your permission to read this message to my next class, with my warning words: Don't let this be you.


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