One in four read no books last year

One in four read no books last year

By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press WriterTue Aug 21, 7:01 PM ET

oneinfourread.jpg There it sits
on your night stand, that book you’ve meant to read
for who knows how long but haven’t yet cracked open. Tonight, as you
feel its stare from beneath that teetering pile of magazines, know one
thing — you are not alone.

One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, according
to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did
read, women and older people were most avid, and religious works and
popular fiction were the top choices.

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can
hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four
books in the last year — half read more and half read fewer. Excluding
those who hadn’t read any, the usual number read was seven.


"I just get sleepy when I read," said Richard Bustos of Dallas, a
habit with which millions of Americans can doubtless identify. Bustos,
a 34-year-old project manager for a telecommunications company, said he
had not read any books in the last year and would rather spend time in
his backyard pool.

That choice by Bustos and others is reflected in book sales, which
have been flat in recent years and are expected to stay that way
indefinitely. Analysts attribute the listlessness to competition from
the Internet and other media, the unsteady economy and a
well-established industry with limited opportunities for expansion.

When the Gallup Poll asked in 2005 how many books people had at
least started — a similar but not directly comparable question — the
typical answer was five. That was down from 10 in 1999, but close to
the 1990 response of six.

In 2004, a National Endowment for the Arts report titled "Reading at
Risk" found only 57 percent of American adults had read a book in 2002,
a four percentage point drop in a decade. The study faulted television,
movies and the Internet.

Who are the 27 percent of people the AP-Ipsos poll found hadn’t read
a single book this year? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women
fit that category. They tend to be older, less educated, lower income,
minorities, from rural areas and less religious.

At the same time, book enthusiasts abound. Many in the survey
reported reading dozens of books and said they couldn’t do without them.

"I go into another world when I read," said Charlotte Fuller, 64, a
retired nurse from Seminole, Fla., who said she read 70 books in the
last year. "I read so many sometimes I get the stories mixed up."

Among those who said they had read books, the median figure — with
half reading more, half fewer — was nine books for women and five for
men. The figures also indicated that those with college degrees read
the most, and people aged 50 and up read more than those who are

Pollyann Baird, 84, a retired school librarian in Loveland, Colo.,
says J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter fantasy series is her favorite. But
she has forced herself to not read the latest and final installment,
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," because she has yet to file her
income taxes this year due to an illness and worries that once she
started the book, "I know I’d have to finish it."

People from the West and Midwest are more likely to have read at
least one book in the past year. Southerners who do read, however, tend
to read more books, mostly religious books and romance novels, than
people from other regions. Whites read more than blacks and Hispanics,
and those who said they never attend religious services read nearly
twice as many as those who attend frequently.

There was even some political variety evident, with Democrats and
liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and

The Bible and religious works were read by two-thirds in the survey,
more than all other categories. Popular fiction, histories, biographies
and mysteries were all cited by about half, while one in five read
romance novels. Every other genre — including politics, poetry and
classical literature — were named by fewer than five percent of readers.

More women than men read every major category of books except for
history and biography. Industry experts said that confirms their
observation that men tend to prefer nonfiction.

"Fiction just doesn’t interest me," said Bob Ryan, 41, who works for
a construction company in Guntersville, Ala. "If I’m going to get a
story, I’ll get a movie."

Those likeliest to read religious books included older and married
women, lower earners, minorities, lesser educated people, Southerners,
rural residents, Republicans and conservatives.

The publishing business totaled $35.7 billion in global sales
last year, 3 percent more than the previous year, according to the Book
Industry Study Group, a trade association. About 3.1 billion books were
sold, an increase of less than 1 percent.

The AP-Ipsos poll was conducted from August 6 to 8 and involved
telephone interviews with 1,003 adults. It had a margin of sampling
error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


AP Manager of News Surveys Trevor Tompson and AP News Survey
Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

(This version CLARIFIES that people in the West and Midwest are
more likely to read at least one book a year, but that Southerners who
do read tend to read more books.)

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