Monday, January 12, 2009

Reading on the Rise?

Yesterday's New York Times had an article about a report being released today from the National Endowment for the Arts that says "it now believes a quarter-century of precipitous decline in fiction reading has reversed" in the U.S.

The article alternately amused and annoyed me.

I've blogged about the National Endowment for the Arts before. On August 4, 2006, in a post titled "Are People Reading Less," here I reported that:
According to a study by the National Endowment for the Arts (a public agency established by Congress), "literary reading [novels, short stories, poetry and plays] is in dramatic decline with fewer than half of American adults now reading literature . . . Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America reports drops in all groups studied, with the steepest rate of decline--28%--occurring in the youngest age groups."
According to yesterday's Times:
The report, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” being released Monday, is based on data from “The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts” conducted by the United States Census Bureau in 2008. Among its chief findings is that for the first time since 1982, when the bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.

The news comes as the publishing industry struggles with declining sales amid a generally difficult economy.
The Times also offered this chart to show the trend since 1982:

The part of the article that amused me was everyone wondering what caused the change.

Duh! For the first time since the Endowment has been releasing stats, they included reading on the Internet in their numbers. That's where a lot of the reading among young people is occurring.

But then the chairman for the Endowment, Dana Gioia, said he didn't think that "more reading online" was the primary reason for the increase. He cited factors like community-based reading programs and the popularity of books like Harry Potter.

Well, I guess I can understand his position. He's stepping down after six years running the Endowment and would prefer to cite programs begun under his watch.

As far as Harry Potter goes, the first book was released in 1997. Five years later, the Endowment's stats reported on the "precipitous decline" in reading from 54% to 46.7%.

The part of the article that annoyed me most was Patricia Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, saying that "some people might not count the reading they do online or even on electronic readers like the Kindle as 'book' reading."

Grrr. Last April, I explained that I lost respect for Pat Schroeder when she failed to understand the differences between two of Google's programs in the controversy over Google's copying books:
What was originally called Google Print is now called Google Book Partners. What was originally called Google Print Library is now called Google Book Search.

Pat Schroeder repeatedly confused and mixed elements of the two programs in her public statements. If little ole me could sort out the details while sitting in my house in north Texas, why couldn't the prez of the Association of American Publishers do the same thing before knee-jerking a response?
And now she's doing the same thing; only this time, she's confusing the medium with the message.

Pat, let me be sure I understand. Are you saying that if I read A Tale of Two Cities online or on an ereader, I have not read the book? Please, tell me you are not serious.

Publishers need to be moving forward into the digital age, not dragging their feet. And the AAP needs to get over their sour grapes and shift into the twenty-first century so that they can help their members, not hinder them.

Mediums change. Yes, you will need to adapt to a changing landscape. That's what life is about: change and adaptation. So quit yer whining and get on board.

Rant over.

Read the Times' article here.


The Editorial Bored said...

Hey Maya--
I haven't read the entire article, and I'm not exactly defending Ms. Schroeder, but I interpret her comments differently. When she says "...some people think..." I take that to mean that they became aware that they were undercounting readers and changed the survey questions to be sure that people understood that Internet or ebook reading "counted" as literature.
IMHO, I think this is an indication that these folks have in fact come around to the only sensible position on this topic, and the upward movement in numbers reflects that.

Maya Reynolds said...

EB: You are far kinder than I am. I *hope* you're right although--given her history of off-the-mark comments--I doubt it.

Thanks for commenting.



sexy said...