Debunking The Myth That The Internet Generation Doesn't Buy Or Read Books

from the whoda-thunk-it? dept

If you just listened to the popular press pushing stereotypes, you might think that kids these days can’t think in complete sentences, let alone read anything longer than 140 characters (oops, this post is too long!). And, of course, there are a few luddites out there who keep insisting that the internet means that the kids today don’t read long form works any more. Of course, we’ve been pointing out for years that this is a complete fabrication. Back in 2007, we wrote about how kids were reading more books than ever before. Two years later, we noted that there was a notable increase in reading long-form fiction books. Certainly, we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of books being published (even discounting “non-traditional” or self-published books, in the last decade there’s been an increase in books published per year of almost 50% from about 200,000 to 300,000).

And, now there’s even more evidence that the supposed death of reading by kids is a complete myth. Aaron DeOliveira alerts us to this story that shows that so-called “millennials” spend more money on books than any other demographic group. In fact, that group — those born between 1979 and 1989 — now buy 30% of all books sold. As the report notes, this even beats out baby boomers, despite the fact that the boomers have a lot more disposable income.

Either way, can we dispense with the twin myths that (a) the internet generation doesn’t pay for content and (b) that they don’t read long form books?

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Comments on “Debunking The Myth That The Internet Generation Doesn't Buy Or Read Books”

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Philip Zack (profile) says:

Boomers' Disposable Income

I’m curious: has the narrative that boomers have more disposable income than other age groups been validated recently? It was an assumption based on data from a few decades ago, but things have changed. A lot of us who work in IT, for example, are living hand-to-mouth these days because what had been long-term jobs with benefits have been traded in for short-term contracts without benefits because companies thought it would be cheaper to outsource labor. And that’s if you’re working full-time on a contract. I’m doing database work for 4 companies, and it’s still just part time, and not enough to cover expenses. Then there are the unemployed boomers who are ‘too old’ or ‘overqualified’.

SujaOfJauhnral (profile) says:

Hmpf. Luddites. I read the all of the available books from the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series, and now I just ordered the ‘Silverwing’ series.

It’s unbelievable how much time I spend reading everyday. From old fashioned book and comics to forums, news, wiki/information sites and fan fiction to heavy multi-choice dialogue in RPG games.

Oh well

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Based on nothing but my observation of college students, friends, and family I think “cable cutting” is at least partly responsible. Traditional TV encourages a mindset of accepting whatever programming has been picked for you. Once you cut the cable you are the one who programs your own entertainment. One of your alternative choices is books. Kindles or Kindle apps on phones and tablets make books an easier choice.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Due to certain issues in my right eye, I have a helluva time reading some novels. I have to have a certain text size and font to read. Mild disability aside, I thoroughly enjoy reading when I get the chance. The last book I bought was “Contact” by Carl Sagan.

My favorite series as a child by far was C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia”. I still get the books out from time to time.

Another Children’s series I’m currently working on reading (so that I can read it to my little ones some day) is the Redwall series by Brian Jaques.

Michael Becker (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It really sounds like a Kindle or a Nook would be awesome for you. I recommended a Kindle to my dad because he’s been a voracious reader all his life, but his eyesight has been giving him more trouble over the years. With the e-readers, you change the font type and size to make it easier to read, and it’s been fantastic for him. If you haven’t already, go to Best Buy or something and play with one and see if it might help for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dead trees are alive and well

FWIW, my 13-yo daughter goes through a paperback book a week at this point.

She’s reading more advance stuff than even I was reading at her age…

The internet has brought a great resource to kids though: – she is sending/receiving books every week now – and the ones she can’t find online, she buys on ebay and amazon.

Anyone who claims that the “internet generation” doesn’t read clearly has kids with short attention spans.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Dead trees are alive and well

“Anyone who claims that the “internet generation” doesn’t read clearly has kids with short attention spans.”

My dear AC, I agree with most of your statement, but I want you to know I have a very short attention span 🙂 so if I may I shall correct your statement.

Anyone who claims that the “Internet generation” (which is properly called Generation or “digitals”) doesn’t read, clearly has less reading skills themselves.

Just to clarify, I am also in the age group who is considered as non-reading. I am 26 years old.

Chargone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

i’m 26. i never attended university. depending on how you measure it i never completed highschool.

i own more books than, from memory, my father has bought in his Life, even after getting rid of half my collection at one point ( it amounted to about 1/4th or less of what i currently have and was mostly old children’s books).

my mother’s collection is also noticeably smaller than my own.

I’ll grant that slightly over half of my collection is actually manga volumes rather than novels, now, but a substantial chunk of the remainder is non-fiction on various subjects. (linguistics mostly, but also economics, history, religion, warfare, and a number of other things, if not many on each).

i used to read a LOT of library books, as well. i’d frequently borrow the maximum allowed, or almost, and, allowing that in any given set of 20 2-5 would be comics of one sort or another and another 2-3 i’d end up deciding were’t quite as interesting as they first looked, i’d get the lot read in a couple of weeks, take ’em back as soon as possible, and borrow new ones. it got to the point where the main thing holding me back was the fact that the city-wide library network was Running Out of books that actually interested me, fiction wise. (i probably read most of the sci-fi and All the alternate history that was to be had, for one thing). these days, that library habit has been replaced with a mix of buying my own books and reading fanfiction online.

I don’t think the text book explanation really covers it.

the ease of access to communities discussing subjects of interest so that people can point out books you might actually Want to read probably contributes a lot. as does the ability to buy from online shops which are far less limited in their selections than the traditional book-shop.

i’ve long since stopped watching broad-cast television*, mind you. that reading, in addition to computer and console games, dvds – mostly series rather than movies – various board and card games with friends and family, wargaming… they’re all a Lot more interesting.

*(‘cord cutting’ is a lot less significant here… we never had cable companies. cable TV at ALL is a New thing with the fiber-optics being installed for better ‘net access, and even then it’s basically just the terrestrial broadcast and satellite channels with better reception and, in the latter case, a lower price due to the bundle deal. but NZ’s telecommunications situation’s always been a bit odd.)

DanC (profile) says:

Depending on what range of years is used, I’m either a late Gen-X or an early Gen-Y. Either way, my bank account can attest to the fact that book publishers are receiving plenty of my money.

I think the myth that the current generation doesn’t read is nothing more than a gut reaction of the previous for having the audacity to have differing values. It’s nothing more than the “kids these days” syndrome that occurs with every generation. I daresay we’ll be just as guilty of it ourselves on some level.

Anonymous Coward says:

Kids these days read a lot, they read everything from technical papers to anime, the thing is they don’t read Moby Dick anymore they don’t read the pompous literature of some pundit claiming he knows better, they don’t read that crap they read the other crap and they do it in bulk.

The internet is mostly a reading medium, every time somebody goes to a forum they write and read.

So by my own experiences, and without any real study on the matter to claim otherwise I will continue to be skeptic of such claims that people don’t read anymore.

Even the more traditional books sell a lot, that is why so many millionaire authors came to be, just look at Amazon and how many wealthy authors they alone created.

Mr. Smarta** (profile) says:

Could be... But I doubt it.

Taken any college classes lately? I’m at a college where text books are now ranging from $150-$300 *per book*. That isn’t competitive. That’s downright gouging to the nth degree. I don’t give your left nut what your argument is or how you try to defend yourself. Paying that much is horses***. What does that force me to do? (and yes, *force* is the correct term) I go looking for it through Pirate Bay, from digital lockers, from any place I can find it. I’ve saved a lot of money doing it, too. And I’ll keep doing it until those books come down to a reasonable price (under $100).

And what does that teach me to do??? Find my books on the internet. What happens when I do it too much? I develop a habit of doing it. What might I do after my classes? Cut up the books, scan them into my computer, and help the next poor student out. So that’s what text book publishers teach me to do… how about you all?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Could be... But I doubt it.

There you go, introduce your teachers to the wonderful world of open source learning material.

Heck open source your own books in your school, start the work now so others in the future can start getting the benefits from it, start the culture of planting the seeds now ans see it growing, do not let others do that for you, because if you do, the people who do it start to believe they are the only ones that can do it and they will charge accordingly.

The short term solution is piracy the long term solution is the creation and maintenance of good alternatives, which requires a certain cultural change of mentality, else when push comes to shove you always be shoved without being able to push back.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Re: Could be... But I doubt it.

It amazes me that in this digital age we still have colleges charging $150-$300. When I was in collage in the early 90’s and saw most of my hard earned money go to books ($75-$120 per book back then) I felt like it was highway robbery (which it is). I’m with you all the way. If the internet had been available back then and piratebay or whatever was offering the same textbooks for free do you think I would give a dingo’s kidney about copyright law or any other “morality” guilt trip moron preaching to me to not go there. The hell with that hypocrisy. Those textbooks would be downloaded to my hard drive quicker than you could say kim-dot-com.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Could be... But I doubt it.

I understand about college budgets and the seeming unfairness of textbook prices. I pirated some college books when I was a student to save money because $150 for a book I was barely going to use was just ridiculous.

But to be fair, college textbooks cost a lot more not because they’re out to rip people off but because they cost considerably more to produce (more licensing, more research, and more qualifications needed to write them) and they don’t sell very many of them – a few thousand a year – so economies of scale don’t come into play.

A lot of this could be alleviated by standardizing college texts, particularly for pre-req type courses. Obviously you’d need specialized books for specialized classes, but if every Biology 101 class had the same book, prices across the board for Bio books would go way down. Instead you’ve got dozens of Bio 101 books, each selling only a few thousand copies depending on how many professors choose to teach from them.

Anonymous Coward says:

What I think is interesting is that this seems to be a collection of only semi-related facts, with very little in the way of true comparison.

Example, look at this:


Here’s the deal. Self published when from 200k to 300k, at $10 a copy, they would still only gross 3 million… or about 0.0002% of the total market. So a 50% increase in this market isn’t enough even to register in the overall scheme of things.

Second, the “this generation buys more than boomers” thing is equally misleading, because boomers (a) don’t have as much time to read, (b) have already bought many books over their lifetime, and (c) may not connect as well to current writers.

It would be a much better comparison to look at the size of the book market say 20 years ago (in copies sold per release or per capita) and compare it to today.

Third, you have to consider that e-books are surging in the same manner that CD sales did with music. To some extent, we may be seeing re-buying to get the new format, or perhaps younger people buying e-books rather than just borrowing the paper copy that their parents have. We cannot be sure, except that e-book sales are growing rapidly.

So it’s a bunch of “facts” that don’t add up to much, because there is no real scale. Nice try, but a fail. Seems more like someone started with the conclusion again and worked backwards.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Here’ s the deal. Self published when from 200k to 300k, at $10 a copy, they would still only gross 3 million… or about 0.0002% of the total market. So a 50% increase in this market isn’t enough even to register in the overall scheme of things.

The Sky Is Rising report shows an increase from 200k to 300k titles published from 2002 to 2010 when purely looking at traditional publishers. Non-traditional titles increased from 30k to more than 2,700k in the same period, although this includes more than just self-published books, and doesn’t even count ebook titles.

So I’m not sure what you’re comparing to, partly because I can’t access your link from work. Just remember a title is not a sale, and each title can sell more (or less) than once.

ebilrawkscientist (profile) says:

Hold it. What are you reading?

With half a dozen open books spread around various key spots in the habitant ring, one is never short of reading anything. Surprisingly people do ask, how do you keep the stories all straight in your head? I never understood this, its all compartmentalized isnt’ it? Reading goes faster if you don’t sweat comprehension. Reality depends on the book I am currently reading. I just know one day books will be able to read my mind. Meanwhiles The Right to Read is well worth your time.

gorehound (profile) says:

I own a huge Library of books I have been buying them since 1968 or 1969.Not one Digital Book resides in my home.All are paper original books and that is just what I want.
Check out Bloody Streets:Battle for Berlin on Amazon.I bought this 1ST Edition for $50 and it goes up in value over and over.Now it is selling at $450 – $1200 and is considered highly collectible.
I also own 303 vintage Mar.1930 – Dec.1949 pulp magazines.

davnel (profile) says:

Reading Practices

You’re under 40 years old. You spend a fair amount of time browsing the web. What is it you do while doing all of this browsing? You READ, massively.

I’m 70 and long since retired. I browse the web daily, for hours, and read books in .pdf or .rtf form daily, for hours. I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren that do the same.

The one thing the internet teaches you is to READ, a lot. Yes, it’s possible to find sites that specialize in images or videos, but most are captioned or include paragraphs of explanation, which require READING. Can’t get away from it.

One result of all this reading is that you become interested in a subject, read everything the net has to offer on it and eventually end up at Amazon or some such buying books on the subject. Everyone wins. What’s so hard to understand about that???

Loren Miller says:

Which generation?

Let’s be clear; the “Internet Generation” was one brought up in digital-dominant mass media, born circa 1995, growing with the sophistication of the world wide web and computing power.

As discussed above, digital and cable delivery of media (books and movies) has largely been more appealing for them, for reasons of length or expense, than longform works of traditional print and “appointment” media– unless something explodes every five or ten minutes.

“Boomers” were born post-war – late ’40’s and 60’s– and they were largely brought up reading, and watching long character-driven involved-plot movies like BEN-HUR and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. But many of us have just as eagerly adopted digital delivery and consumption– our choices of content simply differ.

– lsm

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