Are book readers a dying breed?

When did you last see someone reading a book? Not someone you know, just someone you happened to pass who was reading.

Of course, I know it’s not a spectator sport, there wasn’t some point in history where the public used to gather in concert halls or football stadiums and hold mass book reading ceremonies. It’s always been a private activity, which takes place behind closed doors in small groups or in isolation, almost as though there is something shameful about it.

But I do feel that these days I just don’t see people reading books as much as I used to.

Here’s an example. Recently I was on a family holiday to Cyprus, at the eastern end of the Mediterranean (see pretty picture!) Holiday reading is a big deal, so much so that for many mass market authors, getting your titles stocked in airport book stores is a major aim. I am betting there are people who read on their holidays who don’t pick up a book at any other time of year. Yet, on my four and a half hour flight to Cyprus from the UK, on a plane packed with passengers, something was conspicuous by its absence – where were the books? The books, which I remember pretty much everyone clutching in the holiday flights of my youth, were gone.

I looked around me on a couple of trips up and down the aisle during the flight and counted only a handful of book readers. Many people were staring at phones, some had tablets, we might hope some of those were using them to read eBooks, but many of them had headphones, they were watching video.

When I reached my hotel I expected to find books around the pool and at the tables of the bar. There’s not a lot else to do when sunbathing in temperatures of more than 30 degrees right? There was a time when everyone had a book on the table by their sun lounger, even if they didn’t open it. But these books too were missing. Often I was the only person in the place reading a book – Alice Munro’s selected stories, which I can recommend.

The trip back on the plane, same thing. Videos, phones, no books.

Now, I don’t want to overstate this, there was a table in the hotel lobby where people would leave items they had finished with for other holiday makers to use and, along with the bottles of sunscreen, there were books, mostly thrillers and crime novels, though I never saw anyone pick one up. Something which used to be a key part of many people’s holiday activity seems to have shifted down a gear.

So maybe I accidentally booked a package holiday for people who hate books? But then, I thought, where else have I seen people reading books recently? Even when I visit the library, surely the last bastion of book readers, the only section which is ever full to capacity is the bank of computers where people access the Internet. On the bus to work, thankfully, there are one or two fellow book readers on every trip – but only one or two, on a full double-decker bus.

Does my observation amount to anything? It’s only anecdotal and we should not generalise from the particular. But I have a feeling we are witnessing a shift in people’s behaviour. Perhaps we are slowly moving away from reading books, either in print or on-screen, and over to other forms of entertainment. There are so many options available now, it’s no wonder people’s attention has been split. I didn’t see anyone reading a print newspaper on those flights, and precious few with a print magazine, but that’s another story.

At a time when more and more books are being produced by more and more authors it feels to me like the band of readers might be on the wane.

What do you think?

Oh and – by the way – if you do still read books – take a look at mine!

My latest book The Pick-Up Artist is out on Kindle and paperback. If you have enjoyed this post please take a look, try a free sample, and see what you think! To take a look click here 

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15 thoughts on “Are book readers a dying breed?”

  1. Hi Chris. Interesting piece – thank you. As a long time watcher of readers, though, my thoughts have recently been going in the opposite direction. I don’t do much flying but I do commute daily to work on the tube and I think recently I have noticed more and more people reading print books as they journey, and fewer kindles etc. I have no explanation to offer, and nothing more than personal and unstructured observation to base this on but it seems to be that Tubers are indulging in a print reading revival.

  2. If this is a growing trend, it might explain why the book market is slowing down. I hope it isn’t the quality of the books on offer that’s to blame for readers lack of interest!

  3. Now I am the proud owner of a second hand smart phone I am guilty of looking at it on the bus or train before I get my book out. We’re still reading when we’re on line; blogs, catching up on e-mails, chatting on WhatsApp etc, but that is not the same as reading a novel. I read my Kindle in the middle of the night if I can’t get back to sleep, I read paperbacks at the beach hut. I only like watching programmes or films properly on a television with my knitting out, the television used to be the small screen, but now it’s the big screen and people watch on their various devices anywhere.

    1. I’m the same Janet, I’m as addicted to my mobile as anyone these days. Still, I think it’s a great thing if we can find time for books, whatever the format.

  4. In the Netherlands most people on the buses and metro either read newspapers or their mobiles, but I do notice quite a number of book readers on the train, and actually it’s mostly young people reading the books too. People of my age seem to be the ones more glued to their smartphones. I tend to read my kindle on the go, but I love my books at home on board.

    1. It’s very refreshing to hear young people are reading there Val. I think a hard core of keen readers will always have their head in a book – whether it’s on paper or screen, but I wonder whether it is on the wane among the wider public.

      1. I guess real books are on the wane although we still have plenty of thriving bookshops here in NL, so maybe this country is slower in that sense!

  5. I read about three- five books a week unless something prevents me. I usually read fiction on my Kindle because it’s so portable and I can read with one hand. I normally start a book when I’m using the stationary bike at the gym. Although many watch the TV screens, I see others like myself reading books. I finish the books when I get home if I can’t put them down.

    I also see people reading in medical offices, another place I always take my Kindle. I don’t read as many print books anymore because I rarely have the luxury of time to read when I’m home. It’s ironic since my house is full of books I do want to read. I now read blog posts instead of magazines. I always read reference books in print editions.

    1. Wow Barbara, sounds like you might fill the book deficit all on your own. Perhaps there’s a difference between what we might call super-readers like yourself and the general public. I think people who are keen readers will always gobble up books – I just wonder whether the casual reader who used to read one or two books a year, perhaps on holiday, might have moved on to other electronic forms of entertainment.

  6. It’s an interesting question. I have noticed something similar, but had thought that most folks read on their phones. I have a Kindle and usually take it traveling with me but I also take a paperback of some kind too.
    I do think fewer people read for pleasure, or they read different books to what they used to. One thing that has shocked me is the habit of binning a book after it has been read.

    1. Hmm yes, I have a compulsion to keep all mine, which is why there’s no space in the spare room. People have been telling me they read books on phones but I would find that very hard, despite the bigger screens now.

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