% of Public that Read Fiction

The thread “Fee Fi Fo Fum. . .” drifted from the meaning of these nonsense syllables in Jack and the Beanstock, and other stuff in this and the rest of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, over to fairy tales and nursery rhymes in general and then to fiction in general.

Thereafter, I made the following claim:

This greatly upset our fiction-reading sector of posters to this forum, and some further correlations I suggested existed, of fiction’s and fiction readers’ negative effects on society, riled them up further, getting all kinds of epithets against me and defenses against their personal blame for any such effects, in the form of a listing of one of them’s normal daily routine, etc. It all got quite hilarious, but in particular, I was accused of not presenting hard evidence of the statement in the above quote, although no one else presented hard evidence of the contrary. I checked the Web and found certain intimations and other indications, but no authoritative numerical evidence of my claim. Later in the Fee-fi thread I backed off on this statement as it should apply to women. Most of the opposition to this claim of mine were women.

So, I post this new thread directly on this specific (but broad) question, in any of its variants – w/ or w/o the “seldom”, as to people in general or just to males or just to females, as to only the US population or to the world’s or that of other individual countries. Maybe someone else here has some at-least-somewhat authoritative figures on this question or possibly related ones, such as the relative number of books of fiction vs. nonfiction sold, loaned from libraries, etc. I’d include all books sold as nonfiction – which turn out to be, in great part fiction (as I understand the current “Dutch” is see to be) – in the the nonfiction group. Answers to these related questions, however, wouldn’t answer to the issue of the above quote.


relative numbers of fiction vs. non-fiction sold 1991-1998, from the American Booksellers Association:

  1. If you make a random assertion, it is your responsibility to prove it, not everybody else’s responsibility to disprove it.

  2. Pldennison DID post some statistics on this subject, along with a link to the American Booksellers’ Association site. This site indicates that over half of the books sold in the US are fiction. IIRC, you responded that you considered this figure “significant if accurate,” implying that you doubted its accuracy. If this is going to be your response to every statistic that challenges your preconceptions, why should we bother?

  3. How the hell does gender, either of fiction readers or of the people who disagree with you, enter into any of this?

  4. In the future, please try to post your questions in English. “As I understand the current ‘Dutch’ is see to be” ain’t no language I ever heard.

“Had I been around at the creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe.”

  • Alfonso X

From the numbers it looks like a lot of the book buyers read fiction. But I think the statement in the OP is still partly true because a lot of people don’t read for recreation. My father-in-law is one. He’s a retired businessman, with some college education, nice guy – he’s just not a reader. He’s always busy doing something, working around the house or maintaining his car or RV. When he does read a book he tells me all about it every time I see him (I’m a voracious reader and he’s just trying to relate). Since he doesn’t read very much at a time (he’s too busy doing stuff) I get to hear about the same book over and over again. He enjoys it when he does read, he just doesn’t read much.

Besides people like my father-in-law there are a lot of people who don’t read well, or who never learned to enjoy reading, and they don’t read much either, fiction or non-fiction. In my experience these people make up a substantial (say 25%?) fraction of the population.

My wife reads a lot, not as much as I do, but a lot. She almost exclusively reads fiction. I read more non-fiction than most people I know but I still read fiction probably more than half the time.

Don’t know if this contributes to the discussion or not but there are a few data points for you.

“Finally, consider Kottke’s voice which sounds like geese farts on a muggy day.”
Leo Kottke
6- And 12-String Guitar

I read very little fiction. My friends are always trying to push fiction at me because it’s so wonderful, and relevant to some social/philophical discussion we have had. My problem with fiction, is that there aren’t enough facts in it. Yes, I do write that partly in jest, but in a way it’s true. I respect the great works of fiction, and a lot of the lesser ones, but I’d much rather spend my book time with a reference book. I’m not even much of a biography reader, since it works out too much like fiction: it’s got too much narrative and not enough statistics, maps, or flowcharts.

One of the novels I’ve read that I liked the most was Frank Herberts Dune. Why did I get into that? I started flipping around, and noticed the glossary in the back. A novel that makes use of such wonderful words must be worthwhile! thought I.

Anyway, I know I’m an anomaly, since most of smart friends read really intense fiction (cyberpunk, Eco, Vonnegut) and most of my not-so-smart friends read fiction too (Doc Savage).

My current favorite book is The Naval Institute Guide to Naval Weapons and Systems, 1990-1991. Check out the section on Warsaw Pact fire control radars. Pure Shakespeare.

You guys have friends who READ?!? My first thought was that saying 25% of the population doesn’t read seems awfully low. My money is on something like 75% of the population doesn’t read. They CAN read, they just don’t consider it fun.

I’ve never had a boyfriend who reads very much. Of the ones who read at all, most of them read mystery novels, spy novels, that kind of thing. Current BF doesn’t read very much, but he buys tons of books. That’s OK, I read 'em. But when he does read, he tends to read pretty intense stuff.

'course, I’m probably a snob about this. I have a book going all the time, usually 2 or 3 at a time. I get uncomfortable when I don’t have at least one book waiting in the wings to be read, and I go through 'em fast. I find it hard to understand what people do with their time when they don’t read - I mean, what do you do when you’re waiting for your software to build, or waiting for someone to show up at your house, or you have a quiet evening alone?

I’m with Athena on this one. Even among the college-educated, urban people I mostly spend time with, I would say only about 50% are active readers. When I take public transportation, more than half the passengers are doing nothing other than staring into space. Very few are reading, especially in the evening. (In the morning, there are some newspaper readers, but usually not at night.)

A while ago I read Brian Aldiss’ The Trillion Year Spree, a history of science fiction. I clearly recall that he made the point that less than ten percent of the population (I am unclear whether he was speaking of the US or GB) read an book annually. The percentages of fiction vs non-fiction books sold give an idea of the preferences of the book-buying public, however the book-buying public is very much outnumbered by the proles.

No, I don’t have any references handy, but I could dig some up if anyone is really interested.

This brings up another thought. People who don’t read generally don’t understand people who do read. I’m a little nutso about having something to read during the downtimes we all have - waiting in a doctor’s office, waiting for my computer to do something, etc. I’ve gotten strange looks a number of times, so I’ve stopped doing stuff like bringing books to read while waiting in line at KMart (that’s what the magazines are for, anyway).

I’ve also gotten in trouble at work for it. A few years back, I had a project that included copying 10 or 15 disks at a time. It took about an hour and a half, and I used to bring in books or a newspaper to read while I copied 'em. After a few days of this, I was called into boss’s office and told that I could not read while at work. I said “I only do it while I’m copying disks, and we don’t have any work-related reading materials, is it really that bad?”

Boss replies “It looks like you’re sluffing off, even if you are copying disks, so you can’t do it.”

I’m getting pissed at this point. I say “So what am I supposed to do - stare at a wall?”

She answers: “The company pays you to work here. If they want you to stare at a wall, you have to do it. So yes, stare at a wall.”

Needless to say, I quit that job!

And the movie should be good. I hear they’ve signed Jim Carrey to play a Czech surface-to-air missile.

But back to the OP. I found a site www.demographics.com/publications/ad/98_ad/9805_ad/ad98053.htm that gave the following statistics (all of the following are quotes):

Half [of U.S. adults] say they bought at least one book in 1997.

Consumer book sales fell 4 percent between 1996 and 1997, according to the Association of American Publishers (AAP). Adult paperbacks declined 4 percent, while mass-market paperback sales fell 8 percent. That’s the first time in this decade paperbacks have lost ground, according to the AAP.

Target’s shoppers are among the U.S. adults who are most likely to say they bought a book in the past 12 months. Six in ten women aged 35 to 44 bought at least one book in 1997, along with 44 percent of men that age.

35-to-44-year-olds aren’t the best market for books. That distinction goes to their middle-aged counterparts, adults aged 45 to 54. Sixty-five percent of women and 47 percent of men that age bought at least one book in 1997. These adults are also the most likely of all Americans to buy lots of books. They are 27 percent more likely than average to have purchased at least seven books in the past six months. Thirty-two percent of women bought that many books, as did 22 percent of men aged 45 to 54.

Adults aged 18 to 24 have low incomes, yet more than half say they bought a book in the past 12 months. And they are just as likely as average to have bought at least seven, at 22 percent. The story is similar for all age groups up to adults aged 55 and older. All have a greater-than-average propensity to buy books and to be heavy book buyers.

Theoretically, baby boomers should be causing a boom in book buying by virtue of their sheer numbers. The share of adults this age who bought a book in the past year declined only slightly between 1992 and 1997, from 58 percent to 56 percent.

Men are significantly less likely than women to buy books of all types, and the projected number of potential buyers reflects this…Book buying, whether it’s done by mail or in retail outlets, will probably continue to be dominated by women into the next century.

(projected thousands of adults who may buy at least one book a year, by age and sex, 1998, 2005, and 2008, and percent change, 1998-2005 and 1998-2008)
______________________________percent change
___1998 2005 2008__98-05_98-08



(Hopefully this will transfer alright.)

Unfortunately, I had a much more detailed post using statistics from the ABA site. But I lost my AOL connection without warning and this was all I had saved. I lack the ambition to go back and re-download all these statistics so here’s the rough draft.

Bought A book in a year? This is SO foreign to me. I swear to god that I’m part of the reason that Amazon.com does so well. Both my husband and I read at night. I read faster than he (probably 2/1), and I cannot even tell you how many books we buy. Maybe somewhere ~100 a year.


OK, the American Booksellers Association data for 1991-1998 show that only from 50.0% to 54.9% of the books sold in the US are fiction. The data given from American Demographics magazine, May 1998 says only half of US adults bought even as much as one book of any sort in 1997. There may be quite a number of adults who don’t buy any books, or don’t buy fiction books, but who borrow whatever books from libraries or other people. However, though we don’t have any good data on how many people just don’t read books of any kind, the indications here are that they are a very significant portion of the US population.

The bottom line, then, as to my claim, as quoted in the OP here, would certainly have to be seen, even in its strongest form – “most people” and “never” – as quite true for US adults. Certainly, nobody could claim that the parallel conclusion, as to the whole world’s population, would be otherwise.

The data and authoritative comments in the Web pages cited in this thread also well establish that gender does make a difference – that a significantly higher percentage of the books women buy are fiction, as well as that women buy considerably more books of any type than men do.

There is a chart on the Am Demog page that should tell us separately the expected percentages of fiction and nonfiction books men and women will buy in 2008, but the data don’t add up right. The chart:

Browsing and Buying

(projected thousands of adults who may purchase selected types of books, by sex 2008, and percent change,
percent change
percent change
any book
science fiction
Note: self-help includes business and personal topics; religious excludes bibles.
Sources: Mediamark Research, Census Bureau, American Demographics

(Not sure how well this chart will align columnwise here.)

I would assume “any” means all of the below, but the below figures add up to more than the figure listed under “any”. In any case, of these categories, mystery, novel, sci-fi and romance are fiction. The sum of these for men is 34,825(,000), less than half that for women, stated as 76,478(,000). If you look at the “any” category, the men:women expected-purchase ratio is 42,336(,000):59,543(,000), much less than a 1:2 imbalance. So women are certainly expected to buy a much higher percentage of fiction books than men in 2008.

This is my answer to FPorp’s:

I apologize for not hitting the ‘n’ key hard enough after ‘see-’ in a statement in my post in the other thread, which FPorp complains of, i.e., in:

I just love Boris B’s complaint about fiction:

:smiley: :smiley: :smiley: Yes, it is true.


If you have some different from / adding to the Website sources linked to posts in this thread to date, I’d be interested.

Ray (Help, I’m trapped in here and being repeatedly read.)

Sorry, the table in the previous post is collapsed; but the two pairs of figures under each category of book type are given as the first for men and the second for women.


I read a LOT when I lived in NYC and could knock out a book in a couple of weeks of commuting on the subway. Now, however, I don’t read nearly as much. Plus, I get all my news now online, whereas I used to read daily the News and Post, and weekly the Voice and NY Press.

Yer pal,