Thanks to audiobooks, reading's popularity still strong in America

Reading remains solidly popular in America, with the latest figures from Pew showing that print book readership remains at same levels as they were in 2012: about 74% of Americans have read at least one book in the past year: 67% of readers have read at least one print book.

Ebook growth remains stalled, but audiobook consumption is rising to compensate, with almost one in five Americans having listened to an audiobook in the past year. Audiobooks enjoyed strong growth in 18-29-year-olds (23%, up from 16% in 2016), as have rural adults (17%, up from 10%), and college grads (16%, up from 9%).

Ebook-only readership is very rare: only 7% of Americans identify as ebook-only readers (it's 10% for Americans 18-29 years old). Ebook-only readership does not vary with educational attainment, either.

The growth of audiobooks is pretty fantastic news, with one fly in the ointment. The market is almost entirely controlled by Audible, a division of Amazon, who have a mandatory DRM policy that publishers cannot opt out of. That means that nearly all of the audiobooks sold in America are locked in a format that Amazon controls, and that means that Amazon has the power to change the rules on those books whenever it wants, de-listing hardware players, or revoking access or features. And since DRM is protected by EU and US law that can subject security researchers to criminal and civil liability for revealing defects in products, every devices that can play an Audible title is a potential reservoir of long-lived digital pathogens that both criminals and good guys can discover, but only criminals can do something about.

That may be changing: Google recently rolled out a DRM-free Audible alternative, and companies like and Downpour offer a fantastic, DRM-free indie alternative to Audible, selling the same titles at the same price, but without the DRM.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that you can get my audiobooks direct from me, DRM- and EULA-free, read by the likes of Wil Wheaton, Amber Benson, and Bronson Pinchot.

About three-quarters (74%) of Americans have read a book in the past 12 months in any format, a figure that has remained largely unchanged since 2012, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in January. Print books remain the most popular format for reading, with 67% of Americans having read a print book in the past year.

And while shares of print and e-book readers are similar to those from a survey conducted in 2016, there has been a modest but statistically significant increase in the share of Americans who read audiobooks, from 14% to 18%.

Overall, Americans read an average (mean) of 12 books per year, while the typical (median) American has read four books in the past 12 months. Each of these figures is largely unchanged since 2011, when the Center first began conducting the surveys of Americans' book reading habits.

Nearly one-in-five Americans now listen to audiobooks [Andrew Perrin/Pew Research]

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