Book Readers: A Dying Breed?
Some interviews stick out in an editor’s memory long after the story has been sent to press. My interview with Dominique Raccah, president and CEO of Sourcebooks, will be one of those (page 33). Her energy and enthusiasm leaves little question as to how she built a multimillion-dollar business, and why her books continue to see double-digit sell-through increases.
But she did leave me with another question: With the primary book-reading audience (baby boomers) aging, what will happen when that audience is gone?
A year and a half ago, the National Endowment for the Arts released the results of a survey called “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America.” The survey showed that fewer than half of American adults now read literature, and an overall decline of 10 percent (20 million readers) in the number of literary readers from 1982 to 2002. And the rate of decline for adults ages 18 to 24 was 55 percent greater than that of the total adult population.
The NEA’s concern with the study is for American literacy. At a news conference announcing the results, NEA Chairman Dana Gioia had said, “This report documents a national crisis. Reading develops a capacity for focused attention and imaginative growth that enriches … life.”
The industry’s concern was not only literacy, but the future for its products. And the question of whether print or electronic books will be preferred by readers does seem to pale in comparison. The answer may soon be “neither.” What then?
Literacy campaigns are obviously under way, but I’d love to know what your thoughts are on what else the industry can do—as a whole and individually to address its future.
If you’re attending the BookTech/Book Business Conference and Expo (March 20-22) in New York, you’ll hear industry leaders’ thoughts on the subject (visit www.BookBusinessExpo.com). More than ever, meetings and discussions among all of us are going to be essential to navigating this uncertain future together. If you can’t make it to the conference, be sure to check out our post-show coverage of the event in the next issue of Book Business.