July 15-31, 2004 Edition

Publishers Share

NEA Concern

About Reading Crisis

Washington, DC/07/09/04—A new report issued by the National Endowment for the Arts showing a startling decline in book readership is a matter of deep concern for publishers but should be equally disturbing for all Americans, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) said today. The report, “Reading at Risk,” documents an ongoing and precipitous drop in the number of readers in this country, especially readers of fiction, poetry and drama.

Based on a U.S. Census Bureau study that polled more than 17,000 adults, the report shows that fewer than half of Americans over the age of 18­only 46.7 percent­had read a novel, short story, play or poem in the preceding year, a decline of 10 percent in literary reading between 1982 and 2002.

“The NEA report sent an electric shock throughout the publishing world,” said Pat Schroeder, AAP President and CEO. “Although it confirmed something that we’ve suspected, quantifying the decline in literary readership is really chilling,” Mrs. Schroeder said.

Mrs. Schroeder noted that although the report documents a decline across all age, race, gender and ethnic groups, the sharpest fall-off was among 18 to 34 year olds. “Six years ago, when we began our ‘Get Caught Reading’ campaign to emphasize the joy of reading for pleasure, this is the age group we targeted,” she said. “We knew we were fighting an uphill battle for leisure time. This report shows us just how steep the ‘uphill’ is.”

Although the news about literary reading is grim, Mrs. Schroeder did note one bright spot in the book-reading picture­the immense popularity of serious non-fiction, political books, and biographies. “I think we can find some encouragement in the fact that when people want information and a real understanding of world events, they are turning to books to provide the in-depth analysis and substance they can’t get from 90-second sound bites or two-minute prime time TV news items.”

Having said that, however, Mrs. Schroeder stated that the biggest challenge for publishers and for the country is to make sure that children are “hooked” at an early age on reading for pure pleasure. “The publishing industry is committed to that goal. We need to redouble our efforts as a nation­to focus the same intense energy, purpose, and resources that put a man on the moon into early childhood reading, to develop necessary skills and especially to inculcate in children a love of reading that will last a lifetime.”

The Association of American Publishers is the national trade association of the U.S. book publishing industry. AAP’s members include most of the major commercial book publishers in the United States as well as smaller and medium-sized houses, not-for-profit publishers, university presses, and scholarly societies. AAP members publish hardcover and paperback books in every field including general fiction and non-fiction, poetry, children’s books, textbooks, Bibles and other religious works, reference works, scientific, medical, technical, professional, scholarly books and journals. The promotion of literacy and the enjoyment of reading, especially among young people, is one of AAP’s highest priorities.