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Survey by National Endowment for the Arts records sharp fall in the number of adults who read novels and short stories

Alison Flood in The Guardian Mon 17 Sep 2018 12.41 EDT

The number of adults in the US reading novels and short stories has hit a new low, with the decline of almost 8% in the last five years seen mainly among women, African Americans and younger adults, according to a major new survey.

Run in conjunction with the US Census Bureau at regular intervals since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts surveyed almost 30,000 adults. It found good news for poetry, with 11.7% of adults saying they had read poetry last year, an increase of 76% – equivalent to 28 million people – on 2012.

But novels and short-story reading rates have declined, from 47% of the US population in 2008, and 45.2% in 2012 to just 41.8% in 2017. According to the NEA, the drops were “mainly among women, African Americans, and 18- to 24-year-olds”. The percentage of women reading novels fell from 54.6% in 2012 to 50% five years later. African Americans reading novels were down almost 7%, to just over 30%, and 18- to 24-year-old fiction readers declined 7.2%, to 38.7%. White readers of novels were also down, by almost 3%, to 48%.

The continuing pattern of decline identified in the survey is echoed by book sales, according to Publishers Weekly, which cited figures from the Association of American Publishers that showed that fiction buyers had fallen by 17% between 2013 and 2018.

Overall, said the NEA, book reading remained “on par” with previous surveys in 2012 and 2008: almost 53% of American adults read a book in any genre in 2017 – not a statistically significant decline from 2012’s 54.6%. The survey did, however, call the 3% decline in female readers “significant”.

The boom in poetry reading – the first in the history of the NEA survey – was driven by younger readers: sales are thriving for “Instapoets” such as Rupi Kaur, whose collection Milk and Honey has sold more than 1m copies around the world. The share of 18- to 24-year-olds who read poetry more than doubled over the last five years, making this group the most likely to read poetry.

Women also flocked to poetry, increasing from 8% in 2012 to 14.5% in 2017, as did Hispanic poetry readers, up from 4.9% five years ago to 9.7% in 2017, African Americans (up 8.4%) and Asian Americans (up 7.8%). At 15.3%, the ethnic group most likely to read poetry in the US is now African Americans, the survey found.

“For the first time in the survey’s history, reading rates for poetry and plays have increased from the prior survey period,” wrote the NEA’s director of research and analysis, Sunil Iyengar, introducing the survey. “The surge in poetry reading was experienced by diverse demographic groups.”

Iyengar said that the NEA would explore the decline in novel and short story reading in future reports.

As a published author, what are YOU going to do about this? This is your income decreasing!

I created four characters that are meant to be for a comic book known as the "Super Readers". They were created with certain 'super hero' aspects, but ALL of them have something in common; reading, writing and books.

They illustrate to children that by starting to read at a young age and continually reading through adult hood they can become their own Super Hero's because of what they read.

I hope you will check them out and support getting them made into a comic book that we can share with Texas Students. http://deartexas.info/index.php/superreaders

 

Note: The publishing world in NYC continues to believe that they are the center point of the universe when it comes to publishing. Because of this concept, I sadly see too many businesses and organizations cater to the top five publishing companies in a way that hurts Indie Authors.

My trip to NYC last week will result in a wide range of benefits for Texas Authors and Indie Authors collectively. One of my meetings was with the Authors Guild, which is an organization that supports authors of all types. They handle mostly the legal aspect of writing; contracts, infringement on rights, etc., they are a great organization to belong too. It so happened that while in NYC, one of the board members released an open letter to their membership that also applies to our membership and is something that I have been speaking on for a few years now. My new book due out in 2020 "Authors Revolution" is about this and other aspects of publishing. I hope you will take the time to read the full letter that is posted on our blog and check out this organization for membership.

Alan Bourgeois

Director/Founder/Author

‘We’re Still Getting Our Asses Kicked’

In an open letter this month addressed to members of the Authors Guild, the organization’s vice president, the American author Richard Russo, has warned that tech companies’ operations in the content space may increasingly threaten writers’ livelihoods and recognition.

“Traditional publishers may have underpaid us,” Russo writes, “but at least to them we were poets and painters and songwriters, terms that implied both respect and ownership of what we made, at least until we’ve sold it to them.

“The tech ethos is different. To them, we’re often seen as mere hirelings. And since those who hire us are in the business of business, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to pay us as little as they can get away with and to make certain we understand that we’re mere workers, not partners in the enterprise.”

The commentary is a follow-up to Russo’s 2013 letter to the membership. In this message, he touches on favorite points of criticism, including “the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the ‘information wants to be free’ crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by Internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to online sites that sell pirated (read ‘stolen’) books.”

Clearly, there are many with whom to take umbrage.

Five years later, Russo writes to an author-advocacy trade organization that has grown past the 10,000-member mark and has become the lead response group in many issues authors are encountering, from inappropriate trademark efforts to contractual conflicts with publishers.

Most recently, for example, the guild has written letters in support of the writers of Slate and Thrillist, arguing that they should be allow to unionize. There’s probably a clue to the direction the guild itself is going in representing authors in its posting about the new letters: “Few individual writers have any true bargaining power, but collective bargaining gives writers greater leverage to negotiate the terms of their employment. “The Authors Guild supports collective bargaining for all staff writers and hopes to one day attain similar benefits for freelance journalists and authors.”

Read the full letter on our blog

A note from a TxAuthor Member:

I've been a member of the Authors Guild since 2000, wish I would have known of them earlier, been a member, for they could helped review a book contract I had no idea what I was signing. I lost/unknowingly complete control of the manuscript, received nothing for the purchase of it, didn't even recognize my manuscript after they published the book they "bought", which they (the Publisher) actually stole because they did not pay me one dollar for the manuscript.

The book was published in the US and other countries; I never received one cent in royalties, never did a book signing, nothing, and that happened in 1997.

This type of "crime" still happens today to other writers without knowledge and without legal help to review a contract; which the Authors Guild does for its members.

Since that horrible experience I have used the Authors Guild for legal advice. They are the best there is.

I urge every writer/author of ANYTHING, song writer, script writer, poet, speech writer, etc. to join the Authors Guild.

Carol Cook

In an open letter this month addressed to members of the Authors Guild, the organization’s vice president, the American author Richard Russo, has warned that tech companies’ operations in the content space may increasingly threaten writers’ livelihoods and recognition.

“Traditional publishers may have underpaid us,” Russo writes, “but at least to them we were poets and painters and songwriters, terms that implied both respect and ownership of what we made, at least until we’ve sold it to them.

“The tech ethos is different. To them, we’re often seen as mere hirelings. And since those who hire us are in the business of business, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to pay us as little as they can get away with and to make certain we understand that we’re mere workers, not partners in the enterprise.”

The commentary is a follow-up to Russo’s 2013 letter to the membership. In this message, he touches on favorite points of criticism, including “the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the ‘information wants to be free’ crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by Internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to online sites that sell pirated (read ‘stolen’) books.”

Clearly, there are many with whom to take umbrage.

Five years later, Russo writes to an author-advocacy trade organization that has grown past the 10,000-member mark and has become the lead response group in many issues authors are encountering, from inappropriate trademark efforts to contractual conflicts with publishers.

Most recently, for example, the guild has written letters in support of the writers of Slate and Thrillist, arguing that they should be allow to unionize. There’s probably a clue to the direction the guild itself is going in representing authors in its posting about the new letters: “Few individual writers have any true bargaining power, but collective bargaining gives writers greater leverage to negotiate the terms of their employment.

“The Authors Guild supports collective bargaining for all staff writers and hopes to one day attain similar benefits for freelance journalists and authors.”

Authors Are ‘Often Seen as Mere Hirelings’

Indeed, collective bargaining—one of modern labor’s oldest strategies—may hold value for authors in the future that Russo is predicting for writers.

“The tech ethos is different. To them, we’re often seen as mere hirelings. And since those who hire us are in the business of business, they have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to pay us as little as they can get away with.”Richard Russo Russo concedes that in some areas, the arrival of tech platforms as consumers of content holds opportunity or writers: “Tech Giants like Google and Facebook and Apple are all moving into the content business, which means (and what a bitter pill this must be for them to swallow!) they need us ‘content providers.’ That means more book options and, for those of us who want to make the pivot into TV and film writing, more opportunities there.” The sword, however, he writes, has two edges. “The conflict, of course, is as old as art and commerce,” he writes, “but today it’s playing out algorithmically and those algorithms have not been designed for our benefit.”

As part of his message to the membership–designed to encourage members to bring in more authors—Russo joins many in talking about a decline in recent years in author incomes, “here in the US, but also in Canada and much of Europe. … A tiny percentage can make a living through writing alone; the rest have to supplement their income by teaching or taking on other work or marrying people with more lucrative careers, strategies that have been known to lead in the end to exhaustion, writing less, and self-loathing (which many of us suffer from already).”

A Penguin Random House author, Russo doesn’t spare the trade in his criticisms: “Traditional publishing continues to consolidate and contract, and many of the largest houses are part of conglomerates that demand books yield the same profit margins as flat-screen TVs, in effect squeezing out important midlist books that were never designed to be bestsellers.

“Writers are often told that the success of their published books depends on their ability to promote themselves on social media. … Despite Guild efforts to spotlight the problem, some publishers continue to offer writers unfair contracts.”

As a summation of the current reality for authors, Russo writes, “Like our friends in the newspaper and music businesses, we’re still getting our asses kicked.”

His most pointed warning of vulnerability lies in his vision of tech content platforms absorbing huge volumes of writerly work without regard for proper protection of the author or journalist and without regard for the value of the human contribution involved.

“If we creators don’t fight, the massive transfer of wealth from the creative sector to the tech sector that we’ve been witnessing since 2013 will most certainly continue.”

Learn more about the Authors Guild here:https://www.authorsguild.org/member-services/

 

About

Texas Authors, Inc. is an organization designed to help Texas Authors learn how to better market and sell their books.

We work closely with our partners DEAR Texas, Inc., and Texas Authors Institute of History, Inc., both nonprofits that have created additional programs and events for Authors.

Texas Authors is a subsidiary of Bourgeois Media & Consulting