Surprising Reading Facts (Infographic)


An infographic I posted a several months ago has produced much interest. Several websites used the graphic on their own pages which has caused large numbers of people to blow up my email wondering about my statistical sources.

First, I created the graphic because I’m a book lover and wanted to express my passion for reading through a different method. While I’m well-versed in research methodologies, my goal wasn’t–and still isn’t–to produce a quantitative, peer-reviewed product. I simply wanted to illustrate reading importance.

Second, I was curious to know if I could create an interesting graphic. I’ll just assume I found the answer to that one.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about the source on the original graphic:

According to a Jenkins Group Facebook post in 2011, the reading statistics are incorrectly attributed to the Jenkins Group. Apparently Jerrold Jenkins, owner and founder of the Jenkins Group, presented the observations to a group of small publishers using data from the Book Industry Study Group, American Book Sellers Institute, and US News and World Report.

A New York fundraiser who hosts a reading blog contacted the Jenkins Group to ask about their study. She discovered the company distances itself from the statistics; while they admit their owner, Jerrold Jenkins, presented the material, they never actually published the report.

I think it’s safe to say the stats from the original graphic are questionable, and I am therefore recanting any and all connection to them.

At the same time, I still believe in the absolute viability of reading and it’s ability to radically impact a person’s life. In an age where our smartphones will read aloud to us, we risk watering down this life-changing skill. So here’s a new graphic. The stats aren’t as juicy, but it still supports my original point: reading is important.

[By the way, I’m not changing the last box from the original graphic. I like Earl Nightingale’s thought. It’s not research-based, but it makes me feel good–just like reading.]




This is the old graphic. It is no longer trustworthy. I have left it here only for archival purposes. Please don’t copy it.



Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

  • Rebecca

    Hi! I am a librarian and am just wondering where you got these figures. Could you cite the sources? Thanks so much!

  • Random Librarian

    What is the source for this information? The Pew Internet studies show much higher reading rates.

    • Randy

      I trust Pew a lot more than I do “”

    • allrightythen

      And even much higher since they are talking about individuals and this graph cites “families” which consist of at least one other individual and usually more! Associated Press also found about the same in their 2007 survey where 1 in 4 stated they had not read a book in the past 12 months.

  • Robb Bewer

    It’s an oft cited study from a company called the Jenkins Group. They apparently haven’t been open in allowing others to verify the results. It’s inappropriate for real decision-making but an interesting conversation starter.

    • Randy

      The mentalfloss web site doesn’t explain the survey only links to another web site “” and that link is broken so there still is no source for the survey. I’d suggest you compare what you have here to the Pew research the “Random Librarian” posted and consider making a revision to the post.

    • KWBro

      I agree with Randy, the graphic is awesome, but a more reputable source & numbers would help.

    • Saltydog

      The only conversation you started was one about the importance of being a critical consumer of information on the web. Your case will make a fine example for our middle schoolers about the pitfalls of uncritically relying on data found online.

      • Robb Bewer

        Hopefully this will be a good lesson for everyone.

  • KWBro

    Here’s the info from the Pew Study. The HS degree readers looks about right, but not the college degree readers:

    • allrightythen

      PEW’s category for high school was high school grad or less. Grads alone may very well be different.

  • Steve

    I understand that the information presented here is alarming, and believable to some degree, but these numbers literally cannot be accurate. I’m happy to let anybody else do the legwork of research, but the fact that nearly 1000 new books are *published* every day in this country strongly suggests that the United States is, in fact, still interested in reading as a whole.

    Yes, it’s true that nobody has to buy a book just because it’s published, and some books are self-published e-books (about 25%). That leaves 750 new books every day, which according to these numbers are being read by almost nobody.

    If the publishers – the gigantic businesses responsible for making money via the sale of books – are publishing 750 new titles every day that aren’t being read…

    … then how do they still exist?

  • allrightythen

    There needs to be multiple sources cited for these multiple points, unless there is one reliable source showing these now questionable facts. I wonder what is the point in misrepresenting this data.

  • disqus_DjlF8BLXgS

    Is this another case of facts getting in the way of belief? Its fun and exciting to believe sensational claims are true, but when they cannot be replicated or validated they become invalid (by definition). As a man of faith, one needs to be especially aware of this pitfall.

    • Robb Bewer

      To which set of “facts” are you referring? I have two infographics on this post. The first uses valid research. The second I have already outed as untrustworthy.

      • JackB

        “I like Earl Nightingale’s thought. It’s not research-based, but it makes me feel good”

        “Makes me feel good” is not valid research.

  • allrightythen

    Thank you for the new graphic with citations.

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  • SB

    Well done on the second graphic. I came to ‘check out’ the source before criticizing a repost of the first graphic.
    Also, the new graphic more powerfully makes your point by including some of the causes of the problem.

  • SaltyDog

    So, I’m sensing that whatever the data, your message remains the same: that we should stand ready to radically restructure our public schools. A popular message typically backed by lousy data such as you passed on in your original graphic. You know, I just saw that original graphic today on a friend’s FB page–it took me about 10 seconds to say, hey, that’s just BS.

    The question is, why are people–you are not alone here–so credulously ready to accept any wild “facts” purporting to show the imminent collapse of the American public education project? I strongly suspect that the hugely funded disinformation campaign being staged by a variety of extremely well-endowed “ed reform” groups prepares the ground for such misinformation. Gates and Broad foundations, and a host of pseudo populist groups tell us every day that our schools are failing and our children are turning into ignoramuses unable to use common sense.

    Well, let’s hope the adults have enough common sense to see through this BS.

    • Robb Bewer

      Your “sense” is incorrect and requires you to willfully ignore my clearly stated purpose. Do you not find it mendacious to accuse people of using lousy data while simultaneously making a point using only sense and suspicion?

      You may have well-grounded philosophical differences with Gates and Broad, but if you want to sit at the adult table, at least eat with the utensil of consistency.

      • Saltydog

        So your purpose was to “illustrate reading importance”, and your method for doing that was to pass on nonsensical statistics suggesting that people don’t read and that schools don’t teach?? How exactly is that supposed to address your supposed purpose?

        What am I supposed to make of your statement that you did not intend to produce a peer reviewed product?? That’s obvious, but is hardly an excuse for propagating nonsense, when the relevant research is available to anyone with access to google and 10 minutes of time to spare.

        Next, you say I falsely accuse you of using lousy data… after you owned up to doing just that.

        As for my point made “using only sense and suspicion.” Any good reader will bring “sense” to what he/she reads. If you brought sense to your reading you presumably would not have been taken in by outrageous data which you later had to retract.

        In any case, if you don’t like my “sense”, then explain just how it is that after the data supporting your message was discredited, you tried to claim that the same conclusion could be understood to follow from very different data (which it doesn’t).

        Ultimately, I expect that there’s really no point in arguing with someone whose standard for writing an information graphic is stated thus: “It’s not research-based, but it makes me feel good.”

        • Robb Bewer

          Saltydog, you attempted to reframe my original purpose by stating you “sensed” I was promoting school reform. Then you “suspect” that large foundations are responsible for propagating misinformation. You presented no foundation for either comment, and I found both to serve as political statements rather than contributions toward the conversation. All the while you bashed me for my lack of supporting data which I had already conceded. Your approach is inconsistent: it’s disingenuous to make dataless universal statements while knocking someone over the head because they didn’t use the right kind of data–and all this under an anonymous pseudonym. If you want to make the argument that schools are going fine, then great–make the argument. But please do so without being “suspect.”

          I’m as surprised as you that some silly infographic on a nothing website would become so popular. I wish I would have done better homework on the first graphic. No doubt that would have alleviated some of your frustration. But I didn’t; the graphic became popular, and now I’ll deal with the heat from fine people like yourself. You may find arguing with me to be pointless, but I can’t reciprocate that same sentiment.

          • Saltydog

            OK, you’re misreading things. Although the word “suspect” occured in my post, it was not used to say that suspected that that large foundations are responsible for propagating misinformation. It was used to say that these foundations were preparing the ground for such misinformation (as your early graphic provided). I did not say what you said, because I don’t have any reason to doubt that large foundations/corporations are involved in a campaign targeting public schools.

            As for providing data about that, sure, we could launch on that conversation, although it obscures the important point here, which is how readily false information about schools is accepted by the public.

            (Anyone who is unfamiliar with the campaign against public schools (in the name usually of “ed reform”) need only review any number of the articles about whistle blowers, including such fringe persons as a former US Sec of Education:

            Or, for a more quirky and amusing critique:

  • Daisy

    Thank you for the post – and the revised graphic. I teach online and work closely with families, and information like this helps me motivate families to read together.

    • Robb Bewer

      Thanks for the encouraging words!

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