How We Read Now – Six Highlights From the NEA’s Report

The National Endowment for the Arts released a report last week with new details on how Americans interacted with art and literature in 2012. The good news is Youtube, Facebook, and Lolcats haven’t completely killed off the urge to read; the bad news is we’re reading less than we did 10 years ago.


  • The report found that 46.9% of the survey respondents read a work of literature (novel, poetry, play, Twilight) in 2012. That’s down from 2008 (50.2%) and it’s down considerably from the 1992 survey (54.2%) and the 1982 survey (56.4%).
  • But on the upsidem many of the people that stopped reading literature seem to have instead switched to reading nonfiction; the overall rate of discretionary reading has not changed since this survey was last conducted in 2008.
  • Women are reading even more literature than men (56% vs 36.9%) than in past surveys; the number of men who reported reading a work of literature dropped by 5 percentage points.
  • The age groups under 55 years old are all reading less than in 2008, while those older than 55 are reading more. I blame ereaders.
  • Far fewer people read poetry in 2012 than in 2002 (12.1% vs 6.7%), but the number of people reading novels has remained constant (45.1%).

1277740228_e25b20de6d[1]And finally, this report showed that there were millions of self-taught writers out there. Almost 6 percent of respondents are writing creative with about half sharing their work with the world, but in the past year only 2% took a class to learn how to write. In fact, writing outranked creating music, visual art, or films as the most popular artistic pursuit, though of course all were surpassed by photography, which 15.3% of respondents reported sharing publicly.

I had always suspected that writing was more of a self-taught skill than anything, and now I can see that 5.9% of Americans are testing that idea empirically.

image by Bright Meadow, Arria Belli

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Name29 September, 2013

    PDF link seems to be unreachable. Might there be another copy that you could link to?

    1. Nate Hoffelder29 September, 2013

      I replaced it.

      The link was still valid, so I don’t know why it didn’t work for you. Weird.

      Edit: And thanks for pointing out the problem.

      1. Name30 September, 2013

        It still doesn’t work. I get a the message that the browser could not connect to the server. I tried again via the proxy and could at least see that there is a page that seems to have your original link, which I could not download, however, since the limited free proxy said, the file was too big. I don’t know what they’re doing at that server, but since I can connect there through a proxy, it would appear that they don’t like me for whatever reason. Strange.


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