Is Reading Dead?

When is the last time you read a book? A book that you actually wanted to read…not for school.

I have always been a fan of reading. Whether I am at the beach, on a train, or just happen to have free time before bed, I usually pick up a book to read. Recently, however, I have noticed that my time perusing social media has taken away a lot of opportunities for reading. I tell myself I don’t have enough time to read during the school year, however I spend hours mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

This got me thinking about social media and digital business’ effects on the book/publishing industry. Everyone knows that bookstores such as Borders have gone out of business because of digital books and online companies such as Amazon. We know that the ways books are bought and read have changed, but has our increasingly digital world led to less reading and fewer books being published?

Despite my initial thoughts that digital and social were having adverse effects on the book industry, my research proved otherwise. In 2011, Fast Company published an article in which they discussed similar concerns that social and digital would kill the industry. They feared that people would turn to blogs, social media platforms, and e-books, and therefore destroy the publishing/book industry. However, articles currently being published on this topic speak highly of the advantages social media has created for the industry. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that millennials, who are criticized for their use of social media and internet, are actually reading more than people over 30.

The publishing/book industry can attribute much of its current and continued success to its adaptation to social and digital. The industry has been able to successfully leverage these tools to increase reader engagement and interest. The following discusses three ways in which they are using these tools.


Social media allows for the creation of online communities of people with similar interests. Publishers and authors can target these communities with content they know is relevant to that group. This improved targeting means a reduction in advertising dollars that are wasted on uninterested audiences. Additionally, this is a great way to raise awareness of new books. The members of the communities will be able to engage with one another to share reviews or other content about a book. This use of online word of mouth can be very beneficial to authors or publishers who are trying to bring attention to their works.


Similar to any other company or industry, publishers and authors can use social media to build strong brands. If readers and consumers are aware of this positive brand image, it can create more loyal readers. This ensures future purchases, positive word of mouth, and more engagement. It also allows for smaller publishing companies or self-published authors to build their brand without needing to pay for expensive marketing budgets. Social media gives them the opportunity to inexpensively build their brands and promote their work.


Social media has opened paths of communication between parties who were not able to communicate in the past. Fans can now feel a closer connection to their favorite authors through social media accounts. Whereas book discussions typically took place orally, they can now be done on social platforms, and even include the authors. Additionally, publishers can connect with readers online. This is beneficial because publishers can see what readers are saying, what they are interested in, and popular trends that are being discussed among readers.

Although my research did not give exact statistics on the number of books read, it seems that the rise of social and digital is not having a detrimental effect on the industry. The industry is definitely changing; however, so far they have been able to use these changes to their advantage. As a book lover, it is comforting to know that authors and publishers are not being intimidated by book substitutes such as blogs or social media sites.

Do you think they will continue to survive in our increasingly digital and social world?


  1. Nice post! I didn’t expect that reading was actually “trendy” again. But I think your point is right. I found this article that might interest you It explains how Kindle sales are hitting the bottom, while books sales are slowly getting better (or at least declining at a slower rate). They say this very interesting thing I think: “It would appear the books market has reached an equilibrium of sorts, with about one in three books being a digital one, and the rest being physical books”. I guess we’ve reached a point where people just don’t want to look at a screen non-stop. And If e-books are trendy and still growing (although at a slower pace), they’ve pretty much reached their audience and won’t expand much more.

  2. Reading is absolutely not dead (to me)! I am on my third year of aiming to read 52 books. (Caveat: I’m a really fast reader.) Do you use Goodreads? It’s a great platform (now owned by Amazon) that allows you to track your reading, set up challenges, recommend books to friends, and see what they are reading.

    The point Estelle made about Kindle sales declining is interesting. I got my first e-reader in 2010–the Barnes and Noble Nook–when I was going to study abroad. Now I have a Kindle (and love it) but I refuse to buy Kindle books, instead I check out e-books from the libary. If I’m going to buy a book, I want the real thing. My husband also likes to read, but I don’t think he has any interest in owning a Kindle. It’s probably true that Kindle has pretty much reached its market, and I’m not sure, aside from aging into owning one, that many people who don’t currently have one will want one in the near future.

  3. Great article Caroline! I definitely share your feelings about social media taking the place of reading–in the time that I am mindlessly scrolling Facebook and Instagram I could probably be reading a few pages of a book. But at least while in college, I don’t feel motivated to read books that aren’t necessarily required. Hopefully this will change post-graduation, but I am surprised to read that millennials are reading more than people over 30. Perhaps this is because of the ease of reading a book on a phone or iPad–over the summer I read on my iPhone on the T and it really helped to pass the time. But I also agree with Estelle’s point that perhaps the slowing decline of actual paper books is because we need a break from screen time. I personally love the feeling of physical books and feel that at least with our generation, nostalgia will keep them around. However, I can’t speak for the generation after us who will have grown up with digital books from a young age.

  4. Really interesting post. While at the outset these findings might seem counterintuitive since there are so many other ways for people to spend their time nowadays, I’m not all that surprised. I think of myself as a fairly avid book reader outside of school time and I think the rise of e-readers and reading apps has just made it so much easier to read than ever before. I can load multiple books onto my kindle or iPhone and bring them with me everywhere I go. Additionally, I often go on communities like you mentioned like /r/books and read plenty of reviews on Amazon. All of this adds up to constantly having something to read.

  5. Great post, Caroline! I love the direction that you took in this post and definitely agree with you on all accounts. It was really interesting to learn about how authors and publishers have actually been able to leverage social media to their advantage– it made me think of JK Rowling on Twitter, though she’s probably not the best example of an author that needs to increase reader engagement and interest. I’ve always been skeptical of the notion that printed books would be wiped out by the digital age, and it’s interesting to see that Kindle sales are suffering. The industry is certainly still undergoing a lot of change, but I think books will survive. I can definitely relate to your feeling that social media has sucked up the time we used to have to read for fun, but I also think they’re difficult to compare. Reading articles and scrolling through social media is such a different kind of consumption that’s way more quick-and-fast than sitting down to read a book. It’s kind of like how easy it is to watch a 30-min TV episode on Netflix here and there, but watching a movie requires a way more deliberate block of time.

  6. I think you could argue that iPads, Kindles, and other e-readers have definitely lowered the barriers to reading, since you can have multiple reading materials at any given time (without leading to back problems). While I don’t “read” books technically (I read all day every day for my job), I have become a fan of, an audiobook company owned by Amazon. With my Audible app, I have access to books while I am driving, cutting the lawn, doing the dishes, etc. A much better way to pass the time there.I can pass along some recommendations, if you’d like :)

    1. I’d love some recommendations! That is definitely something I could use next year to pass the time during my commute to work.

  7. I definitely think that reading is not on the decline, especially among millennials! It’s just that the metrics that measure the way (and how much) people read have to change – it’s probably why it was hard for you to find concrete data. When you look at reading/books in the form of their spinoffs, you can see that books are still in the limelight. Most of the recent movie blockbusters were based on YA novels, like the Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars. While it’s not probably to think that everyone who watched these movies read the accompanying books, I’d say it’s a safe bet to assume that a lot did. Authors like John Green (who wrote The Fault in Our Stars) have become celebrities due to the success of his novels (not to mention his other companies). Also there’s plenty of reading that goes on outside of bookstores and e-books, like fan fiction. So I wouldn’t count out the book publishing industry.

  8. yifanhong04233 · ·

    Reading is not dead, at least in my family. For young people like me and my counsins–yes, we spend more time on social media. However, social media can develop interests in reading. For example, recently I am reading two books written by Kissinger just because they are mentions by a social media account which I am following. For my parent, obviously they prefer traditional reading. I think if book publishers can better use social media, more books will be known and read.

  9. Great post! I’ll admit that I don’t read nearly as many books as I should, which is odd because the majority of my family members are avid readers. However, I definitely find myself constantly reading articles on the internet about sports, news, business, etc. I’ve actually been putting off a book I’ve been wanting to read since late fall (sad, I know) because of excuses I make for myself like school work, CPA exams, and even TV shows. But on a positive note, it’s definitely reassuring that social media has not had a detrimental effect on the book industry. Before reading this article, I would have guessed that blogs and things of that nature would be driving book sales down, but I’m glad that isn’t the case.

  10. What a great topic to bring up. I had a long discussion with a prof about this topic a few weeks ago. He believes that handheld books with pages are in a recession, paper magazines are dying and moving online. However, reading is very much alive. I think people read more now than ever in the course of history. more people are exposed to technology that utilize text. simple as that.

  11. Great article! This post definitely reminded me of Aziz Ansari’s joke about how lost we get in the intern ( I feel like we read SO much because of the Internet: blog posts, online magazines, newspapers, Wikipedia…

    I also adore my Kindle and found that I read more books now than before – and about so many more topics. It’s especially clutch on vacations.I have some friends who are even in book clubs (well, it’s really an excuse to brunch…), which sounds like an activity much older people were doing in years past.

  12. A refreshing, new topic! I agree with @geraldckane that e-readers have made reading materials (books, short stories, articles, blogs, etc) more accessible. The following article does suggest that the focus of our reading, or how we read, has changed as a result of using devices (i.e. we tend to scroll or scan rather than really be focused on the material we’re reading). Glad to hear that while the industry is changing, readers’ interests in stories has not strayed.

  13. You instantly hooked me from the beginning! I really loved how you talked abut the importance of reading. Personally, I try to read as much as I can and as I was reading your post I was thinking you were going to say the exact opposite. I thought spending countless minutes mindlessly scrolling through social media would take time away from reading. I have been trying to read multiple books throughout the semester and I ended up only reading two of them. Personally, I know I read through “Fast Company” articles to see what some of the most successful people in the world are reading. I would not have the list of books I want to read without looking through my social media outlets. I love how you highlight the industry is changing and I am curious to see if we will ever be able to quantify the affects of social media and reading.

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