• The time an average American spends reading declined from 23 minutes per day in 2004, to just 16 minutes in 2019, according to new research.
  • People aged 75 year and older are the most likely to read for pleasure, reading for an average of 44 minutes per day.
  • COVID-19 saw book sales increase, but due to lockdown restrictions there is no current data to see if this increase translated into time spent reading.

As book sales have picked up in the U.S. in recent years, the time spent reading for pleasure and personal interest is nevertheless declining in the country. This is despite the fiction category leading the resurgence in the book market.

According to the Time Use Survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American still spent 23 minutes per day reading in 2004. That declined to just 16 minutes in 2019, the latest year on record.

A lot of non-readers are skewing the average reading time downwards, however. Taking into account only Americans 15 years and older that do read for pleasure, average reading time per day in 2019 was 1 hour and 30 minutes, down from a peak of 1 hour and 35 minutes in 2012, but a step up from the 1 hour and 23 minutes recorded in 2004.

Book sales spiked in 2020 and 2021 as coronavirus lockdowns cloistered Americans at home, but the pandemic also disrupted the data collection of the BLS survey, which is why no comparable 2020 figures exist.

According to the data, those 75 years and older were among the most avid readers for pleasure, racking up 44 minutes of daily reading time in 2019. Employed Americans read far less, only spending an average of 9 minutes on a leisurely read during a workday.

Chart showing average time spent reading for pleasure per day by Americans 15 years and older.
Average time spent reading for pleasure per day by Americans 15 years and older.
Image: Statista

What is the World Economic Forum doing to measure the value in media?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has changed the way content is produced, distributed and consumed for media companies, brands and individuals.

The media industry today is characterized by so-called "destination" and "ecosystem" media. The former are content destinations for consumers, while the latter use content as a strategic asset in a bigger portfolio of products and services. They offer relatively low-price media services as drivers to monetize other parts of their business, such as e-commerce, transactions, live experiences, affiliate sales or branded media.

Media production and distribution creates economic value along its sectoral production chains. It also does so through these ecosystems, increasingly owned and managed by "supercompetitors". How should society measure and value their impact?

This project, Value in Media, has spent a year looking at how individual consumers value destination media. It has analyzed business model strategies in the media industry, studied the extent to which these strategies align with people's preferences around payment and data management, and discussed areas for the industry to focus on in improving its value proposition to society.

Building on this research, the project is now in a second phase that attempts to measure the value that ecosystem media generate in society. It will look specifically at:

  • A cost-benefit analysis of ecosystem economics in media
  • Developing a framework for new indicators of value such as quality, innovation and consumer welfare
  • Identifying metrics that better represent the value of media to society, including its contribution to related activities such as retail, e-commerce and consumer industries