Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When FAIL Meets Research, Bad Book Decisions Get Made

“Men don’t read.”

How often have I heard that in the past five years? A lot. Also: “Boy’s don’t read.”

I’ve been challenging this statement, not because I believe it’s false, but because it makes no sense. Who says men don’t read?

So within the last year, I’ve gone on a hole-poking expedition.

Me: “Who says men don’t read?”

Answer: “Uh, don’t know.”

Me: “I think your conclusion is based on a lack of evidence.”

Answer: "Asshole."

Online, it goes like this:

“Men don’t read.”

Me: “I assert there is a lack of evidence to support your conclusion. Prove it.”

Answer: “Here’s a NEA poll/paper. Here’s a Gallup Poll.”

Me: “I assert the NEA is a flawed research body prone to inaccuracies because scientific research is not their major function. And that Gallup Poll was from 1994. Do you have any recent, cross-referenced, non-politically biased data to support your conclusion?”

Answer: “Here’s a more recent AP-Ipsos poll!”

Me: “Of only 1000 adults, over the phone.

Answer: “So?”

Me: “Do you answer a caller ID that you don’t recognize?”

Answer: “No. So what? There is an error sample rate.”

Me: "What’s the difference between the reading habits of people who don’t answer blind phone calls or only have a cell phone and do not receive poll calls, and the reading habits of people who talk to strangers over the phone?"

Answer: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Nobody knows. Oh, and that poll doesn't back up that statement, it only says more women than men who took part in the survey read on a regular basis. And the poll is about book reading, not reading in general. Oh and...”

Answer: "Asshole."

Now, I have anecdotal evidence from multiple sources that say men aren’t buying books. Several bookstore employees have personally told me, from multiple bookstores, that over the years they are losing male buyers and gaining female buyers.

And I believe them.

But that’s buying, not reading.

Here’s some other anecdotal evidence:

  • Every single one of my male friends read books
  • All these adult men purchase books
  • All these adult men, including myself, purchase books online from either Amazon or B&N
  • SINCE 1999. Every. Single. Male. Friend. For over a decade.

Now, if someone would point to me data revealing the sex of most of Amazon’s or B&N’s book buyers, I would really love to see that data.

I do buy books at a bookstore. But, like my adult male friends, this is a very small percentage of my book purchasing dollars.

But again, we’re talking about buying, not reading.

Anecdotal means “based on anecdotes or hearsay: consisting of or based on secondhand accounts rather than firsthand knowledge or experience or scientific investigation.

Here’s my assertions:

  • I believe publishing industry people when they say men aren’t buying their books
  • I believe my male friends buy many books through Amazon and B&N
  • I believe the NEA is not a trustworthy source of scientific based research
  • I believe phone polling of reading habits is fundamentally flawed
  • I believe correlation does not imply causation
  • I do not believe people who tell me men/boy’s don’t read

What do you believe about men and reading habits?

And if you have any real data, I would love to see it!


  1. I'm guessing the surveys don't include guys on planes. Almost every person on the plane has a book or a Kindle.

  2. Men read. I work in the library. I've seen them. Yes, fewer men than women check out books. They have a greater tendency to check out nonfiction versus fiction. Many of the men who like fiction tend to listen to audiobooks, although I think that's often job-related, for guys who drive trucks and the like. Men almost never show up to the book discussion group, but they do read.

  3. I love reading!!!1! And I'm a man!!!1! I also like to write too.

  4. Every time I shop Half-Price books, the place is crawling with men. And men don't buy books they're not going to read, unless one is a lawyer trying to make his office look 'smarter.'

    What men rarely do: read books in public, join book clubs, admit to their moron friends that they read books. That's for nerds, right?

  5. Michelle, that is an interesting observation about audiobooks. I have three male friends who only purchase audiobooks. I cannot, despite my smarmy yet roguish charm, get them to read a printed book.

  6. I read far more audiobooks than print ones because I listen while driving and working out at the gym. *stares down at massive bicep... In his dreams...*

  7. See? Thank you Douglas, for illustrating the guys' use of audiobooks while driving. Our FedEx guy and a carpenter who spends most of his time alone in his wood shop are our two most prolific audio book listeners. They both recommend the ones they like to the library staff!

  8. I'm a man and I read books. Many of my male frineds read books too. Maybe the statement "men don't read" is true statistically, but with big differences between different groups in society. Do scientists and engineers read books? yes, think so. I know many. Do plumbers and carpenters read books? I don't know. Don't know many of them.

    Cold As Heaven

  9. As I guy in his mid-30's, I can telly you I read all the time - as much as my schedule allows. Of course this isn't the the 2-3 book per week habit I had during college, but I still read at least 20 books per year. Mostly books I purchase. There is a pile of 10 "soon-to-be read" books on the shelf of my nightstand. I also purchase books for my wife and my older daughter - with whom I read a chapter outloud nearly every night. Most of my male friends read, all of my closest friends read. Constantly. Most of them put books on their birthday/Christmas/[insert holiday] wish lists. So, while they may not actually purchase the book, it is being specifically purchased for them. This may be the case for boys as well. How many moms are buying books for their sons.
    Also, to answer Cold as Heaven - Carpenters and other tradesman do read. My grandfather was welder and passed on his love of reading to me. His library spanned nonfiction and fiction and I don't remember a time when he wasn't reading a book about something. My uncle (his son) is a carpenter and probably more widely read than most of the college educated people I know. Conversely, my wife is a molecular biologist who co-workers (all with advanced degrees) are painfully ignorant of most subjects outside of their narrow career scope. Eight plus years working in "higher education" only hammered home this trend.

  10. Great discussion. My father (electrician) passed on his love for reading to me. He *always* had a book in hand, as I was growing up, and his interests ranged from non-fiction to Shakespeare to romance. He's the reason I read Gone With the Wind and Cyrano de Bergerac and St. Elmo and What Gold Cannot Buy. He's also the reason I read the Scientific American and Corbett's Man-Eaters of India.

    As a teacher, I find that all I have to do is find books that appeal...for any student, male or female. Typically, the boys are not particularly excited by Twilight, etc. But I pull out a Maximum Ride or Alex Rider or Mike Lupica book, and they're just as sucked in.

    My current challenge is to find higher level/high interest books. It seems that many of the high adventure books are written for a lower reading level audience.


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