Johnny Prefers TV
A very sad change is taking place across America: Fewer and fewer people are reading literature every year. According to "Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America," a study of more than 17,000 adults conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau on behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts, less than half of all U.S. adults read a literary work in 2002, down about 20 percent from 1982. And, book reading in general (nonfiction, etc.) is declining, too.
Of course, statistics show that adults with higher income and education levels are more likely to be readers, but the overall ranks of readers still are dwindling at a significant pace. And while this decline is taking place across all age groups, it's having a big impact on people ages 18 to 24. In the past 20 years, the drop-off in literature reading for this age group is 28 percent.
What's happening here? The study's authors point to the rise of technology as providing a plethora of leisure time choices that compete with the simple pleasure of reading. For example, they say, a 1999 study determined that the average American child lived in a household with 2.9 TVs, 1.8 VCRs, 3.1 radios, 2.1 CD players, 1.4 video game players and one computer. Considering how cheap such technologies have become, these numbers probably have increased. New technologies are being developed every year; for instance, I'm sure the average household will soon have a DVR system, which means people will be able to expand the number of TV shows they watch on a regular basis.
And watching TV is what most adults are doing these days, reports the "Reading at Risk" study. More than 95 percent of adults watch at least one hour of TV a day; in addition, 60 percent of adults prefer going to the moviesabout 13 percent more than entertain themselves by reading literature.
The long-term projection of this trend is summed up by "Reading at Risk"
authors: "Indeed, at the current rate of loss, literary reading as a leisure activity will virtually disappear in half a century."
Fifty years is a long time; most of us won't be working in the direct marketing industry by then. But this trend has implications for the here and now. With more and more people turning to short bursts of information, direct mail has to keep in mind that people want their content in easily digestible pieces. And if longer copy is what's required to explain your product or service, you're going to need to continually reward your audience for sticking with your letter, brochure or insert; think tips, premium promotions, freemiums, etc.
So let's move on from the problem of why Johnny can't read. Sans serif or serif font aside, now Johnny doesn't want to read.