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Strategic insights
Debunking The Myth That People Read Less

Written by on July 4, 2011

There is much talk in the industry that people read less. Surveys are being produced, analysts speculate, and scientist even go as far as to say that people are becoming less emphatic.

In a study, published earlier this year, psychologist Raymond A. Mar of York University in Toronto demonstrated that the number of stories preschoolers read predicts their ability to understand the emotions of others. Mar also found that adults who read less fiction are less empathic.

And the evidence seems compelling. Newspapers and magazines are in decline. Publishers sell fewer books and countless studies show that we spend more time online.

But this is where the myth falls apart. They are measuring the wrong thing. They are not measuring how much people read in total, they are measuring how much "old media" people read.

I don't have the real numbers because quite frankly I have no idea how to measure them, but just think about this.

In the past, reading was limited to reading the newspaper in the morning, a magazine in the evening and maybe a good book on the weekends.

That is nothing compared to today where we read all the time. How many times did you click on a link today? Did you listen to an audiobook while driving to work? How many times did you check your favorite source for updates?

To give you a simple example. Within the past 2 years I have tweeted what amounts to 144,000 words. (about 860,000 characters.) If you then remove the tweets that are replies, all the links, Twitter usernames, and words like "RT", "VIA", "BY" etc. you end up with 78,865 real words.

That means that just by reading my tweets, you will have read what amounts to about 225 news articles or a book like "Harry Potter--The Philosopher's Stone." And that is also without following any of the links.

But you are not *just* following me. You follow many other people and you click on countless links every day. The amount of reading that we do today, compared to just 10 years ago, is incredible.

How many links do we read? Well, try this. Go into your browser's history and count all the links you have clicked on and read for ...say ...the past 4 hours. In my case, it amounted to 27 articles (out of 167 links) or roughly 9,700 words. In comparison, Seth Godin's book "The Purple Cow" is about 28,000 words.

What is even more interesting is not just that we read, we also write all the time. Compare writing to 15 years ago when the only time you wrote anything was when you had to send a letter, take notes or and the occasional Christmas cards.

Today people tweet, post, comment, blog etc. in quantities that far exceed traditional media.

As I started it saying, I cannot point to any statistics. I haven't seen any studies on reading outside the scope of traditional media. But if I look at the activity that goes on every day online and on social channels, I would say that we read far more today than ever in the past.

It is just a different form. It is a mix of many channels, outputs, formats and sources.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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