How did we read in 2022?

Respondents didn’t limit themselves to a single reading format: nearly all mixed hard copies, e-books, and audiobooks to meet different needs.

This post is the third in a series of six posts on our findings from our State of the Reader 2022 survey. We conduct this survey every year to shed light on who readers are and what makes them tick.

Readers didn’t limit themselves to a single book format.

The vast majority of respondents (91%) read a mix of physical books, ebooks, and/or audiobooks in 2022. Why? Because different formats met different needs!

Broadly speaking, respondents agreed that physical books were best for total immersion; e-books were ideal on-the-go; and audiobooks enabled “reading while” moments - for example, reading while cleaning, cooking, or walking the dog.  

“I love that I can get different utility and benefits from each.”

Some expressed that their preferred format also varied by genre. While genre-driven preferences tended to be uniquely personal, memoirs as audiobooks were the exception - these were widely popular, especially when read by the author (👋, Prince Harry!).

OK, OK, we loved all the book formats - but which was the favorite?

Consistent with last year’s results, physical books still reigned supreme: over two-thirds (68%) of respondents chose physical books as their favorite format. While this preference held true for all age groups, it was especially strong among readers 55 and older.

What’s so compelling about hard copies? Their sheer physicality! Specifically, their tactility - their look, feel, and yes, even smell. A close second was their enduring “shelf presence.” They’re ideal for readers who value collecting, displaying, and sharing their own personal library.

Why else did readers love hard copies? Reasons three through five, by frequency of mention:

3. When owned (rather than borrowed), they’re annotatable - not just through highlights but page flags and margin notes. As one respondent explained, “Being able to write my thoughts into a book, it’s no longer A book, it is MY book. One with thoughts and ideas that no one else will ever have.”

4. They’re analog, free from screens and their endless temptations (read: distractions!). As one respondent put it, “A physical book doesn’t have any other distractions or purpose besides reading.”

5. They’re familiar. In the words of one respondent, “Physical books connect me to my earliest reading self.”

Ebooks were beloved by one-quarter of respondents.

Among the 23% who liked e-books best, convenience and immediacy were the top drivers. As one respondent put it, “Nothing beats their ease and speed!”

These respondents raved about the ability to store an unlimited number of books in one small and portable device, whether their phone or a dedicated e-reader, and access them in all sorts of settings. Most commonly cited were traveling and commuting, but honorable mentions went to reading at night (sans light), waiting in line, and relaxing in the bath - quite the range!

And they loved the instant gratification - how just seconds after they purchased or borrowed an ebook, it became available.

And audiobooks were the favorite of a small-but-mighty 9%.

Among the 9% who preferred audiobooks, multi-taskability was the top reason. As one respondent put it, in contrast to physical and digital copies, they offer “freedom, flexibility, and two free hands!”

That said, some in this group emphatically rejected the idea of audiobooks as an imperfect substitute for visual reading: they perceived it as a superior replacement. They loved hearing a story brought to life by a skilled narrator - especially when that narrator happened to be the author! - and simply preferred to read with their ears.

“Audiobooks allow you to experience storytelling as it was originally formed - by way of verbal and acoustic transfer, from person to person.”

Nontraditional formats like ebooks and audiobooks won on accessibility.

We heard over and over again that parents found ebooks and audiobooks invaluable: they empowered them to get creative and take advantage of reading opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

“As a mom of two young kids ebooks and audiobooks have made reading so much more accessible.”

Ebooks and audiobooks excelled on accessibility in many more contexts. Some respondents shared that they’re physically unable to hold a heavy hard copy, or that even large-prints have fonts too small to read without triggering a migraine. And several with ADHD praised audiobooks as freeing them up to read while puzzling or doodling, which aids focus. As one respondent put it, alternative formats “are life-savers. They’ve allowed me to keep being a reader.”

Next: Physical lists, digital apps, social media platforms, and everything in between. How did we track our reading in 2022?

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