Guest blog post by Carla Borsoi, Senior marketing exec and research alchemist
Carla Borsoi Small

I’m a passionate reader. My goal is to finish at least 50 books a year  – whether awesome graphic novels, new literature, fantasy, non-fiction, books about cocktails, or science fiction. I’m in great book club that reads all sorts of largely post-modern fiction. It’s a delight whether I’m reading a paperback I bought used, something new checked out from the library, or skipping my fingers along an e-book. I use Goodreads religiously to see what I should be reading based on what friends have rated or added to their queues, and read reviews across the web to stay current with new releases.

As I began to think about my summer reading list, I got curious about other people who love books as much as I do. So I hopped on the phone with the team at CivicScience to tap the data they’ve gathered. Based on a question of “How important are books in your life?”, they mined over 15,000 responses collected over the last few months through May 22, 2014 – and weighted the results for U.S. census data by gender and age.

First off, CivicScience was able to share with me that 21% of the U.S. population says reading is a passion, while another 30% say it’s important to them.  The next third say “I like it,” while the remaining 15% say they are not interested. Such is their loss.

So what do people who are passionate readers do? Who are they? I asked the CivicScience data wizards to send me everything interesting about these folks who love to read.

We started with a few key demographic questions.

Among those passionate about books, 70% are female. For those who say books are “important,” it is more evenly split: 55% women and 45% men. I don’t like to make too many assertions based on gender, but when you think about stereotypical book clubs, they are always portrayed as female. (Shout out to Tito who is our 30% in SpaceMonkeyLit.)

Education: Those with graduate degrees or PhDs are more likely to say they are passionate about books. School seems to flow a little easier if you like to read.

Where it gets more interesting is age.  Those who are college age (18-24) and those 35 years+ are more likely to say they are passionate about books.  The younger age group represents a time of exploration and mind expansion, which books do extremely well. Those over 35 may be looking for outlets that allow them to relax while they continue to explore new ideas.


Then I asked CivicScience for even more information – what else stands out about these passionate readers and how they compare to the general U.S. population?

They care about other media. They are 50% more likely than the general U.S. population to be passionate about music. They get their thumbs moving because they are 32% more likely to say they play video games “every day.” However, 30% of this passionate reading audience doesn’t watch any news programming on TV, compared to 19% of the general population. So while heavy readers may have multiple ways to relax – music, video games, and reading – they aren’t as interested in news on television. Would they rather read than watch? I reflect this myself: TV news isn’t something I spend a lot of time on, but I keep up with news online by reading both long and short form stories daily.  In fact, on the bus ride to work, that’s my news time, while the ride home is time for books.

As I said, it’s likely that passionate readers want to have their mind expanded; this group is two times as likely to say that ongoing learning and education is also a passion in their life. Whether it’s non-fiction or fiction that keeps them going is almost beside the point – although most of these readers are dismissive of Twilight (55% of this audience says they don’t like the series). I personally feel it’s a good thing that people read anything, so I cheered on friends reading about the “love V” of Bella, Edward, and Jacob.

They are about 40% more likely than the general U.S. population to describe themselves as a “tightwad” when it comes to spending. This group may be visiting the library more than others because they tend to be more frugal: they are 40% more likely to visit their local library once a month or more.

Visiting the library is part of a series of preferences that indicate an affinity with community engagement. They are more likely to prefer eating at local, independently owned restaurants.  They are more than 2X as engaged in local politics. They are 35% more likely to buy organic food “every chance I get” and to say that the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food affects what they buy every time. This may explain their love of Trader Joe’s (although it’s a chain owned by a German-based company).  This will also explain to my husband my insistence on visiting the Farmer’s Market each weekend – conveniently, our local public library is between our house and all sorts of local fresh food.

What else can we tell you about these folks? There are some celebrities they love (Helen Mirren, Jon Stewart) while they heartily dislike others (Jim Carrey). So they may be seeing movies that Ms. Mirren has been in that are adapted from literature from Shakespearean dramas to comic books.  Jon Stewart does feature quite a few authors on his talk show and has published several books himself. It may also be that these celebrities are seen as “higher brow” which goes in line with the thinking of these passionate readers who say they 20% more likely than the general U.S. population they’d rather be highly intelligent vs. extremely attractive or unusually lucky.

Now let’s talk about the basics – how are these folks reading?

  • 32% read newly printed books
  • 31% read used printed books
  • 29% read digital books
  • 5% listen to audio books
  • The rest are in “other” categories

I still haven’t gotten into audio books, there’s something delightful about my eyes skipping over a page, but a friend just gifted me one, so will have to report back on how I like that experience.

Finally, how often are these really passionate readers really cracking open a book?

  • 85% say once a month or more
  • 10% say less than once a month
  • 5% say once a year or less often (maybe these should revisit their passion!)

Here’s another interesting tidbit: These passionate readers are more likely than the general U.S. pop to say they have trouble falling asleep every night or most nights. Maybe that’s where reading comes in handy – or maybe it’s what prevents them from going to sleep. I can attest to having many books to stave off sleep on my bedside table.

Now time to curl up on my couch with a cup of hot tea (it’s San Francisco summer, after all) and dive into something new.