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Burnt Out On Books?

We've got people consuming less media. We've got people consuming more diverse media.

Remember when media wasn't diverse or consumed or any of that? When it was just, um, books? (You know, back when we use to trudge uphill seven miles through the snow to get to school. Both ways.)

Well, sorry, but there's some bad news about those, too. According to a study that came out today from the Associated Press and IPSOS, roughly one in four Americans didn't read a book last year:

One in four adults say they read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and seniors were most avid, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.

The survey reveals a nation whose book readers, on the whole, can hardly be called ravenous. The typical person claimed to have read four books in the last year — half read more and half read fewer. Excluding those who hadn't read any, the usual number read was seven.

So this is a 'bad news' story, right? Something about apathy and attention span and all that? Not according to Dr. Michael Gross, Associate Vice President at Ipsos and a glass-half-full sort of fellow.

"The coverage of the poll positioned it in terms of surprise that one-quarter of people haven't read a book, which is surprising for most people," he acknowledged to Public Eye, before adding: "But the converse is also true. Three quarters have read at least one book in the last year… We hear tons in the media about how busy people are, with work and family and friends and the Internet. It's a pleasant surprise that only a quarter of respondents hadn't finished a book given all those other options."

I asked Dr. Gross to play reporter: What was the story of the poll as he saw it? He said that it was more an economic problem than an intellectual one. "I think having looked at the information in the poll, one of the more troubling findings is that we found a disparity between higher and lower socio-economic status. People that have a household income of $75,000 or more and a college degree are far more likely than people with only a high school education and a household income of under $25,000 to be readers," he observed. "It troubling to see there is this real disparity."

So, according to Gross's interpretation of his poll: While TV and the Internet and radio has successfully surmount the once-feared digital divide, a new gap has evolved – one between low-income Americans and books. With all the media options available to consumers nowadays, is this really cause for any deep concern? And, if so, how do we build them a bridge to books?

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