Sunday Chat: What Is the Hidden Cost of Being a Reader

Welcome to another Sunday on the Bookternet, friends! I hope you’re having a wonderful day!

Today is the last day of Summer Break for me, and I’m feeling a little sad about it.

Come Monday, I’ll be back on my grind, balancing work, school, and reading. Even though I’m excited since I love my job and going to school, I can’t lie and say it’s not all just a little bit overwhelming for me.

Majorly because this is my first semester back in-person for school since the COVID-19 Pandemic hit in March of 2020, and I’m attending school in the state of Florida (insert a deadpan stare into the camera here). While my school is requires masks to attend, this level of tackling the unknown in a state where people love to be rebels against reason at the risk of themselves and others is putting me on pins and needles.

On the other hand, I’m a little saddened that my leisure time for reading is coming to an end.

In last week’s Sunday Chat post, I discussed the constraints of time for readers when deciding what to read and inevitably DNFing or unhauling our books. And some of your responses across social media pushed me to think even more about how much of a taxing hobby reading is.

Society often paints reading as this calm hobby where you’re sitting in a comfy chair with your book and drifting off to exotic mental landscapes.

But that’s only a piece of it.

Reading, in my opinion, is a full-bodied hobby that requires access, time, and to a degree, money.

How much time do Americans spend reading?

In a study done by the Pew Research Center, it was found that since 2012, “7 in 10 U.S. adults” in America have made reading their hobby. And of this group, the mean number being read steadily ranged from 4 to 12 books in a given year. In addition, the average time devoted to reading for Americans uncharacteristically rose from 2019 to 2020 overall based on the Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey

A consistent trend, though, was that the rich and white demographic of people were still able to read more than their BIPOC and economically impoverished counterparts thanks to increased free-time.

For example, people “earning less than or equal to the 25th percentile” of “full-time wage and salary” dropped in their free-time for reading from “0.15” in 2019 to “0.11” for the average hours per day they read. While people “earning in the50th to 75th percentile” had the greatest leap in their averaged reading time from “0.16” to “0.37” hours per day and those in the “25th to 50th percentiles” also had a slight adjustment in their average from “0.13 to 0.17.” Those earning greater than the 75th percentile stayed the same with an average of a “0.20” for both years.

African-Americans saw the most significant leap in free-time for reading with a “.14” average from 2019 to 2020 average increase putting them at “0.24” average hours of reading time per day. But, they still trailed way behind white readers who clock in at “0.37” average hours and slightly behind Asian readers who are at “0.25” for their leisure reading time. Hispanic and Latinx readers are dwarfed by all parties at a steady average of “0.10” hours for both years. Unfortunately, there was no data I could find on Indigenous and Native American readers.

Looking at this data from the Department of Labor’s American Time Use Survey made it clear that even in a year as stressful as 2020, the idea that we’re all on an equal playing field when it comes to reading isn’t necessarily true.

Reading cost money as well as time.

How much do Americans spend on reading a year?

As a working-class student, whenever I see a #BookHaul or stack of books on the Bookternet, I immediately feel myself tallying up the cost. 

Thanks to this, reading the School Library Journal’s (SLJ) report for the cost of books in 2021 left me floored.

According to the SLJ, the average Adult Hardcover in 2021 is projected at $27.45 for fiction and $28.49 for non-fiction. Trade paperbacks are going to run you about $21.04 for non-fiction and $17.89 for fiction. 

Young Adult books cost slightly less at approximately $19.13 for a hardcover fiction copy and $21.15 for non-fiction. This genre’s trade paperback are slightly less than adults, though, at roughly $12.66 for fiction and $17.25 for non-fiction.

And all this is before the discounts hit and you find that sweet coupon code or worn copy in your charity shop.

If you’re an e-reader, you’re going to have to factor in the cost of internet services and a compatible electronic device to hold your e-books.

In short, for some people who lack access to a public library and are short on funds, reading requires a lot of hidden costs to feed their reading habits.

While reading is a type of self-care, I never forget that it’s a privilege that not everyone has at their disposal. 

I’m blessed to have access, but I know the average cost for a reader adds up real quick.

So, I never take my love of this hobby for granted.

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Enjoy your week, bookish peeps!

Let me know what you think is the driving force behind your reading hobby.

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