Are Your Members Reading Like They Used To?

Do people in your industry or profession read as much as they used to? A difficult question to answer, we know that. Are you wondering why we’re even asking about your members’ reading habits?

Because reading matters. Reading matters immensely, especially for associations in the lifelong learning business. Reading is the first step in the professional development journey. When someone dedicates time to reading, they’re making the effort to expose themselves to new ideas or learn something new. 

Reading a post or article takes only a few minutes. This act of reading might be a random occurrence—perhaps they clicked on a link you or someone else shared on a social media platform. But, with repetition, this random act can become a habit

The newly committed reader decides to start their workday by reading a daily digest or newsletter—maybe yours. As they begin to take in new ideas and expand their knowledge, they become even more hooked on the buzz learning gives them. They start attending your webinars. Eventually they move on to bigger things, like registering for one of your online courses. 

The state of reading at your association 

Encouraging a reading habit is a smart strategy for increasing member engagement and growing your educational programs. But how much work do you have ahead of you? What percentage of your members (and your larger audience) are reading your content?

Data can tell you something about the reading habits of your members and market, for example, email opens, website traffic, downloads, and purchases. But this data only shows you what’s going on at your association, not how much or what they’re reading elsewhere. 

In some professions, people read deeply to prepare for their careers. Many of them continue to read regularly to maintain their license or certification. But, in other industries and professions, people aren’t so hard-pressed to read. They manage to find and keep their jobs by continuing to do what they already know how to do. 

But how long will this approach to work last? With jobs and industries changing so quickly, especially with the advent of automation and AI, how long can people remain relevant if they’re not developing new skills and knowledge? Your members and market need to repeatedly hear this question. They need to hear it so often they’re prompted to take action.

Their relevance remedy is quite simple: start reading—and, therefore, learning. Remind your audience that reading is free, and doesn’t have to take much time or energy. They can do it wherever and whenever they wish. 

members reading

Who’s reading in the U.S.?

Your data may reveal that only a small percentage of your audience is reading your information. What’s going on? Don’t people read any more? Here’s what we know from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and Pew Research Center. One caveat, these surveys focused on reading for pleasure, not for work, but reading habits seem to cross the work/home line.

Since 2004, the percentage of American adults who read on any given day has fallen from 28% in 2004 to 19% in 2017, per the BLS survey. Time spent reading fell from an average of 23 minutes per person per day in 2004 to 17 minutes in 2017. How depressing. On the bright side, you’re all above average!

Pew’s finding are a little more optimistic. 74% of adults read a book or part of a book in 2017—a percentage that hasn’t changed much since 2012. As you might expect, college graduates were more likely to be book readers than those who didn’t attend college. Adults under 50 were also more likely to have read a book than those over 50. 

The typical American, according to Pew, reads four books a year—a number that hasn’t changed much since it began studying book-reading habits. Even better news, Millennials read an average of five books a year—and, contrary to what you might expect, they prefer print to e-books.

NEA data shows a slightly different story. In 1982, 57% of adults read at least one novel, short story, poem or play, but that share fell to 43% in 2015. Analysts have pointed out that you can’t completely blame the Internet for this drop since reading has been decreasing since the 1980s, long before Facebook and Fortnite came on the scene. 

A more likely culprit is TV and streaming video services. The BLS found that the average American in 2017 spent more than 2 hours and 45 minutes per day watching TV—nearly 10 times the amount of time (17 minutes) they spent reading.

Overcoming the obstacles to reading—and lifelong learning

How can you create more readers? Identify and overcome the obstacles standing in the way of reading. Find ways to help members increase their knowledge and become better versions of themselves so they can remain employable and promotable.

Challenge: not enough time to read

People think they don’t have time to read. Yet the studies show they have time for other things like watching TV, Netflix, and Hulu, or spending time on Instagram or Facebook.

Solutions to the time challenge

A few months ago, we dedicated an entire post to ways you can help members save time, so check that out for more inspiration. 

Curate. Who has time to weed through the constantly growing amount of reading material out there? The task seems overwhelming to members so many of them don’t even bother. If you want to become indispensable, you need to make time to do this for them. 

Take on the task of skimming through industry articles, posts, videos, and podcasts so you can provide a daily or weekly curated selection of news and information to your members. Definitely include posts and articles from your association but if you want this newsletter to be really valuable, add content from external sources too.  

Take advantage of audio. The numbers are in, and we can confidently state that this is the age of audio—“reading” with your ears. 

Pew says 50% of Americans over the age of 12 listened to an audiobook in 2018, compared to 44% in 2017. Edison Research reports that 55% of audiobook listeners also listened to a podcast in the last month. 

56% of audiobook listeners said “they are making ‘new’ time to listen to audiobooks, and subsequently consuming more books.” They’re multi-tasking—listening to podcasts and audiobooks while driving, commuting, cooking, cleaning, and exercising. Automobile in-dash systems and home smart speaker systems are helping to build the audio wave.

Here too, the trend is strong with younger generations. 55% of audiobook listeners are under 45, and 51% of frequent listeners are between 18 and 44 years old.

Survey your audience to see if you have a ready audience for audio. If you do, consider adding a podcast to your communication mix. You can start with a weekly news round-up, using the content you found for your curated newsletter.

members reading audiobooks

Challenge: limited attention span—or something else?

People think they don’t have the attention span to read. But they’re wrong. Contrary to popular belief, our attention spans aren’t shrinking, and they’re not equivalent to the attention span of a goldfish. That’s junk science

People can’t stay focused on reading because they get distracted. A typical office worker spends only 11 minutes on a task before being interrupted by an unrelated demand on their attention. 

Another problem: uninteresting or difficult content. How appealing is a long block of sentences? Or paragraph after paragraph of text without any indicators of the information being relayed?

People are tired. They have good intentions and want to catch up on reading at the end of the day, but their brain can only handle something less challenging like a scroll through Instagram or the latest episode of Russian Doll. 

Solutions to the attention and distraction challenge

Write content for skimmers. Unless someone is absolutely sold on your content, in the interest of time, they will skim it first, and then settle in to read if it seems worth their time. Write and format web pages, emails, and documents for easy readability.

•    Break copy into short easy-to-read blocks (paragraphs).

•    Include plenty of white space on the page. 

•    Use bullet points and numbered lists, and bold headers and subheaders. 

•    Stick with one font. 

•    Include relevant images.

Write for mobile readers. 60% of Google searches and 50% of email opens are done via mobile. Make it easy and enjoyable for someone to read your website resources and newsletters on their phone. If they have ten minutes to spare, they should be able to do an online course module—thanks to your mobile-friendly, micro-learning content

Keep spreading the message about the importance of reading and lifelong learning. Provide content for every type of reader—the reluctant and the committed. Reading can transform a member’s life—help them get started on their educational journey.

lifelong learning
professional development
skills gap
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