Most Well-Read Cities?

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A press release titled “ reveals the most well-read cities in America” amuses me the way corporate spin tends to do. In this case, a few statistics mixed with hype creates “facts” that aren’t.

Based on sales of books, magazines, and newspapers in print as well as Kindle format, Amazon concludes that residents of Cambridge, Massachusetts read more than residents of any other large city in the U.S.

That’s the trouble with statistics. As someone (allegedly Charles Wentworth Dilke) said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Really, the facts don’t say much more than where the most eager Amazon buyers live. That doesn’t explain why people buy more books from Amazon in these places. It may not have much to do with reading.

Perhaps these cities have more college students, a population group well-known for involuntary book purchases in pursuit of degrees.

Perhaps people in these cities do a much poorer job of supporting their local booksellers.

Or perhaps residents of these cities prefer to buy books online rather than patronize their local libraries.  

What’s your take on the “most well-read cities”?


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18 thoughts on “Most Well-Read Cities?

  1. Actually, I go to Cambridge, MA *for* the books. They have a great independent bookstore called Porter Square Books. And I checkout the COOP when I’m in Harvard Square. I can’t speak for the validity of the statistics, but Cambridge does seem to have avid readers.

  2. Well done Laura. I took cartography classes in college (I attempted a geography minor but couldn’t fit in everything on top of AFROTC too) and one of the books I had to get was called “How to Lie with Maps” and it was “Data Manipulation 101”.

    I did notice more than just Cambridge as a college town in the Top 20. How about Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Knoxville, Gainesville and Columbia, SC? They all have huge universities…

    Their ability to collect such data is fascinating to me (Amazon was the trailblazer with such business practices as “If you’re viewing this product, you might also like this….” and “XX% of those who viewed this product actually purchased XYZ instead”). However, I wish Amazon would have just called the list what it was: “The Top Cities Who Have Given Us Business”.

    1. I had to see if those books were still in print. Couldn’t find “Data Manipulation 101,” but “How To Lie With Maps” (as well as “How To Lie With Statistics”) are still available. Would love to read a post about this.

      1. No, there is no book called “Data Manipulation 101”, that was just my nickname for the “How to Lie with Maps” book 🙂 I have the book around here somewhere — but it’s probably packed away with other books that I don’t even bother unpacking anymore, we move so much…

  3. It also makes me wonder what the point of said research is. Don’t get me wrong, research for the sake of research pleases me. I went to college for history for heaven’s sake. But I sometimes wonder what affect some of the studies, like this one, have to do with anything. I mean sometimes they seem an awful waste of a company’s time and resources to figure out that Cambridge likes to read. Really, how does this enrich the nation, economy, community, or my life? *snarls* I’m gonna go blog this.

    1. JennT, I wouldn’t be concerned that they’ve spent massive time and resources. This is pretty basic data to pull out of a sales system.

      1. Oh it’s not the particular study that bugs me (although as this post points out it is pointless). It’s in general the amount of effort that is dumped into studies that tell me that 45% of babies of are born totally bald while 13% of babies are born with a full head of hair. The study might be useful in genetics or something but we didn’t need to publish it.

      1. “click””click””click” <— that's me buying more books so I can get Navarre, FL on the list! Ha ha!

        (This is a girl who just yesterday ordered not a book…but a video game from Amazon!)

  4. As a citizen of the number 3 city on their list (Berkeley), rest assured that an avid debate on our inclusion is going on here! See: One hypothesis for the inclusion of so many college towns on this list is the fact that so many college students have turned to Amazon as a way to beat the high price of textbooks, as mentioned in this blog, and I think that there is truth there. Berkeley has no dearth of local, independent bookstores to be sure (nor does Cambridge, and I used to live near there too). Perhaps people in these towns love books so much that they turn to Amazon as an easy way to buy them for others, and that increases their sales? I know that I use Amazon to send books as gifts to others.

  5. I don’t shop at Amazon for books. GF food and toys at Christmas, yes, but not books. For books I either go to a local bookstore or get it from paperbackswap.
    I read on average a book a day, so buying all my books would get extremely expensive!
    I read like a fiend and I live in Alabama. Unfortunately, I don’t have any expectations of my hometown hitting any sort of ‘top ten’ reading lists anytime soon!

  6. As a college student who has taken quite a few Lit electives I’d venture that a good third of the books purchased by college towns never even get read so I’m not sure best read cities would reallyn apply

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