Some Fun Statistics From Amazon

Map of the United States showing cities that read the most books

Amazon just pored through their sales data, and compiled an interesting list of “the 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America.” They included sales data for both printed books and e-books (as well as digital subscriptions to magazines and newspapers), carefully studying the first five months of 2011.

Amazon joked that they were releasing the results “Just in time for the summer reading season,” then revealed which American cities, with a population of more than 100,000, had the most
readers per capita.

 1. Cambridge, Massachusetts
 2. Alexandria, Virginia
 3. Berkeley, California
 4. Ann Arbor, Michigan
 5. Boulder, Colorado
 6. Miami, Florida
 7. Salt Lake City, Utah
 8. Gainesville, Florida
 9. Seattle, Washington
 10. Arlington, Virginia
11. Knoxville, Tennessee
12. Orlando, Florida
13. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
14. Washington, D.C.
15. Bellevue, Washington
16. Columbia, South Carolina
17. St. Louis, Missouri
18. Cincinnati, Ohio
19. Portland, Oregon
20. Atlanta, Georgia

Interestingly, four of the top five cities are “college towns,” including the #1 city — Cambridge, Massachusetts — along with Berkeley (California) at #3, Ann Arbor (Michigan) at #4, and Boulder (Colorado) at #5. I’m sure each of these cities has a campus bookstore, but students may be checking for used text books that are even cheaper. If that’s going to start a trend, it’s yet-another bad sign for the future of bookstores. Amazon’s press release noted that Cambridge — the home of both Harvard and MIT — also ordered more nonfiction books per capita than any other city in America. But Cambridge is also the home of nearly a dozen world-class bookstores (which the students are apparently bypassing), including one of my all-time favorites — a bookstore named “Curious George and Friends.” (It’s an independent, family-owned store founded in 1995 “with the help of our neighbor, Curious George author, Margaret Rey.”)

Amazon reports that the city ordering the most children’s picture books is actually Alexandria, Virginia. It’s just 6 miles from Washington D.C. — though I’m not going to make a joke about the reading level of your average Congressman. It turns out that Alexandria just employs a lot of federal government workers, many of who have presumably started families in the area. Though it’s #2 on Amazon’s list, it’s not a college town — but it is the home of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and the Institute for Defense Analyses, according to Wikipedia, which points out that Alexandria is “largely populated by professionals working in the federal civil service, the U.S. military, or for one of the many private companies which contract to provide services to the federal government.” And Arlington, Virginia — which is just 9 miles away — also came in at #10 on Amazon’s list, while Washington D.C. was at #14.

There must also be a lot of readers in Florida, since three different cities made it onto the list — Orlando, Miami, and Gainesville. (Florida is the only state to get three cities into Amazon’s top 20, though both Virginia and the state of Washington ended up with two.)

And college students shopping online may have helped some other cities crack into the top 10, since the next five cities on their list also have major universities. (Miami, Salt Lake City, Gainesville, Seattle, and Arlington). I’m intrigued that Seattle — the home of — only reached the #9 spot on the list of the most well-read cities. Besides having a lot of universities, Seattle also has the highest percentage of college graduates for any major city in America, according to the U.S. census bureau. In fact, 53.8% of the city’s population (over the age of 25) have at least a bachelor’s degree (nearly twice the national average of just 27.4%), while 91.9% have a high school diploma (vs. 84.5% nationally).

Bellevue, Washington — just 10 miles from Seattle — also came in at #15 on the list, so the ranking might’ve been higher for the whole “Seattle Metro Area”. But fortunately, Amazon is still a good sport about their home city falling into the #9 spot on their own “well-read” list. “We hope book lovers across the country enjoy this fun look at where the most voracious readers reside,” Amazon’s book editor announced yesterday, “and that everyone gets the chance to relax with some great summer reads.”

13 thoughts to “Some Fun Statistics From Amazon”

  1. Wow, I don’t believe for a second that Salt Lake City and Knoxville are more well-read than Austin. Thing is, Austin has a wealth of truly amazing, world-class INDEPENDENT, LOCAL bookstores, from which Austinites faithfully purchase their reading material. Thus, I find fault with Amazon’s data.

  2. Interesting. I wonder when Seattle magically transported itself to the Olympic Peninsula? And when did Portland move to the central coast of Oregon? Cincinnati is now a suburb of Toledo? Miami is now located far up the east coast of Florida? Orlando is now a coastal city and suburb of Miami? Boulder is now located where Colorado Springs used to be? I propose that people learn their geography while they are reading or better yet…..they read books on geography, cartography and the locations of many major cities in the United States. That map is horribly inaccurate.

  3. So Portland Oregon has now moved to the coast, and a few hundred miles to the south?

    And here I was all excited that my hometown of Coos Bay had made the list…..

  4. man, someone needs to read up on geography! portland, or is being show approx 125 miles south and west of its actual locale. just sayin’……

  5. It may be that places like Salt Lake City and Knoxville are well-read because these cities have no decent bookstores that people can readily travel to or the bookstores that are available don’t carry what readers want. I can well imagine Salt Lake City, being in the middle of Mormon country, having bookstores where books critical of Mormon beliefs and customs are censored.

  6. Cincinnati is 100 miles southwest of where its indicated on the map. You’re actually a lot closer to Columbus!

  7. Pray tell how a ridiculous claim such as the aforementioned can be quantified? Did they have all readers submit a sworn affidavit they read one book per week? More social engineering that has no useful function in life. Articles like this merely prove why space aliens HOVER and do NOT land on this planet; no intelligent life on this rock.

  8. A poorly written article and an equally poor analysis. Most of the cities listed are college towns, just not the top four. And several have large independent bookstores (like Austin and Portland). Powell’s Bookstore in Portland covers an entire city block and is three stories tall — and that is just the main building of a bookstore complex which includes a number of other buildings — all with independent collections. Not to mention, in the case of Portland, a public library system with one of the largest circulations in the country.

  9. Yeah, I tried to allude to all the college towns beyond the top 5 when I wrote “college students shopping online may have helped some other cities crack into the top 10…”

    Portland’s situation is a classic example of Amazon’s impact on a local economy. Portland has Powell’s bookstore (plus a high-circulation public library system) — and yet it’s already one of the top 20 cities in America where people would still rather pay Amazon to *mail* them a book?! (Or to deliver it wirelessly to their Kindles…)

    So every time Amazon sells a book to a customer, aren’t they taking away a customer from one of Portland’s local bookstores?

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